CHRISTIAN POWER IN THE AGE OF REVOLUTION
From the First French Revolution to the Paris Commune, 1789-1871
© Vladimir Moss, 2004
Part I. Revolution and Counter-Revolution (1789-1830)
1. The West: The Man-God Arises..…..…….……..…………...…………7
The French Revolution: (1) The Constitutional Monarchy – Burke versus Paine – The American Constitution and Slavery - Illuminism – The French Revolution: (2) The Jacobin Terror – The Revolution and Religion – The French Revolution: (3) Napoleon Bonaparte – Napoleon and Catholicism - La Grande Nation - The Jews and the Revolution - Napoleon and the Jews – Napoleon and the Latin American Revolutions – Romanticism and Nationalism - German Nationalism – The German War of Liberation - The Ideology of Counter-Revolution
2. The East: The Man-God Defeated..……….....……………..……….126
Tsar Paul I – The Annexation of Georgia and the Edinoverie – The Murder of Tsar Paul - The Golden Age of Masonry – Alexander, Napoleon and Speransky - 1812 – The Aftermath of Victory – The Holy Alliance - The Polish Question - The Jewish Question - The Reaction against Masonry - The Serbian Revolution – The Greek Revolution – The Kollyvades Movement - The Decembrist Rebellion – St. Seraphim of Sarov
Part II. Liberalism and Autocracy (1830-1871)
3. The West: The Dual Revolution….………….………………………216
Art and Revolution: (1) Byronism – Art and Revolution: (2) The July Days – The Polish Question – Liberalism and Free Trade – The Irish Famine – The British Empire - De Tocqueville on America – Mill on Liberty – Victorian Religion - The Collectivist Reaction: (1) English Self-Help – The Collectivist Reaction: (2) French Socialism – The Collectivist Reaction: (3) German Historicism – Hegel’s Political Philosophy - Marx’s Historical Materialism - 1848 and the Spectre of Communism - The World as Will: Schopenhauer – Nature and Society as Will: Darwin - The American Civil War - Emperor Napoleon III - Il Risorgimento and the Pope – The Paris Commune
4. The East: The Gendarme of Europe………………..………………..339
Introduction: Instinct and Consciousness – Tsar Nicholas I – Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov: The Struggle against Westernism - Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow: Church and State – Russia and Europe: (1) Chaadaev vs. Pushkin – Russia and Europe: (2) Belinsky vs. Gogol – Russia and Europe: (3) Herzen vs. Khomiakov – Russia and Europe: (4) Kireevsky - Russia and Europe: (5) Dostoyevsky - The Slavophiles on Autocracy: (1) Kireevsky – The Slavophiles on Autocracy – The Crimean War – St. Petersburg: the Third Rome? - Relations with Heretics and Schismatics – The Caucasian Wars – Orthodox America - Nihilism: “Fathers and Sons” – The Great Reforms: (1) The Emancipation of the Serfs – The Great Reforms: (2) The Zemstvo Assemblies – The Great Reforms: (3) Crime and Punishment – The Autocracy, the Church and the Revolution
This book represents a continuation of my earlier books, The Mystery of Christian Power (to 1453) and Christian Power in the Age of Reason (1453-1789). It follows the same theme of the struggle between Christian political power and its enemies into the age of revolution – that is, the age beginning with the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and ending with the storming of the Paris Commune in 1871. Of course, the revolution neither began nor ended in this period. But it may be called the revolutionary age par excellence insofar as it presented all the main ideas of the revolution in their classical French expression, and provided the classic themes and symbolism of the later, and still greater Russian revolution. Moreover, it is the age in which the counter-revolution - in the person, in particular, of Orthodox and Autocratic Russia - appeared to have the measure of its enemies, although a major theme of the book will be the way in which revolutionary ideas were sapping the foundations of Russian Autocracy, too.
The book is divided into two parts, with each part further subdivided into chapters on East and West on the model of my earlier books. In the first part, we see the first French revolution, its continuation and internationalisation under Napoleon I, and its defeat and seeming reversal under the absolutist rule of King Charles X. The second part continues the story of the French revolutions (of 1830, 1848 and 1871), and their offshoots in other European countries, while outlining the development of political and economic liberalism in England and America. In the East, meanwhile, we see Russia, “the Gendarme of Europe”, both administering the decisive blow to Napoleon I, and, in its suppression of the Polish and Hungarian uprisings, ensuring that the revolution will not spread to Eastern Europe. However, Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War at the hands of England, France and Turkey marks the end of the Congressional System and the first international attempt to contain the revolution, boding badly for truly Christian statehood – indeed, for legitimate statehood in general - in the coming age.
As in my earlier books, I have tried to look beyond the political and economic events to the spiritual events that are the real causes of history. For, as Fr. Seraphim Rose said: “The real cause is the soul and God: whatever God is doing and whatever the soul is doing. These two things actualise the whole of history; and all the external events – what treaty was signed, or the economic reasons for the discontent of the masses, and so forth – are totally secondary. In fact, if you look at modern history, at the whole revolutionary movement, it is obvious that it is not the economics that is the governing factor, but various ideas which get into people’s souls about actually building paradise on earth. Once that idea gets there, then fantastic things are done, because this is a spiritual thing. Even though it is from the devil, it is on a spiritual level, that is where actual history is made…”
In pursuit of this, the spiritual meaning of history I owe an especial debt to Fr. Seraphim Rose, Adam Zamoyski, Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and the Russian Slavophile philosophers.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us!
December 18/31, 2004.
Holy Martyr Sebastian of Rome.
PART I. REVOLUTION AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION (1789-1830)
1. THE WEST: THE MAN-GOD ARISES
Lo, thy dread Empire, CHAOS! is restor’d;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.
Alexander Pope, Dunciad.
The human I, wishing to depend only on itself, not recognising and not accepting any other law besides its own will – in a word, the human I, taking the place of God, - does not, of course, constitute something new among men. But such has it become when raised to the status of a political and social right, and when it strives, by virtue of this right, to rule society. This is the new phenomenon which acquired the name of the French revolution in 1789.
F.I. Tiutchev, Russia and the Revolution (1848).
The nation, this collective organism, is just as inclined to deify itself as the individual man. The madness of pride grows in this case in the same progression, as every passion becomes inflamed in society, being refracted in thousands and millions of souls.
Metropolitan Anastasius (Gribanovsky) of New York.
After the Humanist-Protestant revolution of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the English revolution of the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment Programme of the eighteenth century, the French revolution of 1789 marks the fourth major turning-point in Western life and thought. In some countries – England, for example, and still more America - some of the less radical ideas of the French revolution were already being put into effect, at least partially, well before 1789; while in others – Russia and China, for example – they did not achieve dominance until the twentieth century. Eventually, however, the French revolutionary ideals of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and “the Rights of Man”, combined with an essentially secularist and utilitarian attitude to religion, became the dominant ideology, not only of Europe and North America, but of the whole world. For, as Eric Hobsbawn writes, “alone of all the contemporary revolutions, the French was ecumenical. Its armies set out to revolutionize the world; its ideas actually did so.”
The period 1789-1815 can be compared, for its profound impact on the destinies of the world, only with the period 1914-45. Both periods are dominated by a national revolution with enormous international ramifications – the French in the earlier period, the Russian in the later – and by international war on a previously unprecedented scale. In both periods the main victors were an Anglo-Saxon nation (Britain in the earlier period, America in the later), on the one hand, and Russia (Tsarist Russia in the earlier period, Soviet Russia in the later), on the other. At the end of each period Russia became the dominant political power on the continent of Europe, while the Anglo-Saxon nation became the dominant power outside Europe, going on to dominate the world economically through its exploitation of important scientific and technological discoveries.
The French revolution, like its English forerunner, went through several phases, each of which on its own was profoundly influential outside the borders of France. The first was the constitutional monarchy (1789-92). The second was the Jacobin terror (1792-94). The third (after the interregnum of the Directory) was the Napoleonic dictatorship and empire (1799-1815). Just as the English revolution had its proto-communist elements, which, however, failed in the end, so did the French (Babeuf’s failed coup of 1796). Just as the upshot of the English revolution was to transfer power from the king to the landowning aristocracy, so the upshot of the French revolution was to transfer power from the king and the aristocrats to the bourgeoisie – a trend which came to dominate the whole of Western Europe in the course of the nineteenth century.
From a sociological point of view, France in 1789 had not changed in essence since the eleventh century; it was an agrarian, hierarchical society consisting of “the three Estates”: those who prayed (the clergy), those who fought (the nobility) and those who worked (the rest, mainly peasants, but including lawyers and intellectuals). The ideas of the Enlightenment and Masonry had infected a narrow stratum of the more educated classes. But the mass of the population lived and thought as they had lived and thought for centuries.
It is customary to explain the French revolution as the product of corrupt political, social and economic conditions, and in particular of the vast gap in wealth and power between the ancien régime and the people. Discontent with social and economic injustices undoubtedly played a large part in fuelling this horrific atheist and anti-theist outburst. But it was not the king who was primarily to blame for these injustices. In the years 1745-89 he and his ministers made numerous attempts at economic reform and a more equitable redistribution of the tax burden. But they were always foiled by opposition at court and in the Parlements from the aristocrats, who paid no tax. Thus when five of his minister Turgot’s Six Edicts were rejected by the Paris Parlement in 1776, Louis XVI observed: “I see well that there is no-one here but M. Turgot and myself who love the people.” This prompted de Tocqueville’s words: “The social order destroyed by a revolution is almost always better than that which preceded it; and experience shows that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is generally that in which it sets about reform. Only great genius can save a ruler who takes on the task of improving the lot of his subjects after long oppression…”
The aristocrats claimed that their opposition was an expression of Montesquieu’s doctrine of the necessity of checks on executive power. In fact, however, they were trying to replace a royal “despotism” with their own aristocratic one. For, as Hobsbawm writes, “the Revolution began as an aristocratic attempt to recapture the state.” And here, as so often in history, the “despotism” of one man standing above the political fray turned out to be less harmful to the majority of the population than the despotism of an oligarchical clique pursuing only one class or factional interest. Indeed, the problem with the French monarchy was not its excessive strength, but its weakness, its inability to impose its will on the privileged class.
