Postmodernism 101, Part 12: Rousseau’s Paradise Found

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.

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

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, the first revolution replaced France’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy.  From 1789 to 1792, leftist radicals came to dominate Paris.  In 1792, leftist Paris radicals toppled the constitutional monarchy, in a second revolution.  The Convention assembled in Paris to declare the Republic.

robespierreRobespierre

Exploiting war fears, Robespierre and the radical left cracked down on the Right.  The prisons filled with political prisoners.  In the First Terror, radicals slaughtered the political prisoners, in the September Massacres.

Military victories gave Brissot and the Girondists a boost.  The Girondists dismantled the Terror but failed to imprison Robespierre and the radicals.  The Convention tried and executed the King.  In the process, Robespierre and the radicals gained popular support over the Girondists.

Brissot and the Girondists tried to expand the war to gain support.  It backfired.  In March 1793, Civil War broke out over anti-religious oppression.  Urban patriot forces (the “Blues”) violently repressed religious provincial insurgents (the “Whites”).  Meanwhile, the war faltered against Austria and Prussia.  With France retreating on two fronts, General Dumouriez (a Girondist) turned traitor and escaped to Austria (as Lafayette had).

marat-assassinationMarat is assassinated

Paris was in crisis (again).  The radicals blamed the Girondists for the traitor Dumouriez.  The Girondists fought back, arresting the radical Marat.  When Marat was acquitted, the radicals attacked.  In the June 2 purge, the Paris guards joined with the radicals to arrest the Girondists. In the provinces, Girondists and moderates revolted against the Convention and the Paris “anarchists”.  On July 13, a Girondist supporter journeyed to Paris and assassinated Marat.

Things really, really went downhill, from there.

Extermination

The fever of Paris radicalism became epidemic.  The murderous sans-culottes were enraged over Marat’s murder.  Radical conspiracy theories spread like the plague.  (Even the bordellos were rumored to be infected with spies.)  Frenzied feverish radicals denounced the suspicious.

The Public Safety Committee was not repressive enough.  Its less radical members were retired and replaced with extreme radicals.  It was time “to exterminate the rebel race,” the reconstituted Committee declared.  On August 4, the Convention sent Republican armies to exterminate the cancerous insurrection.  Republican armies sallied forth against Marseille, Lyon, and the federalist rebels.  Atrocities followed.

Chaos
saint-justLouis “Angel of Death” Saint-Just

Out of the chaos, Rousseau’s collectivist totalitarian order would emerge.  The young Jacobin firebrand Louis Saint-Just led the second French constitution to completion.  “Fraternity, Equality, and Liberty, or Death!”, the patriots cheered.  The Committee mobilized the Republic for total war.  “Until our enemies are expelled from the territory of the Republic, all French are permanently enlisted for service to the armies,” they decreed.  Every man, woman, and child were joined, as one, to exterminate the foreign invasion.

The insidious cancer of the “enemy within” needed removal.  “Let us make terror the order of the day,” the radicals cried.  On September 5, militants burst into the Convention and the Committee.  They called for repression against royalists, moderates, merchants, the rich, the unpatriotic.  They cried for more September Massacres to exterminate the enemy within.

Chaos loomed.  Order was needed.  Robespierre resolved to bring order from chaos – the “single will”.  The Committee muzzled the radical leaders.  Marches on the Convention ended.  The sans-culotte mob (viewed as Rousseau’s “general will”) demanded purification.

Order

The Committee established order.  On September 9, the Committee unleashed the Revolution Army, to exterminate the unpatriotic infection.  Paramilitary bands of Paris’ worst radicals terrorized and looted the countryside.  On September 17, Saint-Just led the Convention to legalize Terror.  The Law of Suspects ordered the arrest of enemies and suspected enemies.  The powers of the criminal Tribunal and local surveillance committees were expanded.

saint-justExecution of the Girondists

Times of crisis, Rousseau wrote, require dictatorship and setting aside the laws.  So, the Committee claimed near total power.  Chaos “is leading us to barbarism,” Robespierre said, to oppose the Committee is to be “an enemy of the nation”.  In September and October, the Committee consolidated power over the criminal Tribunal and the Convention. “The enemies of the Republic are within the government, itself,” claimed Saint-Just, champion of the constitution.  He demanded the constitution be set aside and executive authority vested in the Committee.  The Convention reluctantly complied.

In October 1793, the Girondists were tried, as a group, by the Tribunal.  Brissot and others had been imprisoned since summer.  Girondist ties to the federalist revolts and Marat’s assassination convinced the Convention to proceed to trial.  Brissot and the Girondists mounted a vigorous defense. To ensure conviction, Robespierre curtailed the trial.  On October 30, a hand-picked jury convicted the group of conspiracy.  The head judge sentenced the twenty-one Girondists to death.  One committed suicide, on the spot.  On October 31, Brissot and the rest were guillotined.  The crowd cheered, at first, then fell silent.

