June 8

Ep. 0063: The American Revolution Part VI: Reflections on the Revolution

Finally -we wrap up our American Revolution coverage with a hodepodge grab-bag of thoughts & observations on the Revolution, what it was really about, how revolutionary it really was, and lessons we can learn from it today.

Join Prof CJ as he discusses:

  • Patriotism vs Nationalism
  • Why you should avoid hero-worship
  • Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
  • Winning battles vs winning wars
  • Well-armed populations are harder to oppress
  • Decentralization as a strength, not a weakness
  • An extended exploration of whether or not the American Revolution was really a revolution — to which Prof CJ argues there’s not a clear-cut answer — and a suggestion as to how present-day radicals for freedom should see the American Revolution

Internal Links

  • DHP Ep. 59 (see the comments referred to in this episode)
  • DHP Ep. 54 (“Three Leftist Historians Every Libertarian Should Read” – referenced in this episode in regard to William Appleman Williams’ America Confronts a Revolutionary World)

External Links

Prof CJ’s Picks (buy anything from Amazon via these links to help support the show at no additional cost to you)

Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted June 8, 2015 by profcj in category "American History", "Podcasts


  1. By Carol on

    ProfCJ, do you have a book you can recommend that specifically addresses the contributions of the militia? In other words, did someone write a book just about the militia?

    Your analysis of the war for independence is amazing. As an amatuer genealogist, I’m very interested in this era and want to learn more about the people who supported it at a high cost to themselves and their families. I’ve read some real BS, as many have, about our forefathers.

    Thank you for bringing the truth!

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      Hard to pick just one, but twist my arm: The Minute Men by John Galvin (can’t find my copy right now, or I would have incorporated it more directly into this series). It’s been a while since I read it, but I think that’s probably what you’re looking for.

      Also, I think there’s a pretty good amount about the militia in John Shy’s A People Numerous & Armed, which I did reference several times in this series explicitly, though it’s not focused exclusively on the militia — it’s a collection of essays about several topics.

      Thanks for your kind words about this series – I’m glad my hard work on it has been appreciated!

  2. By Will Krause on

    Hey Prof,

    Just wanna say, I love your podcasts. You always bring a new twist to subjects I previously thought I knew. But as I was listening to your Revolutionary War series I always wondered why you never mentioned the secret societies like the Free Masons. If it hasn’t crossed your mind yet, I think a series on them would be perfect! Keep up the good work.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      Thanks Will. I definitely think there’s some degree of relationship between the Masons and the American Revolution, just given how many of the so-called “Founding Fathers” (including Washington himself) were high-ranking Masons, but I didn’t want to get sidetracked too much during my overview/narrative of the Revolution series. The Masons and some of the other secret societies as well (including some of the elite secret fraternities such as Skull & Bones and some of the less famous but just as important ones at other Ivy League schools) are definitely topics I’ll likely get into in some future episodes, though. These topics are always tricky, because there’s definitely some truth to the stories about these organizations, but often it’s very hard to separate provable truth from rumor and theory, which is to say these are topics requiring lots of research.

  3. By Rhesa Browning on

    I just finished the Revolutionary War series, and I really enjoyed it. As usual I learned much or was reminded of things I had previously read. Some things I disagree with but more in terms of degree than substance.

    I mentioned the book before but much of the what you bring up throughout is echoed and explained in the book “American Nations…”. Essentially there were 6 different cultures/nations represented in the colonies and they all disagreed with what good governance meant. Also, the colony or state boundaries did not delineate the area made up of the nations. For instance the New England militia and the Back Country militia acted in similar ways in terms of fighting and taking initiative but they did so motivated by different ideologies. If I had to guess, I would say you grew up in the “nation” represented by Back Country thought. They were the only group that really wanted the government to be small and kept at arms length, there was also the Midlands group (influenced by Quakers and Dutch) who was similar but again for different reasons. Most of the rest, believed government to be a force for good or the appropriate way for the elite to express public service (i.e. G Washington and his Tidewaters associates).

    Your discussion on how revolutionary was the American Revolution was interesting and thought provoking. It caused me to recalibrate my thoughts on the subject. I think it that is because the American Revolution was by and large not fought to overturn society as a whole like some of the others were. It wasn’t perfect but the point was to found an ideal English system though without royal families. As I compare it to other Revolutions I think it was better in most ways. I don’t like the way the French or Bolshevik revolution ended up and glad the US didn’t do the same things.

    They also didn’t end up as revolutionary as they started either which in the long run probably means they weren’t complete revolutions either. In France, my understanding is that Napoleon rose to power as a counter-revolutionary, and even though he didn’t succeed in reestablishing monarchy, France still has a very centrally controlled and planned government. With Russia it was even worse. The Bolsheviks probably would have governed in a more liberal way, but there movement was coopted by Lenin. He and Stalin then established one of the most centrally controlled governments of the 20th century. Sure those ruling were different but they ruled even more tyrannically than the czars did from the little I know about them (not saying the czars were good rulers).

    The other reason I am at least semi-pleased how the American Revolution turned out is because though aristocratic elites remained in power in the US, our society has never been as class based as European ones. There are powerful families today but even the Bushes and Clintons won’t keep there positions for long. The Washington and Adams families aren’t still influential. Even the Kennedys, are becoming an afterthought on the political scene. Our US society is more defined by upward mobility than any other in the world that I know of. The richest of the rich don’t stay that and the poorest of the poor don’t either. There are still barriers of course and those who have power work with the government to keep it, but opportunity is still found here to transcend the socio-economic status you were born into. Of course there is the need to always fight to keep the system open or more open. I believe that is a necessity regardless of the political system in place or even if there is a lack of one.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      Thanks for your always-thoughtful comments, Rhesa.

