Postmodernism 101, Part 12: Rousseau’s Paradise Found

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s leftist political ideology is based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   His political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

Rousseau’s writings inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  In 1789, the first revolution replaced France’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy.  From 1789 to 1792, leftist radicals came to dominate Paris.  In 1792, leftist Paris radicals toppled the constitutional monarchy, in a second revolution.  The Convention assembled in Paris to declare the Republic.

robespierreRobespierre

Exploiting war fears, Robespierre and the radical left cracked down on the Right.  The prisons filled with political prisoners.  In the First Terror, radicals slaughtered the political prisoners, in the September Massacres.

Military victories gave Brissot and the Girondists a boost.  The Girondists dismantled the Terror but failed to imprison Robespierre and the radicals.  The Convention tried and executed the King.  In the process, Robespierre and the radicals gained popular support over the Girondists.

Brissot and the Girondists tried to expand the war to gain support.  It backfired.  In March 1793, Civil War broke out over anti-religious oppression.  Urban patriot forces (the “Blues”) violently repressed religious provincial insurgents (the “Whites”).  Meanwhile, the war faltered against Austria and Prussia.  With France retreating on two fronts, General Dumouriez (a Girondist) turned traitor and escaped to Austria (as Lafayette had).

marat-assassinationMarat is assassinated

Paris was in crisis (again).  The radicals blamed the Girondists for the traitor Dumouriez.  The Girondists fought back, arresting the radical Marat.  When Marat was acquitted, the radicals attacked.  In the June 2 purge, the Paris guards joined with the radicals to arrest the Girondists. In the provinces, Girondists and moderates revolted against the Convention and the Paris “anarchists”.  On July 13, a Girondist supporter journeyed to Paris and assassinated Marat.

Things really, really went downhill, from there.

Extermination

The fever of Paris radicalism became epidemic.  The murderous sans-culottes were enraged over Marat’s murder.  Radical conspiracy theories spread like the plague.  (Even the bordellos were rumored to be infected with spies.)  Frenzied feverish radicals denounced the suspicious.

The Public Safety Committee was not repressive enough.  Its less radical members were retired and replaced with extreme radicals.  It was time “to exterminate the rebel race,” the reconstituted Committee declared.  On August 4, the Convention sent Republican armies to exterminate the cancerous insurrection.  Republican armies sallied forth against Marseille, Lyon, and the federalist rebels.  Atrocities followed.

Chaos
saint-justLouis “Angel of Death” Saint-Just

Out of the chaos, Rousseau’s collectivist totalitarian order would emerge.  The young Jacobin firebrand Louis Saint-Just led the second French constitution to completion.  “Fraternity, Equality, and Liberty, or Death!”, the patriots cheered.  The Committee mobilized the Republic for total war.  “Until our enemies are expelled from the territory of the Republic, all French are permanently enlisted for service to the armies,” they decreed.  Every man, woman, and child were joined, as one, to exterminate the foreign invasion.

The insidious cancer of the “enemy within” needed removal.  “Let us make terror the order of the day,” the radicals cried.  On September 5, militants burst into the Convention and the Committee.  They called for repression against royalists, moderates, merchants, the rich, the unpatriotic.  They cried for more September Massacres to exterminate the enemy within.

Chaos loomed.  Order was needed.  Robespierre resolved to bring order from chaos – the “single will”.  The Committee muzzled the radical leaders.  Marches on the Convention ended.  The sans-culotte mob (viewed as Rousseau’s “general will”) demanded purification.

Order

The Committee established order.  On September 9, the Committee unleashed the Revolution Army, to exterminate the unpatriotic infection.  Paramilitary bands of Paris’ worst radicals terrorized and looted the countryside.  On September 17, Saint-Just led the Convention to legalize Terror.  The Law of Suspects ordered the arrest of enemies and suspected enemies.  The powers of the criminal Tribunal and local surveillance committees were expanded.

saint-justExecution of the Girondists

Times of crisis, Rousseau wrote, require dictatorship and setting aside the laws.  So, the Committee claimed near total power.  Chaos “is leading us to barbarism,” Robespierre said, to oppose the Committee is to be “an enemy of the nation”.  In September and October, the Committee consolidated power over the criminal Tribunal and the Convention. “The enemies of the Republic are within the government, itself,” claimed Saint-Just, champion of the constitution.  He demanded the constitution be set aside and executive authority vested in the Committee.  The Convention reluctantly complied.

In October 1793, the Girondists were tried, as a group, by the Tribunal.  Brissot and others had been imprisoned since summer.  Girondist ties to the federalist revolts and Marat’s assassination convinced the Convention to proceed to trial.  Brissot and the Girondists mounted a vigorous defense. To ensure conviction, Robespierre curtailed the trial.  On October 30, a hand-picked jury convicted the group of conspiracy.  The head judge sentenced the twenty-one Girondists to death.  One committed suicide, on the spot.  On October 31, Brissot and the rest were guillotined.  The crowd cheered, at first, then fell silent.

