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ogenoct
Monday, May 17th, 2004, 06:35 PM
MASSES NEED LUST: The Impact of the French Mutiny

by Constantin von Hoffmeister


The political influence of the French Revolution is easy to discern. The Revolution itself promoted the ideals of egalitarianism and the propaganda call of Republicanism. Not only did the French Revolution uproot French society as a whole, it also gave rise to the Jacobins' radical and aggressive self-righteousness that propelled them to spread the revolution across continental Europe. Therefore Europe was re-organized along the anti-traditional lines set by the Revolution.

Madman, genius and brilliant actor Antonin Artaud put it in exactly the right words when he exclaimed way back when, "Who am I? / Where do I come from? / I am Antonin Artaud / and if I say it / as I know how to say it / instantly / you will see my present body / explode into pieces / and under ten thousand / notorious aspects / a new body / will be constructed / in which you will never again / be able / to forget me." Like Artaud’s precious and frail artistic body, the social organism of France was ripped apart at its seams. Long-standing traditions, such as Catholicism and decadent hunting parties hosted by anus-sniffing aristocrats, were suddenly under hostile scrutiny and ruthlessly abandoned for a seemingly more valuable structure. Church lands were confiscated and nobles beheaded. But the Jacobins did not reckon with the wrath of an angry Father Nature that had been deprived of his useless evolutionary customs (such as hierarchy and negro-beating). This is why the Jacobins failed to create something novel, just like the reconstructed Artaud is always reminiscent of his former incarnation, except that the new version is more "notorious" and hence unforgettable. The same happened to the revolutionary regime. It tried to install Utopia in Europe, but ended up with a dystopian version of France – a country not ruled by the Absolute Spirit, but rather by the moody members of a blood-thirsty band of guillotine-presenting ghouls. It was the same old repression – just with a different cast of characters (the foaming at the mouth pseudo-proletarian variety).

The revolutionary governments that were set up in different nations of Europe were replaced by monarchies after Napoleon assumed his imperial title, even though "in this case the new rulers were drawn from Napoleon's own family or his trusted subordinates" (Simpson 81). Hence, most of Europe was still under the control of the French Empire well after the revolutionary regime had ceased to exist. Of course, after Napoleon was defeated, all the revolutionary/Napoleonic governments were abolished in Europe, but parts of their legacy endured and helped to propel the continent onto its path of modernization, both in the political as well as the economical sense. This makes the French Revolution the mother of all revolutions - in the sense that it was total and absolute, changing the face of Western civilization forever. In other words, the French Revolution was a shanghaiing of necessary reform movements - executed in order to force new values upon a decaying system of traditions. It was surely a time when the lower classes were "hailed" en masse (literally).

How did the famous Dada prophet and madman Johannes Baader put it? "A new act of the Divine Comedy has started and its slogan is this: Human beings know that they are in heaven." This is what the self-proclaimed spokesmen (high and mighty rhetoric-sputtering comics of a not-new age) of the farmers and laborers thought. They did not realize or purposely ignored the fact (more likely) that the French masses were – as always – in desperate need of religious/spiritual instruction. Sometimes, the sickle and the plow just are not enough to satisfy the primal needs of European man!

After France's glorious years of continental conquest and its ultimate defeat (disregarding the second coming of Napoleon) at the battle of Leipzig in 1813, the political landscape of Europe was altered forever. As Simpson puts it, "Nationalism, meaning a strong sense of identity between a state and its people, received a marked boost" (84). This means that the various peoples of Europe all of a sudden felt a strong connection to their respective fatherlands, a sort of group identity that had not existed before. This rather provincial change in attitude toward one's nation came about because the various European nations were occupied by French troops for quite a while, and because of the suppression of their freedom to exercise the sovereign will of their own nations, they longed for the "good old days" when there was no occupation. The passionate fever of nationalism started during this time when the different peoples wanted to free themselves from the Napoleonic yoke.

"Equality" was another term that increasingly gained more influence, even after the fall of the revolutionary regime. For example, Napoleon had granted civil rights to Jews. After Napoleon was defeated, the Congress of Vienna "confirmed these rights and made a vague recommendation that they should be extended" (Simpson 91). This would have been an unthinkable decision before the impact of the French Revolution. Another important issue, concerning the quite modern notion of "human rights," was the abolition of the slave trade. Napoleon had abolished it in 1815 after his brief return to power (not after he restored it in 1802, though) and at the Congress of Vienna, France, Sweden and Holland followed suit. Only "Spain continued the trade until 1820" (Simpson 91).

In terms of guaranteeing a lasting peace in Europe, "the Allies also undertook to meet at regular intervals for the purpose of discussing what measures would be 'most salutary for the repose and prosperity of nations and for the maintenance of the peace in Europe'" (Simpson 87). This notion is vaguely reminiscent of contemporary organizations, such as the UN or NATO, in the sense that the European powers actually started to care about stability and "maintenance of the peace." Obviously, the shockwave that the Revolution produced and the subsequent rise of Napoleon's aggressive and bloody campaigns were still fresh memories in the hearts of the European rulers. This may explain why they decided to organize themselves in a cooperative effort to curb any further aggression.

Of course, territorial changes in the political landscape were also major results of the Revolution and Napoleon. For example, under Napoleon, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was dissolved, and in its place forty departments (after the French model) were created. At the Congress of Vienna, the German Confederation was established. The Confederation was a loose association of German states. It had exactly the same boundaries as the Holy Roman Empire after the Peace of Westphalia, but as opposed to the Empire, the Confederate's member states were fully sovereign.

It can be argued that no event contributed as much to the way modern Europe looks as the French Revolution. Many of our contemporary ideals, such as human rights, equality before the law and parliamentary democracy, have their direct roots in the Jacobin seizure of power in 1789. If the development that was triggered by this pivotal event is necessarily a good or a bad one is a matter of debate that never ceases to heat the minds and intellects of opposing factions.



Bibliography


Artaud, Antonin. "Post-Scriptum."

Baader, Johannes. "Die acht Weltsaetze."

Simpson, William and Martin Jones. Europe 1783 - 1914. Routledge: New York, 2000.

Taras Bulba
Monday, May 17th, 2004, 07:20 PM
Just a little historical correction here, the Jacobins did not seize power in 1789. Indeed the leaders of 1789 had different ideals from the Jacobins. Many leaders in 1789 at least believed in a constitutional monarchy and such, wheras the Jacobins were dead-fast against such a notion.

Common misconception of the French Revolution is based on the one year period of the Reign of Terror, when the Jacobins ruled France. Although this is not necessarily unjusitifed, since it was then that the Revolution reached its highmark. But after the downfall of Rospierre the Thermidor was far less radical. This is why the term "Thermidor" is such a negative term for radicals and revolutionaries. Lenin himself determined that there would be no October Thermidor. Trotsky in his disgust with Stalin called the Soviet regime the "Red Thermidor".

ogenoct
Monday, May 17th, 2004, 11:37 PM
Just a little historical correction here, the Jacobins did not seize power in 1789.
Yeah, I noticed that. It should have been 1792. Thanks for pointing it out!

Constantin

George
Tuesday, May 18th, 2004, 01:26 AM
good article!

Parliamentary democracy began in England in about the 16th century (this date is very approximate). The French Revolution was a disaster for Whites and it marked roughly the beginning of the decline of the West. It was during the French Revolution and thereabouts that the Jews began to use their now-total and consolidated control of money to take control of the governments of the West. Napoleon was their tool.