Remember when the L.A. riots spun out of control, and engulfed the whole United States? The key moment was no doubt when police and Army commanders took fright and changed sides, throwing their support to the Committee for Public Safety led by Tom Hayden, along with Noam Chomsky, Barbara Boxer, Michael Moore, and Edward Said. After Hayden’s fall and execution, his successor, Marion Barry, insisted that President Bush and his wife Barbara be tried for treason. Their executions shocked the world but sparked wild celebrations in the capital, as the First Couple’s severed heads danced on poles in daylong parades. A crack whore was duly enshrined in the National Cathedral as the Goddess of Reason.
Of course, Hayden and Barry were each executed in due course, and replaced by the "incorruptible" Maxine Waters. The ensuing Terror killed tens of thousands including corporate executives, Indian software engineers, Korean grocers, many harmless courtiers and celebrities such as Liz Taylor, Goldie Hawn, Bill Cosby and Adam Sandler, and unnumbered professors, priests, ministers and cloistered nuns , all accused of "subversion."
When conservatives rose up in Arkansas and Louisiana, the Army crushed the counterrevolution, crowded its supporters onto rafts on the Mississippi, then sank them, drowning thousands of unarmed civilians. The Terror only ended when General Louis Farrakhan used a " whiff of grapeshot " to cow the mob. His ruthless secret police calmed the chaos at home – ended the church burnings and massacres, for instance – but his foreign policy adventurism started wars with Mexico, Canada, Great Britain and finally Russia, ending only with his ignominious defeat and exile to Staten Island. But all this is ancient history now. The Revolution and its wars have ended, at a cost of over 20 million lives, and the U.S. standard of living now equals Serbia’s. Was it all worth it?
That little thought experiment should give you an idea of what the French Revolution was really like – a digestive eruption of all the basest instincts in the lowest elements of society, led by power-drunk ideologues of the radical Left. (If you click on the link for any of the imaginary events given above, you’ll find its real-life parallel in the French Revolution.) It was utterly unlike the American rebellion against the English colonial officials – which amounted to a regional secession, led by the responsible members of the upper middle class. And for that fact we should be forever grateful, as should other countries which emulated the American model of political reform, rather than the French, as Hannah Arendt and Wilhelm RÃ¶pke have written.
Of course, apologists for the Revolution will point to the inequalities and injustices of the Ancien Regime as justification for the bloodbath. So do revolutionaries justify every excess; so did leftists in Los Angeles, pointing to the genuine misery, squalor and stagnation lived by so many members of the urban underclass. Looking back, we see that black slaves in America at the Founding lived much worse lives than did poor Frenchmen, and had vastly fewer rights. Would that have justified a massive slave rebellion, ending with the murder of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and every other slave-owning aristocrat? Some far-left professors on American campuses might argue just this. Their position is not some racially-motivated eccentricity, but the logical outcome of the fashionable, conventionally accepted position that the French Revolution was a justified, progressive event in history. If you think French peasants had the right to guillotine King Louis, then you must say that black slaves would have been right to hang George Washington. To accept the American Revolution, you must reject the French.
Indeed, the gap in wealth, privilege, and power between a third-generation welfare mother and, say, a 1992 Hollywood movie executive, was probably greater than that separating a French peasant from an aristocrat. Would that justify throwing George Lucas into jail, then guillotining him? Not even Jar-Jar Binks merits him that.
Speaking of film, a recent classic by the French master director Eric Rohmer depicts the reality of the Revolution much better than I can, and without using belabored historical metaphors, as I must. In The Lady and the Duke, a gripping drama in now available on DVD, Rohmer adapts the memoirs of Grace Dalrymple Elliot, a kind-hearted conservative English lady caught up in the nightmare that was Revolutionary Paris. A former lover, and still a friend, of the squishy-left aristocrat, the Duc d’Orleans, Grace watches in horror as the hard-left takes over the city – imposing upon Paris, hitherto the sophisticated, cosmopolitan capital of Western Culture, a xenophobic, bloody, totalitarian state, complete with secret police, greedy informers, passbooks, political prisoners, and executions of the rich, the foreign, the dissenting, and the merely unlucky.
