Today is Bastille Day, the French national holiday or Fête Nationale. It is usually called le quatorze juillet ("14 July"). This recalls the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789.
When the mob murdered the unfortunate governor, they found no political prisoners there – four forgers, two lunatics and one aristocrat accused of sexual perversion – not the Marquis de Sade, who had been moved days earlier.
But the storming of the Bastille has become a symbol of the revolution as the absolute monarchy merged – with The King’s agreement – into a constitutional monarchy. But extremists gained power, and eventually a republic – the first of five – followed as the terrorists took over and Europe was to suffer two decades of war.
We wish the French people well on their national day, but the revolution should not be seen through rose coloured glasses.
When the aristocratic former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin warned earlier this year that there was a risk of revolution in France, The Guardian (2/5) said this was not just because he wanted to make life difficult for his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy.
The editor explained “It was also because social unrest is genuinely on the rise. Yesterday thousands of protesters took to the streets – not as many as the millions who protested in March, but this was a respectable turnout, considering that it was the third national protest at the government's handling of the global downturn in four months.”
A major part of the problem in France is that in public education and in the media the nation has been taught to honour the Revolution.
But the history of the revolution as taught is a series of myths, including the continuing libel of The Queen, Marie Antoinette. (“Marie-Antoinette – justice at last?” )
The revolution was a tragedy and a disaster, and led to the Reign of Terror, years of dicatorship and wars which continued until well into the next century, resulting in death and destruction. As a proportion of the population, casualties were probably greater than those in the First World War.
By falsely praising the Revolution, the people of France are encouraged to believe that problems can best be solved by going into the streets, and by putting their faith in theorists who offer revolutionary solutions.
We observed at the time of his editorial that the editor of The Guardian should re-examine his own paper’s ill considered campaign against the British Crown.
What he should be doing is raising an understanding of the most important beneficial event in the last few centuries, the emergence of an early version of the constitutional monarchy as a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
This of course was hardly a revolution, merely part of that long evolutionary development of the Westminster system, the world’s most successful form of governance and the only one to be successfully exported.
It is worth republishing a comment made following the editorial by Dr Hugh Goodacre of the University of Westminster. To the credit of The Guardian it was published on their site:
“Your leading article correctly observes that social revolution is on the cards in France but not even on the horizon in Britain, however it is ludicrously simplistic in seeking an explanation for this in comparative statistics – such as those of unemployment and public debt – rather than in France's revolutionary traditions.
“First, monarchy has for a long period of history been regarded with disgust in France; their monarchs were executed. Here, in contrast, the very question of republicanism is regarded as a fringe issue, or even a sign of eccentricity.
“ Second, France suffered fascist occupation and a puppet fascist government in the second world war; the memory of the armed resistance, largely under communist leadership, retains respect in public opinion, and even the most compliant trade unions have to label themselves communist in order to retain the support of their members. Here in Britain, communism is barely heard of.
“Third, even those political parties in France with rightwing social agendas, such as the Gaullists, proudly describe themselves as revolutionaries, and their national anthem calls upon all citizens to take up arms against the armed forces of the monarchy, whereas here, the national anthem … need I go on? “
Dr Goodacre’s assessment is correct.
The editor of The Guardian should stop copying Australia’s newspapers of the nineties. They went too far in using the news to advance their republican campaign, which some editors now acknowledge.
The editor should reconsider his campaign to throw out what brings stability to the United Kingdom.