Tuesday, 14 July 2015

226 years today since the fall of the Bastille

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It’s 226 years today since the fall of the Bastille. By the time it 'fell' the Bastille had not been a political prison for years, but a sort of old people's home and lunatic asylum for a very small number of well-connected old and mentally ill people. The decision had already been taken to close down the Bastille to save costs. 

His relatives had placed the Marquis de Sade there but he was taken away ten days before the attack, by which time the Bastille housed seven old men (who were very disturbed by the events of July 14), four forgers, two lunatics and the Comte de Solages, who had committed incest and was placed there at his family's request. After the fall of the Bastille the forgers were free and the others were homeless. 

These things are a parable for progressive politics.

The Marquis De Sade helped cause the fall of the Bastille in that he shouted out from his chamber to demonstrators outside, using an improvised megaphone
'They are killing people in here!'
about 10 days before the storming and before he was moved out of the Bastille. This was a complete lie (De Sade was considered mad), but it got the crowd stirred up and from that day on there was a countdown to the eventual violent storming of the building on July 14th.

Alex Woodcock-Clarke explains De Sade's role in the revolution.


His atheism is one reason that a later class of French intellectuals led by symbolist poet (and pornographer) Guillaume Apollinaire resurrected his writings in the early 1900s. Another reason was de Sade’s ideas about political and, above all, personal freedom. A brief scan of his social works reveals that he was most ardent for man’s freedom to do whatever his nature inclined, even if that includes a little rape and torture, which puts him in the same class as political thinkers like Charles Manson. He was most coherent in his arguments against the imprisonment of for law-breakers, not surprising for a sex criminal who spent twenty-seven years in various jails and asylums.

His spells in behind bars in no way make him a martyr. Life in a royal prison for a nobleman was not too strenuous. He had his own food sent in and his own clothes. His correspondence to his long-suffering wife consists mostly of demands for money so that he can attend dinner soirees hosted by other prisoners. Not only was he allowed to write what he liked but, on July 2, 1789, he somehow got hold of a megaphone, and spent a happy afternoon shouting "They are cutting the throats of the prisoners here!" through the window of his cell in the Bastille, This inflamed the brooding Parisian crowd so much that a few days later, a huge mob stormed the fortress, marking the beginning of the French Revolution.  

De Sade would have been sorry to miss the fun. He had been transferred to the insane asylum at Charenton where he was permitted to stage his own plays using the inmates as actors. This was hardly a high security institution since, boring of the place in 1790, he waddled to the gates (he had grown morbidly obese on a diet of rich prison food), announced “I am the Marquis De Sade” and released himself on his own recognisances. When he was eventually brought back to Charenton, after a brief career as a Revolutionary Tribunal jurist dishing out death sentences galore, he was allowed to bring a 12-year old mistress with him who, perversely, was not allowed to leave until his death in 1814.

Actually, the Bastille was not really "stormed" - the Governor was promised safe conduct for himself and the guards if he surrendered the arms stored in the place (the real reason the mob had been manipulated to go there). When he came out he was instead brutally murdered.


Today progressives celebrate this murder, along with the hundreds of thousands of murders (mostly in rural France) that they went on to commit. Lenin of course modelled the Russian Bolshevik revolution on the French one.

From the French Revolution a line runs to the Bolshevik revolution. Alexander Solzhenitsyn makes the point.
The French Revolution unfolded under the banner of a self-contradictory and unrealisable slogan, "liberty, equality, fraternity." But in the life of society, liberty, and equality are mutually exclusive, even hostile concepts. Liberty, by its very nature, undermines social equality, and equality suppresses liberty--for how else could it be attained?

15 comments:


  1. Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason?

    For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason.

