Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6: The Atrocious Spectacle of October 6th (Vol. 24, pp. 208-217)

On this day in 1789, the royal family of France was captured as the French Revolution reached a bloody high tide. As we've seen from earlier passages from Edmund Burke's "Revolution in France," he was no fan of the events of 1789.

As a classic conservative, order was his watchword and change was not something to be entered into lightly. Burke believed that liberty was a fine thing, but only "liberty connected with order." He also believed that if a political system had lasted a long time, it must be good based upon the simple fact that it had lasted a long time. Thus, there is no need to change.

Thus. the French Revolution violated every one of Burke's cherished ideas. He was horrified over the loss of traditions and the end of the veneration of royalty. But did the world come apart when the veneration of kings and queens was cast aside? Did the loss of what Burke called "the spirit of nobility and religion" lead to a "poverty of conception, a coarseness and a vulgarity?"

Looking back over the two centuries since the French Revolution, the answer is most assuredly no.

Like all defenders of the status quo, those that benefit from the way things are tend to be the loudest defenders. To Burke, a member of the class he saw threatened by the revolution, democracy was suspect, the people were ignorant rabble that could not be trusted and only the reinforcement of the ancient ways could ensure true liberty. For those not among Burke's elect, revolution sounds like a good idea.

What happened in France was undeniably bloody, it was that way because power concedes nothing without force, and monarchy rarely steps aside peacefully. The release of long-suppressed resentments often can get out of control.

As someone who doesn't believe in infallibility of nobility and religion as organizing principles for a society, I disagree with Burke. His belief that everything respectable was destroyed in the French Revolution is simply the lament of someone who didn't recognize that the world was changing and the ground was shifting under his feet. What happened in France, as well as in the United States, was the triumph of reason over superstition, of the triumph of liberty deriving from people and not from the whim of kings.

Democracy is better than monarchy. Burke, I think, never really understood this.

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