From The Mad Monarchist (14 July 2012)
n some ways, Bastille Day is a very appropriate holiday for a republic to have. Republics, after all, tend to be based on a minority telling lies to the majority, pretending to be looking out for their best interests, and the majority pretending to believe them, going along with the charade even though they know perfectly well they are being lied to. One side pretends to care, the other pretends to believe them and all go along with it because they want to believe the narrative and don’t wish to be confused with the facts. In the same way, Bastille Day is, like Napoleon himself said about history, “a set of lies agreed upon”. The official story is that the storming of the Bastille on July 14 was a symbolic assault on tyranny, officially marking the beginning of the French Revolution as a heroic struggle for liberation from the “bondage” of traditional authority (the monarchy, the aristocracy and the clergy) and traditional moral values which upheld such authority. Monarchists know, and everyone else should too, that the facts are very far from this ideal narrative which is celebrated today as the national French holiday.
The Kingdom of France was, undoubtedly, at a low point at the time. The economy was in shambles, hunger and poverty were widespread, too many in the aristocracy were living lives of indulgence far away from the people they should have been looking after and many in the clergy were more concerned with their own comfort than with administering the sacraments and teaching their people. However, the two young people at the pinnacle of power in France, His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, were not blind or uncaring to these problems. Both had each been working in their own way to solve the immense problems they had so recently inherited. King Louis XVI enacted many common sense policies to alleviate the suffering of his people. He cut expenses at Versailles, cut government expenditures overall, refused to go deeper into debt and refused to raise taxes. He ended the government monopoly on grain which allowed for lower prices that more people could afford. He taxed wealthy landowners for the first time and, though he was not required to, paid his own share as any other landowner would. Likewise, Queen Marie Antoinette helped to educate poor children, had her own kitchen opened to the poor, cut down on lavish parties (yes, despite all you’ve probably heard) and simplified her own wardrobe in an effort to make frugality chic.
Unfortunately, the accumulated problems of decades could not be overcome quickly and the radical firebrands were doing everything possible to mislead, misinform and radicalize the public while spreading the most vicious lies they could think up about their King and Queen. For example, partly in an effort to pay for the war against Great Britain on behalf of the United States, King Louis XVI enacted a tax reform which raised revenues but lowered taxes for the poor. Revolutionary propagandists played their game of misinformation, only telling people that the King would be collecting more money (not less from the poor) and implying or stating outright that this was all for his own enrichment rather than paying for the needs of the country. King Louis had done everything in his power to be reasonable and accommodating. Early in his reign he had encouraged local parliaments and he recalled the Estates-General. However, the firebrands only increased their agitation, whipping the mob into a frenzy and blaming the King for ills he had absolutely no control over. Finally, someone pointed to the prison-fortress of the Bastille as the imposing symbol of absolute royal power that had to be wiped out.
On July 14, 1789 a Parisian mob stormed the Bastille, which was actually nothing like what they had been told or what most people today think it was. Naturally, it looked very harsh and foreboding from the outside, but inside the prison conditions were not terrible, certainly no worse than any other prison of the time and probably better than most. The fact was that there was practically no one in the Bastille. The popular portrayal would have one believe that the Bastille was crowded with the poor, tortured victims of an autocratic monarch. In fact, it was almost empty of prisoners. The only people present to be liberated were four forgers, two lunatics and a pervert who had been locked up at the request of his own family. The real victims were the unfortunate men who just happened to be doing their job guarding the prison. All 120 soldiers were brutally massacred by the hatchet-wielding mob and the governor had his head cut off and stuck on a pike. This was the bloody and inglorious start of the horrific bloodbath known as the French Revolution.
The episode is so ridiculous that it would almost be an occasion to laugh were it not for the death and horror involved. The Bastille was not a ghastly torture-chamber full of unfortunates to be saved by the rebel mob. It was a run-down bastion holding a couple of crazy people and a few petty criminals. The real victims were the men wearing the King’s coat who were savaged by a mob who had not found what they expected. They also later demolished the Bastille and so it is that the ridiculous charade continues as tourists from all over the world come to Paris expecting to see the famous Bastille only to be told no such place exists or has for centuries. Again, rather fitting for a celebration that is a farce, based on a lie about a period of history that was more gory than glorious, that was more about licentiousness than liberty, more about evil than equality and more about fratricide than fraternity. What could be a better holiday for the French Republic when you think about it?
Of course, the real cause for celebration will be when France rejects the lies and illusions of the Revolution and returns to the path of God, glory and the Ancien Régime.