      Interestingly, I actually have lived my life in various areas that were backcountry as of the late-18th century, but I’m not actually descended from folks who lived in those regions back then. But some of my ancestors did come to America through Pennsylvania a bit later, so I think your perceptions of my background are not too far off.

      A couple things I’ll mention just to “problematize” a few of your points, though: First, while there’s certainly more class mobility in the USA than in much of Europe, I think at the very top of the oligarchical ladder in America (the families that make a single-digit millionaire feel like a peasant, I mean), there is a more enduring permanent oligarchy than what you see as represented by the political figureheads, who are normally not at the very top of the heap, but are just the gophers or henchmen of those who are. So, for example, if you look at the families at the top of investment banking, they’re actually mostly the same ones who’ve been there for at least a century, if not more. (Probably the most famous example in America are the Rockefellers.) The Bushes, while part of the oligarchy, are not at the top themselves, but are largely gophers or henchmen for those who are. However, they’ve been working for the higher levels of the oligarchy for over a century at least, though it’s only in the past few generations that they’ve emerged as prominent, publicly well-known political frontmen. (Look up Samuel Prescott Bush & his personal, political & business ties to people like the Rockefellers during the WWI era, if you’re not familiar with that.)

      Well-known families of today like the Kennedys and (especially) the Clintons are Johnny-Come-Latelys by comparison, for sure, but if you look into the membership of the exclusive private clubs and the elite fraternities, you find a lot of the same surnames generation after generation, even if the names aren’t well-known to the general public at the time. The real powers are almost always the “men behind the curtain” who are rarely as much in the public eye as their gophers, who are a rung or two down, and are the ones who actually run for elective office most of the time.

      But newcomers (as the Kennedys were a few generations back, or as the Clintons are now) are able to worm their way into the upper strata if they follow the proper protocol — meet the right people, join the right organizations and clubs, get on the right corporate boards and foundation boards, etc. A great book that explained how this worked is Who Rules America?: Challenges to Corporate and Class Dominance by William Domhoff. The book is almost 50 years old, but I think much of his main argument still holds true even today: America has an aristocracy based not just on wealth but on culture and various social markers; but it is still possible for non-aristocrats to move up into that class if they go through the proper channels and basically acculturate to the elite. For example, back then (in the 60s) Domhoff was writing how it was increasingly possible for Catholics & Jews to get “in” to the previously WASP-dominated upper class, but that they had to basically go through a process of acclimating themselves to the proper culture, a process that usually took several generations. (For example, John & Robert Kennedy were more accepted into the elite than their father Joseph, because Joseph had made sure his sons went to all the “right” schools that Joseph himself didn’t have an opportunity to attend.) The Kennedys are considered part of the blue-bloods today, but in the early-20th century they were nouveau riche.

      Also, on the part about geographical/cultural distinctions in colonial and revolutionary America, I largely agree with your points, but I’d point out that even within a given geographical region, there were differences in ideology based on social class. So, for example, at the time, in many areas, the wealthy elites were more likely to favor Big Government and later became Federalists (because they preferred the British mercantilist notion of having the state rig the economy through fiscal policy to privilege benefit already-wealthy, established interests); while often times, people who were more middle- or even working-class, but living in the same geographical region, tended to be more libertarian (because they believed the free market made it possible for them to economically compete more fairly against the existing oligarchy) and later become Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans.

      So while I agree that, looking at aggregates there are definitely regional differences in ideology, there are also class differences in ideology, even within a given locality.

  4. By Rhesa Browning on

    I can see the points you are making and am there with you. I have some reading to do.

  5. By Bob on

    About oligarchs taking over grassroots, it’s now called astroturfing. Due to recent leaks we learned George Soros gave $650k to BlackLivesMatter brining it into his fold. He did similar for Occupy Wallstreet. We also know from the study of CIA regime change efforts that they create and co-opt causes to achieve goals like fomenting rebellion. Also, support may be real but ignited under false pretenses, such as false flag operations. Or outright lies such as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

  6. By Bob on

    It’s funny to reflect on how a tiny tax was in part a trigger for revolutionary war, with the result being a nation of higher taxes almost from day 1, and only going up over time. It seems like if we’re doing a postmortem analysis on revolutions we should make note of this as an area for potential improvement in the future. When you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense: revolutionary wars are just another failed state program that does the opposite of what the name suggests, like the Affordable Care Act, and the PATRIOT Act.

  7. By Clayton on

    Interesting thoughts, prof, particularly when it came to the ever so slight (but important!) shift in the ideology of rights. I think you came really close to hitting the nail on the head, but you just barely nicked the side. Listening to you talk about it, I was thinking back to what I’d read about the history of the English system and how it differed from the revolutionary American system of rights. You are correct that the “rights of an Englishman” were traditional rather than written down, but I think the average Englishman would argue that they are no less binding, and if pushed I think they would tell you that they came from God, given to all free Englishmen. I think the main distinction comes in that the English, from the Magna Carta all the way to the glorious revolution, saw their rights as embodied by Parliament. Parliament was the final judge and arbiter of rights and renderer of decisions, as you said, a popular tool to keep the king in check. The confusion came when the colonists claimed that it was Parliament imposing on their rights – that there are inalienable rights that even parliament cannot waive or interpret, that are up to every free man to protect of his own accord. That seemed like nonsense to the English, how could your rights be infringed upon when it was parliament, the very essence of your rights as an Englishman, that passed down these laws? It would be like me saying I was imposing on my own rights. While I think they would both agree that rights came from God, it was the disagreement on the ultimate protector and interpreter of rights – parliament vs. the individual – that I think is the clearest and most important intellectual leap when it comes to rights.


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