However, there was much more to the Revolution than a conflict between king and nobility, letting in the Third Estate that destroyed them both. The essential conflict was between two ideas of the origin of authority: between the idea that it comes from above – ultimately, from God, and the idea that it comes from below – ultimately from what the Masons called “Nature”. King Louis XVI stated the Christian principle: “I have taken the firm and sincere decision to remain loftily, publicly and generously faithful to Him Who holds in His hand kings and kingdoms. I can only be great through Him, because in Him alone is greatness, glory, majesty and power; and because I am destined one day to be his living image on earth.” This firm, but humble statement of the doctrine, not so much of the Divine right of kings, as of their Divine dependence on the King of kings, was opposed by the satanic pride of the revolutionary faith. “The Revolution is neither an act nor a fact,” said De Mounier. “It is a political doctrine which claims to found society on the will of man instead of founding it on the will of God, which puts the sovereignty of human reason in the place of the Divine law.
This anti-theistic character of the French Revolution was confirmed by the great Anglo-Irish parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, wrote: “We cannot, if we would, delude ourselves about the true state of this dreadful contest. It is a religious war. It includes in its object undoubtedly every other interest of society as well as this; but this is the principal and leading feature. It is through this destruction of religion that our enemies propose the accomplishment of all their other views. The French Revolution, impious at once and fanatical, had no other plan for domestick power and foreign empire. Look at all the proceedings of the National Assembly from the first day of declaring itself such in the year 1789, to this very hour, and you will find full half of their business to be directly on this subject. In fact it is the spirit of the whole. The religious system, called the Constitutional Church, was on the face of the whole proceeding set up only as a mere temporary amusement to the people, and so constantly stated in all their conversations, till the time should come, when they might with safety cast off the very appearance of all religion whatsoever, and persecute Christianity throughout Europe with fire and sword… This religious war is not a controversy between sect and sect as formerly, but a war against all sects and all religions…”
So the real question that the Revolution sought to answer was not political or economic, but theological or ideological, not: who pays the taxes?, but: who rules the universe?
It is striking how similar was the sequence of events in the French Revolution to that in its English predecessor. Just as the English revolution started with the king’s compelling need to seek money for his war against the Scots, so the French revolution started with a severe financial crisis caused by the king’s intervention in the American War of Independence. And just as the English parliament’s refusal to accede to the king’s request led successively to civil war, the overthrowing of the State Church, the execution of the king, a radicalisation of the country to a state of near-communist revolution, foreign wars (in Scotland and Ireland), and finally a military dictatorship under Cromwell that restored order while preserving many of the fruits of the revolution, so the refusal, first of the Nobles’ Assembly and then of the Estates General to accede to the French king’s request led to a constitutional monarchy, the overthrowing of the State Church, the execution of the king, increased radicalisation and the Great Terror, wars with both internal and external enemies, and finally a military dictatorship under Napoleon that restored order while consolidating many of the results of the revolution.
But the French Revolution went much further than the English in the number of its victims, in the profundity of its effects, not only on France but also on almost every country in Europe, and in its unprecedented radicalism, even anti-theism. It really began on June 17, 1789, when the Third Estate gathered a so-called National Assembly, of which they declared: “To it, and it alone, belongs the right to interpret and express the general will of the nation. Between the throne and this Assembly there can exist no veto, no power of negation.” This, writes Davies, “was the decisive break. Three days later, locked out of their usual hall, the deputies met on the adjacent tennis court, le jeu de paume, and swore an oath never to disband until France was given a Constitution. ‘Tell your master,’ thundered Count Mirabeau to the troops sent to disperse them, ‘that we are here by the will of the people, and will not disperse before the threat of bayonets.’
“Pandemonium ensued. At court, the King’s conciliatory ministers fell out with their more aggressive colleagues. On 11 July [the chief minister] Jacques Necker, who had received a rousing welcome at the opening of the Estates General, was dismissed. Paris exploded. A revolutionary headquarters coalesced round the Duc d’Orléans at the Palais Royal. The gardens of the Palais Royal became a notorious playground of free speech and free love. Sex shows sprang up alongside every sort of political harangue. ‘The exile of Necker,’ screamed the fiery orator Camille Desmoulins fearing reprisals, ‘is the signal for another St. Bartholomew of patriots.’ The royal garrison was won over. On the 13th a Committee of Public Safety was created, and 48,000 men were enrolled in a National Guard under General Lafayette. Bands of insurgents tore down the hated barrières or internal customs posts in the city, and ransacked the monastery of Saint-Lazare in the search for arms. On the 14th, after 30,000 muskets were removed from the Hôtel des Invalides, the royal fortress of the Bastille was besieged. There was a brief exchange of gunfire, after which the governor capitulated. The King had lost his capital.”
Power appeared to have passed from the king to the National Assembly and the Third Estate; but already at this early stage of the revolution (as in February, 1917 in Russia), real power was neither with the king nor with any of the Estates, but with the mob – or rather, with those who incited and controlled the mob. Thus on July 20 Arthur Young wrote: “I hear nothing of their [the Assembly’s] moving from Versailles; if they stay there under the control of an armed mob, they must make a government that will please the mob; but they will, I suppose, be wise enough to move to some central town, Tours, Blois or Orléans, where their deliberations may be free. But the Parisian spirit of commotion spreads quickly…”
So quickly, in fact, that a year later Antoine, Comte de Rivarol could write: “Three million armed peasants, from one end of the kingdom to the other, stop travellers, check their papers, and bring the victims back to Paris; the town hall cannot protect them from the fury of the patriotic hangman; the National Assembly in raising Paris might well have been able to topple the throne, but it cannot save a single citizen. The time will come… when the National Assembly will say to the citizen army: ‘You have saved me from authority, but who will save me from you?’ When authority has been overthrown, its power passes inevitably to the lowest classes of society… Such is today the state of France and its capital.”
The success of the Revolution was assured by the weakness of the King; for when “he who restrains” stops restraining, “then everything is permitted”. Doyle writes: “News of the king’s surrender to popular resistance broke all restraints. His acquiescence in the defeat of the privileged orders was taken as a signal for all his subjects to take their own measures against public enemies. The prolonged political crisis has spawned countless wild rumours of plots to thwart the patriotic cause by starving the people. Monastic and noble granaries, reputedly bulging with the proceeds of the previous season’s rents, dues, and tithes, seemed obvious evidence of their owners’ wicked intentions. Equally suspicious were urban merchants scouring country markets far beyond their usual circuits to provide bread for hungry townsmen. Besides, the roads were thronged with unprecedented numbers of men seeking work as a result of the slump. Farmers had good reason to dread the depredations of bands of travelling vagrants, and now took little persuading that the kingdom was alive with brigands in aristocratic pay. It was just a year since the notorious storms of July 1788, and as a promising harvest began to ripen country people were particularly nervous. All this produced the ‘Great Fear’, a massive panic that swept whole provinces in the last weeks of July and left only the most peripheral regions untouched. Peasants assembled, armed themselves, and prepared to fight off the ruthless hirelings of aristocracy. Seen from a distance, such armed bands were often taken for brigands themselves, and so the panic spread.
“In many areas villagers did not wait for the marauders to arrive. Then it would be too late. They were determined to make sure of aristocratic defeat by striking pre-emptively. After all, they would only anticipating what the Assembly was bound to decree. As one country priest explained, ‘When the inhabitants heard that everything was going to be different they began to refuse to pay both tithes and dues, considering themselves so permitted, they said, by the new law to come.’”
On August 4, under pressure of the peasant revolt, the National or Constituent Assembly declared that it “abolishes the feudal system in its entirety”. It also proclaimed “King Louis XVI Restorer of French Liberty”…
In his pamphlet What is the Third Estate? published in that year, Abbé Sieyès asked: What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been in the political order up to the present? Nothing. What does it demand? To become something…” Now the Third Estate was something. Rarely, if ever, in political history has a single act had such a huge and immediate effect (the abdication of the Tsar in February, 1917 is perhaps the only parallel).
On August 26, the Assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which listed the following “natural, inalienable and sacred rights”:
“’I. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be founded on public utility.
II. The purpose of every political association is the preservation of the natural and unprescriptible rights of men. These rights are liberty, property, and safety from, and resistance to, oppression.
III. The principle of all sovereignty lies in the nation. No body of men, and no individual, can exercise authority which does not emanate directly therefrom.
IV. Liberty consists in the ability to do anything which does not harm others.
V. The Law can only forbid actions which are injurious to society…
VI. The Law is the expression of the General Will… It should be the same for all, whether to protect or to punish.
VII. No man can be accused, arrested, or detained except in those instances which are determined by law.
VIII. The Law should only establish punishments which are strictly necessary. No person should be punished by retrospective legislation.
IX. No man [is] presumed innocent till found guilty…
X. No person should be troubled for his opinions, even religious ones, so long as their manifestation does not threaten public order.
XI. The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of men’s most precious rights. Every citizen, therefore, can write, speak, and publish freely, saving only the need to account for abuses defined by law.
XII. A public force is required to guarantee the [above] rights. It is instituted for the benefit of all, not for the use of those to whom it is entrusted.
XIII. Public taxation is indispensable for the upkeep of the forces and the administration. It should be divided among all citizens without distinction, according to their abilities.
XIV. Citizens… have the right to approve the purposes, levels, and extent of taxation.
XV. Society has the right to hold every public servant to account.
XVI. Any society in which rights are not guaranteed nor powers separated does not have a constitution.
XVII. Property being a sacred and inviolable right, no person can be deprived of it, except by public necessity, legal process, and just compensation.’
