Where we left off two weeks ago, was with the collapse of old regime governments and the rickety nature of the moderate governments that take over. That rickety nature is because, as I said last time,
- The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes (the radicals) because
- the moderates must maintain government, want to maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it.
Revolutions work in stages: from moderates to extremists, until finally the lunatic extremists take over. Now the lunatic extremists are always a minority, and such a tiny minority that everyone discounts them, because obviously they don't speak for the majority. But the extremists are willing to do ANYTHING to get into power, including attending all those boring committee meetings that everyone else ignores, where they quickly become the secretaries, treasurers, and chairmen. This means they run the bureaucracy of the revolution: they control who gets elected, who gets jobs, who gets money. And, as the extremists' candidates start winning elections, they change the voting rules - the electorate is shaved down, elections are rigged and eventually elections are eliminated, because the extremists have to stay in power in order to "maintain the revolution."
And then comes the Reign of Terror. Ideological purity is made the touchstone of everything, which makes it increasingly dangerous to be different - and the lunatic extremists keep changing the goalposts, making ideological purity not just harder and harder to achieve, but impossible to achieve. Nobody is ever pure enough. Let me repeat that point, and please remember it, because it's a dead giveaway, then and now and in future: Nobody is ever pure enough for the extremists.
The Reign of Terror (and there always is one)
The Revolution has been very busy killing off its enemies: the obvious Royalists, White Army, capitalists, bourgeois industrialists, or feudalists, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, Huguenots, and whatever other category they deem dangerous. But now it starts eating its own. The last thing to be in a revolution is one of the first revolutionaries, because you are going to get killed: Danton is guillotined; Trotsky gets it in the head with an ice axe; Liu Shaoqi - former President of the People's Republic of China - dies naked and alone in a windowless cell. Robespierre, Stalin, and Mao all killed almost everyone who used to be their comrades in arms, as well as thousands to millions of innocent citizens.
The other fun things about the Reign of Terror are:
- Individual liberties are suppressed, if not made illegal, especially free speech and the right to dissent. As I said earlier, elections are either obviously rigged or banned outright.
- NOTE: This is actually not hypocrisy. The extremists know that they have the true answer to how men should live, and so any opposition must be wiped out for the good of the country, perhaps even the good of humanity. To oppose them is to oppose God (or whatever term the extremists use).
- Virtue is enforced. They ban every vice, from gambling to drinking, whoring to theater, and a lot of stuff that just seems like it might be fun, like dancing or reading. And it doesn't have anything to do with religion: although some revolutions have been religious in basis (the English Civil Wars were quickly taken over by extreme Puritans, among others), even atheist revolutions (Mao's Cultural Revolution) are extremely ascetic.
- NOTE: This is why George Orwell's Big Brother banned sex; as Julia says to Winston, "When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?"
- FURTHER NOTE: Quite a few leaders of the extremists, like Robespierre and Thomas Paine, are Pure Young Men, which only increases the push for extreme virtue and terror, because nobody is ever pure enough for a Pure Young Man, who will, if pushed, kill maniacally in his cause. For a definition of a Pure Young Man, see yours truly's article in SleuthSayers http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2014/06/emergency-pure-young-men.html. For an example, watch the scene in "Lawrence of Arabia" where Peter O'Toole's Lawrence starts shooting everyone in sight, with great bloody joy.
- Extraordinary courts and special revolutionary police are set up - no evidence needed, no lawyer provided, just a quick snatch off the streets, and a rubber-stamp of "guilty - condemned" for all who are unfortunate enough to be hauled before them.
- There are mass exiles, imprisonments, and executions. Endless executions. Sometimes it seems if the extremists want everyone dead. Sometimes they do.
- War is common, indeed necessary: War is used to spread the gospel of revolution abroad and as a distraction from how bad things are at home under the extremists. (Sometimes it's imaginary - North Korea's been battling the United States in its own mind for almost 70 years - but it's still effective.)
|Robespierre guillotining the|
executioner after having
guillotined everyone else in France
In France, once Robespierre was dead, people opened the bars, pulled out the wine, and women started dressing sexy again, which is how Josephine Beauharnais nabbed Napoleon. It's a giddy time - everyone is free, free, free!
|Madame Recamier, by David, bringing sexy back|
And then comes the Restoration. Literally in England, with Charles II. Brezhnev in Russia. Calles in Mexico. A brief empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and then the Bourbons returned. (Talleyrand said of them, "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing," which is why the restored monarchy only lasted until 1848.) The Chinese Communist Party clones, president after president.
And yet, something has changed. Just as nobody survives a deadly disease without some change to their psyche, so no country survives a revolution without some changes to their society. Not habits: human habits are hard to change, or at least were before mass media required us all to mimic Hollywood images. But ideas did change, took root; civil rights were expanded; there was some redistribution of wealth and/or land. In France, the Revolution left behind a secularization, universal education, the metric system of weights and measures, and governmental centralization that is still in place, and, thanks to the Napoleonic Empire, was spread all around Europe. In both China and Russia, the peasants got land and permission to engage in some capitalistic behavior, in exchange for which the Party was allowed to stay in power. What were once revolutionary symbols - the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseillaise, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - become the national liturgy. And each revolution "proves" that revolution can work - if you just get it right, so maybe next time...
And the memory of the Great Revolution is enshrined, if not downright embalmed in holy incense, as a sacred time when people were unified and pure. Or as a time of amazing excitement and brotherhood, such as never has been known since. It is a Golden Age. Except, of course, to the families of those who were killed. But who's listening to them? After all, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs" - that came out of the French Revolution, too.