20 comments on “It’s (not so) Good To Be The King!

  1. Thank you MN Roy for citing examples that prove my point most precisely. My point being thus: that you can not apply the “means justify the ends” principle without in some way compromising the ends because both parties will use that principle to satisfy their own interests. Granted, Marx viewed the interests of the proletariat as representative of Universal interest, differing from the particular interests of the higher classes (folding Kant’s idealism nicely into his ideas of material determinism). No where does he state that radical revolution must preclude violence but neither does he view it as a necessity. You are rightly outraged when the opposition applies the ‘means justify the ends’ principle to oppress and denigrate but you are not when I attempt to apply the same reasoning to the members of a revolution. In fact you laud those that do choose violence. Do you somehow hold the oppressor to a higher standard of behavior? Why?

    In addition, you seem to take name calling as your portion in rational discourse with anyone that disagrees with your point of view (in view of your comments here and elsewhere on this blog). My pathetic opinion is reduced again and rejected because you (wrongly) assume that I side with oppression and the status quo simply because I have asked a question.

    And wrongly do you assume that I am a pacifist in all real world cases. On the contrary, I think that violence, especially self-violence, like the self-immolation of Jan Palach et. al., to be a powerful mobilizing force for revolution and change. However, when the principle of violence becomes an institutionalized mean of establishing a new status quo and centralizing power, as it was in the FR, I reject those means because they will only begat more and more of the same. In the end, that violence does not conform to the categorical imperative. The interest then becomes one of politics and not of the Universal. That is, it does not seek to liberate ALL people from the bondage of class, a goal which Marx clearly outlined in much of his writing. This view is in perfect line with the Marxist concept of an ideal society, with its roots in Rousseau, Hegel and Kant. (Philip Kain “Marx and Modern Political Theory”, p. 153)

    Finally, on the issue of who gives a shit about the goddam king… I’m not going to go so far as to say that I do but I think that his execution was largely symbolic and not altogether productive when looked at in the long-view of history. Of course, shit happens when power shifts and that comes with the territory of being an absolute monarch. But I guess on a philosophical level, summary executions negate the value of human life and again, do little to support the goals of a revolution in the long run. Once you begin the executions, where do you stop?

    And now, please, commence with the bullying. This is fun!

    (and yes, thanks for the Mark Steel. a much needed breather.)

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  2. Mr Moose,

    Thanks for that timely comedic intervention. Another great talk by Mark. He’s super at what he does. His whole audio talk on the French Revolution can be found at his website along with loads of other goodies. He is linked on the right there some where.

    RR

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  3. “Weakyknee’s” pathetic paeans of praise to “non-violence” may sound real “even-handed” and oh so “deeply philosophical” but they don’t cut the mustard (or the other browner stuff) in the real world, which is based upon the oppression and exploitation that comes with class society. And as all of history shows, those who possess power and privilege are not about to peacefully relinquish them without a fight to those whose lives and labor produced those privileges in the first place. Of course, if one choses to identify with the oppressors, then their violence is legitimate to begin with, only it’s usually referred to as “preserving law and order.” Only it’s not to popular a position to take, so philosophical and/or religious rhetoric is needed to better pull the wool over peoples’ eyes.

    So, tell me, was the violence of the Jewish workers in the Warsaw Ghetto who resisted the Waffen SS the same as that of their oppressors? Was Colonel von Stauffenberg just as bad as Hitler for trying to send the latter to Kingdom Come? Or should they have rejected “violence” since it “inevitably leads to more violence?” To ask such questions is to answer them.

    Indeed, all this obfuscation only serves to cloud the real issue at hand. Mainly that those who oppose the “excesses” of revolutionary “violence” do so out of counter-revolutionary motives as supporters of the status quo. All of “Weakyknee’s” arguments come straight out of the playbook of the French far right or ex-radicals (i.e., Stalinists) like Furet turned reactionary in defense of the capitalism they once claimed to oppose.

    Those whose forerunners in France collaborated with the Nazis in implementing real genocide during WWII (and usually deny the Holocaust as well) have the audacity to claim that that the French Revolution committed “genocide” in the Vendee!

    Those who have launched wars of colonial conquest and counter-revolution and resorted to fascism and military dictatorships to keep the capitalist class in control claim that “Leninism led to Stalinism” and every other evil act of the 20th century as well. Some German rightists even laim that it led to Hitler since Nazism was a legitimate “defensive” response to the “aggression” emanating from the USSR!

    Taken to its extreme, the argument now runs that not only did Jacobinism lead to Leninism but that all of it came out of the head of that dangerous egalitarian, JJ Rousseau, the Karl Marx of Robespierre’s day. One thing is for sure, however. Where-ever and when-ever such “theories” come from, they all serve the same purpose and the same people. As I said earlier, “the ruling class and its apologists need to demonize past revolutions (including their own) in order to ward off the possibility of any in the present and future!”

