Hi Kevin 111,
It is so lovely to have someone so congratulatory about the French when the French tend to hate themselves so much …
As a pupil of public school in france, ( a long time ago ). history was an important subject then and I remember all of us kids were fascinated by the gory side of the revolution with the invention of the Guillotine. I was like that too and repulsed at the same time by so much violence taking place this way with throngs of gatherers exploding in joy at the sight of a head falling… Its one of those images that all French pupils had at that time.
I read later much more, notably what Voltaire had to say and other writers of that era. You know neither you nor I were living there then, unless we’ll discover once the veil is off that we were.
From all the diverse readings I did in my late teens in philosophical class, and then by just personal interest in my twenties, it seems to me that perhaps several things might have happened. It may digress a bit from what Mr. Pauwells wrote though, lol…
First, from several very different readings, it appears that Louis XVI was very different from Louis XIV. He was definitely not an absolute monarch. He was a rather shy and educated quieter man ( I am not a monarchist, lol, so I am not there to defend that system, just talking about character ) and he was in fact quite bent from earlier to change the absolute monarchy into a system closer to the British one which he admired. So there’s this thing. It seems people surrounding him though, weren’t about to side with that view, ( understandably as they might have lots some privileges there) but I think this was a man who for once had compassion and wanted to do well by his people. So we , french, didn’t evolve then like the British. So that’s one thing.
The second thing and Jacques Pauwells in his essay shows that very aptly, Robespierre and the new assembly did really a lot towards implementing many more democratic rules and in this fashion paved the way for a much more equal rights republic. Absolutely. Also from other readings too, it well appears that the influential and powerful people were what Pauwells calls high bourgeoisie, often way more powerful, truly, than the class above them, the aristocrats.
Unfortunately, I feel the violence which erupted in the early years of the 1790s. with the horrific guillotine, did create a blood bath of often aristocrats who might not perhaps always have been the worst enemies of a saner democracy, at least for rural aristocrats. The rural aristocrats were not always horrible managers of farmers and agriculture in their rural estates. The Ancient Regime was a pretty centralized system, with heavy taxes, so it was case by case. One has to remember that the system had evolved from the medieval times when each owner of land and castle was responsible for the safety of people living on his land. It doesn’t mean that that system was fighting poverty, but there was at least a ring of safety provided more, or less, depending on the accountability of the lord. So when the revolution and ongoing violence extended from the capital over the land, in fact often depriving estates of those aristocrats, sadly agriculture went through a lengthy period of depression for lack of new organization, or disinterest by the new ruling class. Difficulty of feeding the population in the early 1790s then was a paradox as the revolution started because there was famine.
Again I am not here defending that ancient system, it’s just that there were lots of repercussions to what the revolution did.
Also, back to Pauwells, I am not totally sure I agree with his view of the Girondins. The Girondins were in fact a group very interested in decentralization of power, not so much about keeping the Ancien Regime. Robespierre was very astute into manipulating the Jacobins to keep power in his hands, If the Girondins had prevailed, the worst effect of the Terror might perhaps have been spared and we even might have seen a much more sane transition installed where regions would have had more power to wisely administrate themselves. The thing to remember from the Terror years is that the atmosphere was perhaps a bit similar to the system of denunciation in Russia, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and you could probably send to the guillotine the neighbor you didn’t like by just denouncing him as an opponent to the revolution. This is not a trait that any revolution can be proud of.
Decentralization also is interesting because today France suffers from intense centralization even though they recently created larger regions, but not definitely granting more power to them,
So that’s my view, however poorly informed it may be. There’s a very interesting French philosopher alive today that I love ( he is an epicurean of great humor) his name is Michel Onfray and he has extensively written very interesting essays on the political minds and morals of the Girondins. He is pretty fascinating as he is a bit of an anarchist, a leftist at heart but deplores very much the way the left party has evolved in france.
There’s a lot of interesting things in Mr. Pauwells writing on the Revolution but I wonder if it is not a little too black and white at times, really. Just wondering from my poorly educated little frog mind… lol