Monday, July 18, 2016

The French Revolution's Legacy of Persecution

Though the result of legitimate grievances over the corruption and abuse within the French monarchy and aristocracy, the uprising known as the French Revolution failed to achieve the success of its American predecessor. Instead, it descended into bloodthirsty hatred, chaos, and ultimately dictatorship. It also ushered in a disturbing episode of persecution against people of faith...


Do you agree with Mr. Zmirak's article?

13 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

What is more to the point on a history blog such as this is how modern [secular-progressive?] revisionism has made the genocide of 300,000 faithful Catholics in the Vendee disappear.

We all know that the French Revolution ate its own such as Robespierre, but that was just desserts, and all's well that ends well.

But the first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at pious peasants in the Vendée region of France. By its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.

This story is little discussed in France. Indeed, a devout historian who teaches at a French university once told me, “We are not to mention the Vendée. Anyone who brings up what was done there has no prospect of an academic career. So we keep silent.”

It is mostly in the Vendée itself that memories linger, which may explain why that part of France to this day remains more religious and more conservative than any other region. The local government opened a museum marking these atrocities on their 200th anniversary in 1993 — with a visit by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who noted during his eloquent address that the mass murders of Christians in Russia were directly inspired by those in the Vendée. The Bolsheviks, he said, modeled themselves on the French revolutionaries, and Lenin himself pointed to the Vendée massacres as the right way to deal with Christian resistance.



Frankly, I think something similar has happened with America's religious heritage. In the 19th century, the Founders were all orthodox churchgoers; in the 20th they all became deists.

Art Deco said...

The Vendee was sanguinary, not 'genocidal'.

Not sure just when the French Revolution went awry, but one might suggest the series of anti-clerical measures concluding with the passage of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. That post-dated the Bastille by several months.

Art Deco said...

Also not acknowledged: the butchery perpetrated by the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Deco: If I understand your sentiment it's not that Bastille Day should be lamented, but something that occurred later.

The French Revolution, like the American and subsequent Founding of the Constitutional order, was not something that occurred in a day. It happened over time and the article intimates that at the very beginning, it seemed a "reform" that was both needed and founded on well intentioned principles. Which explains why James Madison can be quoted:

"In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example and France has followed it [emphasis mine], of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness. We look back, already, with astonishment, at the daring outrages committed by despotism, on the reason and the rights of man; We look forward with joy, to the period, when it shall be despoiled of all its usurpations, and bound for ever in the chains, with which it had loaded its miserable victims."

-- James Madison, 1792

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, in 1792, it all seemed like a good idea. England in 1688 and America in 1776 made revolution look like a relatively civilized thing.

But that said more about Anglo-America than it did about revolution.

Art Deco said...

The French Revolution, like the American and subsequent Founding of the Constitutional order, was not something that occurred in a day.

Well, thanks very much, teach. That really would not have occurred to me.


The storming of the Bastille led to the liberation of 7 prisoners. It wasn't much in and of itself. It took on significance as a milestone in a longer narrative, though IIRC, Louis was compelled to depart the site bearing a tricolor, so it may count toward demystifying the monarchy.

If I'm recalling my old history teacher correctly (and he was correct), the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was what induced Louis to resolve on a course of action which would include the use of foreign forces to suppress the revolution.

Most of what transpired during the period running from 1786 to 1815 was unsalutary. I do not think much of that derived from social processes, but rather from the ambient (and quite protean) political culture and the contingent decisions of specific influentials.

Granting allodial titles to peasant cultivators (and abolishing residual feudal dues), regularlizing the cadastre, abolishing property rights to positions in the civil service, establishing a set of civil service examinations as well as promotional examinations in the military, eliminating tax farming, placing all property on the tax rolls, establishing a uniform rate of assessments for arable, meadow, pasture, woodland, and waste; establishing assessments according to purchase prices for developed property, scrapping legally sanctioned monopolies, scrapping interior tariffs, instituting a general sales tax, establishing a general court of appeals and a template for local courts throughout the country, establishing regular and frequent meetings of the Estates-General, establishing the Third Estate as the supreme legislative chamber, establishing a roughly equal apportionment of the Third Estate, instituting a bill of rights, re-instituting the provincial estates, and establishing commissions to produce template law codes for the provinces might have addressed the dysfunctions bedeviling the French state. It was not to be.

jimmiraybob said...

But the first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at pious peasants in the Vendée region of France. By its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.

Do you agree with Mr. Zmirak's article?

The better question would be does a factual historical account agree with Mr. Zmirak's article.

France at the time before the revolution was a dominantly Catholic country ruled by a monarchy and its social-political system, the Ancien Régime, which consisted of a rigid hierarchical class structure based on birth with little vertical mobility: The First Estate: the clergy, the Second Estate: the nobility, and the Third Estate: everyone else – the commoners/peasants. The King was independent of the estates system. By the time of the revolution the First and Second estates were irrevocably entwined generally in support of the monarchy and the status quo so that by the time of the revolution, the commoners/peasants were largely at the mercy of their often corrupt superiors (both secular and clergy) and systemic faliars.

By the time of the Vendée uprising France was also involved in the same bitter Old World intrigues and wars with the monarchies of Great Britain and Austria/Prussia, and thus the need for conscription, one of the causes of Vendéen resistance.

