Friedrich Gentz on the American and French Revolutions

A German writer named Friedrich Gentz wrote a work named The Origin and Principles of the American Revolution, Compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution. This work emphasized the fact that the American revolution and French revolutions were opposite in nature, in particular when it came to tradition. The American revolution was based on the colonists’ anger at the British infringement on their traditional rights as Englishmen. The French revolution was based on remaking society in accordance with Enlightenment principles and dismantling traditional institutions such as the church.

His work shows that there is a difference in the attitude of the two revolutions toward that past. The American revolution embraced the past and tradition. In contrast, the French revolution disparaged the past.

Gentz was influenced the conservative thinker Edmund Burke. Burke said that tradition was important, and was the fruit of thousands of years of human experience. He said that society was too complex to be built by reason alone, and that experience was necessary. He said that change was important, but that it should be done slowly and in conformance to the past. Both Gentz and Burke cast a critical eye in the direction of the French revolution, mostly due to the fact that the revolutionaries wanted sweeping changes made to French society based on philosophical ideas.

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