State Religion
nantes-drowningsHébertist drownings at Nantes

Robespierre clashed with other radicals on religion.  He ended years of antichristian “cultural revolution” by atheist militants.  They had closed churches, expelled clergy, banned masses, looted, and burned.  At Notre Dame, they replaced Christianity with the Cult of Reason (their atheist conception of Rousseau’s civil religion). Robespierre pushed through a decree for religious tolerance.  In 1794, he announced a state religion – the Cult of the Supreme Being (Robespierre’s deist conception of Rousseau’s state religion, promoting civil “virtue”).

The most militant atheists protested and were executed, including Anacharsis Cloots (self-styled “enemy of Jesus Christ”), the Paris Commune’s Jacques Hébert (who had pursued the Girondists’ executions), and Jean-Baptiste Carrier (a monstrous Hébertist leader, responsible for atrocities that included mass executions of innocent men, women, and children at Nantes).

Reckoning
nantes-drowningsDanton creates a monster

Nobody was safe from the Terror.  Radical Cordelier Georges Danton was denounced and executed.  Danton had helped architect the Terror and empower the Committee. Saint-Just prosecuted the indignant Danton, in a show trial.  Danton and other Cordelier leaders were summarily convicted and executed.

An estimated 40,000 people were executed in the Terror.  At one time, 300,000 were imprisoned.  In June 1794, Robespierre’s ally Georges Couthon streamlined the Terror laws “to exterminate the implacable satellites of tyranny”.  This “Great Terror” greatly increased convictions and executions in June and July.  Police spies roamed the streets.

Danton’s execution triggered the dramatic events that ended the Terror.  Conspiracies formed against the Committee’s “triumvirate” – Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon.  Robespierre was near mental collapse.  On July 26, he made a paranoid accusatory speech to the Convention and was rebuked.  That night, he and the Jacobins plotted insurrection.  Elsewhere, conspirators plotted against Robespierre.

robespierre-shootingRobespierre is shot

On July 27, Saint-Just and Robespierre were shouted down at the Convention.  Robespierre accused the Convention of being “assassins”.  Deputies ordered the triumvirate arrested.  The Paris Commune ordered their release, declared an insurrection, and sent Hanriot’s Paris guards to surround the Convention with cannons.  The Convention ordered Hanriot arrested.  That night, confusion reigned in Paris.  Robespierre and his allies met to draft a proclamation of insurrection (left unsigned by Robespierre).  Convention forces broke in to arrest them, shooting Robespierre in the jaw, and killing another.

On July 28, the triumvirate (Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon) were executed, along with Hanriot, the Paris mayor, and sixteen others.  The next day, another 140 Paris Commune members were sent to the guillotine.  Paris was purged of its most radical and most militant.  The powers of the Mountain and Paris Commune were broken.  The moderates gained control over the Convention.

Commentary

Rousseau’s Social Contract was the general theory of the Revolution, wrote Hilaire Belloc, and Rousseau its “chief prophet”.  Rousseau’s triumph against competing ideas, says Belloc, was both due to his vision and his style – “his choice of French words and the order in which he arranged them”.  Rousseau had put his political theory to the French “so lucidly, so convincingly, so tersely” that it became gospel.

Rousseau’s religious ideas animated the militant atheist atrocities against Christianity – looting, murdering, and mass executions.  Many meekly accepted this as an expression of the “general will”.  Robespierre saw the horrors unleashed by the destruction of religious morality.  He responded with a Rousseauistic civil religion that included “virtue”.  Just as Rousseau’s ideas justified mass executions of Christians, they justified the executions of atheists.

Rousseau’s collectivist totalitarian ideas animated the Terror.  Rousseau called for dictatorship in times of crisis.  Dictatorship was vested in the Committee on Public Safety.  Rousseau utterly devalued the individual.  He argued that we owe our lives to the collective.  The collective cannot take our lives because we never owned our lives.  He scorned “egoism” (individual self-interest).  What mattered was the “general will” (the mob).  Rousseau’s ideas justified mass executions because his philosophy made life worthless.

In the end, Robespierre seemed to acquiesce to the “general will” in his own arrest and execution.  He didn’t sign the proclamation of insurrection.  Danton looked to Rousseau to justify the Terror that executed him, as had Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, Hébert, Carrier, Hanriot, and the Paris Commune leaders.

Next

Rousseau’s ideas sprout in the collectivist Right.  Next: Part 13, Napoleonic Stress Disorder.

Postmodernism 101, Part 11: Civil War

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.