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  4. As long as we’re hand wringing about past violence I’ll add mine. If the French revolutionaries had been more forceful in the beginning and not let the monarchists and reactionaries get away with organizing their forces a whole lot of violence could have been avoided. Just like the Commune not immediately marching on Versailles cost them because they wanted to be magnanimous with the ancien regime. If you ever get a knife close to the (proverbially speaking) throats of the ruling class, you better pull it quick because they wont hesitate when their chance comes. The king? Who gives a shit about a god damned king. He’s lucky he lasted as long as he did.

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  5. Eric, No. First I addressed your previous comment in which you described King Louis as one of the “worst monarchs in human history.” He was the latest figure in a despicable monarchy that included the likes of the Sun King but he was far from being the worst in human history…I don’t like him either but really, the worst? That’s just dishonest (or misinformed..can’t decide which).

    The second half of my comment addressed the discussion previous to your comment and was meant as a continuation of that, not as an implication of your position. Sorry.

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  6. since we are quoting Ill go back to the old man:
    “A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning and violence breaks the chains—let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equal before a court of morality!” – Leon Trotsky

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  7. weakyknee, you are giving me a postion that I did not take and then attacking it. Im not for all the violence in the french revolution. I know the nuances of the FR, My specific position was on the execution of the Monarch and I think that execution was totally justified. I don’t know how supporting the execution of despotic monarchs makes me less of a marxist theortician, but oh well.

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  8. Well lovely for you Eric. You clearly have a nuanced and well-read perspective on the French Revolution. Keep on keeping on.

    Even Marx was divided on the violence of the FR. Isn’t that partly why he never saw his intended work on the Revolution to fruition? Francois Furet’s Marx and the French Revolution speaks to this quite fully. Worth a look.

    “By using force to storm the existing Bastilles we shall unwittingly build new ones.” -Adam Michnik in Letters from Prison

    “The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world but the most probable change is to a more violent world.” -Hannah Arendt

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  9. I cheer the execution of king Louis, it was a long overdue response to one of the worst monarchs in human history. he was a despicaple despot whose fortunes were made off the backs and deaths of millions. His crimes against humanity were far greater than the cost of the man’s head.

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  10. And I guess that’s where we differ. Its a pretty basic philosophical difference: utilitarianism v. the categorical imperitive and their relation to revolution. And its probably a discussion beyond the scope of this space (and I’m sure beyond the original intentions of RR) so I’ll leave it at that. Night.

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  11. Certainly not an excuse, for the exploited and the oppressed majority have no need to apologize for using “any means necessary” to put an end to that exploitation and oppression, especially in response to the violent reaction of the minority previously doing the exploiting and and oppressing.

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  12. MN Roy- the first part of that sounds an awful lot like an excuse. I would amend your first sentence to read instead: “People that are powerless (or believe themselves to be) tend to act with excessive violence” and then we might actually be getting somewhere.

    And yeah, of course it’s important for a historian (or blogger!) to acknowledge the motivations of violence in any human activity but it’s another thing entirely to offer a ‘hurrah!’ in response to it. Cheering beheadings (even in jest) and minimizing what happened only encourages the demonization of revolution. Objecting to brutality doesn’t make me an apologist for the ruling class or any less aware of the good that came from the FR.

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  13. People who have been held down for centuries tend to react in a rather “excessive” manner to those responsible for that oppression, whether we’re talking about Paris in 1792, Petrograd in 1917 or LA in 1992. In the first two cases, we’re dealing with a revolution, of, by and for, the majority, being confronted with an internal counter-revolution and foreign invasion at the behest of the deposed ruling class minority. One doesn’t have to revel at every act of violence committed by the historically progressive side to distinguish between the two within a historical context. And it is within that historical context that one needs to see how the ruling class and its apologists need to demonize past revolutions (including their own) in order to ward off the possibility of any in the present and future!

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  14. Things can be glorious and wicked awful at the same time. Revolutions tend to cough up a lot of bile. The now aphorism that it is too soon to tell of the effect of the French Revolution on “progress” is, in some ways, true. There are lots of ways where what was begun in France and other places in that era is unfinished business. Not least of which is the economic democracy and class power that MN Roy noted. That the French Revolution is still celebrated for the aims and audacity of the masses that produced it despite all that accompanied it and came after is testimony to the importance of what happened there. It can’t be sullied even by that.

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  15. All good points. But my comments were specifically in response to the post and more specifically to the position of overglorification that the “Left” (as if it were united!) often takes on the French Revolution. My argument is that the movement began with legitimate grievances and a populist uprising but that it eventually cannibalized itself and grew in to a gruesome monster that could not be controlled, most especially by those who positioned themselves as its leaders.

