Allegations of Orestes Brownson’s inconsistencies in later years are often misplaced.
Recent biographer R.A. Herrera, for instance, alleges that Brownson’s view on the democratic revolution that was picking up speed in the mid-nineteenth century flip-flopped. Herrera criticizes Brownson for saying, in 1856, that the democratic “revolution, in some form, will go on,” and urging the Catholic Church to prepare for the revolution’s success. Herrera calls Brownson a weathercock for this “turnabout” because eight years earlier Brownson had “severely criticized the view that the Church should abandon the governments and appeal to the people, forming an alliance between religion and liberty.”
Herrera’s analysis doesn’t fit. Brownson didn’t think any form of government was necessarily better than another as long as it assured the people liberty. Democracy, he thought, was in the best position to do this, and hence he tended to favor democracy, especially in the United States where it was implemented under the Constitution. But he never wavered from the view that the people’s liberty could be obtained under a monarchy, aristocracy, or other form, and he also thought all just governments were an arm of God and deserved obedience, as long as they ruled with divine law in mind. He accordingly objected to the rabidly-democratic rebellions and revolutions that were accosting European nations at that time, finding that they proposed to overthrow monarchies and divine law in the name of popular government and political … Read the rest