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    1. Some still dare call it treason. Revolution against Louis XIV (an aggressive tryant) would have required courage. Revolution against Louis XVI (a kindly man who did not want to hurt anyone) was an act of cowardly treason - organised by people who plunged all Europe (for it was never their intention to limit their lust for power to France) into many years of war - almost two million French lives lost alone (between 1789 and 1815) plus the vast numbers of other people. The Revolution did not free the French serfs - what serfs? And it did not end torture - it reintroduced it (Louis XVI had already abolished torture years before), nor did it establish Religious Toleration (again Louis XVI had already done that). The French Revolution was about plunder of property and murder of human beings (in vast numbers) - it was based on the collectivist philosophy of Rousseau and lust for power.
      Paul

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    2. The French version of Democracy can be said to be the purest form in existence today and is symbolically referenced through the storming of the Bastille. A much greater misrepresentation of freedom was the much vaunted Magna Carta which was a series of land and property acts to protect the interests of the powerful barons. The abandonment of the EU social charter is another example of the powerful manipulating the plebeians that all would be well post Brexit? Depending on ones political and historical perspective, one could justify Colonialism in Ireland where the then budding country known as England cut its teeth and made many humanitarian mistakes. England's perfidious history with Ireland included land grabs as elsewhere and included the Elizabethan campaign, the Cromwellian campaign the Williamite campaign and the associated Anti Popery (Penal)Laws. The notorious Act of Union 1801 further pauperized the stubborn and enduring Irish population, but the 'prayers of certain influential quarters in government and in the Royal family were happy to see the arrival of the 1847 potato blight said to have been God sent on a nation of "wasters and mendicants" John Mitchel asserts that it was England sent the Famine. And this attitude from the most powerful nation on the face of the earth chose to believe this development was 'Divine Providence'.. while its troops escorted grain out of this country and supported the interests of the propertied classes ranchers and farmers through its laissez faire economics. Its little wonder Edmund Burke, an Irish exile practicing his craft of conservative politics, was opposed to the coarse manner of the Revolutionaries. It should be remembered the English being traditional enemies of France were initially happy with the Revolution there, but then opinion was turned on the realization that this thirst for Revolution and all it entails might make its way across the Dover Channel. So over the years Ireland looked towards its allies in Europe which included France Spain and Italy for support in its various and persistent attempts of revolt. Working class people generally gain little from revolutions, but by virtue of their occurence it is reasonable to take it that something is amiss. The progress made between Ireland and the UK through the Good Friday Agreement is currently under attack because of the misguided and ageing working class population who have benefited from EU membership. These people were sold a pup when told all would be well once it jettisoned the EU. Heseltine's recent comments on Brexit are well measured. It was Lord Acton who said that Rousseau wrote more on philosophy than any other. His philosophy and that of Robert Tressils book 'The Ragged Trousered Philantrophists' could be worth readingand if he could resurrect from his paupers grave he would definitely recognize the merits of the EU. I would worry about the UK's intentions to its Scots and Northern Irish citizens, given the mistake I think Brexit is and the poor judgement its leaders have shown currently and their past history of empire.Lets hope UK does not return to child labour and exploitation of a vulnerable and redundant workforce.

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    3. Fortune favours the Brave but the smart ones are getting thin on the ground.

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    4. Damon Runyon — 'The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.'

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  2. I have no time for liars who pretend that the French Revolution was some sort of little "riot" - I despise such people as much as I despise determinists and moral relativists.

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  3. "Lenin of course modelled the Russian Bolshevik revolution on the French one", including the "storming" of the winter palace, which tutned out to be a rather meek outing as well!

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  4. In this very day in 1989 I stood in the pulpit of S Basil ' s church Bassaleg near Newport and denounced the French Revolution. Sebastian Hyatt

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  5. A dark day for the natural order of Tradition across Europe and Christendom.

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  6. Nice extracts but you fail to make the connection between revolutionary politics and the progressives of today.

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    1. You are right but I feel slightly as if your comment could be made in red ink at the end of my essay, alongside the mark 8/10.

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    2. Had we but world enough and time..

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    3. Great comment Rupert. Very wise and incisive.

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  7. This has it correct. The “Storming of the Bastille” was more myth than reality. One irony is that, for the most part, the Bastille’s prisoners were better off than most of the peasants. Their daily ration of bread, cheese and sometimes wine was certainly better than the thin gruel and breadcrumbs being fought over by their half-starved countrymen (food riots helped spark the French Revolution). Many prisoners received books, and Paul’s mention of the Marquis de Sade — before he was removed from the Bastille, he had the use of a dressing table, a full wardrobe and a library.

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  8. I appreciate the article. Very enlightening. Of course there will be a desire to relate it to later or present events and this has some validity. No idea in history stands alone. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas (e.g. forced "equality") are persistent.

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