"Death to the Austrian woman," the blood-crazed rabble cried, marching through burning streets to demand the murder of a queen – and they got it. Why was Marie Antoinette executed? (Hint: She never said "Let them eat cake" – that urban myth had been invented 100 years before, to defame another foreign Queen of France.) The lovely, brave, devout Marie Antoinette – who as a girl had flirted with the boy Mozart while he played the piano – was caged like an animal for months, watching her maltreated boy, Louis, die slowly of disease. Then she was dragged off to be beheaded. Why? Mainly for being foreign, and having had more wit than her husband, enough to try to resist the collapse of her adopted country into subhuman chaos. But most aristocrats depicted in this film have no such good sense or courage.
At the heart of this exquisite movie is the relationship between Grace and the Duc d’Orleans. The latter is a pampered, ambitious, not very bright cousin to the tragic King Louis XVI, a Duke who throws his weight and wealth behind the Revolutionaries, in the hope that they will place him on the throne. He spouts, and no doubt believes, the new rhetoric of hysterical, xenophobic revolutionary patriotism – which would soon spread to Germany and Italy, planting the seeds of both the Nazi and Fascist movements. You can taste blood in the lyrics of the loathsomely catchy jingle La Marseillaise:
To arms, oh citizens!
Form up in serried ranks!
March on, march on!
And drench our fields
With their tainted blood!
Supreme devotion to our Motherland
Guides and sustains avenging hands.
The "tainted blood" of class enemies – anyone born an aristocrat, whether rich or impoverished, and any priest loyal to Rome – and racial enemies (principally foreigners) did indeed flow. The Duc d’Orleans defends the Terror, as necessary to "purge" the French nation of impurities and treasonous elements; that is, of anyone who refused to march behind the totalitarian leaders of the Revolution, who refused to subsume his individuality in the "general will" of Jean-Jacques Rousseau the theologian of society-as-anthill. (For Star Trek fans, Rousseau’s political philosophy can be summed up in two words: The Borg.)
Grace was appalled, keeping alive her friendship with the Duke in order to exert some influence on him, to urge him and his other "moderate" revolutionary allies among the aristocracy and the army to crush the rebellion before it turned on them. Even as Orleans votes for the judicial murder of his own cousin, the King, Grace risks death repeatedly to save the life of a hunted aristocrat whom she barely knows – simply because it’s the right thing to do. The moral contrast between this pious English émigré and the scheming, foolish Duke, points up the contrast between the aristocrats who led the American Revolution, and those who launched the French. Our leaders were sound, sober, cautious and moderate, grounding their grievances against the British king in English Common Law, the rights of local governments, and countless carefully reasoned judicial and legal precedents. The French aristocrats who voted with the ideologues and the Mob to murder their king were irresponsible, frivolous, and finally cowardly – and most of them ended up on the scaffold, like the poor Duc d’Orleans. Every radical revolution eats its young – as the intellectuals of France, then Russia, Germany, and Cambodia (to name a few) would learn.
There were reasons why the French upper classes were so irresponsible, and they went back to the 17th Century. Even as British kings were forced by Parliament and people to revive and respect the medieval privileges of local liberty and limited government, King Louis the Fourteenth, the "Sun-King," trampled and crushed local elites, herded the aristocrats into Versailles, persecuted religious minorities, defied the Pope, squashed the liberty of the French church, and gathered all power to Paris, into the hands of an absolutist executive. He turned the once rich and complex political fabric of France, celebrated by the great Montesquieu, into a brittle autocracy, which would collapse at the first hammer blow. That blow would come when his descendant King Louis XVI bankrupted his kingdom – ironically, by financing the American Revolution. By then, the upper classes of France had been dilettantes and parlor philosophes for generations, and were utterly unsuited to embark on moderate political reform. They were the prototypes for America’s spoiled Boomers, who manned the barricades and burned the colleges in the 1960s.
Ironically, the best source for learning about what went right in America, and wrong in France, is the work of a French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville. He understood better than any U.S. native the roots of our liberty, and he looked across the Atlantic with jealous admiration. Reading him, and studying other works depicting the Revolution and its horrors, have forever spoiled for me the sight of the Tricolor, and the sound of La Marseillaise, a song which was really the predecessor to the "Horst Wessel Lieder":
Millions, full of hope, look up at the swastika;
The day breaks for freedom and for bread.
For the last time the call will now be blown;
For the struggle now we all stand ready.
Soon will fly Hitler-flags over every street;
Slavery will last only a short time longer.
Flag high, ranks closed,
The S.A. marches with silent solid steps.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and Reaction
march in spirit with us in our ranks.