State Religion
nantes-drowningsHébertist drownings at Nantes

Robespierre clashed with other radicals on religion.  He ended years of antichristian “cultural revolution” by atheist militants.  They had closed churches, expelled clergy, banned masses, looted, and burned.  At Notre Dame, they replaced Christianity with the Cult of Reason (their atheist conception of Rousseau’s civil religion). Robespierre pushed through a decree for religious tolerance.  In 1794, he announced a state religion – the Cult of the Supreme Being (Robespierre’s deist conception of Rousseau’s state religion, promoting civil “virtue”).

The most militant atheists protested and were executed, including Anacharsis Cloots (self-styled “enemy of Jesus Christ”), the Paris Commune’s Jacques Hébert (who had pursued the Girondists’ executions), and Jean-Baptiste Carrier (a monstrous Hébertist leader, responsible for atrocities that included mass executions of innocent men, women, and children at Nantes).

Reckoning
nantes-drowningsDanton creates a monster

Nobody was safe from the Terror.  Radical Cordelier Georges Danton was denounced and executed.  Danton had helped architect the Terror and empower the Committee. Saint-Just prosecuted the indignant Danton, in a show trial.  Danton and other Cordelier leaders were summarily convicted and executed.

An estimated 40,000 people were executed in the Terror.  At one time, 300,000 were imprisoned.  In June 1794, Robespierre’s ally Georges Couthon streamlined the Terror laws “to exterminate the implacable satellites of tyranny”.  This “Great Terror” greatly increased convictions and executions in June and July.  Police spies roamed the streets.

Danton’s execution triggered the dramatic events that ended the Terror.  Conspiracies formed against the Committee’s “triumvirate” – Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon.  Robespierre was near mental collapse.  On July 26, he made a paranoid accusatory speech to the Convention and was rebuked.  That night, he and the Jacobins plotted insurrection.  Elsewhere, conspirators plotted against Robespierre.

robespierre-shootingRobespierre is shot

On July 27, Saint-Just and Robespierre were shouted down at the Convention.  Robespierre accused the Convention of being “assassins”.  Deputies ordered the triumvirate arrested.  The Paris Commune ordered their release, declared an insurrection, and sent Hanriot’s Paris guards to surround the Convention with cannons.  The Convention ordered Hanriot arrested.  That night, confusion reigned in Paris.  Robespierre and his allies met to draft a proclamation of insurrection (left unsigned by Robespierre).  Convention forces broke in to arrest them, shooting Robespierre in the jaw, and killing another.

On July 28, the triumvirate (Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon) were executed, along with Hanriot, the Paris mayor, and sixteen others.  The next day, another 140 Paris Commune members were sent to the guillotine.  Paris was purged of its most radical and most militant.  The powers of the Mountain and Paris Commune were broken.  The moderates gained control over the Convention.

Commentary

Rousseau’s Social Contract was the general theory of the Revolution, wrote Hilaire Belloc, and Rousseau its “chief prophet”.  Rousseau’s triumph against competing ideas, says Belloc, was both due to his vision and his style – “his choice of French words and the order in which he arranged them”.  Rousseau had put his political theory to the French “so lucidly, so convincingly, so tersely” that it became gospel.

Rousseau’s religious ideas animated the militant atheist atrocities against Christianity – looting, murdering, and mass executions.  Many meekly accepted this as an expression of the “general will”.  Robespierre saw the horrors unleashed by the destruction of religious morality.  He responded with a Rousseauistic civil religion that included “virtue”.  Just as Rousseau’s ideas justified mass executions of Christians, they justified the executions of atheists.

Rousseau’s collectivist totalitarian ideas animated the Terror.  Rousseau called for dictatorship in times of crisis.  Dictatorship was vested in the Committee on Public Safety.  Rousseau utterly devalued the individual.  He argued that we owe our lives to the collective.  The collective cannot take our lives because we never owned our lives.  He scorned “egoism” (individual self-interest).  What mattered was the “general will” (the mob).  Rousseau’s ideas justified mass executions because his philosophy made life worthless.

In the end, Robespierre seemed to acquiesce to the “general will” in his own arrest and execution.  He didn’t sign the proclamation of insurrection.  Danton looked to Rousseau to justify the Terror that executed him, as had Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, Hébert, Carrier, Hanriot, and the Paris Commune leaders.

Next

Rousseau’s ideas sprout in the collectivist Right.  Next: Part 13, Napoleonic Stress Disorder.

Postmodernism 101, Part 11: Civil War

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts:

Philosophical Foundation

Political Theology

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s leftist political ideology is based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   His political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

Rousseau’s writings inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  In 1789, King Louis XVI convened the Estates General and started a revolution.  A National Assembly set about making a constitutional monarchy.  From 1789 to 1792, the revolution grew ever more radical.  Leftist mob violence was rewarded with appeasement.  A second revolution by leftist radicals, in August 1792, ended the constitutional monarchy.  The King was imprisoned for treason.

robespierreRobespierre

Prussia invaded.  Crisis ensued.  Robespierre and the radicals exploited the crisis.  They spread conspiracy theories and fake news.  Authorities cracked down on the Right.  In Paris, Robespierre’s radical Paris Commune seized power.  Political prisoners filled the prisons.  In the First Terror, radicals slaughtered the political prisoners (the September Massacres).  Murderous vigilantes rampaged.

