Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Ruth Scurr

Ruth Scurr has written a thoughtful biography: Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. Obvious highpoints of her narrative--such as the storming of the Bastille, the assassination of Marat, the strange fates of Mirabeau, Lafayette and Condorcet, and the executions by guillotine of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame Roland, Georges Danton and finally her protagonist--pass, as in a meditation. It’s a serious book.

The French Revolution was serious but, nevertheless, crazy. After Trudeau converted Canada to the metric system, English Canadians complained about metric madness for decades. I myself love the French Revolutionary Calendar (FRC). Hey kids, what time is it? It’s 3 Pluviose. Karl Marx famously used the FRC in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” to make fun of Louis Napoleon: “history repeats itself,” Marx says, “first as tragedy, then comedy.”

More importantly, the French Revolution discredited European feudalism and its divine right of kings, then paved the way for government by law and the ballot and the rights of the individual. It was all in all a massive swirling progressive event. But a few passages in Scurr’s book make you shiver over the process. Robespierre, for instance:

invented a new official category of criminal: enemies of the people, “those who, in any manner and no matter with what mask they have concealed themselves, have sought to thwart the progress of the Revolution and prevent the strengthening of the Republic….”

Robespierre recommended that the Tribunal should now accept “moral proofs” against accused persons, who were no longer to be allowed advocates….

Enemies of the people included anyone seeking to re-establish the monarchy, discredit the [constitutional] Convention, betray the Republic, communicate with foreign enemies, interfere with food provision, shelter conspirators, speak ill of patriotism, suborn officials, mislead the people, spread false news, insult morality, deprave the public conscience, steal public property, abuse public office, or plot against the liberty, unity and security of the state. The punishment for all these crimes was death. (page 328)

Robespierre as head of the Committee of Public Safety was powerful, absolutely powerful, but, it was said, incorruptible.

French support for the American Revolution bankrupted France. We, too, live in troubled times. Louis XVI was the wrong king at the wrong time, just as George Bush is the wrong president for this time. His war in Iraq is bankrupting America. Is he an enemy of the people, an enemy of God or just an enemy of reason? If we’re lucky, he will merely pass from office more hated than any president since Richard Nixon.

The key to Bush’s residual popularity remains his religion. Robespierre like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson before him was a Deist. As the Reign of Terror got underway, Robespierre suppressed the religion of Reason and replaced it with the worship of the Supreme-Being. He was no atheist. Nor was he, like Bush, a Methodist. But Bush, like Robespierre, seeks to impose his religion on everyone. Bush is an enemy of man. Man recovered from Robespierre, and will recover from Bush. I don’t know about America. He has two years left to ruin it forever.


Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Bush has almost single-handedly saved the entire world with his policies. Now the chic younger Shieks of Iraq are lining up with him, and going after those Al-Qaida brats. Afghanistan is still officially Muslim, as is Iraq. They aren't yet Methodist states.

There aren't any Methodist states.

In fact, I believe that their membership is declining.

Hillary is also a Methodist.

There's method in their madness!

As for the French, they were never very liberal in the first place. They never grasped Madison's idea of competing factions. It was too much for the French mind I think.

They fell behind the English in philosophy and science.

The Finnish make better yogurt.

The Finnish also have a kind of yogurt that has the consistency of snot, but is actually half-cheese. I'm not sure if I really like it. It's called viili. Try it with persimmons. There is also mämmi: this is black gummy stuff they eat at Easter that looks like diarrhea. The French would love it!

5:00 PM  
Blogger Michael Andre said...

I just saw Manet and the Execution of Maximilien at the Museum of Modern Art. Maximilien was the emperor of Mexico, essentially a proxy of Louis Napoleon. The US was preoccupied with its Civil War. As that war ended, things went badly for Maximilien, and he was finally shot.

I kept thinking of the recent execution of Saddam. Reagan and Rumsfeld in the '80s encouraged Saddam to wage war on Iran. What cynicism!

Now of course our president, out of bloodlust, has had Saddam brutally hung. And he's sending more American soldiers to Iraq to be slaughtered.

Our president loves killing and death.

1:21 AM  

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