Ahh, the French Revolution! Power to the people! The ultimate symbol of triumph over tyranny. A milestone of the emancipation of man, where peasants
rose up against their monarchical oppressor, laying the foundations of democracy. A valiant struggle for human rights and the ideals of the
Enlightenment. Brave young men, dressed up in beggar rags, the flame of passion burning in their eyes, running fearlessly over barricades and
gunfire...well, you get the picture.
Sounds familiar? Probably so, because that's the mainstream depiction of the event. That's the one presented in fiction and non-fiction alike, with
remarkable consistency. Just open a history book and chances are you will find a description not unlike the one above, that is to say, highly
idealized. Indeed, it seems whenever the French Revolution is approached, it is always through the lens of idealism. It sort of stuck this way, I
guess. Even serious encyclopedic works often give up their (nominal) objectivity and start lauding the heroic nature of the revolt, and the purity of
its aims. Critical analyses of this event are quite rare, and often focus on one particular aspect instead of the whole narrative (like, say, denounce
particular trial for being rigged, instead of asking why
they were rigging trials in the first place). I've looked around for an
alternative view to test my suspicions, but so far I've found very little. Which is why I now create this thread.
Reading on the subject, I've always had the impression that there was something fishy with the French Revolution. The feeling that something was off,
that the closer you looked at the details, the less they seemed to fit the narrative. I couldn't put my finger on it. Perhaps it was the perceived
media bias? Perhaps it was the cartoonish way it is recuperated as a symbol in modern politics? Perhaps it was the sectarian attitude of the
revolutionaries? Perhaps it was the kangaroo courts and other irregularities? Perhaps it was the unsavory and often bloody actions committed in its
wake, or because said actions were incompatible with the stated ideals? Probably a bit of all that. I began to form a different image of the French
Revolution in my mind, one with much less polish. I don't know how this will be received, but I'm still willing to present my ideas. You be the
So, in the spirit of Melville's Cetology, as no better man advances to take this matter in hand, I hereupon offer my own poor assertions :
1) Far from being a spontaneous popular revolt, the French Revolution was a carefully planned coup, orchestrated at lenght by the men who would later
be known as the Jacobin Club. It could accurately be defined as a conspiracy.
2) The French Revolution was conceived, prepared, and carried out mostly by the Parisian bourgeoisie (i.e. the rich urban elite, the merchant class,
bankers, lawyers, ect.), not by the general populace. The low-wage urban workers only played an accessory role (as cheap manpower, more or less). The
rural majority of France played no role at all, had no say in the matter, and were in fact subject to severe repression.
3) Eons away from being a work of fraternal humanism, French republicanism was a violently nationalistic affair right from the start, with
thinly-veiled goals of hegemony and conquest. Not to mention, it declared open war on the country's ethnolinguistic minorites (a task completed by
later republics using vast assimilation campaigns).
4) It did not establish democracy in any shape or form. The initial new government was a junta with unlimited powers. After a coup, it became an
arbitrary, senate-style directorate. After yet another coup, it became an empire (talk about historical homage, eh...). All with the common goal of
establishing a centralised power structure for the urban elite, who were the real concern all along.
5) The aptly-named Reign of Terror, aside from being a most disturbing and sanguinary episode, was not an involuntary excess to be blamed on paranoia.
The revolutionaries knew full well what they were doing. The aristocracy being out, things swiftly devolved into a king-of-the-hill struggle for
domination among the victors, with horrible results.
6) The revolutionaries engaged in enough word-twisting and manipulation to make Stalin red with envy. On many occasions, sophistry was used to
legitimize bloodbaths (I'd even venture to say genocide, but that would be rude, wouldn't it?)
7) The current image of the French Revolution, the one descibed in my first paragraph, was forged much later by a wave of unabashed propaganda
writers, Victor Hugo being the most well-known.
8) All in all, what the French Revolution heralded was the transition from a traditional, aristocratic elite to an urban, bourgeois elite. The middle
class toppling the upper class, then becoming the new upper class. It never ceased to be a question of class, equality was never in the program.
9) Rather than a milestone of emancipation, the French Revolution was an important step in the rise of TPTB. This is why it was glorified to this
extent, and still is today.
Now, I fear illustrating all this, let alone proving it, will be a monumental task. I barely know where to begin, and I might have bit more than I
could chew. Just gathering the facts and arranging my thoughts will take some time, so I won't be able to do this in one go. I'll just post my
observations little by little, update it when I can. Also, I realize I'm not very qualified for this job, and my credibility is limited. If someone
with better qualifications wants to help, he/she is welcome. This is not just a panel for me to post stuff, it is your thread as well. But for now,
I'll try my hand at the task...
edit on 30-1-2014 by Cathcart because: image