“Social convention held that the ‘Rights of Man’ automatically subsumed the rights of women. But several bold souls, including Condorcet, disagreed, arguing that women had simply been neglected. In due course the original Declaration was joined by new ideas, notably about human rights in the social and economic sphere. Article XXI of the revised Declaration of June 1793 stated: ’Public assistance is a sacred obligation [dette]. Society owes subsistence to unfortunate citizens, whether in finding work for them, or in assuring the means of survival of those incapable of working.’ Slavery was outlawed in 1794. Religious toleration was guaranteed.”
In October a great crowd of hungry women brought the king from Versailles to Paris. Thereafter the forging of a new Constitution that would include limited powers for the king went ahead relatively peacefully. However, the king.could not make up his mind whether to accept or reject the Revolution; and this vacillation, combined with his arrest at Varennes on June 21, 1791 while attempting to flee the country, gradually undermined what remained of his authority. For, as Hobsbawn points out, “traditional kings who abandon their peoples lose the right to royalty". In a similar situation in 1917, Tsar Nicholas II was given the opportunity to flee by the Provisional Government, but chose not to…
Moreover, while the Assembly passed a large number of laws, it completely failed to solve the problems which had propelled it to power – the financial insolvency of the country. It simply printed money which rapidly deteriorated in value, fuelling inflation, and in 1791 collected only 249 livres in taxes against 822.7 livres expended.
In spite of these problems, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, witnessed an extraordinary celebration of the revolution in which even the king took part.
Zamoyski writes: “It was to be a kind of Rousseauist troth-pledging, at which the nation would come together and symbolically constitute itself as a body, simultaneously paying homage to itself as such – the first of many acts of political onanism. Bailly [the mayor of Paris] suggested that the solemnity should take the form of a ‘National Federation’, with delegations from every corner of France meeting in Paris while those from surrounding villages congregated in every provincial town. Lafayette steered the whole exercise into the military sphere, substituting companies of National Guards from every part of the country for civilian delegates.
“The capital was to be decked out in a fitting manner to greet those making their long pilgrimage. Half the population of Paris spent three days in the pouring rain putting up triumphant arches and decorations. The Champ-de-Mars was transformed into a vast elliptical arena surrounded by grass banks on which seats were erected for spectators. At the end nearest the École Militaire there was a stand draped in the tricolor for the members of the Assembly and important guests. At the opposite end, nearest the River Seine, was the entrance, through a triple triumphal arch in the Roman style. Between the two stood a podium with a throne for the king and seats for the royal family, and, towering above everything else, a great square plinth with steps on all four sides, on which stood an altar.
“The morning of 14 July was wetter than ever, and the feet of the 300,000 Parisians soon turned the Champ-de-Mars into a quagmire. This did not make the event any easier to manage, but good humour triumphed. As they waited in the rain, people made jokes about being baptized in the national rain, and groups from different parts of the country showed off regional dances to each other.
“The king and queen arrived at noon, but it took a long time for them to be settled into their stand. Then came a march-past by 50,000 National Guards. It was not until four in the afternoon that the Bishop of Autun, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, attended by four hundred priests wearing the tricolor, began to celebrate mass. The altar at which he officiated was not a traditional liturgical mensa, but a circular neoclassical affair redolent of burnt offerings in ancient Rome. It was not the altar of God, on which sacrifice was offered up to the Almighty, it was the autel de la patrie, on which citizens pledged their devotion to the motherland.
“Lafayette was much in evidence all day on his white charger, and when the mass was over, he took centre stage. As if by a miracle, the weather cleared and the sun came out, bathing the whole scene in a soft luminous aura. While trumpets blared, Lafayetter ascended the steps of the altar. As he began to swear loyalty to the king, the nation and the law, he drew his sword with a flourish and laid it on the altar. Fifty thousand National Guardsmen then repeated the same oath, followed by the king. Next came the singing of the Te Deum specially composed by François Gossec, during which people of all stations embraced tearfully in a hundred thousand acts of national fraternity. Lafayetter was carried by the crowd to his white horse, on which he majestically left the field, with people kissing his hands and his clothers…
“The Fête de la Fédération represented a reconciliation of all the people living in France, and their betrothal as one nation. It mimicked Rousseau’s vision of the Corsicans coming together to found their nation through a common pledge. The festival was also a recognition that the Marquis de Lafayette and the humblest peasant in France were brothers, both as members of a biological family and through the ideological kinship represented by the oath. At the same time, the celebration exposed a new reality. It showed how far the concept of nationhood had altered from the Enlightenment vision of a congeries living in consensus to something far more metaphysical and inherently divine…”
Burke versus Paine
The ideas of the French revolution posed a great threat to the British, who prided themselves on being the home of liberty, but who saw that French revolutionary “liberty” would speedily destroy their own. Already the Americans had shown that libertarianism and empire made an uncomfortable fit; and the fit would look still worse in India and Ireland as the French ideas filtered through. Moreover, the first effects of the industrial revolution on the industrial poor, and of the “dark, satanic mills” on England’s “green and pleasant land”, threatened to arouse revolutionary passions among the poor.
“’Two causes, and only two, will rouse a peasantry to rebellion,’ opined Robert Southey, a radical turned Tory: ‘intolerable oppression, or religious zeal’. But that moderately comforting scenario no longer applied: ‘A manufacturing poor is more easily instigated to revolt: they have no local attachments… they know enough of what is passing in the political world to think themselves politicians’. England’s rulers must pay heed: ‘If the manufacturing system continues to be extended, I believe that revolution inevitably must come, and in its most fearful shape’.”
Already in the years 1778-83 a debate had begun on whether the ideas of the founding philosopher of English liberalism, John Locke, had been right after all. In 1783 the Baptist Noel Turner wondered whether the “present national propensity” was the deployment of Locke on behalf of the “many-headed majesty” of “king-people”. And in the same year Josiah Tucker publish his “On the Evil Consequences Arising from the Propagation of Locke’s Democratic Principles”. Tucker’s disciple Soame Jenyns declared that he had refuted the Lockean philosophy of the Whigs, writing:
I controvert these five positions
Which Whigs pretend are the conditions
Of civil rule and liberty;
That men are equal born – and free –
That kings derive their lawful sway
All from the people’s yea and nay –
That compact is the only ground,
On which a prince his rights can found –
Lastly, I scout that idle notion,
That government is put in motion,
And stopt again, like clock or chime,
Just as we want them to keep time.
This debate became more urgent as the atrocities of the French revolution became known. Could the ideas of the urbane and civilised Locke really have led to such barbarism? William Jones thought so. Writing in 1798, he said that “with Mr. Locke in his hand”, that “mischievous infidel Voltaire” had set about destroying Christianity. And Locke was “the oracle of those who began and conducted the American Revolution, which led to the French Revolution; which will lead (unless God in his mercy interfere) to the total overthrow of religion and government in this kingdom, perhaps in the whole Christian world.”
However, the most famous ideological attack on the French revolution came from Edmund Burke, who had adopted a liberal position on America and Ireland, and who now tried to defend English liberalism while attacking French radicalism. His Reflexions on the Revolution in France (1790) foresaw saw that the French revolution would bring in its train, not freedom, but tyranny - and precisely because of its populist character. For “the tyranny of a multitude,” he wrote, “is a multiplied tyranny”. Burke agreed with the Catholic monarchist Joseph de Maistre in calling the revolution “satanic”. And, as we have seen, he called the war that broke out between revolutionary France and Britain in 1793 “a religious war”. For truly, the war between the revolution and its opponents was a religious war, a war between two opposed ideas of who rules human society: God or the people.
Burke laid great emphasis on the importance of tradition and the organic forms of social life, which was important at a time when the rage was all for the destruction of everything that was old and venerable. In this respect (although not in others) he went against one of the main presuppositions of the English social contract theorists, following rather in the line of thought of the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers Hamann and Herder.
As Berlin writes: “Burke’s famous onslaughts on the principles of the French revolutionaries was founded upon the selfsame appeal to the myriad strands that bind human beings into a historically hallowed whole, contrasted with the utilitarian model of society as a trading-company held together by contractual obligations, the world of ‘sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators’ who are blind and deaf to the unanalysable relationships that make a family, a tribe, a nation, a movement, any association of human beings held together by something more than a quest for mutual advantage, or by force, or by anything that is not mutual love, loyalty, common history, emotion and outlook.”
Society exists over several generations, so why, asked Burke, should only one generation’s interests be respected in drawing up the social contract? For, as Roger Scruton writes, interpreting his thought, “the social contract prejudices the interests of those who are not alive to take part in it: the dead and the unborn. Yet they too have a claim, maybe an indefinite claim, on the resources and institutions over which the living so selfishly contend. To imagine society as a contract among its living members, is to offer no rights to those who go before and after. But when we neglect those absent souls, we neglect everything that endows law with its authority, and which guarantees our own survival. We should therefore see the social order as a partnership, in which the dead and the unborn are included with the living.”
“Every people,” writes L.A. Tikhomirov, “is, first of all, a certain historical whole, a long row of consecutive generations, living over hundreds or thousands of years in a common life handed down by inheritance. In this form a people, a nation, is a certain socially organic phenomenon with more or less clearly expressed laws of inner development… But political intriguers and the democratic tendency does not look at a people in this form, as a historical, socially organic phenomenon, but simply in the form of a sum of the individual inhabitants of the country. This is the second point of view, which looks on a nation as a simple association of people united into a state because they wanted that, living according to laws which they like, and arbitrarily changing the laws of their life together when it occurs to them.”
Burke rejected the idea that the French Revolution was simply the English Revolution writ large. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was not a revolution in the new, French sense, because it left English traditions, including English traditions of liberty, intact: it “was made to preserve our ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty… We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers… All the reformations we have hitherto made, have proceeded upon the principle of reference to antiquity.” In fact, far from making the people the sovereign power, the English parliament in 1688 had sworn “in the name of the people” to “most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities” to the Monarchs William and Mary “for ever”. The French Revolution, by contrast, rejected all tradition. “You had,” he told the French, “the elements of a constitution very nearly as good as could be wished…; but you chose to act as if you have never been moulded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.” “Your constitution, it is true,… suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls and, in all, the foundations of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. Your constitution was suspended before it was perfected.” “Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, that prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years.” There was in fact nothing new about the French Revolution. It was just another disaster “brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal”. The “rights of man” were just a “pretext” invented by the “wickedness” of human nature.
