The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

France and Terror

Posted on | January 11, 2015 | 41 Comments

Reacting to Ross Douthat’s New York Times column about the plight of France, I deployed my usual caustic sarcasm:

If the fate of the West is in any way dependent on the French, then our civilization is doomed beyond all hope of redemption.

This could create the impression of thoughtlessness, and I don’t wish to leave such an impression. Any wise person who has studied modern history knows that the French Revolution set loose upon the world a destructive spirit — presenting us alternately with the threat of anarchy and tyranny — that has since seldom permitted us to enjoy prosperity in peace. What is remarkable is the extent to which French intellectuals have caused this endless tide of human misery.

“We are not the converts of Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has made no progress amongst us. Atheists are not our preachers; madmen are not our lawgivers. We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity.”
Edmund Burke, 1790

Burke’s insight into the fundamental error of the French Revolution — its inspiration by such philosophes as Rousseau and Voltaire — could be extended to every “progressive” movement ever since.

The modern Cult of Progress, the characteristic “presumption” of the intelligentsia in their belief in their own superiority, has repeatedly afflicted humanity with enthusiastic schemes for political, social and economic change. Always these innovations require us first to destroy “hitherto existing society” (to quote the Communist Manifesto), and to entrust our future to the control of elites. Always the result is the same. From the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France to the Bolshevik Terror in revolutionary Russia, from Kristallnacht in Germany to the “Great Leap Forward” in China to the “Killing Fields” in Cambodia, the path of “progress” is a trail painted in blood, littered with the corpses of those murdered or starved to death for the sake of political theories.

Opponents and critics of these deadly theories — conservatives, as we have generally been called — are mocked and demonized by the intelligentsia, who lend their prestige to popularizing bad ideas, particularly inspiring naïve idealistic youth to imagine that they have found the formula for Progress and Reform that will lead them to that promised utopia, Equality. The young have no direct knowledge of the intelligentsia’s numerous previous failures, and what the young are taught in school about history does little or nothing to warn them against the dangers of such theoretical schemes.

For many decades now, America’s schools, colleges and universities have been less concerned about teaching facts than about teaching attitudes. The elites in academia and the bureaucratic mediocrities who operate the K-12 school system don’t teach young people that Lenin’s Bolsheviks and Hitler’s Nazis were both ideological heirs of the French Revolution. Indeed, it’s rare nowadays to meet anyone under 50 who knows a damned thing about the French Revolution. The history of the Soviet Union is largely neglected in our schools, while the history of Nazi Germany becomes a caricature — Hate is Bad Thing, in case you didn’t know — and the true lessons of that era are never taught. There was an excellent little book by A.L. Rowse, Appeasement, which should be required reading in our universities, but which is instead out of print, so that unless you search it out on Amazon you’ll never understand why Neville Chamberlain thought he could purchase “peace for our time” at Munich. Likewise, students must find for themselves William Shirer’s classic history of Hitler’s Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, because their teachers will never assign it.

We are confronted with the spectacle of an entire generation of young people who are at once “educated” (possessing college diplomas) and yet also vastly ignorant. For the past 20 years, our youth have been led to believe that as long as they know how to look up something on the Internet (if they were honest, they might footnote everything in their assigned writings to Wikipedia) then there is never any need to know anything. One sometimes finds young feminists blabbering on about this or that example of patriarchal oppression in such a way as to make it evident that they haven’t read any more feminist theory that could be found in an introductory Women’s Studies textbook. Likewise, we have become accustomed to encounter young progressives lecturing us on economics when it is plainly evident they know almost nothing about the subject. (Learn something: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell.)

As dismaying as is this vast ignorance among young liberals, many conservatives are not much better and, in some cases, much worse. Because it has become nearly impossible for any conservative to gain employment in academia — university faculty are nowadays as ideologically “diverse” as Stalin’s Politburo — there is no professional incentive for any conservative to study history in depth.

Sometimes it seems conservatives are trapped in current events, always arguing about whatever’s at the top of the Drudge Report, never bothering to trace our problems back to their historical roots which, as I say, can be found in the French Revolution.

From the day the mob stormed the Bastille in July 1789, events in France proceeded with a certain relentless logic. In October 1789, the revolutionaries exploited an economic crisis to incite the mob to march on Versailles. The economic policy of the revolutionaries, as Burke observed, could be summarized in a single word: “Assignats!”

