Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) dismayed many of his Whig colleagues and infuriated his enemies, both of whom imagined the revolution ushering a glorious era of freedom. Burke’s masterpiece nerved the pen of Thomas Paine into a fury of scribbling to produce one of the most overrated works of political philosophy – The Rights of Man – taking Hobbes’s idea of the state of nature to its logical absurdity. Burke’s analysis of the Revolution’s action and theory contained a number of prophecies which in time proved accurate. The most extraordinary for its prescience and accuracy was the following:
In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full off action until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.
(Reflections, p. 342 Penguin Edition)
That man Burke foresaw was Napoleon. Napoleon mounted a coup in 1799 and with his French army attempted to take the revolution to the whole of Europe. The Duke of Wellington eventually stopped him at Waterloo. The revolution/Napoleon paradigm of social degeneration to dictatorship would repeat itself through the next two hundred years without its lesson sufficiently penetrating the consciousness of the people of Western Civilization.