“It was Burke’s Reflections,” writes G.P. Gooch, “which overthrew the supremacy of Locke [for the time being], and formed the starting-point of a number of schools of thought, agreeing in the rejection of the individualistic rationalism which had dominated the eighteenth century. The work is not only the greatest exposition of the philosophic basis of conservatism ever written, but a declaration of the principles of evolution, continuity, and solidarity, which must hold their place in all sound political thinking. Against the omnipotence of the individual, he sets the collective reason; against the claims of the present, he sets the accumulated experience of the past; for natural rights he offers social rights; for liberty he substitutes law. Society is a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.”
Burke, writes Doyle, attributed the fall of the old order “to a conspiracy. On the one hand were the ‘moneyed interest’, resentful at their lack of esteem and greedy for new profits; on the other, and even more important, were the so-called philosophers of the Enlightenment, a ‘literary cabal’ committed to the destruction of Christianity by any and every available means. The idea of a philosophic conspiracy was not new. It went back to the only one ever conclusively proved to have existed, the plot of the self-styled Illuminati to undermine the Church-dominated government of Bavaria. The Bavarian government published a sensational collection of documents to illustrate its gravity, and Burke had read it. Although he was not the first to attribute events in France to conspiracy of the sort thwarted in Bavaria, the way he included the idea in the most comprehensive denunciation of the Revolution yet to appear lent it unprecedented authority. Nor was the destruction of Christianity and the triumph of atheism the only catastrophe he predicted. Disgusted by the way the ‘Republic of Paris’ and its ‘swinish multitude’ held the government captive, the provinces would eventually cut loose and France would fall apart. The assignats would drive out sound coinage and hasten, rather than avert, bankruptcy. The only possible end to France’s self-induced anarchy would come when ‘some popular general, who understand the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account… the moment in which that event will happen, the person who really commands the army is your master.’”
Burke’s Reflections were answered by Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, which sold still more copies – an astonishing 250,000 in two years. This debate between two Englishmen, which was eagerly followed all over Europe, turned out to be the first of the major debates between “right” and “left” that have dominated European intellectual life since 1789, taking the place of the old Catholic-Protestant polemics. Burke proved to be more accurate than Paine in its forecasts about the future of the revolution (he predicted both the killing of the king and the military dictatorship); but it was to be Paine’s ideas that proved to be the more popular and influential. 
Paine admitted that Louis XVI had “natural moderation”; but the revolution, he argued, was not against people, but against principles – in particular, the principle of despotism. In any case, he wrote, “[Burke] is not affected by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird… His hero or his heroine must be a tragedy victim, expiring in show, and not the real prisoner of misery, sliding into death in the silence of a dungeon.” However, Paine himself was soon to become “a real prisoner of misery” in a Jacobin dungeon, just one of the hundreds of thousands of people – including the “naturally moderate” King and vast numbers of the poorer classes – far more than the ancien régime had caused in centuries.
As for the principle of despotism, Paine saw it everywhere: “When despotism has established itself for ages in a country, as in France, it is not in the person of the King only that it resides. It has the appearance of being so in show, and in nominal authority; but it is not so in practice, and in fact. It has its standard everywhere. Every office and department has its despotism, founded upon custom and usage. Every place has its Bastille, and every Bastille its despot. The original hereditary despotism resident in the person of the King, divides and subdivides itself into a thousand shapes and forms, till at last the whole of it is acted by deputation. This was the case in France; and against this species of despotism, proceeding on through an endless labyrinth of office till the source of it is scarcely perceptible, there is no mode of redress. It strengthens itself by assuming the appearance of duty, and tyrannizes under the pretence of obeying.
“When a man reflects on the condition which France was in from the nature of her government, he will see other causes for revolt than those which immediately connect themselves with the person or character of Louis XVI. There were, if I may so express it, a thousand despotisms to be reformed in France, which had grown up under the hereditary despotism of the monarchy, and became so rooted as to be in a great measure independent of it. Between the monarchy, the parliament, and the church, there was a rivalship of despotism, besides the feudal despotism operating locally, and the ministerial despotism operating everywhere.”
So even parliament was despotic! Paine gives himself away here: his real target is not despotism, but hierarchy, every relationship in society which involves the submission of one person to another. He rejected the role of tradition in politics as radically as Luther and Calvin had rejected it in theology.
“Every age and generation,” he wrote, “must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has no property in man; neither has any generation property in the generations which are to follow. The parliament or the people of 1688, or of any other period, has no more right to dispose of the people of the present day, or to bind or to control those who are to live a hundred or a thousand years hence. Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accomodated. When man ceases to be, his power and his wants cease with him; and having no longer any participation in the concerns of this world, he has no longer any authority in directing who shall be its governors, or how its government shall be organized, or how administered…. I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away by the manuscript assumed authority of the dead…
“The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is, that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other:
“…If the mere name of antiquity is to govern the affairs of life, the people who are to live an hundred or a thousand years hence, may as well take us for a precedent, as we make a precedent of those who lived an hundred or a thousand years ago. The fact is, that portions of antiquity, by proving everything, establish nothing. It is authority against authority all the way, till we come to the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. Here our inquiries find a resting-place, and our reason finds a home. If a dispute about the rights of man had arisen at the distance of an hundred years from the creation, it is to this same source of authority they must have referred, and it is to the same source of authority that we must now refer.
“Though I mean not to touch upon any sectarian principle of religion, yet it may be worth observing, that the genealogy of Christ is traced to Adam. Why then not trace the rights of man to the creation of man? I will answer the question. Because there have been upstart governments, thrusting themselves between, and presumptuously working to un-make man.
“If any generation of men ever possessed the right of dictating the mode by which the world should be governed for ever, it was the first generation that existed; and if that generation did it not, no succeeding generation can show any authority for doing it, nor can set any up. The illuminating and divine principle of the equal rights of man, (for it has its origin from the Maker of man) relates, not only to the living individuals, but to generations of men succeeding each other. Every generation is equal in rights to the generations which preceded it, by the same rule that every individual is born equal in rights with his contemporary.”
Paine had a point. Arguments based on merely human tradition are relative; one precedent from antiquity is cancelled out by another. Human tradition needs to be supported by Divine Tradition – that is, the Tradition handed down from God to His Chosen People and passed on by them from generation to generation in the Church.
Burke had this problem not only in relation to Paine, but also in relation to other contemporary English radicals. If he claimed that British liberties “were an entailed inheritance peculiar to the inhabitants of the island” and going back to William the Conqueror, “his radical opponents, who were rather less keen on entails, claimed that their rights were derived from the alleged practices of free-born Englishmen before the days of the ‘Norman yoke’.” And the precedent his opponents pointed to was both older and more noble; for, as Paine pointed out, if any ruler was a despot and usurper, - that is, a destroyer of tradition - it was William the Conqueror. And he was right: it had been William who, in 1066, cut off England from the One, True Church in the East and destroyed her traditions, both human and Divine.
Again, since Burke accepted the legitimacy of both the English and American revolutions (while preferring to rest on their least revolutionary moments), he could not attack the French revolution from a position of basic principle (for its principles were not fundamentally different from those of its Anglo-Saxon predecessors), but only because it carried those principles “too far”. But if the principle itself is accepted, who is to say when the application of the principle has gone “too far”? In any case, both Burke and his English radical opponents (but not Paine) agreed that the rights they were talking about “did not rest on principle and had no relevance to foreigners” - and so had no relevance to the French revolution, either.
And yet Burke was not defending just the English way of doing things, which was relevant only to Englishmen (in other of his works he defended the rights of the Irish and the Indians to keep their own traditions within the British Empire). The French revolution attacked the very foundation of society – religion.
So in defending the Christian religion Burke was defending a universal principle: “We know, and what is better, we feel inwardly, that religion is the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and of all comfort. In England we are so convinced of this, that there is no rust of superstition… that ninety-nine in a hundred of the people of England would not prefer to impiety… We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if… we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilisation amongst us, and among many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take the place of it.”
The very radicalism of Paine’s rejection of tradition and hierarchy undermined the validity of his argument. First, no society can exist without tradition or hierarchy – least of all revolutionary ones, which immediately act to fill the void they have created. Secondly, if sovereignty resides in the Nation, as Paine affirms, the question arises: what is the Nation if it has to be constantly re-inventing itself, holding nothing from the past as sacred and starting again from a tabula rasa with every new generation? A Nation defines itself precisely by its continuity over time and over many generations; there must be some loyalty to, and preservation of, the past if the Nation is to recognise itself as the same Nation throughout its transformations.
But Paine, true revolutionary that he was, was as sweeping in his rejection of temporal tradition as he was of spatial hierarchy. Not surprisingly, therefore, he had little time for religion, the main guarantor of both the spatial and the temporal dimensions of society. “My country is the world,” he wrote, “and my religion is to do good”. There was no one, true dogmatic religion for Paine, only conflicting human opinions which he made no attempt to evaluate: “With respect to what are called denominations of religion, if everyone is left to judge of his own religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other’s religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right; and therefore, all the world is right, or all the world is wrong…” “Every religion is good that teaches man to be good”. “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.”
Paine was not anti-religious as such; but in his attitude to religion there was more than a hint of contempt: “All religions are in their nature kind and benign [!], and united with principles of morality. They could not have made proselytes at first, by professing anything that was vicious, cruel, persecuting, or immoral. Like everything else, they had their beginning; and they proceeded by persuasion, exhortation, and example. How then is it that they lose their native mildness, and become morose and intolerant?
“It proceeds from the connexion which Mr. Burke recommends. By engendering the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up, is produced, called The Church established by Law. It is a stranger, even from its birth, to any parent mother on which it is begotten, and whom in time it kicks out and destroys.”