The crisis passed.  The defeated Prussians retreated.  A Convention assembled in Paris, declaring the Republic.  Military victory boosted Brissot and the Girondists.  The Convention dismantled the Terror. The Girondists tried unsuccessfully to imprison Robespierre and the radicals for their role in the September Massacres.

The Convention tried and beheaded the King.  In the process, Robespierre and his Mountain radicals had outflanked the Girondists.  The Girondists had been on the Left, but Robespierre put the Girondists on his Right (looking suspiciously like monarchists).

The two factions were mortal enemies.  Brissot accused Robespierre of trying to murder him.  The Mountain radicals accused the Girondists of murdering one of theirs.

Things really went downhill, from there.

Civil War

In 1793, Brissot and the Girondists hoped to pick up steam from the war effort.  The Mountain radicals were on a winning streak.  The French army was on a bigger winning streak.  France gobbled up conquered territories (in Germany, Belgium, Savoy).  Europe’s “enslaved peoples” looked ripe for “liberation”.  Europe’s monarchs fretted over Louis’ beheading and France’s conquests.  France was going to need a bigger army.

The Convention called for more troops.  This was “quotas”, not conscription (like the King).  However, most eager young patriots had already gone to war.  The remaining peasants mostly had better things to do.

vendee-sacred-heartThe Vendée Sacred Heart

Civil war broke out.  Paris split along class lines.  The sans-culotte radicals attacked the middle and upper classes for not doing their share.  Radical militants packed the Convention galleries.  The provinces exploded.  Food riots broke out.  The clergy were attacked (again).  In March 1793, civil war raged.  Furious over endless attacks on the church, insurgent peasant armies (“Whites”) arose and battled to the death against urban patriot guards (“Blues”).

The patriot Blues cracked down in repression.  “You have allowed yourselves to be led astray by your priests and your nobles,” declared one patriot commander, “If you persist, we will exterminate you to the last individual”.  The patriots mercilessly slaughtered insurgents – men, women, and children.  The March rebellions were put down, except for Vendée.  The Vendée insurgents battled on, sacred heart banners snapping in the wind.

Crisis
dumouriezGen. Dumouriez

The war was in crisis (again).  Facing desertion, hunger, and Belgian riots, the French retreated from Belgium.  Facing coordinated counterattacks from Prussia and Austria, the French retreated from Holland.  French General Dumouriez blamed the Convention for not supporting the war effort.  The Convention sent deputies to confront him.  Dumouriez arrested them, handing them over to the Austrians.  He tried to march on Paris with his army (like Lafayette).  He failed (like Lafayette).  Dumouriez turned traitor and hightailed it to Austria (like Lafayette).

Paris was in crisis (again).  Fear and paranoia returned.  Radicalism worsened.  The sans-culotte radicals were joined by a new (even more radical and militant) group – the Enraged.  Facing betrayal, civil war, paranoia, and radical militancy, the Convention lashed out.

Purge

The policies of Terror returned – special Tribunals, executions, and repression.  “Death! Death! Death!”, chanted the Mountain radicals.  They attacked the rich, foreigners, and the politically suspect.  Surveillance and denunciations were rampant.  The Convention abandoned parliamentary immunity (big mistake).  In April 1793, they created a Public Safety committee, empowered with surveillance and repression (huge mistake).

marat-acquittalMarat is acquitted

The Girondists fought for their lives.  Robespierre blamed Brissot and the Girondists for (Girondist) Dumouriez’s treachery.  Brissot and the Girondists fought back.  They indicted Mountain radical Jean-Paul Marat for inciting a riot. Marat was acquitted.  They accused the Girondists of betrayal.  The Mountain cheered on radical militants marching on the Convention.  The Girondists fought back.  They arrested radical leaders.  The militants protested, demanding the prisoners’ release and the expulsion of the Girondist leaders.

On May 30, 1793, Paris rose in insurrection (again).  Paris guard commander Hanriot threw his support behind the insurrectionists.  Hanriot’s Paris guards joined with radical mobs to storm the Convention and demand the Girondist leaders’ arrests.  Unsuccessful, Hanriot and the Paris guards returned, on June 1, with an ultimatum, demanding the Girondists’ arrests.  On June 2, the Girondist leaders were arrested.  The Mountain now controlled the Convention.

Federalist revolts broke out in the provinces.  Girondists and moderates opposed the Convention and the Paris “anarchists”.  Cities rebelled, arresting Jacobin (Mountain) sympathizers.  Rebels arrested and executed Jacobin Joseph Chalier (martyring him).  Girondists raised resistance armies, in the provinces.  Marseilles, a revolutionary heartland, warred against Convention forces.