Whatever the problems of the ancien regime, the revolutionary regime unleashed upon the citizenry of France new problems that became steadily worse, as Burke had presciently foreseen. Establishing a pattern for all such future regimes, revolutionary propagandists insisted that all problems of the regime could be blamed on the regime’s enemies — royalists and other counterrevolutionary elements of society, including Catholic clergy, to say nothing of hostile foreigners. More than 200 priests were killed during the September Massacres of 1792, the King and Queen were executed in January 1793, the Committee of Public Safety was established in April, Marat was assassinated in July and in September 1793 began the Terror. About 40,000 people were executed in a span of 10 months. In one of the last atrocities of the Terror, 16 Carmelite nuns were sent to the guillotine in Compiègne.

The acknowledged leader of the Terror regime, Robespierre, had been foremost among those who demanded the execution of the King: “Louis must die so that the nation may live.” Finally overthrown in July 1794, Robespierre himself was executed by the guillotine, to which his revolutionary fanaticism had sent so many others.

Does it not strike anyone as ironic that the French Republic, whose founding gave birth to the idea of revolutionary terror, should today be threatened by another species of terror? A nation that was baptized in blood for the sake of radical theories and slogans — “Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!” — now encounters fanatics whose ideas are less theoretical but whose slogan is slightly more frightening: “Allahu akbar!”

Charlotte Corday could not be reached for comment.





41 Responses to “France and Terror”

  1. gothamette
    January 11th, 2015 @ 3:08 pm

    Excellent. The events of the day have made you passionate and sincere. I learned a lot from this.

  2. TheAmishDude
    January 11th, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

    There’s a podcast called “Revolutions” and he’s in the middle of the French Revolution now. It’s a good listen.

  3. Zohydro
    January 11th, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

    This post immediately reminded me of this…

    Tragic! Our children are so terribly screwed…

  4. bobsyouruncle
    January 11th, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

    I’d welcome you all back to the bosom of the British Empire but you’ve got a hell of a lot of catching up to do. First, stop saying ‘England’ all the time. I suggest you request the Canadians to take over administration of your territories as a shortcut back to the Burkean anti-revolution world.

  5. Charlie
    January 11th, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

    You old monarchist you. 🙂

  6. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    January 11th, 2015 @ 4:56 pm

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

  7. Zohydro
    January 11th, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

    Are you the same Amish Dude who was awarded the Comment of the Day for Dec. 18, 2014 at Ace of Spades HQ?

  8. Jim R
    January 11th, 2015 @ 5:24 pm

    I shall have to look for this “Appeasement” book. Thank you.

    There are several books that ought to be read, marked and inwardly digested by every American… but aren’t. Liberty is only the natural state of the man when he is alone in nature: freedom of speech, conscience, self-defense, &c. are rights that have to be jealously guarded. Sadly, too many people (and not just cynical, plotting libs) think AT BEST that rights are somehow automatic, and AT WORST think they ought to be curtailed. Freedom IS slavery for those people.

  9. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

    Thanks but no thanks. Modern Britain hasn’t all that much to recommend it self over France and certainly isn’t a Burkean paradise. And it never was conservative in the Adamsian or Jeffersonian sense.

  10. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 5:35 pm

    The fact that the French are on their Fifth Republic in a slightly shorter time span than we have living under our first speaks volumes about the French Revolution as opposed to our War for Independence.

  11. gothamette
    January 11th, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

    Slightly O/T, but this should be read:

    Does anyone remember that right after 9/11, there was a lot of talk about questioning the historical accuracy of the Quran, and how that could get you in trouble? It kind of got lost in the fray and I forgot all about it.

    Well, let’s start again. This is much bigger than the freedom to publish dirty cartoons (which I support). Let’s question the very historical foundations of Islam in the same way you can question the historical foundations of Judaism or Christianity. This is censorship, pure and simple, and it’s got to stop.

    I hate the fact that this has come down to gross insults. I exercise my right to say that Muhammad was a false prophet and that Islam is a failed political movement, and not a true religion. It’s my right and if anyone doesn’t like that, then let them redouble their faith in the knowledge that what they say will be rewarded.

    Like the Mormons.

  12. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 6:05 pm

    The answer to your NATO question is sometimes. I also question the assertion that France’s Jewish community is thriving, they certainly do.

  13. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    January 11th, 2015 @ 6:07 pm
  14. NeoWayland
    January 11th, 2015 @ 6:10 pm


    There were two revolutions.

