And we're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Sing, oh choirs of cacophony
The king has kneeled, to let his kingdom rise
, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)
Looking now at the background of the French Revolution – historically the mother of most of the ideological evils besetting not only Western civilization but also the rest of the world – we have to make an inventory of the roots of this iniquity.
EvKL considers the roots of the Revolution, in America, England, elsewhere on the Continent; he considers the people, the atrocities; finally, he points to the lasting legacy – a legacy which will be developed in the subsequent chapters of this book. I will not spend time on the blood and terror; I will try to remain focused on the actors and the political philosophy.
Thomas Jefferson (and others)
Hamilton was convinced that Jefferson, while American Minister in Paris, had played a rather negative part. Hamilton said that “in France he [Jefferson] saw government only on the side of its abuses. He drank freely of the French philosophy, in religion, in science, in politics.”
From the , a 501(c)3 dedicated to the legacy of Jefferson and Monticello: Jefferson had returned from France to Washington shortly before the falling of the Bastille; he was more enthusiastic about the revolution than was France’s own ambassador to the US, Jean Baptiste de Ternant.
His enthusiasm for the revolution became more heated, perhaps driven by his domestic battles with Hamilton, who – as noted – saw the revolution in a different light. Even after knowledge of the execution of aristocrats came to America (but before Jefferson knew of the execution of Louis XVI), he penned these famous words:
“My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to the cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam & Eve left in every country, & left free, it would be better than as it now is.”
A quote not likely high on the “Jefferson Fan Club” list. Returning to EvKL:
Hamilton was certain that Jefferson had not been innocent concerning the evolution in France after 1789 and John Adams was tortured by the thought that the United States and he himself had to take a large share of the blame for the horrors that followed the storming of the Bastille.
Citing a letter from Adams to Dr. Benjamin Rush, dated August 28, 1811:
“Have I not been employed in mischief all my days? Did not the American Revolution produce all the calamities and desolation to the human race and the whole globe ever since? I meant well, however. My conscience was clear as a crystal glass, without scruple or doubt.”
A sentiment repeated countless times by American leaders in the centuries since: I meant well; my conscience is clear.
It wasn’t only Hamilton who viewed the revolution in a negative light. Jefferson's eventual successor as ambassador to Paris, Gouverneur Morris, offered to M. de Lafayette that he is “opposed to the democracy from regard to liberty.”
Yet Morris was a voice crying in the wilderness. As an American aristocrat he moved in the highest French circles and was nauseated by the leftist sentiments he encountered everywhere, not only among the nobility but also among the clergy.
If we consider today’s left, isn’t it comprised of many of the same people? Today’s “nobility” (the elite) and “clergy” (both secular and religious)?
Comparing the Two Revolutions
Yet that there exists a "technical" filiation between 1776 and 1789 can hardly be denied, and it is precisely this "factual" connection which effectively masks the misunderstanding.
It was not necessarily so that 1789 would lead to 1792. The revolution in 1789 France, like the revolution in America, had the support of the nobility; it was only in France where the revolution turned to terror in the hands of the bloodthirsty mobs – terror to include against many of the leaders of 1789.
In France, there were, of course, other factions beyond the nobility in support of revolution: the Jansenists (Bishop Henri Gregoire offered “kings are in the political order what monsters are in the natural”); the Huguenots (per Edmund Burke, “Their clergy are just the same atheists with those Constitutional Catholics, but still more wicked and daring.).
Foreign influences – really misunderstandings – of earlier events in England and Switzerland (with the emphasis on personal liberty); a romanticized version of the situation in America (Rousseau vision: virgin forests, noble savages, free men, simple lives, log cabins, manors, and town halls in Grecian style); Americans in Paris (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane); finally, the stories brought back by the French who fought in America’s war.
Marquis de Sade
Given that he plays a leading role in the title of the book, perhaps it is worth spending some time on EvKL’s views of this character:
He is better known for his sexual aberrations than for his philosophy – sadism is named after him – but his real importance lies in the domain of politics….
I will spend time only on the “domain of politics….”
By and large the crimes of the Divine Marquis had been exaggerated: His deeds were neither so numerous nor so ferocious as reputed, since he spent most of his time in jails and hospitals for the criminally insane. However, he was not mentally ill.
De Sade was a resident of the Bastille, transferred out just days before the storming. His role during his residency is described by EvKL:
Knowing about the unrest in Paris, he began to harangue the people from his window, saying that the prisoners were tortured and assassinated in the dark dungeons of the Bastille. He used a funnel to give greater strength to his voice.