Zmirak blames the “genocide” against the Vendée on the “progressive apostles of Enlightenment” but by the time of the Vendee insurrection that ship had sailed with the collapse of a liberal, constitutional phase (c. 1790-1792) of the revolution and with “Enlightenment ideologues” every bit as likely to be sitting in a cell awaiting the executioner’s guillotine as any royalist.

To be a “patriot” and loyal to the democratic ideals of the early revolution did not necessarily mean that you supported the more radical republicans and their violent and anti-democratic excesses.

Now, with that bit o’background, the Vendée uprising was a royalist-Catholic insurgency attempting to re-establish some remnant of the Ancien Régime and their respective prerogatives. The offensive was undertaken first by the disorganized peasants and then the nobility-led armée catholique et royal (Catholic and Royal Army of Vendée). From the online Vendee Guide(1):

“Vendéen peasants initially supported the revolution, but they rebelled against the injustices of the Republic on March 7th, 1793. In the Vendée there were few troops to control them, whereas the more serious riots that occurred in Brittany were quickly broken. There were spontaneous (and) riots on March 10-13 in many of the towns and villages. The representatives of the Republic were singled out for attack and murder. In the bloodiest outburst, in Machecoul on March 11, forty men were beaten and stabbed to death on the streets, and another four hundred were gathered up and arrested. The men were taken out in 'rosaries' (tied in a line with rope around the chest), made to dig ditches and shot. Their bodies then tumbled into the grave that they had dug. The crowds moved from the smaller to the larger settlements, Cholet in the north and Fontenay-le Comte in the south fell to the rebels. Local Nobles were approached, d’Elbee, Sapinaud de Verrie and Charett became the leaders of their local force. The clergy were also fairly active in rallying the people. The main force of the rebels operated on a small scale, using guerrilla tactics supported by the insurgents' local knowledge and the good-will of the people.”

Continued Below

jimmiraybob said...

Actual historians estimate that the numbers of Republican soldiers, loyalists and suspected loyalists killed by were equal in number if not greater that the Catholic/Royalist Vendéen rebels. There is no doubt that horrible atrocities were committed on both sides and there is no historical doubt that the commander of the Republican armies was told to bring order and bring it fast resulting in a horrific scorched earth campaign (not inconsistent with the drive to end the American Civil War in an effort to end ongoing hostilities). Remember, there were other hostile armies from other nations to deal with. However, when the field hostilities were ended, the peoples of the Vendée won concessions consistent with their initial complaints and concerns (also not inconsistent with the end the American Civil War). There is no documented evidence of a genocidal attempt to eradicate a population once hostilities ended.

So, no. I don’t agree with Mr. Zmirak's article and neither do the historical facts (of course, some people like a good message and damn the facts). I can only assume that that Mr. Zmirak's rendition of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres of the Protestant Huguenots would be equally favorable to the Royalist/Catholic cause.

1) http://www.vendee-guide.co.uk/wars-of-the-vendee.htm

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Insurgency" is an inaccurate term and an invalidating term. The people of the Vendee refused to go along with the new bloddthirsty regime, and were murdered wholesale by the godless bastards. They had no interest in Paris.

Proof again of the tireless suppression of the murderous truth by modern secular-progressives. Their birth hour was ordained not by heaven, but in hell.


This story is little discussed in France. Indeed, a devout historian who teaches at a French university once told me, “We are not to mention the Vendée. Anyone who brings up what was done there has no prospect of an academic career. So we keep silent.”


jimmiraybob said...

Insurgency is an accurate term just as counter revolutionaries would be an accurate term. But then, de l'enfer avec les faits.

Of course, others are free to engage with some research.

Art Deco said...

France at the time before the revolution was a dominantly Catholic country ruled by a monarchy and its social-political system, the Ancien Régime, which consisted of a rigid hierarchical class structure based on birth with little vertical mobility:

No, the ancien regime was a society of orders. Classes existed within those orders. The social restructuring in Europe during the 19th century was a movement from a society of orders to a society of classes.

The displacement of the peerage and gentry in Britain by commercial and industrial interests was accomplished without mass confiscations of property or a river of blood. The same was true in the Hapsburg dominions sixty years later. In France, demesne land and ecclesiastical land in 1780 amounted to about 30% of the total. Most of the land was rustical land. Over 20% of the population was resident in towns. You already had a demographically significant class of burgesses.


The better question would be does a factual historical account agree with Mr. Zmirak's article.

He does not make any factual errors, however inconvenient that is to your usual line.

jimmiraybob said...

"He does not make any factual errors, however inconvenient that is to your usual line."

We might say that there are factual errors of commission and factual errors of omission. He does both. As I said above, mine is not a "usual line" but based on researching the historical facts. Anyone can do this. If someone is moved by the message and too lazy or too invested in the message to look beyond a single article (or single line of propaganda) by a non-historian then c'est la vie mon amie.

jimmiraybob said...

"No, the ancien regime was a society of orders. Classes existed within those orders."

Perhaps a distinction of interest but hardly germane to my argument. The order, or estate regime, was intact just prior to the revolution. One of peasant stock seldom reached the first or second estate - maybe a better chance of reaching clergy.

"You already had a demographically significant class of burgesses."

Or, third estate.

"...rigid hierarchical class structure based on birth..."

But, for the sake of law and order strike "class."