I read AB’s post on America’s Revolutionary past as follows:
Origin stories have power, as stories—not necessarily as factual accounts.
If Batman’s parents had been shot by Benjamin Disraeli, he would never vote Tory.
To be serious for a moment, AB points out that the ethos of America is fundamentally grounded in its Revolution, and revolutions are by definition not a conservative affair.
But could ours have been?
Let me submit to you that the Revolution was a revolution in name only, that it was really a war of independence. Wars of independence are very different from revolutions as we have come to understand the word after Paris in 1789. Countries of a fairly conservative character have fought each other over territorial disputes and to break out of the hold of a particular empire for as long as mankind has had military organization.
The American Revolution involved cutting ties with the mother country whose people had populated the colony. It did involve creating a new, federal government, but in that it was no more revolutionary than the German Unification, for instance. And no one thinks that the resulting country was particularly liberal in that case. And beyond the creation of the federal government, the American Revolution was remarkably conservative—it left most of the institutions it had inherited from the British, in the form they had come to take since colonization, intact.
The reason the Revolution seems radical to us in retrospect is because of the mythology that has grown up around it, a mythology we impart to our children from an early age. But never forget that Edmund Burke himself favored the Americans.
American Burkeans face several challenges. The first is the founding myth, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. The second is that America as a country, even including the period of the thirteen colonies, is very young. Burke and Michael Oakeshott and Benjamin Disraeli could point to institutions that had been around for thousands of years. Their roots were deep, ours are still quite shallow.
And to the extent that our institutions claim common roots with the British, our people largely do not. I may present my sacrificial offerings at the altar of Burke and Oakeshott, but my father is Cuban, and my mother’s grandparents came to this country from Russia at the turn of the 20th century.
We’ll never have a true Tory party, but I don’t see a problem. We’re not Britain, so our traditionalists are going to be of a different character from the British ones. I’ve been inculcated into largely the same institutions and traditions as all Americans; I have no trouble seeing the Burkean strand that connects me with the founders and the British settlers who first came to this land. I can see that the founding myth, as all myths, is one part fact and five parts fiction, catalyzed with aspiration. Its character has changed over time and will continue to change; to the extent that Burkeans can participate in that process things are not quite so dire for them as AB suggests.