Postmodernism, Part 27: Bastiat, Rousseau, 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.  (Additional support includes “The Law, “The State”, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, by Frederic Bastiat.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Revolutionary Disappointment

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and culminated in Napoleon’s conquests.

Right Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment, romanticism, and early industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (morality, not so much).  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists, Marx and Engels, thought this the new normal.  Their “scientific socialism” prophesied a Communist destiny.  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.  Revolution was imminent.

The Revolutions of 1848 would be a big letdown.  They were driven by hunger (crop failures), nationalism (growing cultural and ethnic identities), and economics (growing industrialization).

blanc-louisLouis Blanc

The French Revolution of 1848 followed the French Revolution of 1830 (resulting in a constitutional monarchy, then a republic).  Louis Blanc’s socialist programs worsened budget problems and taxes (causing rural taxpayers to resent urban radicals).  Paris radicals grew restive (as usual).  Worried that Blanc’s programs were destabilizing Paris, the programs were shut down.  In June, Paris radicals rose in insurrection (as usual).  To prevent another Reign of Terror, the Republic crushed the Leftist insurgency.

Marx (hopeful) thought this a class revolution, but Frederic Bastiat (foe of pickpockets on the Left and Right) had a different take.

Revolution
bastiatFrederic Bastiat

The cause of French Revolutions, said Bastiat, is government’s empty (impossible, contradictory) promises: “a host of benefits and no taxes.”  The “state … is hugely generous with impossible promises, and the general public … has conceived unattainable hopes”.

The revolutionaries (“men … with ambition and … utopian dreams”), Bastiat said, “shout into the people’s ears: ‘The authorities are misleading you … we would shower you with benefits and relieve you of taxes’. And the [deluded] people believe this, and the people hope, and the people stage a revolution.”

Then, the (deluded) people cry, “Give me bread, work, assistance, credit, education,” Bastiat wrote, “and notwithstanding this, deliver me from the clutches of the tax authorities as you promised.”

The new state can’t keep its promises any more than the former state, Bastiat said.  So, he said, “it tries to play for time … it tries a few things timidly … But, the contradiction still stands squarely before it; if it wants to be philanthropic it is obliged to maintain taxes, and if it renounces taxation it is obliged to renounce philanthropy.”

Borrowing does no good, Bastiat said, because it is only “consuming the future.” Efforts “are made to do a little good in the present,” he said, “at the expense of a great deal of evil in the future.”

Then, the new state becomes as repressive as the former state.  “It calls together forces to keep itself in power,” Bastiat said, “it stifles public opinion, it [resorts] to arbitrary decisions … at the cost of being unpopular.”

Then, more revolutionaries hatch revolution, Bastiat said, “They exploit the same [delusion], go down the same road, obtain the same [failure], and within a short time are engulfed in the same abyss.”

The State

This is what happened in 1848, said Bastiat.  Then, he said, the delusion “had penetrated even farther into the minds of the people, together with socialist doctrines.  More than ever, the people expected the state … to open wide the tap of bounty and close that of taxation.”

It is “dangerous childishness,” Bastiat said, to think that you can “give nothing to the state and receive a great deal from it.”  Those who promise it, he said, “are flattering and deceiving you, or at the very least they are deceiving themselves.”

“The state! What is this? Where is it?  What does it do?  What ought it to be doing?” asked Bastiat.  People think it “has bread for every mouth, work for every arm, capital for all businesses, credit for all projects, … balm for all suffering, … a being that meets all our needs, anticipates all our desires, … and relieves us all … [of] the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, wisdom, experience.”  The state is “this inexhaustible source of wealth and enlightenment, this universal doctor, and infallible counselor.”

“I fear that we are the dupes of one of the strangest [delusions] ever to have taken hold of the human mind,” wrote Bastiat.  Nature, he said, condemns us to suffering and work.  The best solution we’ve found, he said, is “to enjoy the work of others … From this, we get slavery or even plunder, in whatever form it takes: wars, … violence, restrictions, fraud … all monstrous forms of abuse.”