    The American one worked and people were better off.

  15. gothamette
    January 11th, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

    Re Jewish community I am referring to now, not in a few years.

  16. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 7:03 pm

    (note the edit above)
    I am speaking of now. Some estimate that tens of thousands of Jews have left in the last few years and many more are planning to.

  17. Dave R
    January 11th, 2015 @ 7:12 pm

    well, second; the Articles of Confederation was a thing …

  18. Fail Burton
    January 11th, 2015 @ 7:12 pm

    I think of hateful ideologues like our politically correct social justice warriors as crime on top of crime. Any nation has it’s plague of run-of-the-mill criminals. Hate speech from racist black activists and radical gender feminists takes a relatively benign situation and creates crimes where there are none. The hate speech required to do that produces animosity and moves industry and gov’t policy when it is mainstreamed that itself produces crimes on top of crime.

    There was no reason for those two Brooklyn cops to die. It was from hate speech. The same hate speech that makes up fake social science about the privileged and the marginalized when in fact those marginalized in America are experiencing globally historic highs of rights. Gays, transgendered, women and minorities have never had it so good as in America in 2015. That is not an opinion but historic and easily documented fact.

    Still we have an unprecedented amount of hate speech mainstreamed into society from radical gay feminism and black activism that has fooled America’s academia and artistic communities into signal-boosting these non-existent oppressions like “rape culture,” “micro aggressions,” “ableisms,” “misogyny,” “settler colonialism,” “Islamophobia,” “homophobia” and a host of other fantasies created by broken people who cannot reconcile their own failures with reality.

    It is the same mechanism whereby the sociopathic Adolph Hitler and other broken souls mainstreamed their personal sicknesses and imagined persecutions into an entire nation until it destroyed half of Europe, including itself. The crimes Nazis imagined and then committed crimes to fight was crime on top of crime.

    An amazing amount of our treasure and energy is being funneled into fighting whites, heterosexuals, and men when the truth is that is the group that has brought about the historic freedoms the very people most creating hate speech have benefitted by.

    The result has been the demographic overthrow of one institution after another. Anyone who wants to see a microcosm of a thing that has destroyed itself from this political correctness need only look at the core science fiction community, a perfect microcosm of hate speech and its effects.

    It has chased away the best writers, discouraged new ones from even entering the field, elevated bad writers into preeminence by virtue of their sexual expression and race. It has been gutted like a fish until its legacy has been destroyed. That has all been done in the remarkably short space of only 4 years as a new group powered by racist intersectional supremacist gender feminism has assaulted the community of naive middle class whites with their trigger warning, privilege and marginalized.

    Radical feminism’s main talent is hate speech. They are extremely adept at taking their psychosis and convincing people a woman-hating homophobic Jim Crow stalks the land. They have created non-existent crimes and punished an entire group for colonialism, slavery and genocide. Even while they constantly moan about not painting Muslims and blacks with one brush based on self-evident value systems, that is exactly what social justice warriors do. Delegitimizing them is the only way to fight them.

  19. Jim R
    January 11th, 2015 @ 7:15 pm

    The French ought to be ashamed that people are fleeing their country in fear of their very lives because they believe that their fellow citizens won’t protect them. Sadly, I don’t think that they will.

    The world is getting a sharp lesson: a civilized, free country isn’t rested on laundry list of guaranteed “rights” and a government that has its finger in every part of the citizens’ lives. Rather, it seems to me to rest in a general belief in law and order and a general determination to defend – to even die for – the rights of one’s fellow citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    God grant that any person or group of people willing to live peacefully within our laws will always find a safe home in the United States of America.

  20. gothamette
    January 11th, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

    “Some estimate” and some don’t. Emigration to Israel is picking up. I’m not minimizing anti-Semitic outrages. But by all objective measurements, the French Jewish community is thriving: prosperous, educated, and – by world standards – safe. French Jews contribute to media, arts, are movie stars, and run grocery stores. The man who runs the Paris Opera is converting to Judaism – because his wife (Natalie Portman) is Jewish. Their top comedian, Dany Boon, is a convert to Judaism. One of his parents is Muslim, the other Catholic. Don’t believe the scare headlines.

    This may change. But I’ve made my point and I won’t engage in further arguing.

    By all objective measurements France is a stunning success as a country and a civilization. I think RSM is wrong to judge it by its bloody Revolution, although he was right about the Revolution. It was no model for any society to follow.