    And yes, of the thousands of Vendees that were killed, some of them were armed combatants (armed mostly with pikes as their urban counterparts were) but many of them were also clergy, women, and children. They were, on the whole, farmers that resisted the direction that the revolution was taking and if the same were to happen today, yes, it would be classified as genocide (as similar acts in Cambodia were also classified as such).

    My point, to simplify, is that what happened during the Revolution should be questioned. Should it not as everything should, including Lincoln? That doesn’t negate the Revolution or malign it, it places it in a historical context, which is what a historian should do. And I don’t think that lumping what I say into the blind-apologist-American-liberal-status quo box is very productive. Just because I disagree with your interpretation of Robespierre, doesn’t mean that I don’t think it wasn’t historically necessary/inevitable or that somehow I would magically agree with Obama’s health care plan (?!)

    I just think that there are deep consequences from the FR that are often overlooked in the rush to extol the romantic power of Bastille Day. Almost half a million people died in the years that followed and that should not be taken lightly. To do so, and to praise bloodshed without question, no matter the executioner, is not socialist. It’s nihilistic.

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  16. The overthrow of the French monarchy needs no justification from me. The rights you say were trampled on by the Revolution are only considered rights because of the Revolution. “Due process” and “the rule of law” did not exist under The Sun King or in the whole of the epoch his demise heralded the end of. There is no pre-ordination in history. The French Revolution did not lead inevitably anywhere. Ditto MN Roy.

    As for the Terror….Mark Twain from “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”: “There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’ if we would remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror ­ that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us have been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

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  17. This trashing of the French Revolution is very much in line with the more conventional abuse the Russian Revolution is regularly subjected to by partisans of the status quo. Granted, today’s ruling rich and their academic apologists are far more aghast at a working class led socialist revolution than they are by memories of the Parisian petty-bourgeoisie lopping of the heads of a few aristocrats. In either case, the message is the same: however bad things may be, they can always get worse, especially if you try to change them by, heaven forbid, the use of “violence.”

    Most of the tales of terror that “weakyknee” tosses at us, are, of course, abstracted from the concrete reality of the situation that the Revolutionary government of Robespierre found itself confronted with as are those that are hurled against Lenin, Trotsky, Fidel, Che…and Abe Lincoln and George Washington as well; armed counter-revolution and foreign invasion being first and fore-most. As for the absurd charges of “genocide” against the reactionary insurrectionists in the Vendee, keep in mind that they were armed participants in a civil war, not innocent civilians as in Armenia or Nazi-occupied Europe.

    But above all, let’s remember why socialists celebrate the French Revolution. It was the first real entry of the masses of working people onto the stage of history, attempting to act as a force of, by and for themselves. Their failures taught others that came after them, like Babeuf, that bourgeois political “democracy” was not enough to bring about genuine “equality;” you neede economic democracy as well for that. They were the forefathers of all modern revolutionary socialist thought…and action.

    As for the much-maligned Robespierre, while I don’t care for his treatment of the Enrages or the Hebertistes, his social policy was miles ahead of that of Obama…especially regarding health care.

    Viva la revolution!

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  18. The storming of the Bastille kicked off the great movement that brought the world Robespierre and the Terror; modern nation states and nationalism; xenophobic state-sponsored murder (you delude yourself if you think it was all about class); suspension of the rule of law and due process; a limit to free press, assembly, and religion; the Napoleonic Wars; and finally, genocide (ask the Vendeans about that). Oh and don’t forget post-Revolutionary France’s role in the rise of American Expansionism (you can ask Tecumseh about that one). Yay! Vive la France!

    Of course I’m being overly simplistic and extreme. But changing the way things are is a little more nuanced and complicated than carting the rich off to the chopping block, as much as one would wish to see Ingvar Kampred’s or Paris Hilton’s heads on a platter. (Louis XVI in large part funded the American Revolutionary Army after all). You do your own position a disservice by suggesting that it was all glory and light. What happened in France was not unequivocally a ‘good thing’ much as you would wish it to be.

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  19. It is as if Twenty-five millions, risen at length into
    the Pythian mood, had stood up simultaneously to say, with a sound which
    goes through far lands and times, that this Untruth of an Existence had
    become insupportable. O ye Hypocrisies and Speciosities, Royal
    mantles, Cardinal plushcloaks, ye Credos, Formulas, Respectabilities,
    fair-painted Sepulchres full of dead men’s bones,–behold, ye appear to
    us to be altogether a Lie. Yet our Life is not a Lie; yet our Hunger
    and Misery is not a Lie! Behold we lift up, one and all, our Twenty-five
    million right-hands; and take the Heavens, and the Earth and also the
    Pit of Tophet to witness, that either ye shall be abolished, or else we
    shall be abolished!

    – Thomas Carlyle in The French Revolution

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