The Ugly Legacy of the French Revolution

The Ugly Legacy of the French Revolution

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Thirty years ago, France marked the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, celebrated officially as a great event, but remembered in the Vendee region of the country quite differently. Roger Jouteau, the manager of Les Herblers, a little town in the Vendee region that was assaulted by revolutionary French armies in 1794, expressed outrage in 1989 that the French government believed the revolution was something to celebrate.

“For us, it was a horrible genocide, a lasting source of national shame,” said Jouteau. It is estimated that Vendee’s 1789 population was 250,000; 150,000 died in the efforts of the radical government to impose its will on the recalcitrant area of rich farmlands south of the Loire River, extending east from the Atlantic Ocean.

Much of its population, which resisted the de-Christianization, the destruction of private property, and the attacks upon the existing order of society, all in the name of the people, was either killed in battle, disemboweled, starved, or shoved alive into bread ovens.

While the French Revolution is often depicted as a patriotic uprising against an old regime of aristocratic oppression of the French people, the truth is that most of the victims were not aristocrats, but rather peasants who defended their lands and their Christian faith, and resisted conscription to fight wars intended to spread the revolution throughout Europe.

According to Simon Schama’s best-seller Citizens, most of France remained loyal to the king.

According to the popular understanding (misunderstanding, actually), Bastille Day is some sort of French equivalent of America’s Independence Day, and the French Revolution as a whole was brought about by liberty-loving French in Paris who spontaneously rose up against a tyrannical king and his haughty wife, and who stormed the Bastille and liberated hundreds of political prisoners. Yet this widely accepted image could not be further from the truth.

The Role of Radical Secret Societies

The French Revolution was actually the fruit of decades of radical agitation stirred up by anti-Christian, power-seeking secret societies that had been inspired by the most radical elements of the Enlightenment. (A radical is a person who desires the destruction of the present order, replacing it with a new order in the world.)

The French Revolution has served as the template for every radical movement since. The first dictator of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, praised the French Revolution as a model for his own bloody Bolshevik Revolution, which installed a communist dictatorship in Russia. As the radicals of the French Revolution murdered the king and queen in the 1790s, Lenin’s Bolsheviks did the same in 1918 to the Russian royal family.

Another communist who looked with favor on the French Revolution was Ho Chi Minh, who killed rivals for political power in Vietnam, saying, “Anyone who does not follow the line determined by me will be smashed.” 

Since much of the rhetoric of today’s leftists sounds like that espoused by the French revolutionaries, with its savage attacks upon Christianity, liberty, property, and life itself — symbolized by the guillotine for the “enemies of the people” (called a basket of deplorables today by the revolution’s ideological heirs) — we need only note how and why the French Revolution happened to understand the impetus and strategy of modern leftists.

The popular image of the heroic storming of the Bastille is a gross distortion of actual historical events. The seeds of the French Revolution were sown in the cafes, coffee houses, and secret societies that emerged in the Enlightenment. This is not to say that the Enlightenment as a whole was evil, but many of the personalities and ideas that emerged from it were certainly radical. It was marked by increasing opposition to the existing order, specifically opposition to orthodox Christianity.

Among the more important events of the radical side of the Enlightenment was the publication of the 35-volume Encyclopedia, compiled between 1751 and 1772 by the virulently anti-Christian Denis Diderot and others who shared his radical viewpoints. The first edition even pictured a winged Lucifer on its title page. (One might note that Saul Alinsky, the mentor of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, dedicated his 1971 book Rules for Radicals to Lucifer.)

Few Enlightenment figures were openly atheist, but many instead held to deism, a belief that while there exists a Creator, he does not intervene in human affairs, and the authority of the Bible is questioned, with particular opposition to literal miracles. In other words, it is a religious view that leaves man morally unrestrained.

With the continuing spread of radical ideas — discussed openly in cafes, coffee houses, reading rooms, salons, and the like across Europe — some people began to move toward revolution, meeting in secret societies. One of these secret societies was the Bavarian Illuminati, formed by Adam Weishaupt on May 1, 1776. (Note that today communists around the world celebrate May 1.)

Weishaupt’s godfather, Johann Adam Freiherr von Ickstatt, raised him after the death of the boy’s father. Ickstatt was a devotee of the more radical ideas of the Enlightenment and passed on his rationalistic views to his godson. Weishaupt, a law professor, envisioned a society of “illumination, enlightening the understanding by the sun of reason, which will dispel the clouds of superstition and prejudice.”

Many of the Illuminati’s goals are largely shared by the Left today. They hate religion and nations, hoping that both will be annihilated. The Illuminati considered patriotism to be narrow-minded, believing it should be replaced by a world government, according to John Robison in his Proofs of a Conspiracy. The radical group envisioned the abolition of laws protecting property and any veneration of marriage vows, and advocated the taking of education out of the hands of parents, while supporting the practice of abortion, according to Nesta Webster in her book World Revolution.

These ideas of the Illuminati permeated the radical clubs of pre-revolution France. The ruler of Bavaria, Elector Karl Theodor, became alarmed at the subversive intentions of the Illuminati, and tried several times to suppress it. As a result, many of its adherents migrated to Paris, which was already awash in Enlightenment radicalism.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Whereas King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, are usually portrayed in the history books and in popular culture as tyrants of the worst sort, the truth is quite different. Marie Antoinette supposedly once remarked, “Let them eat cake,” when told the poor lacked bread. The real Antoinette said no such thing. In fact, she lodged and fed 12 poor families at her own expense at Trianon. She founded the Society of Ladies of Maternal Charity. She even once stopped her carriage for over an hour to aid an injured person, and waited until a surgeon was located.

Historian Antonia Fraser disputed the cruel libel against Antoinette in her book Marie Antoinette, the Journey, writing, “As a handy journalistic cliché [“Let them eat cake”], it may never die,” adding that “such ignorant behavior would have been quite out of character. The unfashionably philanthropic Marie Antoinette would have been more likely to bestow her own cake impulsively upon the starving people before her.”

Perhaps the greatest error of Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI of the House of Bourbon, was involving his nation in the war between Great Britain and her American colonies, compounding France’s serious debt problem.

He, however, did not create the debt problem: Most of France’s debt was incurred before Louis the XVI came to the throne, during the four wars of Louis XIV, followed by the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War in America) under Louis XV.

With its monetary problems, France had no business involving itself in yet another war. Perhaps Louis could not have avoided the national bankruptcy that contributed to the coming of the French Revolution even had he remained out of the American Revolution, but his intervention no doubt deepened the debt problem.

This article appears in the July 22, 2019, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.

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