On this principle, Paine should have been very happy in America, where he spent his last years, insofar as the American Constitution made a complete separation between Church and State. But where there is no persecution from the State, there can still be criticism from individuals – indeed, that is their right according to Paine’s own principles. And the Americans criticised him for his Deist views, so that Paine spent his last years in loneliness and misery.
For all his Rousseauist iconoclasm, Paine’s revolutionary zeal was profoundly non-Rousseauist, Anglo-Saxon and individualist. Society exists, according to him, for the sake of the individual and his needs, especially his need to be free from various ills. There is no place in his system for a general will that is superior to the individual and which forces him to be free to be himself. “Civil power, properly considered as such, is made up of the aggregate of that class of the natural rights of man, which becomes defective in the individual in point of power, and answers not to his purpose; but when collected to a focus, becomes competent to the purpose of every one.” In other words, the State has no special rights over an individual unless he interferes with the rights of other individuals; it simply exists to service the individual(s), to help him to do things he would not be able to do on his own.
Paine was more influential than Burke, and even the stolid and traditionalist British found themselves moving along the path that he indicated. Thus, as Hampson points out, “it was the British who moved towards the attitudes proclaimed by the French Revolution… After 1832 it was conceded that, irrespective of precedent and tradition, whole categories of Englishmen had a right to vote.” Moreover, Paine’s vision of a welfare state outlined in part two of The Rights of Man was to inspire generations of British and American radicals.
And yet, it was Burke, not Paine, who was right on the Revolution…
The American Constitution and Slavery
The success of the American revolution had provided an inspiration for the French revolution in its first phase; and the French revolution in its turn influenced the further development of the American. The debate between Burke and Paine had its analogues in the controversies among the Founding Fathers. Some, such as Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, still looked towards the more conservative and authoritarian British model of democracy, in spite of the experience of the War of Independence; while others, such as Thomas Jefferson, drew inspiration from the French revolution even in its later, Jacobin phase in his almost anarchical drive to “rekindle the old spirit of 1776”.
Thus Hamilton said to the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “I believe the British government forms the best model the world ever produced… All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second… Nothing but a permanent body can check the impudence of democracy.”
Jefferson, on the other hand, believed that a rebellion every 20 years or so was necessary to stop the arteries of freedom from becoming sclerotic. As he wrote to William Stephens Smith in 1787: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure.” And to James Madison he wrote in the same year: “I hold it, a little rebellion now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical… It is a medicine for the sound health of government.”
These different understandings of democracy were reflected in different views on the two most important issues of the day: the relative powers of the central government and the states, and slavery.
With regard to the first issue, the champions of a strong central government, the federalists, believed that a strong central government was necessary in order to preserve the gains of the revolution, to guarantee taxation income, and preserve law and order. As George Washington put it: “Let then the reins of government be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the Constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled on whilst it has an existence.”
Not surprisingly, many of the antifederalists thought that Washington himself was substituting his own style of monarchy for the British king. As Joseph J. Ellis writes, they were haunted by “the ideological fear, so effective as a weapon against the taxes imposed by Parliament and decrees of George III, that once arbitrary power was acknowledged to reside elsewhere [than in the states], all liberty was lost. And at a primal level it suggested the unconscious fear of being completely consumed, eaten alive.”
With regard to slavery, there can be no question that the main thrust of the ideology of the American revolution was against it. The Declaration of Independence in 1776 declared that it was “not possible that one man should have property in person of another”. “Removing slavery, however, was not like removing British officials or revising constitutions. In isolated pockets of New York and New Jersey, and more panoramically in the entire region south of the Potomac, slavery was woven into the fabric of American society in ways that defied appeals to logic and morality. It also enjoyed the protection of one of the Revolution’s most potent legacies, the right to dispose of one’s property without arbitrary interference from others, especially when the others resided far away or claimed the authority of some distant government. There were, to be sure, radical implications latent in the ‘principles of ‘76’ capable of challenging privileged appeals to property rights, but the secret of their success lay in their latency – that is, the gradual and surreptitious ways they revealed their egalitarian implications over the course of the nineteenth century. If slavery’s cancerous growth was to be arrested and the dangerous malignancy removed, it demanded immediate surgery. The radical implications of the revolutionary legacy were no help at all so long as they remained only implications.
“The depth and apparent intractability of the problem became much clearer during the debates surrounding the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Although the final draft of the document was conspicuously silent on slavery, the subject itself haunted the closed-door debates. No less a source than Madison believed that slavery was the central cause of the most elemental division in the Constitutional Convention: ‘the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size,’ Madison observed, ‘but principally from their having or not having slaves… It did not lie between the large and small States: it lay between the Northern and Southern.’
“The delegates from New England and most of the Middle Atlantic states drew directly on the inspirational rhetoric of the revolutionary legacy to argue that slavery was inherently incompatible with the republican values on which the American Republic had been based. They wanted an immediate end to the slave trade, an explicit statement prohibiting the expansion of slavery into the western territories as a condition for admission into the union, and the adoption of a national plan for gradual emancipation analogous to those state plans already adopted in the North…
“The southern position might more accurately be described as ‘deep southern’, since it did not include Virginia. Its major advocates were South Carolina and Georgia, and the chief burden for making the case in the Constitutional Convention fell almost entirely on the South Carolina delegation. The underlying assumption of this position was most openly acknowledged by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina – namely, that ‘South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves’. What those from the Deep South wanted was open-ended access to African imports to stock their plantations. They also wanted equivalently open access to western lands, meaning no federal legislation restricting the property rights of slave owners…
“Neither side got what it wanted at Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitution contained no provision that committed the newly created federal government to a policy of gradual emancipation, or in any clear sense placed slavery on the road to ultimate extinction. On the other hand, the Constitution contained no provisions that specifically sanctioned slavery as a permanent and protected institution south of the Potomac or anywhere else. The distinguishing feature of the document when it came to slavery was its evasiveness. It was neither a ‘contract with abolition’ nor a ‘covenant with death’, but rather a prudent exercise in ambiguity. The circumlocutions required to place a chronological limit on the slave trade or to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation in the House, all without ever using the forbidden word, capture the intentionally elusive ethos of the Constitution. The underlying reason for this calculated orchestration of non-commitment was obvious: Any clear resolution of the slavery question one way or the other rendered ratification of the Constitution virtually impossible…”
Even Washington was silent about slavery when he came to make his retirement address in 1796. “His silence on the slavery question was strategic, believing as he did that slavery was a cancer on the body politic of America that could not at present be removed without killing the patient…” And with reason; for by 1790 the slave population was 700,000, up from about 500,000 in 1776. This, and the implicit threat that South Carolina and Georgia would secede from the Union if slavery were outlawed, made it clear that abolition was impractical as politics (but not on a personal level – Washington decreed in his will that all his slaves should be freed after his wife’s death). And so “the effort to make the Revolution truly complete seemed diametrically opposed to remaining a united nation.”
In order to understand how the French Revolution passed from its first, democratic and relatively non-violent phase to the second, proto-communistic and exceedingly bloody phase, it is necessary to study the history of the secret society known as the Illuminati. Illuminism arose as a kind of parasite feeding on the body of Masonry. Its appearance was preceded by an astonishing increase in the number of masonic lodges in France. Zamoyski writes that “there were 104 lodges in France in 1772, 198 by 1776, and a staggering 629 by 1789. Their membership included virtually every grandee, writer, artist, lawyer, soldier or other professional in the country, as well as notable foreigners such as Franklin and Jefferson – some 30,000 people.”
“Between 800 and 900 masonic lodges,” writes Doyle, “were founded in France between 1732 and 1793, two-thirds of them after 1760. Between 1773 and 1779 well over 20,000 members were recruited. Few towns of any consequence were without one or more lodges by the 1780s and, despite several papal condemnations of a deistic cult that had originated in Protestant England, the élite of society flocked to join. Voltaire was drafted in on his last visit to Paris, and it was before the assembled brethren of the Nine Sisters Lodge that he exchanged symbolic embraces with Franklin.”
Franklin, as we have seen, was an American mason, a famous scientist, and a major player in the American revolution in which French and Americans had co-operated in overthrowing British monarchical rule. The American revolution had demonstrated that the ideas of the philosophes were not just philosophical theory, but could be translated into reality. And the meeting of Franklin and Voltaire showed that science and philosophy could meet in the womb of Masonry to bring forth the common dream - liberty and “the pursuit of happiness”.
But just as the American Revolution was child’s play compared with the savagery and radicalism of the French Revolution, so these earlier masonic lodges and orders were innocent by comparison with the profound evil of Illuminism, which was founded on May 1, 1776 by a Bavarian professor called Weishaupt, who assumed the name of “Spartacus” (from the slave who rebelled against Rome in the first century BC). It appears to have arisen out of the dissatisfaction of a group of Masons with the general state of Masonry. Thus another founder member, the famous Count Mirabeau, noted in his Memoir in the same year of 1776: “The Lodge Theodore de Bon Conseil at Munich, where there were a few men with brains and hearts, was tired of being tossed about by the vain promises and quarrels of Masonry. The heads resolved to graft on to their branch another secret association to which they gave the name of the Order of the Illuminés. They modelled it on the Society of Jesus, whilst proposing to themselves diametrically opposed.”
“Our strength,” wrote Weishaupt, “lies in secrecy. Therefore we must without hesitation use as a cover some innocent societies. The lodges of blue masonry are a fitting veil to hide our real aims, since the world is accustomed to expecting nothing important or constructive from them. Their ceremonies are considered pretty trifles for the amusement of big children. The name of a learned society is also a magnificent mask behind which we can hide our lower degrees.”
“Weishaupt construced his organization on several levels, revealing his most radical plans only to his chosen co-workers. Weishaupt chose the members of his organization mainly amidst young people, carefully studying each candidature.
