The British “Evil Empire”, Coursework Example

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Coursework

According to the diverse number of factors that constituted the American Revolution, I would say that the event clearly belongs to all the various histories mentioned. The military, colonial and national history aspects are apparent. Furthermore, insofar as the conflict was essentially caused by an unwritten concept of salutary neglect, the revolution possesses characteristics relevant to economic history, particularly in the sense in which such salutary neglect could be considered itself an economic policy. Tuchman, for example, furthermore reduces the causes of the conflict to the economic sphere, specifically in terms of taxation.[1] An intellectual history of the Revolution is perhaps a classification that is often overlooked, but also remains pertinent. For example, in Ruth Bloch’s piece “Religion and Ideological Change in the American Revolution”, the author explicitly tries to use such an approach of intellectual history to the Revolution, particularly in terms of the question “how did religious ideas contribute to the development of political ideology?”[2] Both the religious and the political are clear examples of intellectual ideas that found themselves somehow voiced in the Revolution. Whereas, as Bloch notes, it still remains heavily debated in the scholarship as to whether it was Protestant or Enlightenment ideas which most heavily influenced the intellectual underpinnings of the revolutionary moment,[3] it is nonetheless clear that such intellectual worldviews contributed to the initiation of the conflict itself.

The note about John Locke was of particular interest when one considers the American Revolution from an intellectual perspective. I did some quick research on your remark and came across an excellent work, Origins of the American Revolution by John Chester Miller, which explicitly defends the influence of Locke that you note. Miller makes the rather radical claim that “If any one man can be said to have dominated the political philosophy of the American Revolution, it is John Locke. American political thinking was largely an exegesis upon Locke: and patriots quoted him with as much reverence as Communist quote Marx today.”[4] (170) Miller identifies the text Two Treatises of Government, written in 1690, as a “textbook for American revolutionists.”[5] Following Miller’s lucid synopsis of Locke, we can detect some of the key slogans of the Revolution, and also slogans that remain present in American life to the modern day: “It was Locke’s doctrine that there was a state of nature in which men enjoyed complete liberty…that the government thus established was endowed with only certain specific powers – above all, with the protection of property; and that tyranny began when government invaded the natural rights of man.”[6] The gradual diminishment of the policy of salutary neglect and the more active role the British government took in the Americas could be seen as a direct representation of what Locke termed tyranny. In this regard, I think your remark on Locke is especially compelling, since it seems that his thought provides a clear representation of the intellectual worldview that drove a good deal of the American Revolution, essentially providing a theoretical support to practical action.

In regards to your comment about to what extent those both sides of the Revolution, I agree with DiMaggio’s assessment that we can define a social movement by drawing up some basic criteria. Although I think it would be questionable to state whether DiMaggio’s list is a definitive synopsis of what a social movement means.  For example, I do not see how media consumption becomes a necessary condition for a social movement. We could easily imagine a social movement that rejects the consumption of media, if I understand that criterion correctly. It would seem to me that the list could be radically reduced to the basic characteristics of ideological orientation and active membership. In the case of the latter, it is clear that a social movement has to be made up of more than one individual and this group must be in someway active. At the same time, what distinguishes a social movement is that it possesses an ideological orientation, but an ideological orientation that is in some way not articulated by the mainstream. I think this perhaps is a necessary characteristic to add to the idea of a “social movement”, because the social movement seems to imply by definition that it somehow distinguishes it from society at large. In other words, it differentiates itself from some type of dominant social discourse and is quite specific in its ideological beliefs: that is the reason why a social movement is distinguishable from “mainstream” society.

With these criteria in place of what constitutes a social movement, I would have to suggest that the Revolutionary movement satisfies this definition, whereas the Loyalists do not. The loyalist essentially represented the interests of those who held hegemonic control of the colonies; they therefore were merely an extension of the dominant social discourse. With the term social movement, I hear something that differs, however slightly, from this dominant social discourse: this difference, I would suggest, is the very reason that the social movement emerges. In the article you mention, Borchet defines the similarity of the Tea Party and the Occupy movement in terms of a “rage against the political establishment” in the case of the former, and in the case of the latter, a “general distrust of the political-economic system.”[7] Both of these movements therefore somehow oppose the establishment. And it would seem that the Revolutionaries also embodied both such a general distrust of the political-economic system and a rage against the political establishment. They distrusted the political-economic taxation of the colonies; this distrust was accompanied by anger that led to armed revolt. There was an ideological orientation in the Revolutionaries – perhaps above all, as you identify, defined by Locke – which viewed government interference as a transgression of liberty, and therefore something to be opposed. And of course, the revolution could only begin if there was active participation in this idea, thus putting theory into practice. The combination of ideological orientation and active participation therefore arguably engendered the Revolution itself.

[1] Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), 128.

[2] Ruth H. Block, “Religion and Ideological Change in the American Revolution”, In M.A. Noll (ed.) Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the 1980s. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 44.

[3] Ibid., 45.

[4] John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1959), 170.

[5] Ibid., 170.

[6] Ibid., 170.

[7] Scott Borchert, “Social Movements vs. “Social Movements””: Comparing Occupy and the Tea Party”, Truthout, 04 December, 2011.

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