Previous posts:

Philosophical Foundation

Political Theology

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

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.

robespierreRobespierre

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.

Civil War

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.

vendee-sacred-heartThe Vendée Sacred Heart

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.

Crisis
dumouriezGen. Dumouriez

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.

Purge

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).

marat-acquittalMarat is acquitted

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.

Assassination
marat-assassinationMarat is assassinated

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.

Commentary

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.

Next

Rousseau’s political theology goes full Terror, then Great Terror.  Next: Part 12, Rousseau’s Paradise Found.

Postmodernism 101, Part 10: A Farewell to Kings

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.

Previous posts:

Philosophical Roots

Political Roots

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern Enlightenment philosophy that overthrew Medieval faith.  Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s leftist political ideology is based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   He offers postmodernists a political philosophy that 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, desperate King Louis XVI convened the Estates General.  This started a revolution.  The commoners’ “National Assembly” began a constitutional monarchy.  From 1789 to 1792, a cycle recurred  – radicalization, leftist mob violence, and appeasement.  In August 1792, the constitutional monarchy fell to a second revolution of leftist militants.  The imprisoned King stood accused of treason.

The French war against Austria and Prussia turned to crisis.  With Louis in prison, Lafayette turned traitor and escaped to Austria.  The formidable Prussian army invaded France and marched towards Paris, under the command of the Duke of Brunswick.

robespierreRobespierre

The left used the crisis to seize power.  Brissot and the leftist Girondists controlled the Assembly.  Robespierre and the radical left Paris Commune controlled much of Paris.  The radical left spewed conspiracy theories and fake news.  Authorities cracked down on the clergy and the Right.  The prisons filled with political prisoners.

In the First Terror, the political prisoners  were massacred.  Robespierre and his Paris Commune spread fear of prisoner conspiracies and Prussians at the gates.  In September 1792, they called for action.  Paris guards and militants attacked the prisons and executed political prisoners.  In the provinces, vigilantes massacred the clergy and assorted enemies.  As 1792 wound to a close, the First Terror would ebb.

The King awaited his fate in the Temple prison.

The Republic

In September 1792, a new Convention assembled in Paris. They abolished the monarchy, declared the French Republic, and set to work drafting another constitution.  Meanwhile, the Prussians advanced and the First Terror continued.

valmy-battleBattle of Valmy

As 1792 wore on, the Prussian crisis ended.  Brunswick’s Prussians advanced on Paris, evading French General Dumouriez and his unwieldy French recruits.  French General Kellerman moved to stop the Prussians at the Battle of Valmy. After an epic artillery duel, Kellerman’s professional soldiers repulsed Brunswick’s Prussian infantry advances.  Plagued by hunger and disease, the Prussians straggled away in retreat.

The Prussian defeat was a victory for Brissot and his pro-war Girondists.  With the crisis past, the Convention worked to restore order, dismantle the Terror, and reign in the radicals.  The political crimes Tribunal and Paris Commune were dissolved.

Brissot and the Girondists attacked Robespierre and the radicals.  The Girondists wanted the radicals imprisoned.  They blamed Robespierre and the radicals for the prison massacres.  They accused the radicals of trying to murder Brissot.  Brissot couldn’t prove it.  He was stuck, “forced to follow step for step these miserable anarchists”.

Farewell to Kings
louis-executionExecution of Louis XVI

The Convention tried the King and sentenced him to death.  The Girondists demanded due process (defeating the Mountain radicals, less disposed to such trivia).  In December 1792, the Convention tried the King and found him guilty.  The Girondists’ sought an appeal to the people, but the Mountain radicals defeated them.  The Convention sentenced the King to death (by a majority of one vote).  The Girondists appealed for clemency, but were defeated, again.

On January 21, 1793 the King was marched from the Temple prison and guillotined.  The crowd was silent, then chanted, “Long live the nation! Long live the Republic!”

Factional hatred grew worse.  Both the Girondists and the Mountain received death threats.  A Mountain deputy was publicly assassinated.  The Mountain radicals blamed the Girondists.

Robespierre and the radicals had outflanked Brissot and the Girondists.  The Girondists had been on the Left.  As Robespierre moved radically left, he left the Girondists on the Right.  The crowd seemed with Robespierre.

Commentary

Robespierre and the Mountain radicals wanted execution without trial.  This isn’t inconsistent with Rousseau’s political theory.  Rousseau put no man above “the law”.  The law is only the general will of the collective and the exercise of power in its name.  The individual is unimportant.  Technicalities like due process, legal formalities, tribunals seem trivial.  Rousseau’s ideas are radical and easily lead to mob rule and terror.

Next

War, what is good for?  Next: Part 11, Civil War.