But La Marseillaise is a fun and catchy song, with a rousing melody that can move a mob into action. It seems a pity to waste it. So I present it here in another form: a parody written by the Catholic peasants of the Vendée and Brittany who rose up in 1791 and fought a three-year war in defense of King and Church. In the end, they were crushed by overwhelming force, and massacred in the hundreds of thousands. Indeed, the revolutionary government decreed a policy of deliberate genocide against the regions—a fact considered unmentionable in France to this day; one historian told me that she dared not write about these events for fear of “never working in France again.” Alexander Solzshenitsyn was willing to point it out when he came in 1993 to mark the opening of the Vendée Memorial.
The heroic resistance of these lightly armed farmers against a professional army helped unseat the atheist radicals in Paris, vault Napoleon Bonaparte into power, and force Napoleon to make a peace treaty (a “concordat”) with the Church. Like their heirs in twentieth-century Mexico, these peasants put a stop to persecution. In their honor, I present the monarchist parody written by a Vendee soldier, which roused these devout Resistance fighters as they marched into battle—with a translation by my good friend Charles Coulombe.
John Zmirak is author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song.
Allons armées catholiques
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la république
L’étendard sanglant est levé (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
Les cris impurs des scélérats ?
Qui viennent jusque dans nos bras
Prendre nos filles, nos femmes !
Aux armes vendéens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Le sang des bleus
Rougira nos sillons !
Quoi des infâmes hérétiques
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers?
Quoi des muscardins de boutiques
Nous écraseraient sous leurs pieds? (Repeat)
Et le Rodrigue abominable
Infâme suppôt du démon
S’installerait en la maison
De notre Jésus adorable
Tremblez pervers et vous timides,
La bourrée des deux partis.
Tremblez, vos intrigues perfides
Vont enfin recevoir leur prix. (Repeat)
Tout est levé pour vous combattre
De Saint Jean d’Monts à Beaupréau,
D’Angers à la ville d’Airvault,
Nos gars ne veulent que se battre.
Chrétiens, vrais fils de l’Eglise,
Séparez de vos ennemis
La faiblesse à la peur soumise
Que verrez en pays conquis. (Repeat)
Mais ces citoyens sanguinaires
Mais les adhérents de Camus
Ces prêtres jureurs et intrus
Cause de toutes nos misères.
Ô sainte Vierge Marie
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs!
Contre une sequelle ennemie
Combats avec tes zélateurs! (Repeat)
A vos étendards la victoire
Est promise assurément.
Que le régicide expirant
Voie ton triomphe et notre gloire!
Translation by Charles A. Coulombe
Let us go, Catholic armies
the day of glory arrived!
Against us, the Republic
Has raised the bloody banner. (Repeat)
Do you hear in our countryside
the impure cries of the wretches?
Who come—unless our arms prevent them—
To take our daughters, our wives!
To arms, Vendeeans!
Form your battalions!
The blood of the blues [revolutionaries]
Will redden our furrows!
What of the infamous heretics
Who would make the law in our homes?
What of the mercenary cowards
Who would crush us under their feet? (Repeat)
And abominable Rodrigue [Antoine Rodrigue, a local bishop who defied papal authority to cooperate with the Revolution]
Infamous henchman of the demon
Who would settle in the house
Of our adorable Jesus?
Tremble you perverse and timid,
Before the bonfires of the adversaries.
Tremble, your perfidious intrigues
shall finally receive their due. (Repeat)
All are raised to fight you
From Saint Jean d’Monts to Beaupréau,
From Angers to the town of Airvault,
Our lads want to only fight.
Christians, true sons of the Church,
Reject your enemies and
The weakness and the servile fear
Which you see in a conquered country. (Repeat)
But these bloody “citizens,”
These allies of Camus, [No, not the philosopher. . . . Armand-Gaston Camus, Secretary of the Revolutionary Convention, who led in the move to seize Church property and execute the king.]
These treasonous and imposed priests [This refers to the “Constitutional” priests who had sworn loyalty to the government over the pope, and were rewarded with the parishes of priests who refused; the latter were considered heroes.]
Are the cause of all our miseries.
O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Lead and support our avenging arms!
Against an enemy gang,
fight alongside your zealous warriors! (Repeat)
To your standards
is promised certain victory.
The regicides’ death
Shall be your triumph and our glory!