“Having sifted out the unreliable and dubious, the leaders of the order performed on the rest a rite of consecration, which took place after a three-day fast in a dark basement. Every candidate was consecrated separately, having first had his arms and legs bound. [Then] from various corners of the dark basement the most unexpected questions were showered upon the initiate.
“Having replied to the questions, he swore absolute obedience to the leaders of the order. Every new member signed that he would preserve the secrets of the organization under fear of the death penalty.
“However, the newcomer was not yet considered to be a full member of the organization, but received the status of novice and for one to three months had to be under the observation of an experienced illuminé. He was told to keep a special diary and regularly present it to the leaders. The novice filled in numerous questionnaires, and also prepared monthly accounts of all matters linking him with the order. Having passed through all the trials, the novice underwent a second initiation, now as a fully-fledged member.
“After his initiation the new member was given a distinguishing sign, gesture and password, which changed depending on the rank he occupied.
“The newcomer received a special pseudonym (order’s name), usually borrowed from ancient history…, and got to know an ancient Persian method of timekeeping, the geography of the order, and also a secret code.
“Weishaupt imposed into the order a system of global spying and mutual tailing.
“Most of the members were at the lowest level of the hierarchy.
“No less than a thousand people entered the organization, but for conspiratorial purposes each member knew only a few people. As Weishaupt himself noted, ‘directly under me there are to, who are completely inspired by me myself, while under each of them are two, etc. Thus I can stir up and put into motion a thousand people. This is how one must command and act in politics.”
“Do you realize sufficiently,” he wrote in the discourse of the reception of the Illuminatus Dirigens, “what it means to rule – to rule in a secret society? Not only over the lesser or more important of the populace, but over the best men, over men of all ranks, nations, and religions, to rule without external force, to unite them indissolubly, to breathe one spirit and soul into them, men distributed over all parts of the world?” 
The supposed aim of the new Order was to improve the present system of government and to abolish “the slavery of the peasants, the servitude of men to the soil, the rights of main morte and all the customs and privileges which abase humanity, the corvées under the condition of an equitable equivalent, all the corporations, all the maîtrises, all the burdens imposed on industry and commerce by customs, excise duties, and taxes… to procure a universal toleration for all religious opinions… to take away all the arms of superstitions, to favour the liberty of the press, etc.” This was almost exactly the same programme as that carried out by the Constituent Assembly at the beginning of the French revolution in 1789-91 under the leadership of, among others, the same Count Mirabeau – a remarkable coincidence!
However, this liberal democratic programme was soon forgotten when Weishaupt took over control of the Order. For “Spartacus” had elaborated a much more radical programme, a programme that was to resemble the socialism of the later, more radical stages of the revolution.
“Weishaupt had made into an absolute theory the misanthropic gibes [boutades] of Rousseau at the invention of property and society, and without taking into account the statement so distinctly formulated by Rousseau on the impossibility of suppressing property and society once they had been established, he proposed as the end of Illuminism the abolition of property, social authority, of nationality, and the return of the human race to the happy state in which it formed only a single family without artificial needs, without useless sciences, every father being priest and magistrate. Priest of we know not what religion, for in spite of their frequent invocations of the God of Nature, many indications lead us to conclude that Weishaupt had, like Diderot and d’Holbach, no other God than Nature herself…”
Weishaupt proceeded to create an inner secret circle concealed within Masonry. He used the religious forms of Masonry, and invented a few “mysteries” himself. But his aim was the foundation of a political secret organisation controlled by himself.
His political theory, according to Webster, was “no other than that of modern Anarchy, that man should govern himself and rulers should be gradually done away with. But he is careful to deprecate all ideas of violent revolution – the process is to be accomplished by the most peaceful methods. Let us see how gently he leads up to the final conclusion:
“’The first stage in the life of the whole human race is savagery, rough nature, in which the family is the only society, and hunger and thirst are easily satisfied… in which man enjoys the two most excellent goods, Equality and Liberty, to their fullest extent. … In these circumstances… health was his usual condition… Happy men, who were not yet enough enlightened to lose their peace of mind and to be conscious of the unhappy mainsprings and causes of our misery, love of power… envy… illnesses and all the results of imagination.’
“The manner in which man fell from this primitive state of felicity is then described:
“’As families increased, means of subsistence began to lack, the nomadic life ceased, property was instituted, men established themselves firmly, and through agriculture families drew near each other, thereby language developed and through living together men began to measure themselves against each other, etc… But here was the cause of the downfall of freedom; equality vanished. Man felt new unknown needs…’
“Thus men became dependent like minors under the guardianship of kings; the human must attain to majority and become self-governing:
“’Why should it be impossible that the human race should attain to its highest perfection, the capacity to guide itself? Why should anyone be eternally led who understands how to lead himself?’
“Further, men must learn not only to be independent of kings but of each other:
“’Who has need of another depends on him and has resigned his rights. So to need little is the first step to freedom; therefore savages and the most highly enlightened are perhaps the only free men. The art of more and more limiting one’s needs is at the same time the art of attaining freedom…’
“Weishaupt then goes on to show how the further evil of Patriotism arose:
“’With the origin of nations and peoples the world ceased to be a great family, a single kingdom: the great tie of nature was torn… Nationalism took the place of human love…. Now it became a virtue to magnify one’s fatherland at the expense of whoever was not enclosed within its limits, now as a means to this narrow end it was allowed to despise and outwit foreigners or indeed even to insult them. This virtue was called Patriotism…’
“And so by narrowing down affection to one’s fellow-citizens, the members of one’s own family, and even to oneself:
“’There arose out of Patriotism, Localism, the family spirit, and finally Egoism… Diminish Patriotism, then men will learn to know each other again as such, their dependence on each other will be lost, the bond of union will widen out…’
“… Whilst the ancient religions taught the hope of a Redeemer who should restore man to his former state, Weishaupt looks to man alone for his restoration. ‘Men,’ he observes, ‘no longer loved men but only such and such men. The word was quite lost…’ Thus in Weishaupt’s masonic system the ‘lost word’ is ‘Man,’ and its recovery is interpreted by the idea that Man should find himself again. Further on Weishaupt goes on to show how ‘the redemption of the human race is to be brought about’:
“’These means are secret schools of wisdom, these were from all time the archives of Nature and of human rights, through them will Man be saved from his Fall, princes and nations will disappear without violence from the earth, the human race will become one family and the world the abode of reasonable men. Morality alone will bring about this change imperceptibly. Every father of a family will be, as formerly Abraham and the patriarchs, the priest and unfettered lord of his family, and Reason will be the only code of Man. This is one of our greatest secrets…’
“… His first idea was to make Fire Worship the religion of Illuminism; the profession of Christianity therefore appears to have been an after-thought. Evidently Weishaupt discovered, as others have done, that Christianity lends itself more readily to subversive ideas than any other religion. And in the passages which follow we find adopting the old ruse of representing Christ as a Communist and as a secret-society adept. Thus he goes on to explain that ‘if Jesus preaches contempt of riches, He wishes to teach us the reasonable use of them and prepare for the community of goods introduced by Him,’ and in which, Weishaupt adds later, He lived with His disciples. But this secret doctrine is only to be apprehended by initiates…
“Weishaupt thus contrives to give a purely political interpretation to Christ’s teaching:
“’The secret preserved through the Disciplinam Arcani, and the aim appearing through all His words and deeds, is to give back to men their original liberty and equality… Now one can understand how far Jesus was the Redeemer and Saviour of the world.’
“The mission of Christ was therefore by means of Reason to make men capable of freedom: ‘When at last reason becomes the religion of man, so will the problem be solved.’
“Weishaupt goes on to show that Freemasonry can be interpreted in the same manner. The secret doctrine concealed in the teaching of Christ was handed down by initiates who ‘hid themselves and their doctrine under the cover of Freemasonry,’ and in a long explanation of Masonic hieroglyphics he indicates the analogies between the Hiramic legend and the story of Christ. ‘I say then Hiram is Christ.’… In this manner Weishaupt demonstrates that ‘Freemasonry is hidden Christianity… But this is of course only the secret of what Weishaupt calls ‘real Freemasonry’ in contradistinction to the official kind, which he regards as totally unenlightened.”
But the whole of this religious side of Weishaupt’s system is in fact simply a ruse, a cover, by which to attract religious men. Weishaupt himself despised religion: “You cannot imagine,” he wrote, “what consideration and sensation our Priest’s degree is arousing. The most wonderful thing is that great Protestant and reformed theologians who belong to Q [Illuminism] still believe that the religious teaching imparted in it contains the true and genuine spirit of the Christian religion. Oh! men, of what cannot you be persuaded? I never thought that I should become the founder of a new religion.”
Only gradually, and only to a very few of his closest associates, did Weishaupt reveal the real purpose of his order – the revolutionary overthrow of the whole of society, civil and religious. Elements of all religions and philosophical systems, including Christianity and Masonry, were used by Weishaupt to enrol a body of influential men (about 2500 at one time) who would obey him in all things while knowing neither him personally nor the real aims of the secret society they had been initiated into. The pyramidal structure of his organization, whereby nobody on a lower level knew what was happening on the one above his, while those on the higher levels knew everything about what was happening below them, was copied by all succeeding revolutionary organizations.
Weishaupt was well on the way to taking over Freemasonry (under the guise of its reform) when, in July, 1785, an Illuminatus was struck by lightning and papers found on him led to the Bavarian government banning the organisation. However, both Illuminism and Weishaupt continued in existence – only France rather than Germany became the centre of their operations. Thus the Parisian lodge of the Amis Réunis, renamed the Ennemis Réunis, gathered together all the really radical Masons from various other lodges, many of which were still royalist, and turned them, often unconsciously, into agents of Weishaupt. These adepts included no less than thirty princes. For it was characteristic of the revolution that among those who were most swept up by the madness of its intoxication were those who stood to lose most from it.