The state “is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else,” said Bastiat. In the past, he said, plunderers had to “act directly on the oppressed using their own forces.”  Now, we use the state, “We all make calls upon the state on one ground or pretext or another. … [We] achieve all the advantages of plunder without ever having incurred … its risks.”

The state is an abstraction (not a person), Bastiat said.  The “personification of the state has been in the past and will be in the future a rich source of calamities and revolutions,” he said.  The state “is not and cannot be one-handed,” he wrote, “It has two hands, one to receive and the other to give … the rough hand and the gentle hand.”  It is impossible for the state to benefit some without harming others.

The Law

“The purpose of the law is to ensure respect for property,” Bastiat said, “All of our past constitutions proclaimed that property is sacred. … This implies that property is a right that predates the law.”  Lawmakers create laws, he said, but not property.

“Property was a fact and right that existed before law,” Bastiat argued, “Property, like the person, is a … necessary consequence of the [existence] of man”.  We are born property owners, he said, “since [we are] born with needs whose satisfaction is essential to life”.

In nature, we must satisfy our needs by working, Bastiat wrote, but cannot work unless we are certain of the fruits of our work.  Property is a natural institution, he argued, that is observed in primitive cultures and animals alike (from primitive huts to birds’ nests).

Rousseau and the Left

Those who claim that law creates property suppose an absolute power over people and property, Bastiat wrote.  “Where does this idea come from?” he asked.  Roman law, he answered, regarded property as “a product and an artificial creation of the written law”.  This Roman idea justified pillage, plunder, and slavery.

Rousseau transmitted the “Roman notion of property” to Robespierre and the socialists (including Louis Blanc), Bastiat said.  Robespierre called liberty “the most sacred of rights [man] holds from nature” (but sent thousands to the guillotine in the Reign of Terror).  Robespierre called property “a social institution” (created by lawmakers).  He limited our property rights to that “which is guaranteed to him by law” (at the whim of the state).

This idea, opens “a limitless field to the imagination of utopian thinkers,” wrote Bastiat.  Then, he said, “the legislator is responsible for … molding both people and property at will … [and] is the absolute master in disposing of workers and the fruits of their work”.

Rousseau claimed “not only property but also society as a whole was … an invention originating in the mind of the legislator”, Bastiat said.  Rousseau claimed that the legislator “must feel that he is capable … of changing human nature”.  It follows, that Rousseau argued that lawmakers “ought to transform people.”

The consequence “is to arouse the thirst for power in all dreamers,” Bastiat said.  “The legislator,” Rousseau said, “must feel that he has the strength to transform human nature”.  This, Bastiat said, leads “either to the most highly concentrated privilege or the most fundamental communism, depending on the good or bad intentions of the inventor.”

(The socialist) Blanc’s associates, he said, have “suggested nothing less than changing the nature of man … abolishing personal interest by decree and replacing it by point of honor.”  Men will no longer work to live, Bastiat said, “but to obey a point of honor, to avoid the hangman’s noose.”

The Right

The Right (protectionist business interests), said Bastiat, have invited communism on themselves.  Free trade, he said, is a “question of right, justice, public order, and property.”  Protectionism “implies a negation or scorn for property”.  State intervention to level out fortunes (in any form), he said, is communism.

“Once the principle of property has been undermined in one form,” Bastiat wrote, “it would soon be attacked by a thousand forms.”  The landowners and capitalists with their tariffs, he said, “had sown the seed of the communism that terrifies them now, since they were demanding additional profits from the law at the expense of the working classes.”

Protectionism, Bastiat wrote, “was the forerunner of communism.”  It is the landowners, he said, “who have undermined the principle of property, because they have called upon the law to give their lands and products an artificial value.  It is the capitalists who have suggested the idea of leveling out wealth by law.”

The principle is the same, Bastiat said, “to take from some people on the basis of legislation to give the proceeds to others. … Yes, protectionists, you have been the promoters of communism.  Yes, landowners, you have destroyed in people’s minds the true concept of property.”

“If you wish to stave off the storm that threatens to engulf you,” Bastiat wrote,  “you have just one means left.  Acknowledge your mistake, renounce your privileges; restrict the law to its own powers and limit the legislator to his role” (protecting people and property).

