Below is the latest in an occasional series of essays on the Left by our English correspondent Peter.
The Red Evolution II: When did leftism go bad, or was it ever any other way?
I was amazed last August when the head of the Roman Catholic church, His Holiness Pope Francis, asserted that the most dynamic and rapidly growing religion in the last 100 years has been neither Christianity nor Islam but leftism. Leftism? When I got over the shock I had to ask why the demented old buffer chose to make this outrageous statement at all, never mind that it was only a matter of days after two Muslims slit the throat of a French Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85, while he was saying Mass in his church. I am still at a loss.
I have no doubt at all that leftists believe in nothing, represent nothing and support nothing. They will bitch, bellyache, gripe and grouse for hours telling you what they are against, i.e. democracy, capitalism, Christianity, Western culture, nation states, conservatism; in fact everything that we in the West hold sacred. And they will overwhelm any contradicting view with raging torrents of well-rehearsed, high-decibel gobbledygook, generally as a diversionary tactic to prevent their victims from asking questions or, indeed, articulating any form of coherent riposte.
So how did leftism, progressivism, communism, liberalism, radicalism or whatever else you choose to call it become such a malign and malevolent force? It is commonly believed that the basis of Leftism evolved from The Enlightenment, but if so, how did such high-minded and principled people such as John Locke, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, Isaac Newton, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Francois-Marie Voltaire and many others associate themselves with a movement that would degenerate into so much evil? Many leftists deny the malignancy of the movement of which they have become part, but that is only to be expected. To the rest of us, the evil of leftism is only too clear.
The era of the Enlightenment ended with two momentous revolutions, both of which significantly and irrevocably changed the world. The American Revolution was a war fought against a colonial power by colonists who demanded and gained the right to self-determination and, in so doing, created a nation that would eventually become the figurehead of the free world. In contrast, the French Revolution in many ways became an inspiration to those who would enslave that world and, in the process, substantially undermine any meaningful discourse.
A great deal has been written about the French Revolution, and I do not propose to add to it. The revolution covered a period from 14 July 1789 until 27 July 1794, beginning with the storming of the Bastille and ending with the execution of Maximilian Robespierre. In between there occurred the Reign of Terror, a five year blood-bath, in which the royal family, so-called counter revolutionaries, moderates, reformers, priests, aristocrats along with anyone else whose face didn’t fit or who was adjudged to have looked sideways at a member of the Committee of Public Safety, were systematically put to death. Following the death of Robespierre, those who remained alive and in power decided, purely on the grounds of self-preservation, that the Reign of Terror had run its course and something approaching normality should now return. It has been estimated that 17,000 people went to the guillotine as the result of the terror, while over 100,000 were imprisoned after being denounced as counter-revolutionaries. This was relatively small beer when compared with the later excesses of Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Kim dynasty and Mao but it was clearly enough to shock the rest of the population into submission.
While the revolution was at its height, those who were engaged in its pursuit thought that not only was it a good thing to cut off the heads of their own erstwhile rulers and anyone else who incurred their ire, they should spread their new-found wisdom to their European neighbours, encourage them to decapitate their rulers, too, and ally themselves with France to form a coalition of like-minded nations — rather like today’s European Union. Unfortunately for the French, the leadership of the rest of Europe did not share their revolutionary zeal, especially the part about having their heads cut off. As a result of their attempts to export their revolution, the newly established Gallic collective found itself at war with Austria, Prussia, Holland, Spain and, the old enemy, Great Britain.
The prime movers in the revolution were, inter alia, the “Sans-Culottes”, the masses, along with the Girondins a radical group and the Jacobins, a revolutionary political movement led by Robespierre. The Jacobins were members of a political club that met at the Parisian Dominican convent in the Rue St. Jacques — Jacobus in Latin — from which they derived their name. It was they who set up the revolutionary dictatorship that dominated the Committee for Public Safety and the French Parliament, and it was they who instigated the reign of terror. It has been argued that the Jacobins were the forefathers of today’s political militants, and that the French Revolution itself was the birth of today’s leftist movement. Indeed, the behavior of the Jacobins bore a striking similarity to that of groups such as Antifa and Unite Against Fascism, who have assumed the right to assault and physically damage anyone who expresses thought processes incongruent with their own leftist template. The Jacobins were not very nice people but neither were the Herbertists, a radical revolutionary group that also played a significant role in the Revolution. They were fiercely anti-Christian, and actively supported the proposal later attributed to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon that “all property is theft,” using that premise to enforce state seizure of goods, often for their own enrichment. Their leadership went to the guillotine on 24th March 1794, following that of the Girondins, and nobody was sorry to see them go.
The year 1848 was ultimately referred to as the year of Revolution, as people rose up all across Europe and parts of South America to take part in the most widespread series of revolutionary actions in European history. Although this had all but fizzled out within a year, at its height, over fifty countries were affected and were changed significantly by events. At the same time tens of thousands of people were killed, and many more forced into exile. The revolutions were most important in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Italy, and the Austrian Empire, and resulted in significant lasting reforms, including the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungary, the end of absolute monarchy in Denmark, and the introduction of parliamentary democracy in the Netherlands. Curiously enough, none of this had anything whatsoever to do with Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels, but their time would come.