It was for these pronouncements that de Sade was transferred from the Bastille. Well after the fall of the Bastille, he would boast of the “ardor with which I called the people on the third of July to destroy the Bastille where the despots had me imprisoned: thus I possess the most glittering civic record of which a republican can pride himself.”
When the Bastille was stormed, no political prisoners were to be found. Instead, with a small garrison of Swiss and some invalid soldiers in defense, the “prisoners” included four forgers, two others who were insane, and one dissolute young man. Meanwhile, the Governor of the Bastille, the guards, and other unfortunates – after having surrendered – were butchered rather ingloriously.
De Sade's outlook was materialistic-atheistic-totalitarian, with a curiously contradictory anarchical bent. He believed that human beings were not superior to animals…
…or plants (however drawing the line at minerals). He would write:
“Pedantic louts, hangmen, scribblers, legislators, tonsured scum, what are you going to do once we prevail? What will happen to your laws, your morality, your religion, your powers, your paradise, your gods, your hell…?”
"This total self-destruction would merely return to nature the opportunity of creation which we have taken from her by propagating ourselves."
You get the idea. Further, children should belong to the state. As to the family?
He insisted that any society based on fraternity should make incest mandatory between brothers and sisters…. Promiscuity will naturally end the concept of fatherhood which rests on man's ability to identify children as his own by an act of faith and conviction, but that does not matter.
The French Revolution truly lived up to de Sade's visions, and there can be little doubt that, in a certain way, the "Divine Marquis" is the patron saint of all leftist movements.
A vain person, a shabby immoralist burdened with an unbalanced mind (especially during the last years of his life when his neuroses left him on the verge of insanity), Rousseau helped to father the French Revolution and subsequent developments.
Rousseau is well-known for the social contract:
Benjamin Constant, a genuine liberal, rightly called Rousseau's theory of the social contract "the most terrible aid to all types of despotism."
From Rousseau we get the universalist centralist state; he would bring men to liberty by force; the individual – the true individual – must be destroyed, replaced by a new man: void of individual personality and character.
His totalitarian attitude is well exemplified by the speech of Saint-Just on October 10, 1793. "You have to punish not only the traitors" he shouted, "but even those who are indifferent: You have to punish whoever behaves in the Republic in a passive spirit and does nothing for her, because ever since the French people has manifested their will, everything outside of the sovereign is an enemy."
EvKL does little to connect the Revolution to the Enlightenment, however he does offer one tidbit:
The tragedy of the intellectual leftist nobleman is best personified by Chretien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, a liberal of somewhat sectarian cast and a pillar of the Enlightenment.
While in a position of authority…
He used his position to promote the Enlightenment and, trying desperately to appear "tolerant," "progressive," "broadminded," he not only gave every imaginable aid to those who undermined the old order but even persecuted opponents of the Enlightenment.
Baron Grimm said without exaggeration that "without the assistance of Malesherbes the Encyclopédie would probably never have been published."
Malesherbes saw the light, but too late. Arrested in December 1793 along with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, he was executed…
…with the great delicacy that always distinguishes convinced leftists, the executioner had all the family beheaded in the presence of the old man (the grandfather of Alexis de Tocqueville) before his turn came (April 23, 1794).
Was the French Revolution merely the pendulum inevitably swinging the other way? Not even close, says EvKL:
There was no more reasonable sequitur between "provocation" and "reaction" in the case of the French Revolution than in the case of the Jews and the Nazis, the Armenians and the young Turks, the old Russian regime, the Kerensky interlude and bolshevism, Portuguese colonial rule in Angola…
…etc., etc., etc.
The French Revolution is still with us in every way. Not only are its ideas everpresent, but there is much in its historic evolution that can teach us – in North America no less than in Europe.
An undermining of traditional values and norms, coupled with calls for moderate reforms; with Voltaire, a subverting of “religion, convictions, traditions, and the loyalties on which state and society rested.” Most tellingly:
The process of decomposition and putrefaction always starts at the top – in the royal palace, the presidential mansion, among the intellectuals, the aristocracy, the wealthy, the clergy – and then gradually enmeshes the lower social layers. In this process it is interesting to notice how the high and mighty develop a sense of guilt and with it a readiness to abdicate, to yield to expropriation, to submit to the loss of privileges, in other words, to commit suicide politically and economically.
As if this could be written today….
Enlightenment and the Revolution had little to fear from the more intellectual clergy. Voltaire and Diderot both had been educated by the Jesuits (who are by no means the mind molders a certain type of propaganda makes them out to be).
This one is really too juicy to pass up…
The deeper meaning of history is theological and he who flees theology can only try to solve the riddles of history by offering banalities of a moralizing nature, such as an optimistic Old Liberalism and Marxism (related to each other in certain ways) have tried to provide.