April 14, 2009 at 7:27 pm #1548
This is something that has come up in a class I am taking. Before the Directory, how important were the anti-religious tendencies of the Jacobins to their program? I would argue that the secular portion of the Jacobin agenda was central to their identity. The Jacobins went to extraordinary measures to secularize France. They even went so far as to write a new calendar, enforce burials in unconsecrated ground, and replace religious festivals with secular ones. It is noteworthy that one of the first things Napoleon did when he came to power is sign the Concordat. The Directory which immediately succeeded the Terror reinstated the Gregorian calendar and eliminated the most blatant anti-religious laws in order to regain calm in the countryside.I have been debating with some other students who claim that secularization was simply a way for the Jacobins to solidify their power. I say otherwise.April 15, 2009 at 1:55 am #15249
I can see how quashing power of rivals can be a way of solidifying one's own power, but the Jacobins went well beyond this during/after the French Revolution. They were, to be sure, extremists. Their extreme actions were simply manifestations of their extreme ideology. I wonder if your classmates also think that Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being ceremony was simply an extension of political solidification.April 15, 2009 at 4:31 am #15250
Their argument is along the lines of revolutionary thought being part of the natural progression of human thought. I claim that it was more the logical extreme of Enlightenment thought. Look at some of the writings of Elnlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, Payne, etc. Voltaire is notable for his diatribes against religion.April 15, 2009 at 4:43 am #15251
I don't understand what the “natural progression of human thought” is supposed to be. Mob rule? Totalitarianism? These did spring out of the Revolution, and so I would challenge anyone who claimed some way of thinking came about through “natural progression”, if there is such a thing.I am not entirely certain that anti-religious fervor of the Revolution was precisely the same as the anti-religious feelings expressed by thinkers like Voltaire or Diderot. It seems to me that the mob was concerned with an upheaval of religion because of its association with the entrenched social order (including the monarchy), whereas the Enlightenment thinkers were chiefly anti-religious because of their philosophical denial of divine revelation and all that it entailed. That said, I'm sure there was crossover and that both the Enlightenment thinkers and the mob shared some common tenets.April 17, 2009 at 2:23 pm #15252
To listen to my classmates, dialectic socialism and the doctrine of class struggle is the pinnacle of man's political development and evil capitalists are oppressing the working class. They sound like a bunch Marxist-Leninists. One even seriously talked about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a good thing, he says the Bolsheviks had the right idea but poor execution. They take the Enlightenment to extremes and claim a direct logical progression from Voltaire to Trotsky.It makes me want to pull my hair out reading the drivel that these fools pass off as legitimate analysis. If you question them as I do, be prepared for derision and challenges on every point. I have given up trying to debate with them, as they are not interested in debate.I can see how Enlightenment thought provided some inspiration for the French Revolution, especially the notions of equality before the law, and the injustice of feudal privilege. I think they, the revolutionaries, went overboard with their anti-religious feelings. Many of the philosophes were deists and did not reject a divine being, they rejected the idea that he took an active part in human affairs. Mostly they believed in Newton's Cosmic Watchmaker, if anything.April 18, 2009 at 8:08 pm #15253
One of my philosophy professors once told us the story about how Voltaire was asked what he thought about the Christ being resurrected from the dead, and he said he had no problem with it. What? -was the response. You, the great skeptic of religion, have no problem with this story? Voltaire responded that his big problem was with the story of the Incarnation.I paraphrased the story but what it reveals is something really illuminating about his way of thinking. For an all-powerful God, coming back to life from the dead is not a big deal at all. Rather, for an omnipotent God to become a lowly man, that is the "big deal" that Voltaire couldn't accept.Anyway, sounds like you're debating socio-politics with your classmates as much as history. I wonder what they think "good execution" would have looked like under the Bolsheviks....only half as many dead as the hundreds of thousands killed?April 20, 2009 at 6:53 pm #15254
I would say I am debating socio-politics about 75% and history 25%. I am one of the people in the darkness and need to be led to the light.I like the story about Voltaire. It is one I have not heard before. It is also very instructive of the way the philosophes thought. They were not so much anti-religion as anti-church. It is a subtle but critical difference and one that I think many people fail to distinguish. It is possible to criticize the church and even its doctrine without being an atheist but many people do not. It is almost as though they cannot see the forest for the trees. This is also the distinction I think many of the radical republicans failed to make when they attacked belief during the revolution.January 24, 2021 at 12:34 am #58854
I have been debating with some other students who claim that secularization was simply a way for the Jacobins to solidify their power. I say otherwise.
I think that totalitarian control requires elimination of other influences which explain the world in competing ways, so religion is a natural target. At the same time, it appears the Jacobins must have recognized that total control over a person’s identity requires control over that person’s traditions, so replacing religious institutions and practices would have been top on their list.
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