Skip to main content

Changes: 1789 And 1954

June 2024
1min read

Am I to infer from Paul Herman’s list of the 10 biggest changes to home and family (“50/50,” August/September 2004) that all 10 were positive? Yes, Brown v. Board of Ed was a great triumph, and women have gained some well-deserved rights. And I do think the French Revolution has lessons for our society—but not the ones that Herman draws. The French Revolution did not give France a democracy. It gave France (and Europe) Napoleon, a dictator. America should not think that our rule of law sprang from Thomas Jefferson’s head alone. Instead it was built on centuries of hard work by our English cousins, and most of the major contributors were aristocrats. The French cut off more than their king’s head. His absence left them with a vacuum they were not prepared to fill, an example we have foolishly repeated in Iraq. The tyrants of this world should be replaced, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we can build instant societies. Creating nations and societies takes centuries, not months or years. The French did not see a stable democracy until nearly 75 years after their revolution. We should not think we have seen the final results of the 10 changes listed by Berman. Nor should we think they all will end well.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.