Some far-sighted men, such as the Apostolic Nuncio in Vienna and the Marquis de Luchet, warned against Illuminism, and de Luchet predicted almost exactly the course of events that the revolution would take on the basis of his knowledge of the order. But no one paid any attention. But then, in October, 1789 a pamphlet was seized in the house of the wife of Mirabeau’s publisher among Mirabeau’s papers and published two years later.
“Beginning with a diatribe against the French monarchy,” writes Webster, “the document goes on to say that ‘in order to triumph over this hydra-headed monster these are my ideas’:
“’We must overthrow all order, suppress all laws, annul all power, and leave the people in anarchy. The law we establish will not perhaps be in force at once, but at any rate, having given back the power to the people, they will resist for the sake of the liberty which they will believe they are preserving. We must caress their vanity, flatter their hopes, promise them happiness after our work has been in operation; we must elude their caprices and their systems at will, for the people as legislators are very dangerous, they only establish laws which coincide with their passions, their want of knowledge would besides only give birth to abuses. But as the people are a lever which legislators can move at their will, we must necessarily use them as a support, and render hateful to them everything we wish to destroy and sow illusions in their path; we must also buy all the mercenary pens which propagate our methods and which will instruct the people concerning their enemies which we attack. The clergy, being the most powerful through public opinion, can only be destroyed by ridiculing religion, rendering its ministers odious, and only representing them as hypocritical monsters… Libels must at every moment show fresh traces of hatred against the clergy. To exaggerate their riches, to makes the sins of an individual appear to be common to all, to attribute to them all vices; calumny, murder, irreligion, sacrilege, all is permitted in times of revolution.’
“’We must degrade the noblesse and attribute it to an odious origin, establish a germ of equality which can never exist but which will flatter the people; [we must] immolate the most obstinate, burn and destroy their property in order to intimidate the rest, so that if we cannot entirely destroy this prejudice we can weaken it and the people will avenge their vanity and their jealousy by all the excesses which will bring them to submission.’
“After describing how the soldiers are to be seduced from their allegiance, and the magistrates represented to the people as despots, ‘since the people, brutal and ignorant, only see the evil and never the good of things,’ the writer explains they must be given only limited power in the municipalities.
“’Let us beware above all of giving them too much force; their despotism is too dangerous, we must flatter the people by gratuitous justice, promise them a great diminution in taxes and a more equal division, more extension in fortunes, and less humiliation. These phantasies [vertiges] will fanaticise the people, who will flatten out all resistance. What matter the victims and their numbers? Spoliations, destructions, burnings, and all the necessary effects of a revolution? Nothing must be sacred and we can say with Machiavelli: “What matter the means as long as one arrives at the end?”’”
The early phase of the revolution appears to have been driven by the more idealistic kind of Freemasons – men such as the Duc d’Orléans. But its later stages were controlled by the Illuminati with their more radically destructive plans. Thus “according to Lombard de Langres [writing in 1820]: ’France in 1789 counted more than 2,000 lodges affiliated to the Grand Orient; the number of adepts was more than 100,000. The first events of 1789 were only Masonry in action. All the revolutionaries of the Constituent Assembly were initiated into the third degree. We place in this class the Duc d’Orléans, Valence, Syllery, Laclos, Sièyes, Pétion, Menou, Biron, Montesquiou, Fauchet, Condorcet, Lafayette, Mirabeau, Garat, Rabaud, Dubois-Crancé, Thiébaud, Larochefoucauld, and others.’
“Amongst these others [continues Webster] were not only the Brissotins, who formed the nucleus of the Girondin party, but the men of the Terror – Marat, Robespierre, Danton, and Desmoulins.
“It was these fiercer elements, true disciples of the Illuminati, who were to sweep away the visionary Masons dreaming of equality and brotherhood. Following the precedent set by Weishaupt, classical pseudonyms were adopted by these leaders of the Jacobins, thus Chaumette was known as Anaxagoras, Clootz as Anacharsis, Danton as Horace, Lacroix as Publicola, and Ronsin as Scaevola; again, after the manner of the Illuminati, the names of towns were changed and a revolutionary calendar was adopted. The red cap and loose hair affected by the Jacobins appear also to have been foreshadowed in the lodges of the Illuminati.
“Yet faithfully as the Terrorists carried out the plan of the Illuminati, it would seem that they themselves were not initiated into the innermost secrets of the conspiracy. Behind the Convention, behind the clubs, behind the Revolutionary Tribunal, there existed, says Lombard de Langres, that ‘most secret convention [convention sécrétissime] which directed everything after May 31, an occult and terrible power of which the other Convention became the slave and which was composed of the prime initiates of Illuminism. This power was above Robespierre and the committees of the government,… it was this occult power which appropriated to itself the treasures of the nation and distributed them to the brothers and friends who had helped on the great work.’”
Illuminism represents perhaps the first clearly organised expression of that philosophy which Hieromonk Seraphim Rose called “the Nihilism of Destruction”. Fr. Seraphim considered that this philosophy was unique to the twentieth century; but the evidence for its existence already in the eighteenth century is overwhelming. With Illuminism, therefore, we enter the atmosphere of the twentieth-century totalitarian revolutions....
The French Revolution: (2) The Jacobin Terror
In June, 1791 Louis XVI tried, unsuccessfully, to flee abroad, and in August the monarchs of Austria and Prussia met at Pillnitz to co-ordinate action against the Revolution. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Catherine of Russia also prepared to crush the “orang-outangs of Europe”. From the summer of 1791 to the summer of 1792 power steadily slipped away from the elected Constituent Assembly, which was still broadly in favour of a constitutional monarchy, and into the hands of the mob, or the Paris Commune. Their passionate hatred of refractory priests and monarchists inside the country was inflamed by the first attempts of the foreign powers to invade France and restore legitimate authority from outside.
The rhetoric became increasingly bloody. Thus on April 25, 1792 the “Marseillaise” was composed for the army of the Rhine; “impure blood, it exulted, would drench the tracks of the conquering French armies.” And on the same day the new invention of the Guillotine claimed its first victim…
On June 20 the mob or sansculottes (without breeches), invaded the Tuileries. “By sheer weight of numbers,” writes Zamoyski, “the crowd pushed through the gates of the royal palace and came face to face with Louis XVI in one of the upstairs salons, where the defenceless monarch had to endure the abuse of the mob. Pistols and drawn sabres were waved in his face, and he was threatened with death. More significantly, he was made to don a red cap [symbol of the revolution] and drink the health of the nation – and thereby to acknowledge its sovereignty. By acquiescing, he toasted himself off the throne.”
For a brief moment, on July 14, the third anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, it looked as if constitutional monarchy could be saved. Louis was called “king of the French” and “father of his country”. But on the same day Marie Antoinette’s nephew, Francis II, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Frankfurt in a ceremony that reaffirmed with great splendour the principle of autocratic monarchy. Between the revolution celebrated in France and the autocracy celebrated in Germany there could be no permanent compromise. The centre, constitutional monarchy, could not hold…
Pressure mounted on the Assembly to declare the dethronement of the king. Finally, on August 10, the Tuileries was again invaded, 600 Swiss guards were brutally massacred, and the king was imprisoned. The Assembly “had little alternative but to ‘invite’ the French people to form a convention ‘to assure the sovereignty of the people and the reign of liberty and equality. The next day it decreed that the new assembly was to be elected by manhood suffrage, without distinction between citizens. Only servants and the unemployed had no vote.”
Paris was ruled by the mob now. In September the prisons were opened and suspected royalists were slaughtered. On September 20 the Prussian army was defeated at Valmy, and the next day the monarchy was officially abolished.
The newly elected Convention’s task was to legislate for a new republican Constitution. It was divided between “Montagnards” (Jacobins) on the left, led by Marat, Danton, Robespierre and the Parisian delegates, and the “Girondins” on the right, led by Brissot, Vergniaud and the “faction of the Gironde”. The Montagnards were identified with the interests of the Paris mob and the most radical ideas of the Revolution; the Girondins – with the interests of the provinces and the original liberal ideals of 1789. The Montagnards stood for disposing of the king as soon as possible; the Girondins wanted a referendum of the whole people to decide.
The Montagnard Saint-Just said that a trial was unnecessary; the people had already judged the king on August 10; it remained only to punish him. For “there is no innocent reign… every King is a rebel and a usurper.” Robespierre had voted against the death penalty in the Assembly, but now he said that “Louis must die that the country may love”. And he agreed with Saint-Just: “Louis cannot be judged, he has already been judged. He has been condemned, or else the Republic is not blameless. To suggest putting Louis XVI on trial, in whatever way, is a step back towards royal and constitutional despotism; it is a counter-revolutionary idea; because it puts the Revolution itself in the dock. After all, if Louis can still be put on trial, Louis can be acquitted; he might be innocent. Or rather, he is presumed to be until he is found guilty. But if Louis can be presumed innocent, what becomes of the Revolution?”
There was a certain logic in these words: since the Revolution undermined all the foundations of the ancien régime, the possibility that the head of that régime might be innocent implied that the Revolution might be guilty. So “revolutionary justice” required straight execution rather than a trial; it could not afford to question the foundations of the Revolution itself. It was the same logic that led to the execution without trial of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917.
But the majority of the deputies were not yet as “advanced” in their thinking as Robespierre. So “during the third week of January 1793,” writes Ridley, “the Convention voted four times on the issue. A resolution finding Louis guilty of treason, and rejecting the idea of an appeal to the people by a plebiscite [so much for Rousseauist democracy!], was carried by 426 votes to 278; the decision to impose the death penalty was carried by 387 to 314. Philippe Egalité [the Duke of Orléans and cousin of the king who became Grand Master of the Masons, then a Jacobin, renouncing his title for the name ‘Philippe Egalité’] voted to convict Louis and for the death penalty. A deputy then proposed that the question of what to do with Louis should be postponed indefinitely. This was defeated by 361 to 360, a single vote. Philippe Egalité voted against the proposal, so his vote decided the issue. On 20 January a resolution that the death sentence should be immediately carried out was passed by 380 to 310, and Louis was guillotined the next day.”