Assassination
marat-assassinationMarat is assassinated

On July 13, Mountain radical Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated.  Radical left journalist Marat was an influential rabble-rouser, fearmonger, and conspiracy theorist, who incited radicalism, mob violence, unrest, and ordered the September Massacres.  His assassin, Charlotte Corday, was a Girondist supporter from Normandy, who opposed Mountain radicalism.  She hoped that killing Marat would save lives.  “I have killed one to save a hundred thousand,” she would say.  As Marat soaked in his bath, Corday stabbed a dagger in his chest.  Marat bled to death in seconds.

Things really, really went downhill, from there.

Commentary

Continuous radicalism would send France right into the abyss.  As enemies on the Right were progressively eliminated, the “Right” slipped ever leftward – first monarchists, then moderate Feulliants, then left Girondists.  The Jacobin left (Mountain radicals) would find themselves with few enemies left on the Right – except themselves.  To their Left was only the abyss – chaos and murder.

Next

Rousseau’s political theology goes full Terror, then Great Terror.  Next: Part 12, Rousseau’s Paradise Found.

Postmodernism 101, Part 10: A Farewell to Kings

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts:

Philosophical Roots

Political Roots

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern Enlightenment philosophy that overthrew Medieval faith.  Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s leftist political ideology is based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   He offers postmodernists a political philosophy that features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.

Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

Rousseau’s writings inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  In 1789, desperate King Louis XVI convened the Estates General.  This started a revolution.  The commoners’ “National Assembly” began a constitutional monarchy.  From 1789 to 1792, a cycle recurred  – radicalization, leftist mob violence, and appeasement.  In August 1792, the constitutional monarchy fell to a second revolution of leftist militants.  The imprisoned King stood accused of treason.

The French war against Austria and Prussia turned to crisis.  With Louis in prison, Lafayette turned traitor and escaped to Austria.  The formidable Prussian army invaded France and marched towards Paris, under the command of the Duke of Brunswick.

robespierreRobespierre

The left used the crisis to seize power.  Brissot and the leftist Girondists controlled the Assembly.  Robespierre and the radical left Paris Commune controlled much of Paris.  The radical left spewed conspiracy theories and fake news.  Authorities cracked down on the clergy and the Right.  The prisons filled with political prisoners.

In the First Terror, the political prisoners  were massacred.  Robespierre and his Paris Commune spread fear of prisoner conspiracies and Prussians at the gates.  In September 1792, they called for action.  Paris guards and militants attacked the prisons and executed political prisoners.  In the provinces, vigilantes massacred the clergy and assorted enemies.  As 1792 wound to a close, the First Terror would ebb.

The King awaited his fate in the Temple prison.

The Republic

In September 1792, a new Convention assembled in Paris. They abolished the monarchy, declared the French Republic, and set to work drafting another constitution.  Meanwhile, the Prussians advanced and the First Terror continued.

valmy-battleBattle of Valmy

As 1792 wore on, the Prussian crisis ended.  Brunswick’s Prussians advanced on Paris, evading French General Dumouriez and his unwieldy French recruits.  French General Kellerman moved to stop the Prussians at the Battle of Valmy. After an epic artillery duel, Kellerman’s professional soldiers repulsed Brunswick’s Prussian infantry advances.  Plagued by hunger and disease, the Prussians straggled away in retreat.

The Prussian defeat was a victory for Brissot and his pro-war Girondists.  With the crisis past, the Convention worked to restore order, dismantle the Terror, and reign in the radicals.  The political crimes Tribunal and Paris Commune were dissolved.

Brissot and the Girondists attacked Robespierre and the radicals.  The Girondists wanted the radicals imprisoned.  They blamed Robespierre and the radicals for the prison massacres.  They accused the radicals of trying to murder Brissot.  Brissot couldn’t prove it.  He was stuck, “forced to follow step for step these miserable anarchists”.

Farewell to Kings
louis-executionExecution of Louis XVI

The Convention tried the King and sentenced him to death.  The Girondists demanded due process (defeating the Mountain radicals, less disposed to such trivia).  In December 1792, the Convention tried the King and found him guilty.  The Girondists’ sought an appeal to the people, but the Mountain radicals defeated them.  The Convention sentenced the King to death (by a majority of one vote).  The Girondists appealed for clemency, but were defeated, again.

On January 21, 1793 the King was marched from the Temple prison and guillotined.  The crowd was silent, then chanted, “Long live the nation! Long live the Republic!”

Factional hatred grew worse.  Both the Girondists and the Mountain received death threats.  A Mountain deputy was publicly assassinated.  The Mountain radicals blamed the Girondists.

Robespierre and the radicals had outflanked Brissot and the Girondists.  The Girondists had been on the Left.  As Robespierre moved radically left, he left the Girondists on the Right.  The crowd seemed with Robespierre.

Commentary

Robespierre and the Mountain radicals wanted execution without trial.  This isn’t inconsistent with Rousseau’s political theory.  Rousseau put no man above “the law”.  The law is only the general will of the collective and the exercise of power in its name.  The individual is unimportant.  Technicalities like due process, legal formalities, tribunals seem trivial.  Rousseau’s ideas are radical and easily lead to mob rule and terror.

Next

War, what is good for?  Next: Part 11, Civil War.

