THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
> I just recently read some conservative literature severely criticizing the > French Revolution as "unchristian, bloody, barbaric, and against the laws of the > triune God. "What I find interesting is that conservatives hate anything that > is an opponent of order, or fanatical religion. Now this is not a defense of > Robspierre or the "Reign of Terror". I, like Jefferson, deplore those criminal > acts, and believe, also with Jefferson, that the French people were not ready for > complete liberty. Maybe, as Jefferson suggested, a constitutional monarchy for a > while would have been better. This still doesn't change the fact that France > was run by a corrupt monarchy, an established church, a rich and corrupt > aristocracy, and 9/10ths of the population was in poverty. > More people died in the American > Revolution than the French, something conservatives are loath to admit. What do > you think? Am I being too much of a "Jacobin" as the Federalists would say? I believe your analysis is correct. The basic fact was, the French people were not ready for the kind of liberty the Americans enjoyed. For too long, they were kept in ignorance and superstition, and when liberty was at hand, the baser elements seized control, and the result was the atrocities we are so familiar with. The segments of society that were qualified (by education, experience, etc.) to run a republican government, were all corrupt themselves and not honest enough to run anything. So, what was left when the existing regime was overthrown? Nothing but chaos and savage revenge on the oppressors. Perhaps there are lessons in that for formerly oppressed nations in Africa that seek to have a free society today. Notice how the former colonial powers did next to nothing to prepare the people they held in subjection for self-government. I did not know that more died in the American Revolution than in the French. I suppose it was the execution of the upper classes in France that became the center of historical focus. No, I don't think you are anywhere close to being a Jacobin, since you disapprove of the terrorism, and approve of the idea of a constitutional monarchy as a transitional government. Jefferson spelled out in detail the latter, but I think it was mainly Marie Antoinette who prevented the King from making the necessary concessions (or so Jefferson himself said). And, of course, the nobility and clergy were against giving up their privileges. But they possibly could have been persuaded if the King had taken a firm stand in favor of reform. Here was a case where all the weak and corrupt elements of society conspired together to self-destruct. One could probably argue that the French Revolution and its atrocities were inevitable.
> Revolution > that does not move toward constitution quickly becomes > a new despotism. That, perhaps, could be the explanation of the French Revolution. I remember Jefferson describing the early attempts at a new constitution, but it seemed hamstrung by the old institutions (clergy and nobility) and did not get off the ground. I feel I would need to go back and study the era with that point of view in mind to see if the above statement is an accurate descriptor of what happened.
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