 Commentary

Frederic Bastiat’s ideas would have a lasting impact (in libertarianism and Austrian economics). (In 1850, he died of tuberculosis, at the age of 49. His last words were, “the truth, the truth”.)

To Bastiat’s view, both the Left (socialists, communists) and the Right (protectionist business interests) were both pigs feeding at the same trough (at the expense of their fellows).  When the Right used the State for plunder, it invited the Left to do the same.  (The two remain locked in a mutual death grip.)

Bastiat’s (free market) critique of the State has much in common with Marx’s rival, (anarchist communist) Mikhail Bakunin (as we’ll see).  Bakunin and Nietzsche both foretold the calamity of communism (as we’ll also see).

Bastiat’s arguments are based on ideas of “universal truths” and “natural law”.  (These are metaphysics, presupposed ideas, that can’t be proved or disproved).  All philosophies are based on metaphysics.  (This is the “metaphysical trap”.)

Some philosophies try to escape the trap by denying they’re philosophies (like postmodernism does).  Some try to escape by changing the subject (such as attacking “natural law” as superstition).  However, all philosophies rest on metaphysics.

Is “natural law” any more superstitious than Marx’s revealed historical dialectic (or Hegel’s absurd dialectic)? 

Both Marx and Rousseau assume there is no human nature (and that all of society is created by law).  Is this any less metaphysical than Bastiat’s assumptions that there is human nature (and that there are natural human institutions)?

Next

During the French Revolution of 1848, Marx was in Paris (fomenting German revolution).  It didn’t go so well.  Next: Part 28, Frankfurt Fumbles.

Postmodernism, Part 15: Herder’s Volksgeist

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 (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  He was a totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  Napoleon gained power and trounced Germany.  He ended the Holy Roman Empire, occupied German territories, and imposed foreign values on them.  Germans blamed the Enlightenment for invading the dark forests of deeply rooted German traditions.

Kant gave Rousseau’s totalitarian collectivism a German spin: feudalistic militarism.  Life is suffering.  (We deserve it.  So, get over it.)  Morality is selfless duty unto death.  (So, unthinkingly obey your masters.)  Life is cheap.  (So, make death count.)  Human progress is warfare until judgment day.  (The dark forest of Kant’s German traditions had such deep roots they seemingly reached back to pagan Germanic warrior cults.)

Napoleon’s foreign invasions were setting the brooding German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers on fire.

Sturm and Drang

Enlightenment scientific rationalism sparked a passionate reaction against logic and reason.  This is why Rousseau’s passions so inflamed the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (hence, Kant).  In the arts, Rousseau inspired the passionate Romantic movement.  Philosophy and the arts entwined in fierce embrace.

The Romantic movement began with the German Sturm and Drang (“storm and drive”).  It included philosophy, music, and literature.  Its proponents included Wagner,  the composers Haydn and Mozart, and the legendary Goethe (who had been up close and personal with the French Revolution and Napoleon’s invading troops).  Sturm and Drang elevated, nature, youth (dying young), violent emotion, and the humble.

Rousseau and Sturm and Drang inspired many Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (who influenced the collectivist Right) and Romantic thinkers (who influenced the collectivist Left).

Herder’s Volksgeist

Johann Herder (the “German Rousseau”) discovered multiculturalism, moral relativism, and the German Volksgeist (the national spirit).  He was Kant’s student (but left Kant for being too reasonable).  Herder was a multiculturalist and moral relativist.  He warned against infecting German culture with diseased foreign ideas.

Herder studied under Kant but became a disciple of Johann Hamann (Kant’s friend and colleague).  Hamann and Kant both distrusted the Enlightenment and reason.  However, Hamann thought Kant’s subjectivism was still too cozy with reason.  Herder followed Hamann in abandoning reason.

herderJohann Herder

Herder discovered the German Volksgeist (national spirit).  Kant thought Nature’s grand plan used warfare for universal human progress.  Herder rejected the idea of universal human progress.  What mattered (to him) was German progress.

Herder was a multiculturalist and moral relativist.  Each Volk (people) has its own distinct culture, morality, and destiny.  So, there’s no such thing as universal progress because there’s no universal yardstick.  (Each culture has its own yardstick.)

