America at 800

Lawrence Wilkerson had an interesting OpEd in the Baltimore Sun this past weekend. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and aide to Colin Powell, claims the US Government has fallen pray to a neo-Jacobin conspiracy, that Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld are latter-day Robespierre’s, not brave patriots of the American model like George Washington.

For Wilkerson, the American Revolution was not so much a revolution as an evolution: “We came as much from the Magna Carta as from our own doings, as much from British common law and parliamentary development as from the Declaration of Independence and Continental Congress.” The greatness (and goodness) of America has been 800 years in the making. But America, according to Wilkerson, is in danger of formenting a new revolution, one more akin to the radical revolution that engulfed France and produced not freedom, but Napolean. The sins? Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, torture, rendition, illegal domestic surveillance, lies, leaks, energy ineptitude, junk science, Rumsfeld (a “martinet and tyrant”), the cherry-picking of intelligence, fiscal irresponsibility, sleaze, corruption, Big Government, the betrayal of the Constitution, Iraq.

Alexis de Tocqueville once said: “America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” That is Wilkerson’s worry. He speaks in hyperbole, but maybe that’s the way to get attention today.



  1. A more sober analysis of American and Anglo institutions will reduce the continuity to some 350 years.I have a lot of sympathy for Wilkerson’s point of view. The notion, however, that the Magna Carta begun a tradition of liberty is good mythology but untrue. If the Magna Carta had indeed limited the power of kings why did Barons rise against the crown every generation until the Tudors?In reality, the rights of Englishmen did not become established until the Revolution of 1688. Back then the opponents of the crown did invoke the Magna Carta as well. We should not confuse a rhetorical move for history, however.


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