It’s been both a blessing and a curse that America’s knowledge of the French Revolution has been so sparse. Even English and Germans of the 19th Century couldn’t agree as to what this event from the late 1700s meant to Europe, so other than well known places, like the Bastille, or events like the daily guillotines, where mobs of people gathered to cheer as royals were “introduced to Lady Razor”, or names, Robespierre, the Directorate, Americans’ knowledge of the impact of the French Revolution was lacking one simple ingredient… we weren’t European.
Born just a couple of years before it started, for Americans the French Revolution was no more important than a barn-burning in Vermont. Bill Kristol might even say we were backward…which incidentally, we blessedly were.
But for Europeans, happening so quickly on the heels of our American Revolution, which had already turned over Europe’s entire ideal of “divine right of kings” government for the past 1000 years, by introducing the lit fuse “democracy” into the recipe for government, the French Revolution allowed the Europeans to scapegoat America’s popular democracy, just redefined, under the mirage that the barbarism of France’s lower classes was a rational reason to deny the creation of democratic institutions on the Continent.
This allowed the Continent to ignore the demonstrable fact that English lower classes had leapt a couple of centuries ahead of Europe…all because of that little Magna Carta “event” at Runnymede in 1215. For you see, Runnymede had created a whole new class of people in England, called “freemen”, which even 500 years later, the Europeans still hadn’t recognized as people capable of governing their own lives. With a little tongue-in-cheek, I discussed this phenomenon midway thru the Obama regime, since his administration was beginning to think about ordinary Americans much like the French royals thought about their “Jacguerie”, or serf class. (By the time of the French Revolution their bottom class poor had come to be called “Sans-Coulottes”, “men without breeches”.)
By pointing a finger at the French mob, the European royals could ignore that small-business start-up in North America called the United States, created by mobs of literate “middle class” Englishmen, mostly of a religious bent, worse, Protestant, since nothing America did for over a century made its way into the European populations’ worldview by way of their Press.
This “cover-up” may have been the greatest fallout of the French Revolution; for it allowed Continental Europe, and half of England to assert that the brutal carnage, ecstatic reveling in it, were a product of lower class mobs “gone mad”, also allowing them to ignore the educated, middle class philosophers and writers who had thrown them the raw meat in the first place. The Rousseau’s, the Robespierre’s, and Committee of Public Safety who created the Reign of Terror. “The Mob” was simply the predictable cast of thousand who could always be relied upon to riot, burn and cheer as “Lady Razor” spilled yet another head into the basket in the market square, and tear into any raw meat the Committee should throw their way. Ayn Rand called them “manipulators”, only at Berkeley in 1964, not Paris in 1793.
The political fallout of the French Revolution would take close to a century to actually create that “republic” their intellectuals swore they wanted to achieve in 1789, but not before they had plowed the ground not for an American-style democracy, actually owned and managed by the people, but a civilized, genteel form of socialism invented in the mind of a fellow named Karl Marx about 70 years after the Revolution, for the sole purpose of replacing the old heavy-handed aristocratic wealth-and-power class defined by blood lines, with an newer aristocratic wealth-and-power class still made up by the intelligentsia-turned-bureaucrat…as skill set they could never acquire, and which would ultimately destroy every single one of those Utopian dreams.
America disproved everything the Europeans believed about the capabilities of common born men and women, or the necessity of intellectual leadership and inspiration in nation-building. Worse, the Americans, most of them transplanted Europeans from their lower classes, disproved the lie that that the violent rampage of the French Revolution came from their bottom classes.
What the French Revolution begat:
While the “revolutionists” wanted to give France a constitution, what the French Revolution in fact did beget to the world was the first attempt at world conquest by a non-royal since Alexander of Macedon, a fellow named Napoleon Bonaparte. He had to stop the bleeding. Then it would go to his head and he would be stopped at Waterloo (1815). Although it would take another century, 1918, the era of “divine kingships” began its death rattle with Napoleon because a commoner had done a better job that European kings had in centuries.
And the final begat, of course, would be that man named Karl Marx, and who is still all the rage, even though every venture ever tried in his name has failed. And will always fail. He was what those French radicals had in mind and what we see in Portland and Seattle have in mind today. ““Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”–attributed to Albert Einstein.
In that sense, the British philosopher Thomas Carlyle, born in the first years of the Revolution, said this about it:
A common theory among considerable parties of men in England and elsewhere used to be, that the French Nation, in those days, had gone mad;
That the French Revolution was a general act of insanity; a temporary conversion of France and large sections of the world (emphasis mine) into a kind of bedlam.
I can’t say whether the demon seed that brought the French royal house down in 1789 was always there, or even peculiarly French, but that seed still defines French government and how it sees its citizens today. The insanity is still there.
Finally, a “Noyau” Society?
Is France just a freak of nature?
Robert Ardrey, who I’ve written about in the past, described some animal societies that are held together by “mutual animosity rather than co-operation.” That seems to go against the general Darwinian notion of survival, but since the animosity is aimed inward, as opposed to other species, arguably, it can work.
Ardrey believed it could apply to human societies as well, and, having lived there, was quick to nominate Italy, whose cities were constantly at war with one another throughout the Middle Ages, and one of the last European nations to finally come together as a single kingdom, in 1861. (We were even taught about Garibaldi when I was in grade school. No, really.)
I would put France in the same noyau category, as the same sort of institutional animosities existed there in 1787 exists today.
Only it was one that is manufactured by external factors, and not natural “animal behavior” law. Betas cannot grant themselves the title of Alpha, for the herd will always reject them. But Betas can inspire the herd to kill the Alphas, by law or by mob. France is what occurs for a nation led my Betas, or less.
America not only proves that no government can order the masses to reverse course and return to being a Mob, it proves that the collective masses are the sole source of common sense, honor, and moral sensibility (all survival ingredients) to keep its Beta intellectuals in check.
Are you listening Bill Kristol?