As the violence, looting and riots continue, it’s difficult not to see connections between these current events and the French Revolution. Here are two similarities between the current riots in response to the death of George Floyd and 18th century revolution in France.
Though starting out with noble intentions, the French Revolution quickly dissolved into years of chaos, mob rule and the deaths of about 15,000 people as the new order was established with Napoleon crowned as emperor, which is utterly ironic considering that the country had executed its previous king. While the Left believe that the French Revolution was a watershed moment in history, it was also a time when mob mentality masqueraded as the rule of law and attempts were made to remove Christianity completely from public life.
There were a variety of reasons why the French Revolution started, but in part it was due to the influence and ideas of the American Revolution, in which France offered the fledgling country military and financial assistance. While this ensured victory over Britain, France’s bitter and long-term enemy, it also put the country more deeply in the red. In fact, the country was basically bankrupt in the late 18th century due to that and the outrageous spending of successive monarchs.
The official start of the French Revolution is the storming of the Bastille, which occurred on July 14, 1789. The Bastille is a fortress located on the Seine River where revolutionaries stole weapons and gunpowder and later captured it, a deeply symbolic victory. This event acted as a catalyst for a larger movement and resulted in people across the country revolting with many looting and raiding the homes of tax collectors.
The revolt, at its heart, was about overthrowing the authorities and the ruling classes to establish a more “egalitarian” society, which, during the darkest days of the Revolution, was ensured by a guillotine blade. It started first with removing the monarchy, then the aristocrats, the bourgeois, with the famous phrase, “liberty, equality and fraternity,” being on many lips. That’s not what happened as the revolution quickly took a radical turn to a more mob run enterprise.
As French Revolutionary and philosopher Maximilien Robespierre wrote, “Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts.”
It feels like to a certain extent, that is what’s happening right now.
Instead of the rule of law, it’s become an angry mob shouting for justice while simultaneously committing acts of violence and destruction. Though there are some people who are definitely engaged in the protests to express their outrage over the death of George Floyd, there are many who just seem to show up in order to incite anarchy and destroy the nation’s democratic foundations.
Another interesting comparison to the French Revolution is the desire to remove Christianity and faith from public life. Before the Revolution, the Catholic Church played a large role in France and was closely associated with the French monarchy. As King Louis XVI and his court were removed from power, the church suffered the same fate as a “dechristianization campaign” started.
The best known example of this movement is the destruction of some of the two dozen statues that are affixed to the front of the infamous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Rioters beheaded several of the statues, much like these revolutionaries did to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In another instance, the Revolutionary Army burned holy relics and crosses in a fire that reached about 80 feet high.
This weekend, the country discovered that these protestors/rioters/anarchists could be equally as destructive with some vandalizing the “church of presidents,” St. John’s Episcopal Church, which is within walking distance of the White House. At one point even the basement was set on fire. For many Americans, this type of destruction towards a church is rather disturbing, but this is what happens when churches as institutions are diminished.
There is a growing antagonism towards people of faith and Christianity in particular. Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to ignore the religious liberties of Californians as it refused to allow churches to open their doors more fully during Pentecost weekend. There’s also a considerable movement to remove any mention of God or prayer from schools across the country and numerous other examples of where faith has been silenced.
Is this the start of a new American Revolution? That remains unclear, but it’s difficult not to see the similarities between the French Revolution and the current atmosphere and actions in the country. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” While these riots rage across the country, it’s obvious that sometimes “liberty” and “equality” can end in brutality and injustice.
Photo from Wikipedia