]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]     LE QUATORZE JUILLET         [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                               by Sysop                     (7/4/1989)

     Wherever you look, you will now find articles devoted to the 
200th anniversary of the French Revolution. The usual stuff is what a 
wonderful thing it was and how it changed the world; a few conserva-
tive and neutral magazines claim the French had it better before the 
Revolution, and that the whole thing was superfluous, because the 
changes would have come about anyway.
     Both sides bring in evidence by the barrelful to bolster THEIR
point of view, omitting their opponents' barrelful.
     I believe the conservative view (as expressed in COMMENTARY, 
is nearer the truth, but it is not the complete truth, either.
     It is quite untrue that the French had it so good before the 
revolution. Most of them were serfs, doing forced labor on their 
Lord's fields, and what they hated even more was LA CORVEE, forced 
labor to keep the roads in repair. This left them little time to tend 
their own fields, while they could see the nobility living a lavish 
life of frivolity.
     On the other hand, it wasn't these people who stormed the Bas-
tille and the Tuileries: it was the city mobs incited by the pamphlet-
eers, the intellectuals the writers: the press.
     What does not get too much written about is the cost of The 
Terror years 1792-94: 40,000 were guillotined (barely 10% of them 
nobles). The total toll including those who perished during the Revo-
lutionary and Napoleonic Wars, came to almost 2 million -- out of a 
total population of 27 million.
     What the French Revolution invented, 150 years before Auschwitz, 
was industrialized murder. In Vendee, a city that had revolted against 
the central Revolutionary government, over 100,000 people, including 
women and children, were murdered, executed in part by grapeshot and
by tying them to boats that were sunk in the Loire River. ("No
nation," wrote Friedrich Engels in a diatribe against the Czechs, "can
tolerate a Vendee in its heart.") A similar, somewhat smaller outrage
took place in Lyons, a city that had rebelled and was to be erased for
good. By some estimates,14,000 houses were demolished.
     There was a strong movement in America during the years of The
Terror to support France. George Washington and other leaders suc-
ceeded in stemming it. But some Americans began using the French revo-
lutionary "Citizen" to address each other, and in Boston, which seems 
to have been the Nut Capital of the US ever since its birth, they 
decided that the proper term for a woman was "Citess."
     Why was the French revolution so different from the American? 
None of the reasons put forward in this wave of celebrations satisfies 
me. There must have been many factors at work, but I would think the 
three overwhelming ones were the following:
    1) Nationalism. Americans were oppressed by a despotic regime, but
only politically, not nationally. The British spoke the same language,
and the Hessian contingents (which arrived much later in the war)
notwithstanding, the American Revolution had the character of a CIVIL
WAR, not one against truly FOREIGN nations. That was not the case in
France. From the very beginning, FOREIGN armies surrounded Paris, and
the Revolutionary Wars were fought against the British, Germans, and
Austrians, not against any French-speaking countries or armies. All
the revolutionary propaganda and songs appealed to patriotism and
defending FRANCE as much as, or more than, the Revolution. (It was a
lesson that Stalin learned in WWII when he made the Soviets fight for
Mother Russia, not Communism.)
     2) Property rights. To my knowledge there were no important
property violations in the American Revolution; in France, all land
owned by the Church was expropriated early on, and expropriation of
the nobility's holdings followed later. Property feeds individualism;
where property is not safe, man seeks refuge in collectives.
     3) Attitude to government. The English tradition, from Magna
Carta down, was to distrust government. Everybody else, including the
French, wished to replace a despotic government with what was hoped to
be better. Colonial Americans lived under British traditions; their 
revolution expressed the mistrust of government: it started under the 
slogan of No taxation without representation, and the one point in the 
American Revolution that was genuinely new was the idea that govern-
ment GOVERNS BY THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED -- an idea foreign to 
previous revolutionaries, including the French encyclopedists (Rous-
seau, Voltaire, Montesquieu) who preached separation of powers  and 
other innovations, but not this truly radical concept of government.
     The French Revolution, to the contrary, began under the slogan 
LIBERTE, FRATERNITE, EGALITE, representing an ideology. But there has 
not been a single despot in history, not Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the 
Ayatollah or the Inquisition, who did not find appealing rationaliza-
tions for their crimes.
     The only guarantee of genuine progress is to limit and distrust
government itself; and doubly so in the case of a government that
governs in the name of an abstract ideology.
     The difference in attitude to government is, I believe, the main
reason why the American Revolution lasted, whereas a French king
remounted the throne but 26 years after the revolution (admittedly
with strongly curbed powers); and why Washington, Franklin and Jeffer-
son continue to be admired by the world, whereas only Communists
openly admire the murderous Jacobins -- and perhaps even THEY now have 
second thoughts.

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