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.
- Intro: The Trouble with Zombies
- Part 1: Truth is Dead
- Part 2: Objectivity is Dead
- Part 3: Hegel’s Dialectic
- Part 4: Staring into the Abyss
- Part 5: Heidegger Knows Nothing
- Part 6: Rousseau’s Paradise Lost
- Part 7: Radicalization and Revolution
- Part 8: Fear, Paranoia, Reaction, War, and Betrayal
- Part 9: First Terror
- Part 10: A Farewell to Kings
Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism. Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Rousseau’s political theology goes full Terror, then Great Terror. Next: Part 12, Rousseau’s Paradise Found.