Postmodernism 101, Part 9: First Terror

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts include:

Erstwhile
martin-heideggerMartin Heidegger

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern Enlightenment philosophy.  that overthrew Medieval faith.  Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

Postmodernism’s philosophy is based on German Counter-Enlightenment philosopher Martin Heidegger’s metaphysical nihilism.  This philosophy embraces Nothing, opposes Western reality, reason, and logic; focuses on contradiction and conflict; and dwells in dark shadows of emotion.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s leftist political ideology is based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   He offers postmodernists a political philosophy that features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

Rousseau’s writings inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  Facing a dire fiscal crisis, desperate King Louis XVI had convened the 1789 Estates General, an assembly of the nobility, clergy, and commoners.  Spurred on by radical Paris mobs, the commoners declared themselves a sovereign “National Assembly”.  The King gave in.  The Assembly began work on a constitutional monarchy.

paris-commune-revengeThe Second Revolution

The years 1789-1792, saw a recurring cycle of radicalization, leftist mob violence, and appeasement.  Paris would radicalize and explode in violence.  The King and Assembly would appease the radicals.  The cycle would repeat – radicalization, leftist mob violence, and appeasement.

On August 10, 1792, the constitutional monarchy fell, in a second revolution.  An army of heavily armed radical guardsmen and leftist militants attacked the King’s palace.  With France waging war on two fronts (against Austria and Prussia), the imprisoned King stood accused of treason.

Things went downhill, from there.

The Prussians are Coming
duke-brunswickPrussia’s Duke of Brunswick

The war went from bad to worse.  With Louis in prison, Lafayette turned traitor.  Lafayette had tried to march on Paris with his army, to free the King.  That went nowhere, fast.  So, he wisely hightailed it to Austria.

The Prussians were coming.  The Prussians, the world’s most formidable army, invaded France.  In command was the Duke of Brunswick, a veteran crusher of revolutions.  His highly disciplined Prussian forces (half the size of the French) leisurely chewed their way towards Paris.

The First Terror

The Left seized power.  Documents were found proving that the King was a subversive.  The political Right fell silent after the betrayals of the King and Lafayette (a Feulliant leader).  Brissot and his leftist Girondists dominated the Assembly.

robespierreRobespierre

Power struggles raged.  The Assembly struggled against Robespierre and his radical left Paris Commune.  In the Assembly, Robespierre and the Mountain struggled against Brissot and his Girondists.  In Paris, the Commune struggled against neighborhood “sections” (councils).  The sections won control of the national guards.  The Commune kept control of their radical militants and sans-culottes.

Paris was in a panic.  The radical left press spewed conspiracy theories and fake news.  Paris authorities cracked down in repression on the clergy and the Right.  Surveillance committees urged citizens to denounce suspected traitors.  They searched homes.  They arrested the usual suspects (nobility, clergy).  They arrested the politically suspect (incorrect, critical, outspoken, unpatriotic).  Robespierre even issued an arrest warrant for his rival, Brissot.  The prisons filled.

Blood flowed in the provinces.  Vigilantes massacred suspected conspirators.  They targeted the clergy, parading about with decapitated and dismembered corpses.  Bands of eager young “patriots” roamed the the countryside, looting, kidnapping nuns, and generally terrorizing folks.

Blood boiled in Paris.  The Assembly set up a Tribunal for political trials (no jury, no appeals).  The Tribunal took its job seriously, moving too slowly for the radicals.  The Commune took action, nailing “prison conspiracy” posters around town.  “To arms! The enemy is at our gates!” they warned, citizens must mete out justice on the “conspirators and evil doers in the prisons”.

september-massacresThe September Massacres

Blood flowed in Paris.  In the September Massacres, radical militants attacked the prisons and executed more than a thousand political prisoners.  The Assembly made token attempts to stop the slaughter.  Some of the Paris guard stood by.  Others joined in the attacks.  The Commune supported the massacres as “acts of justice”, hoping that “the whole nation will hasten to adopt similar methods” necessary for “public safety”.

The First Terror waned as September faded and 1792 wound to a close.  Riots, insurgencies, and massacres ebbed as bands of eager bloodthirsty patriots marched off to war to fight the Prussians.

The King awaited his fate in the Temple prison.

Commentary

Robespierre was becoming quite the practitioner of the dark arts of radical left power politics.  The devious fellow was never one to let a good crisis go to waste.  He used fear and terror to eliminate political rivals and consolidate power.

It was dawning on Robespierre’s Girondist rival Brissot that Robespierre didn’t play fair.  Robespierre (always the schemer) had intended to arrest Brissot, then murder him.  Robespierre played by his own rules.

Next

Louis confronts Terror.  Next: Part 10, A Farewell to Kings.

Postmodernism 101, Part 8: Fear, Paranoia, Reaction, War, and Betrayal

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts include:

Erstwhile
martin-heideggerMartin Heidegger

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern philosophy.  Enlightenment modernism overthrew Medieval faith.  Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

Postmodernism’s philosophical foundations were laid by German Counter-Enlightenment philosopher Martin Heidegger.  In dark, mystical meditation, Heidegger conjured metaphysical nihilism from the spirits of earlier Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Kant).  His philosophy embraced Nothing, opposed Western reality, reason, and logic; focused on contradiction and conflict; and dwelt in dark shadows of emotion.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Heidegger’s subjective philosophy poorly explains postmodernism’s political leftism.  Marxism’s twentieth century crisis of faith offers a much better explanation.