Herder warned against infecting German culture with foreign ideas (in a nonjudgmental way).  When we “start dwelling on wishful dreams of foreign lands,” he taught us, we’re just asking for trouble: “symptoms of disease, of flatulence, of unhealthy opulence, of approaching death!”  Foreign ideas (the Enlightenment, etc.) were like a disease that threatened to sicken and kill the Germans.

Herder was a patriotic German nationalist.  He was not a racist.

Commentary

Herder greatly influenced the German arts.  His writings helped inspire the Sturm and Drang movement.  His studies of German language and myths, in search of deeper meanings, would influence many others.

Just as romanticism would inspire totalitarian collectivism, Herder’s ideas would be borrowed and twisted to terrible ends (as Herder had feared).

Next

Germans continue brewing the Collectivist Right.  Next: Part 16, Fichte’s School of Nationalism.

Postmodernism, Part 14: Kant Goes Medieval

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.

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  He was a totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.

Rousseau and the French Revolution were major tipping points.  Rousseau’s ideas had inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  Finally, Napoleon rose to power.

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  His armies trounced Germany.  He ended the Holy Roman Empire.  He  occupied German territories.  He imposed foreign values on the Germans.  The Germans blamed the Enlightenment for their humiliation.

German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers brooded on this mess.

Into the Woods
teutoburg-forestRoman defeat at Teutoburg Forest

The dark forests of German culture and tradition had very deep roots.  The now defunct Holy Roman Empire was the heritage of Charlemagne and Charles “The Hammer” Martel.  One thousand years before, they had defeated the Islamic invaders of Europe and begun driving the invaders from Spain.  Seven centuries before that, the Germanic tribes had defeated the Roman invaders, ending their conquest of northern Europe.

Now, a foreign invader had conquered them.  Napoleon personified the Enlightenment (to them), uprooting and burning their traditions, forcibly planting his foreign ideas in the German soil.  Deep in the dark German forests, the Counter-Enlightenment ruminated on its fate.

Kant Goes Medieval
immanuel-kantImmanuel Kant

When last we saw our Counter-Enlightenment hero, Immanuel Kant (defender of the faith) had smote the Enlightenment a crippling blow.  He had taken logic’s razor and deftly sliced away the idea of objective truth, leaving reason staggering about, blind in one eye.  Now, only subjective truth remained.  Then, Kant took his subjectivity and went medieval on the Enlightenment.

Kant was a Rousseau fanboy.  He read and reread Rousseau’s books (mooning over Rousseau’s romantic Emile).  He hung Rousseau’s picture on his wall (like a Counter-Enlightenment poster boy).  Kant had some liberal ideas and had cheered on the French Revolution (in a not very Prussian way).  However, Rousseau’s passionate idealism got Kant fired up.

Kant was passionate about cherished German ideals: feudalism and militarism.  Prussia was the last bastion of feudal German militarism.  Prussia had a cherished military heritage (from the medieval Teutonic Knights to Frederick the Great).  It had been a bulwark against foreign invaders.  Otherwise, Prussia was largely a cultural and intellectual backwater (uneducated, feudal, and warlike).

Kant longed for the feudal Prussian ideal, when life was cheap, and folks suffered happily, until their masters sent them to die in war.  (Ah, those were the days.)  This was “the hidden plan of Nature”.  This was human progress.

ragnarokKant’s human progress:  Ragnarök

Human life is cheap, and we should suffer happily.  We play our role, then “nature abandons individuals to complete destruction,” Kant tells us.  Our suffering matters not.  “Nature is utterly unconcerned that man live well,” he instructed, “Nobody should wish that [life] should be longer than it actually is.”  We deserve to suffer (for the original sin of reason).

Human greatness is achieved (collectively), through war.  Nature “uses [war] to bring about the development of all man’s capacities,” Kant instructs us, “War is an indispensable means for bringing [culture] to a higher stage.”  Each of us is just “an animal that … has need of a master”, he wrote, “who will break [our] self will and force [us] to obey a universally valid will”.  This is morality – selfless duty unto death.

