Celebrity Pharrell Williams has put aside entertainment for enlightenment, providing an interpretation of current Black Lives Matter/Antifa civil outrages as analogs to the “Boston Tea Party”( an op-ed for Time magazine posted Thursday and written for the Aug. 31-Sep. 7 issue, titled, “The New American Revolution.”). I wonder whether we are prepared to think through all of the implications.
In brief, we would have to move from 18th century grievances against official acts of oppression in a resolve to risk everything – “our lives, our liberty, and our sacred honor” – in order to replace the regime of tyranny with a self-governing, republican order freely adopted by the citizens of the nation, to 21st century grievances against a nebulous, undefined and generalized tyranny called systemic injustice in order to empower a state tyranny over non-consenting citizens, explicitly inverting the original American Revolution.
But I don’t wonder long, for Williams actual argument betrays his intention only to use the example of the past rather than to learn from it. Here is what he said: America’s past and present are “racist” and that what’s needed is a “black future.” In other words, he beckons us not to a world in which “all men are created equal” but a world in which black lives matter more than others. He makes this bizarre turn in an argument that embraces “1619 Project” misinterpretations of American history to undermine the moral claims of the very patriots whose examples he exploits. Referring to the current wave of post-George Floyd murder protests, he states: “The ongoing protests for equity and accountability that have overtaken cities across the nation have made me feel something new that I can only describe with one word: American.”
In other words, he believes that the people who are destroying business and lives in American cities are doing the same thing as 18th century protesters who destroyed British commodities and toppled the statue of a tyrant king. They have “the same fire that burned in the veins of the Sons of Liberty.” That fire led them to “serve under the direction of George Washington in the American Revolution.” Those key words, “under the direction of George Washington,” seem to have only symbolic meaning for Williams; for he continues to indict those very patriots as “racists” who fought only for themselves and not for everyone. We know the familiar lie: the founders were slave-holders who cared not for the “rights of man” but only the rights of oppressors. In other words, their struggle was only the struggle of one set of oppressors against another set of oppressors.
Thus, when he calls for a “black future,” he seeks to imitate the substitution of one set of oppressors for that of another set of oppressors. Yet, he is completely wrong, not only about the moral principles the founders defended but also about the ground on which they stood. They did not fight in defense of slavery for black people. Nor, more importantly, did they defend random violence against unoffending fellow citizens. Indeed, Washington exerted himself loudly, and ultimately successfully, to condemn and prevent random violence against fellow citizens whether patriots or loyalists. That moral stand is not found in Williams’s screed or even in any of the milk-water apologists for peaceful protests who refuse to recognize the unconscionable violence presently being perpetrated across the nation.
Still more importantly, Williams gives no heed whatever to the elaborate public deliberations that produced a mountain of carefully elaborated principles on the grounds of which it became possible to imagine a self-governing life that could defend the rights of man and, ultimately, rebut the presumption in favor of slavery itself. That work of the founding has no counterpart in the blind endorsement of random violence one finds in Williams’s celebration and the New York Times’s propaganda campaign.
Make no mistake. Much is at stake in this ongoing effort to delegitimize the American past in the name of an undefined regime of liberation and reparations. The best way to understand that is to recognize that, in the 18th century, Americans carefully identified their tyrant, took square aim at him, and organized themselves as a citizen body to live life without him. They demanded no reparations. They tolerated no claim of continuing authority or sovereignty in him. “Separate and equal” as states, they staked their fates on their own capabilities and characters. What Williams proposes is sustained dependence, not on one George 3d but on a whole of tribe of George 3ds, who are to exercise tyrannical authority over the citizen body in order to provide reparations for a portion, which portion does not see itself as fit to cut loose for a separate and equal existence as a state nor capable of providing for itself.
That is an ultimately defeatist argument that, in the end, becomes a back door justification for enslavement, not liberation. The original American Revolution was the revolution of a people who would accept no dependence but upon themselves. This “new American Revolution” is exactly the opposite, and therefore has no kinship with the original. The implications of this, in terms of assumptions of racial capabilities, are damning and must be rejected by true patriots.
Dr. William B. Allen is Emeritus Dean of James Madison College and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University and has been a member of the Mackinac Center Board of Scholars since 1995. Currently, he is a Veritas Fund Senior Professor in the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University and also a Visiting Professor in History and American Government at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. Previously, he taught at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. He earned his Ph.D. in Government from the Claremont Graduate University.