Rousseau offered postmodernists a political philosophy that features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

louis-xviKing Louis XVI

Rousseau’s writings inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  After years of war, France’s Old Regime faced a dire fiscal crisis.  When the nobility rejected tax reforms, desperate King Louis XVI convened the Estates General, a General Assembly, representing the nobility, clergy, and commoners.

The 1789 Estates General began a cycle of radicalization and revolution.  The commoners politicized and chose self-styled “patriots” and future revolutionaries as their deputies.  Radical Paris mobs spurred the deputies on, to declare themselves a sovereign “National Assembly”.  The King reluctantly gave in.  The National Assembly went to work to create a constitutional monarchy.

Things went downhill, from there.

Fear

Paris of 1789 was ripe for mob violence.  The Paris working class had a known propensity for violence.  Summer storms had devastated the grain harvests.  Freezing winter destroyed the winter wheat, fruit trees, and vineyards.  Bread prices soared.  Drinking water was in short supply.  Famine was everywhere.

Violent unrest and food riots broke out.  Some uprisings targeted the nobles, clergy, and merchants.  Rumors spread that bands of brigands were roaming the countryside, looting, and raping.  The Paris riots ended in violent repression, with many soldiers and more rioters killed.

Amidst this turmoil, fearful King Louis XVI made the mistake of gathering mercenary troops for his defense.  In typical Louis fashion, he took the Queen’s advice and made things worse.  He dismissed popular finance minister Jacques Necker and appointed arch-conservative advisors.  Civil war seemed imminent.

bastilleStorming of the Bastille

As usual, Paris exploded in violence.  People barricaded the streets. Radical mobs roved about.  They looted, attacked royal troops, and paraded fashionably about with heads on pikes.  Troops mutinied (as would often be the case).  Intent on seizing arms and ammunition, mobs and soldiers stormed the Bastille. Nobles cowered in their homes.

As usual, the King moved to end the violence.  He reappointed Necker, and bowed to the National Assembly.  As usual, it did no good.

Violence grew and spread.  Paris mobs tortured and decapitated the mayor.  Once again, rumors spread that brigands were spilling from Paris to loot the countryside.  Townsfolk panicked. They organized militias and staged “municipal revolutions”.  Peasants rebelled, attacking the usual targets – nobles, clergy, merchants, landlords, and Jews.

declarationDeclaration of the Rights of Man

As usual, the Assembly moved to end the violence and unite the country.  On August 4, they decreed an end to feudalism, an end to aristocratic privilege, an end to the institutions of the Old Regime.  They proclaimed their lofty “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen”.  Hymns were sung.  Oaths were sworn.  A new day beckoned – a new society of liberty and equality, a “new man”.

Things went downhill, from there.

Paranoia

Of course, unrest only continued in Paris.  Bread lines became food riots.  Unruly mobs stormed the Assembly and the King’s palace.  Radicals embraced mob violence.  “Reason will perhaps need to be accompanied by terror”, one said.

As 1790 progressed, the Assembly scrambled to create a government.  The demise of the Old Regime had left a power vacuum.  Anarchy grew, as institutions fell apart – administration, police, courts, the military.  Locals improvised “public safety” committees, tribunals, and paramilitary “national guard” forces.

The new government got off to a rough start.  The administration was beset by power struggles, political rivalries, insubordination, and questioning of authority.

georges-dantonRadical Cordelier Georges Danton

The Assembly fruitlessly struggled to contain the Paris radicals.  An intensely partisan press spewed hateful political rhetoric and fake news.  Paris workers protested in the streets.  More soldiers mutinied against their aristocratic officers.  Radicals gained control of local “national guards”.  Small scale civil wars broke out.  There were peasant uprisings, attacking the usual targets (nobles, clergy, etc.).

Political clubs and patriotic societies gained influence.  The radical Cordeliers, defenders of the poor, spread paranoid conspiracy theories.  The influential and progressive Jacobins became more radicalized.  Radical feminists railed against men’s “perpetual tyranny” over women.  Monarchist and conservative political clubs went underground, in fear of the mobs and paranoid authorities.

festivitiesGreat Festivity

As usual, the Assembly again moved to unite the country.  In June 1790, they abolished the hereditary nobility.  There was great festivity.  Hymns were sung.  Oaths were sworn.

Things went downhill, from there.

Reaction

Revolution sparks reaction.  Naturally, the nobility reacted against the revolution.  The Assembly rejected the noble’s Catholic faith, as the state religion.  Nobles and clergy protested the seizure and sale of church property.  “Refractory” clergy, who refused to swear oaths of allegiance, faced violent threats from protesters.  The nobles had quite enough when the nobility was abolished.