And so, we should make war until judgment day (when Heimdallr blows his Gjallarhorn).

Commentary

Kant was no Enlightenment liberal.  He shared much in common with Rousseau – passionate idealism, collectivism, the general (universal) will, and unthinking duty.  To Rousseau’s totalitarian collectivism, Kant added a peculiar German twist.

Kant (defender of the faith) added, not only a feudal Prussian militarism, but also a pagan Germanic morality (a warrior cult and death wish).  His ideals seem to regurgitate pagan Germanic warrior myths of Valhalla and Ragnarök (judgment day).

Other German thinkers and politicians would take up these themes, helping lead to German reunification, Nazism, the World Wars, and the Soviet destruction of Kant’s home town of Königsberg in the Second World War.  Today, Königsberg is the Russian city of Kaliningrad.

Next

German brooding continues. Next, Part 15: Herder’s Volksgeist.

Postmodernism 101, Part 13: Napoleonic Stress Disorder

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.

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.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  He was a totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.

Rousseau inspired both the collectivist Right (Nazism) and the collectivist Left (Marxist Communism).  Their common enemy is modernism (Enlightenment) – reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.

The collectivist Right would begin to emerge, as Germans brooded over the French Revolution and Napoleon.

Napoleon Rises

Rousseau and the French Revolution were major tipping points.  In the French Revolution, Rousseau’s followers trounced their Enlightenment rivals.  Rousseau inspired radical revolution, atrocities, purges, religious persecution, and the Reign of Terror.  Then, Robespierre and friends were executed, and the Terror ended.

With no Terror to restrain them, rival factions came out of hiding and got back to quarreling – Girondists, royalists, and Jacobins. In typical fashion, conniving sans-culottes hatched a failed coups attempt. Even another constitution was adopted (the Constitution of 1795). Itchy for monarchy, the scheming royalists hatched a failed rebellion, thwarted by General Napoleon Bonaparte.

napoleonNapoleon Bonaparte

The Directory came to power (so-called because it vested executive authority in a council of five directors). In the 1797 elections, the royalists gained more power. Being monarchists, the scheming royalists hatched a conspiracy to put Louis XVII on the throne (with support from the enemy British). Outmaneuvering them, three directors and Bonaparte mounted a coups, ousting the royalists. This left the Directory in the hands of the Jacobins.

In 1799, the Consulate seized power (so-called because it vested executive authority in three consuls). Bonaparte returned from his latest conquests and hatched another coups. Bonaparte and company cooked up a phony Jacobin conspiracy, then used bribery, intimidation, and violence to seize power. Bonaparte cleared the place of democratic Republicans (sending them to balmy French Guiana). Quite good at this game, he consolidated power, became dictator, then Emperor.

Emperor Napoleon would give Germany a spanking that echoed for a hundred years.

Napoleonic Stress Disorder

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  At the 1805 Battle of the Three Emperors (Austerlitz), he crushed the forces of the Austrian and Russian Empires.  The Holy Roman Empire went splat (and with it, centuries of German heritage – Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa).  Napoleon occupied Prussia and other German states (under his Confederation of the Rhine).  The German psyche was broken.

napoleonNapoleon at Austerlitz

Germans blamed the Enlightenment (the British, Voltaire) for their plight.  First, the Enlightenment had attacked German traditions of God, faith, morality, community, and order. Now, in the person of Napoleon, it attacked Germany proper and imposed its values.

This was partly true.  Enlightenment ideas had played a role in the French Revolution (at the start).  Napoleon had imposed some Enlightenment values on occupied Germans.  He abolished feudalism and imposed private property, legal equality, public education, and religious tolerance (for the Jews).

The German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers brooded on the German defeat, the imposition of foreign values, and the figure of Napoleon (as the archetypal strongman).

Commentary

The Enlightenment steadily destroyed the old order and traditions (slowly in some places, more quickly in others).  The dark forests of German tradition had deep roots.  Disturbing them would unleash centuries of conflict (ideological and military).

Next

Rousseau inspires Kant’s collectivism.  Next: Part 14, Kant Goes Medieval.

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.