The French Revolution and American Politics

So, I just finished slogging through Simon Schama’s Citizens.  It’s not nearly as good as Carlyle, but it does make some interesting points.

Historians are also much given to dinstinguishing between the “verbal” violence and the real thing.  The assumption seems to be that such men as Javogues and Marat, who were given to screaming at people, calling for death, gloating at the spectacle of heads on pikes or processions of men with their hands tied behind their backs climbing the steps to the rasoir national were indulging only in brutal rhetoric.  The screamers were not to be compared with such quiet bureaucrats of death as Fouguier-Tinville who did their jobs with stolid, silent efficiency.  But the history of “Ville-Affranchie” of the Vendee-Venge, or of the September massacres suggests in fact a direct connection between all that orchestrated or sponstaneous screaming for blood and its copious shedding. It contributed greatly to the complete dehumanization of those who became victims.  As “brigands” or the “Austrian Whore” or “fanatics” they became nonentities in the Nation of Citizens and not only could but had to be eliminated if it was to survive.  Humiliation and abuse, then, were not just Jacobin fun and games; they were the prologues to killing.

- Citizens, A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Schama. pp.859-860

It never ceases to amaze me that the French Revolution presages every revolution of the 20th century with almost mirror-like quality.  It starts with the highest of rhetoric, The People (always capitalized); the Patrie (or Fatherland or Motherland); Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.  And it ends in organized violence on a massive scale.  In the Vendee, the Revolutionaries didn’t want to waste bullets and gun powder so they filled barges with recalcitrants, towed them to the middle of the Loire and then sank them.  People who could swim though bound were bayoneted.  They lined people up in front of cannon and shot one ball through as many as they could.  People who thought the Nazis invented this kind of thing are sorely mistaken

The rhetoric of violence, as Schama points out, creates the necessary groundwork for the butchers to go forward.  Your opponents, who aren’t really “enemies” at all though they are called that, must be dehumanized before they can be slaughtered.

When one is pursuing the perfect, all things are allowable.  Utopia cannot be stopped by troglodytes, or rednecks, or ChimpyMcHitler Bush.  The dehumanizing language the Left uses to stigmatize and marginalize conservatives and their ideas in this country are part and parcel of the rhetoric of Marat and Robespierre, Mao and Stalin.

Apropos of the escalation, how about burning in effigy?  On the flip side, the Movement must have angelic leaders, idealized symbols of Hope and Change, an Obamassiah perhaps?

One Comment

  1. Katy:

    And to add (pile?) on, I think it should be noted how everyone talks about the Enlightenment, but the French Enlightenment, which led toute-de-suite to the French Revolution, was so very different from the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment, which influenced Hamilton, Washington, Adams — most of America’s Anglo Founding Fathers, in fact. Thank goodness.

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