The conservative press stirred hysterical fears of counterrevolution.  Some called for a knightly crusade to save the crown and the “true faith”.  Some called for revenge and blood.  Some called on European powers to invade.

By the end of 1791, thousands of aristocrats had fled.  Most of the aristocratic military officer corps fled.  Their counterrevolutionary armies gathered, across the Rhine.

louis-returnsLouis unceremoniously returns to Paris

The King tried to flee but got caught.  He had hoped the Revolution would collapse.  In June 1791, on the the Queen’s bad advice, the King and family tried to flee (to Austria, some say).  They were caught and returned to Paris.

The King had betrayed them.  In Paris, the radical Cordeliers protested, accusing the king of treason.  The Assembly shook its collective head in dismay.  The radical mobs called for insurrection.  The Assembly declared martial law and launched a repressive crackdown on the radicals.

robespierreThe Jacobins’ Robespierre

This split the influential Jacobins into rival factions.  Jacobin moderates split off into a new faction, the “Feuillants”.  Robespierre and the leftists dominated the remaining Jacobins.  The rival factions accused each other of treachery and betrayal.

As usual, the Assembly struggled to restore order.  The moderate Feuillant majority completed the Constitution and presented it to the King.  Hymns were sung.  Oaths were sworn.

Things went downhill, from there.

War

The leftist Jacobins accused the Feuillant moderates of being traitors and Austrian-sympathizers.  The radical leftist Jacobins were angered by the Feuillants’ repressive crackdown on leftist radicals.  The Feuillants and Jacobins were divided over the issue of “rule of law”.  The stuffy Feuillant moderates were sticklers for it.  The leftist Jacobins were much more flexible – rule of law, mob rule, whatever.

sans-culottesA sans-culotte enforces the dress code

1792 saw Paris grow even more radical and militant.  Working class militants donned red caps and staged growing protests – the “sans-culottes” (so-called because they wore pants, rather than fancy nickers).  As fearful Parisians armed themselves, the pike business was booming.  Packing the Assembly galleries became a favorite pastime for radical militants.

Meanwhile, Austria and Prussia threatened France with war.  Austrian Emperor Leopold II was only bluffing, in a show of support for Louis and the Queen (Leopold’s sister).  The French, in no mood for jokes, took Austria’s bluff seriously.

Some Jacobins called for war.  “To war, to war! Such is the cry of all patriots,” declared Jacobin Jacques Brissot (a center-left “Girondist”).  Brissot called for exporting the revolution – a “crusade for liberty” to free the “enslaved people” of Europe.  The Feuillant moderates joined their call for war.  The King (dubiously) joined their call.

brissotThe Girondists’ Brissot

The war issue split the Jacobins, again.  The radical Jacobin Robespierre was antiwar.  The Girondist Brissot mocked Robespierre and his antiwar Jacobin radicals  (known as the “Mountain”).  Robespierre and the Mountain were intensely paranoid about the enemy within, and much less worried about foreign threats.

In April 1792, the King addressed the Assembly and formally requested a declaration of war.  In near unanimity, the Assembly declared war on Austria.

Things went downhill, from there.

Betrayal
rochambeauGen. Rochambeau

The war started off poorly.  France declared war on Austria, but now faced both Austria and Prussia (who had joined in alliance). As usual, the French troops mutinied.  Faced with mutinous troops and murdered officers, French General Rochambeau called it quits and resigned.

Panic ensued at this betrayal.  The paranoid left enacted measures against real and imagined threats.  They summoned national guards to the city, cracked down on the hapless clergy, and disbanded the King’s guard.  The King agreed to disband his guard, but vetoed the rest.  The Paris radicals were predictably furious.

lafayetteGen. Lafayette

In June 1792, demonstrators marched on the Assembly, protesting the King.  Armed bands paraded through a nervous Assembly.  As usual, things escalated.  A huge mob marched on the King’s palace.  The jeering crowd cornered the King, taunting, and humiliating him.

General Lafayette was outraged, so outraged that he abandoned his troops at the front.  He returned to Paris and demanded that the Assembly prosecute the perpetrators.  Lafayette tried to mobilize the Paris guard (his former command) to arrest the Jacobins.  Failing at this, he returned to the front.  Some thought Lafayette a traitor.

As usual, radical Paris mobs took to the streets.  The usual mobs were now joined by (heavily armed) patriotic young guardsmen from Marseilles.  They demanded removal of the King for “perjury, treason, and conspiracy against the people”.  Then, they learned of the “Brunswick Manifesto” (an enemy letter to the King) that promised Prussian vengeance on Paris, if the royal family was harmed.

Once again, Paris radicals again marched on the Assembly.  They demanded removal of the King.  They demanded action against the traitor Lafayette.  The radical left Mountain supported them.  The Feulliant moderates opposed them.  The Girondists and centrists didn’t know what to do.

paris-commune-revengeThe Paris Commune attacks

Always ready for action, militant radicals took matters into their own hands.  On August 10, the radical Paris Commune launched their planned insurrection.  The alarm bells tolled.  Radical guardsmen rushed to arms.  Militants seized royal arsenals.