  21. robertstacymccain
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:01 pm

    I shall have to look for this “Appeasement” book.

    That was actually an assigned reading in one of my history classes circa 1982, and I’ve never forgotten its lessons. The appeasers simply did not understand that the phenomenon they were dealing with — totalitarian militarism — was unlike anything they had previously encountered. Churchill and a comparative handful of others (men with military training, mostly, and who had actually read Mein Kampf) saw the danger clearly and understood it, but they were ignored or laughed to scorn.

  22. Jim R
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:35 pm

    In fairness, who could have believed it? I am reminded of one of the “Why We Fight” series:

    [paraphrase] “We saw Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo and we laughed because, to us, they looked like something from a sideshow carnival. But they weren’t funny: they were deadly serious.”

    It’s so bizarre to me that the same lefties who thought / think that Republicans, Tea Partiers, and white Christians are capable of any evil think that people like Stalin, Mao, the mullahs, &c. AREN’T.

    PS: Book on order

  23. Jim R
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:42 pm

    I hope that you are right about Jews in France.

  24. TheAmishDude
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:45 pm

    I heard Claire Berlinski mention that one issue is simply economics. The French economy is not in good shape.

  25. TheAmishDude
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

    Of course. There’s only one.

    Although…a blue checkmark would be nice.

  26. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:50 pm

    Some estimate 100 thousand out of 500 thousand in the last 18 months, many of them to Britain. Of course there’s been an uptick in wealthy French people escaping to Britain to escape taxes.

  27. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 8:58 pm

    Not to pick nits but what the hell. The Articles established a confederation of Republics. We now have (or had) a Federal Republic.

  28. Adobe_Walls
    January 11th, 2015 @ 9:25 pm

    A truly astounding combination of elitism, hubris and undeserved self esteem. Gentlemen like Chamberlain knew they were better and thought they were smarter than Hitler because he was a rabble-rouser from the streets. And yet they assumed as he was playing a gentlemen’s game he had to abide by gentlemen’s rules, despite all the evidence to the contrary. This misconception aided Hitler’s rise from the begining.

  29. Adjoran
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:01 pm

    Over 40% of racially-based attacks in France are against Jews, who comprise only 1% of the population. You have an interesting definition of “thriving.”

  30. Adjoran
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

    Do all these prominent Jews you cite employ private security?

  31. Bob Belvedere
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

    And Edmund Burke had more influence here than in Fair Albion.

  32. Bob Belvedere
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:09 pm

    Next to Constitutional-Based Representative Government [which only seems to work in countries where Englishness has thrived at one time], Monarchy is the next best thing.

  33. Bob Belvedere
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:12 pm

    Had. Seems to me our first Republic ended in the Aughts.

  34. Zohydro
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:35 pm

    I rarely comment at AoS, but did then!

    That’s me, #415, the last comment on that thread!

  35. Zohydro
    January 11th, 2015 @ 10:43 pm

    Jews thrive wherever they are found, one way or another! Even in Kiryat Joel in New York, which according to the Census Bureau is the “poorest” place in America!

  36. gothamette
    January 12th, 2015 @ 12:12 am

    I really don’t want to engage in a pointless argument about the meaning of the word. There are approx. 500K Jews in France. They live well. Yes, they are endangered. So is all of France.

    I AM NOT MINIMIZING THE ISLAMIST THREAT. I am simply saying that as of now, they are thriving. I made the point in the context of disagreeing that France 2015 is living the reign of terror 1789. Is that clear?

  37. Adobe_Walls
    January 12th, 2015 @ 10:20 am

    I submit you are minimizing the Islamist threat and seem to be unaware of the extent of the Jewish exodus.

  38. Quartermaster
    January 12th, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

    3rd. Lincoln’s war established the 3rd, which is the federal state.

  39. Quartermaster
    January 12th, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

    Perfidious would be a better description of Albion.

  40. Quartermaster
    January 12th, 2015 @ 12:50 pm

    Let go the dogs of la Legion!

  41. Michael Spangler
    January 12th, 2015 @ 12:56 pm

    “Sometimes it seems conservatives are trapped in current events, always arguing about whatever’s at the top of the Drudge Report, never bothering to trace our problems back to their historical roots”

    Well said. I confess, I am guilty of this.

    Most of my historical knowledge comes from listening to talk radio hosts, which is more than anything I learned in college. But you’re right, time to get away form the headlines a little and pick up some history books.