Radical guardsmen moved to seize the King.  With cannons in tow, they marched on the King’s palace, to negotiate its surrender.  Some palace guards and police abandoned their posts.  The royal family quietly slipped away, seeking refuge in the Assembly.

Back at the palace, the King’s Swiss guards opened fire on the insurgents, mowing them down and seizing two cannons.  The insurgents mounted a furious counterattack to avenge the Swiss “ambush”.  The insurgents slaughtered every Swiss guard they could find.  Over one thousand combatants lay dead.

Things really went downhill, from there.

Commentary
voltaireVoltaire

“No one has ever employed so much intellect to persuade men to be beasts,” Voltaire wrote to Rousseau, “In reading your work one is seized with a desire to walk on four paws. However, as it is more than sixty years since I lost that habit, I feel, unfortunately, that it is impossible for me to resume it.”  The French Revolution bid adieu to the “new man” and bonjour to Rousseau’s  beasts.

Next

The radical left gives Terror a trial run.  Next: Part 9, First Terror.

Postmodernism 101, Part 7: Radicalization and Revolution

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts include:

Erstwhile
martin-heideggerMartin Heidegger

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern philosophy.  Enlightenment modernism overthrew Medieval faith.  Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

Postmodernism’s philosophical foundations were laid by German Counter-Enlightenment philosopher Martin Heidegger.  In dark, mystical meditation, Heidegger conjured metaphysical nihilism from the spirits of earlier Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Kant).  His philosophy embraced Nothing, opposed Western reality, reason, and logic; focused on contradiction and conflict; and dwelt in dark shadows of emotion.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Counter-Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau explains Postmodernism’s radical leftist politics.  Heidegger’s subjective philosophy poorly explains postmodernism’s political leftism.  Marxism’s twentieth century crisis of faith offers a better explanation.

Rousseau offered postmodernists a political philosophy that features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

Rousseau’s writings were the scripture of the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  The French Revolution set the terrible pattern of future leftist revolutions.

War and Fiscal Crisis
louis-xviLouis XVI

France’s Old Regime faced a fiscal crisis.  French finances suffered after years of European warfare.  These problems only worsened following French assistance to the American Revolution and subsequent warfare with the British.  France’s tax system was archaic and inefficient.  The government was burying itself, ever deeper, in high interest debt.

King Louis XVI struggled to address the fiscal crisis.  The Nobles were aghast to learn of France’s dire finances, but resisted Louis’ tax reform proposals.  With the coffers empty, a desperate Louis XVI convened the Estates General.

The Estates General was a traditionally powerless assembly that the king could call, at will.  Its deputies represented the three estates: nobility, clergy, and commoners.  Louis hoped the Estates General could approve the necessary fiscal reforms.

Radicalization and Revolution
general-assemblyThe General Assembly

The 1789 convening of the Estates General started a cycle of radicalization and revolution.  The commoners became politicized.  They became radicalized.  They demanded popular sovereignty.  They replaced autocratic monarchy with a short-lived constitutional monarchy.

The convening of the Estates General politicized the commoners.  The commoners selected their deputies in rounds of local and regional elections.  Future revolutionaries, self-styled “patriots”, and others flooded the nation with political pamphlets.  Commoners debated political and social reforms.  They organized local assemblies to draw up statements of grievances.

When the estates convened in General Assembly, in May 1789, the commoner deputies became more radicalized.  The nobility were arrogant and contemptuous.  Boisterous Paris crowds urged the commoner deputies on.  Many deputies were gifted orators.  Their rhetoric grew ever more radical.  The nobility refused to budge.

In June 1789, the commoners demanded popular sovereignty.  Forced onward by popular pressure, the commoner deputies declared themselves a sovereign “National Assembly”.  They declared all taxes illegal.  They swore oaths to faithfully represent the nation.  A majority of commoner parish clergy joined them.

tennis-court-oathThe Tennis Court Oath

King Louis XVI reluctantly addressed the General Assembly, at the urging of irrate nobility.  He rejected the commoners authority and threatened to dismiss them.  Locked out of their meeting room, the National Assembly convened at a nearby tennis court.  They swore an oath, rejecting Louis’ commands, voting themselves parliamentary immunity, and vowing to draft a constitution.  Cheered on by the crowds, they threatened death against anyone trying to arrest them.

As June 1789 drew to a close, many came to think the revolution over.  Liberal nobles broke ranks to join the National Assembly’s commoners and clergy.  Finally, the king ordered the remaining nobles and clergy to join.  Crowds cheered the revolution, as the National Assembly turned to drafting a constitution.

The bloodless revolution would soon turn bloody.

Commentary

Rousseau’s Social Contract dominated revolutionary thinking – popular sovereignty and equality.  The Enlightenment offered competing ideas – individualism and liberty.  However, radical leftist mobs would soon overwhelm liberalism, conservatism, and religion.  Passion (fear, anger, hatred, and vengeance) would overwhelm reason.

Next

Fear and paranoia lead to reaction, war, and betrayal.  Next: Part 8, Fear, Paranoia, Reaction, War, and Betrayal