After the execution a huge old man with a long beard who had been prominent in the murdering of priests during the September riots mounted the scaffold, plunged both hands into the kind’s blood and sprinkled the people with it, shouting: “People of France! I baptise you in the name of Jacob and Freedom!”
“Traditionally,” writes Zamoyski, “the death of a king of France was announced with the phrase: ‘Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!’, in order to stress the continuity of the institution of monarchy. When the king’s head, was held aloft on that sunless day, the crowd assembled around the scaffold shouted: ‘Vive la Nation!’ The message was unequivocal. The nation had replaced the king as the sovereign and therefore as the validating element in the state. The dead king’s God had been superseded by ‘Our Lord Mankind’, to use the words of one prominent revolutionary.”
“The condemnation of the king,” wrote Camus, “is the crux of contemporary history. It symbolizes the secularization of our history and the disincarnation of the Christian God. Up to now, God played a part in history through the medium of kings. But His representative in history has been killed…”
The execution of the king was the signal for the abandonment of all restraint. The cause of the Revolution became the absolute value to which every other value was to be subordinated and sacrificed. In February, 1793, after the British broke off relations because of the execution of the king, the Convention declared war on the British and the Dutch, and in effect “bade defiance to the whole of Europe. ‘They threaten you with kings!’ roared Danton to the Convention. ‘You have thrown down your gauntlet to them, and this gauntlet is a king’s head, the signal of their coming death.’ ‘We cannot be calm,’ claimed the ever-bombastic Brissot, ‘until Europe, all Europe, is in flames.’ In token of this defiance, annexations were now vigorously pursued…” No matter that the Declaration of the Rights of Man had declared for the freedom of every nation: revolutionary casuistry interpreted sovereignty to be the right only of revolutionary nations; all others deserved to become slaves of the Republic.
Moreover, on December 15, 1792 “generals were authorized in all occupied territories to introduce the full social programme of the French Republic. All existing taxes, tithes, feudal dues, and servitudes were to be abolished. So was nobility, and all types of privilege. The French motto would be, declared some deputies, War on the castles, peace to the cottages! In the name of peace, help, fraternity, liberty and equality, they would assist all people to establish ‘free and popular’ governments, with whom they would then co-operate.”
But practice did not match theory: the theory of cosmopolitan universalism too often gave way to the practice of imperialist nationalism. Thus when Holland was conquered by the revolutionary armies, “it was compelled to cede various southern territories, including control of the mouth of the Scheldt, and pay for the upkeep of a French occupying army of 25,000 men. Finally, it was forced to conclude an alliance with the French Republic whose chief attraction was to place the supposedly formidable Dutch navy in the balance against Great Britain. This, then, was what the fraternity and help of the French Republic actually meant: total subordination to French needs and purposes.”
Imperialism abroad was matched by despotism at home, forced conscription and crippling taxes. And now for the first time there was massive resistance. First came the peasant counter-revolution in the western regions of Brittany and the Vendée, which was crushed with great cruelty with the loss of about 250,000 lives, about ten times more than were claimed by the guillotine. At about the same time the revolutionary army under Dumouriez was defeated by the Austrians at Neerwinden. Dumouriez then changed sides, and it was only the army’s refusal to co-operate that prevented him from marching on Paris to restore the constitution of 1791 with Louis XVII as king.
The peasant revolt in the Vendée was by far the most serious and prolonged that the revolutionaries had to face, and it is significant that it was fought under the banner of the restoration of the king and the Church. The rebels wore “sacred hearts, crosses, and the white cockade of royalism. ‘Long live the king and our good priests,’ was their cry. ‘We want our king, our priests and the old regime.’”
However, the counter-revolution in other parts of the country, and especially among the bourgeoisie of such large cities as Marseilles, Lyons and Bourdeaux, was less principled and therefore much less effective. As one general reported of the Bordelais: “They appeared to me determined not to involve themselves in Parisian affairs, but more determined still to retain their liberty, their property, their opulence… They don’t want a king: they want a republic, but a rich and tranquil republic.”
This difference in motivation between different parts of the counter-revolution, and the failure of many of its leaders to condemn the revolution in toto and as such, and not just some of its wilder excesses, doomed it to failure in the long term. As long as the revolutionaries held the centre, and were able to use the methods of terror and mass conscription to send large armies into the field against their enemies, the advantage lay with them. And their position was strengthened still further by the coup against the Girondist deputies carried out between May 31 and June 2, 1793.
“In July 1793,” writes Ridley, “a young Girondin woman, Charlotte Corday, gained admission to Marat’s house by pretending that she wished to give him a list of names of Girondins to be guillotined. She found him sitting as usual in his bath to cure his skin disease, and she stabbed him to death. She was guillotined, and the Girondin party was suppressed.
“In Lyons, the Girondins had gained control of the Freemasons’ lodges. In the summer of 1793 the Girondins there defied the authority of the Jacobin government in Paris, and guillotined one of the local Jacobin leaders. The Lyons Freemasons played a leading part in the rising against the Paris Jacobins; but the Jacobins suppressed the revolt, and several of the leading Girondin Freemasons of Lyons were guillotined.”
And so the Revolution was frenziedly devouring its own children. Or rather, the Masons were devouring their own brothers; for the struggle between the Girondists and the Montagnards was in fact, according to Lev Tikhomirov, a struggle between different layers of Masonry. “However, in the period of the terror the majority of Masonic lodges were closed. As Louis Blanc explains, a significant number of Masons, though extremely liberal-minded, could still not, in accordance with their personal interests, character and public position, sympathise with the incitement of the maddened masses against the rich, to whom they themselves belonged. In the hottest battle of the revolution it was those who split off into the highest degrees who acted. The Masonic lodges were replaced by political clubs, although in the political clubs, too, there began a sifting of the revolutionaries into the more moderate and the extremists, so that quite a few Masons perished on the scaffolds from the hands of their ‘brothers’. After the overthrow of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor the Masonic lodges were again opened.”
Now the Terror went into overdrive. The guillotine was used to eliminate traitors, backsliders, suspects, speculators and “egoists”. “The spirit of moderation,” declared Leclerc, needed to be expunged.
On September 17 a comprehensive Law of Suspects was passed, which empowered watch committees “to arrest anyone who ‘either by their conduct, their contacts, their words or their writings, showed themselves to be supporters of tyranny, of federalism, or to be enemies of liberty’, as well as a number of more specific categories such as former nobles ‘who have not constantly manifested their attachment to the revolution.’ Practically anybody might fall foul of such a sweeping law. In the weeks following even everyday speech acquired a sansculotte style. Those who refused to call each other ‘citizen’ rather than the deferential ‘Monsieur’, and to use the familiar form of address (tutoiement), fell under automatic suspicion. Then on 29 September the Convention passed a General Maximum Law which imposed price controls on a wide range of goods defined as of first necessity from food and drink to fuel, clothing, and even tobacco. Those who sold them above the maximum would be fined and placed on the list of suspects. The Revolutionary Army was at last set on foot…”
The Committee of Public Safety now took over control of the government, subject only to the oversight of the Convention. This anti-democratic move was said to be temporary and justified by the emergency situation. “It is impossible,” said Saint-Just in the Committee’s name, “for revolutionary laws to be executed if the government itself is not constituted in a revolutionary way.”
The revolutionary government now took terrible revenge on its defeated enemies. On October 12 the Committee “moved a decree that Lyons should be destroyed. Its very name was to disappear, except on a monument among the ruins which would proclaim ‘Lyons made war on Liberty. Lyons is no more.’” Lyons was not completely destroyed, but whole ranges of houses were burnt and thousands were guillotined and shot. “The effect… was designed to be a salutory one. ‘What cement for the Revolution,’ gloated Achard in a letter to Paris.”
In order to carry out its totalitarian programme of control of the whole population, the government issued “certificates of civisme – identity cards and testimonials of public reliability all in one. Originally only foreigners had been required to carry these documents, but the Law of Suspects made the requirement general [thereby showing that for the revolutionary government all citizens were aliens]. Those without them were liable to arrest and imprisonment; and in fact up to half a million people may have been imprisoned as suspects of one sort or another during the Terror. Up to 10,000 may have died in custody, crowded into prisons never intended for such numbers, or makeshift quarters no better equipped. These too deserve to be numbered among the victims of the Terror, although not formally condemned. So do those who were murdered or lynched without trial or official record during the chaotic, violent autumn of 1793, when the supreme law of public safety seemed to override more conventional and cumbersome procedures. Altogether the true total of those who died under the Terror may have been twice the official figure – around 30,000 people in just under a year… Nor is it true that most of those killed in the Terror were members of the former ‘privileged orders’, whatever the Revolution’s anti-aristocratic rhetoric might suggest. Of the official death sentences passed, less than 9 per cent fell upon nobles, and less than 7 per cent on the clergy. Disproportionately high as these figures may have been relative to the numbers of these groups in the population as a whole, they were not as high as the quarter of the Terror’s victims who came from the middle classes. And the vast majority of those who lost their lives in the proscriptions of 1793-4 – two-thirds of those officially condemned and doubtless a far higher proportion of those who disappeared unofficially – were ordinary people caught up in tragic circumstances not of their own making, who made wrong choices in lethal times, when indifference itself counted as a crime.”
The incarnation of the revolution in this, its bloodiest phase was the lawyer Maximilien Robespierre. Uniting in his own person the despotism of Louis XIV and the freedom-worship of Rousseau, he said: “I am not a flatterer, a conciliator, an orator, a protector of the people; I myself am the people.” Again, uniting opposites in thoroughly Hegelian fashion, he said: “The impulse behind the people’s revolutionary government is virtue and terror: virtue without which terror is pernicious; terror without which virtue is impotent… The government of the Revolution is the despotism of liberty over tyranny…”
As the Girondin Manon Roland said just before his execution: “Oh, Liberty! How many crimes are committed in thy name!”
The institution which suffered most in the years 1789-91 was the Catholic Church. It lost its feudal dues in August and its lands in October, 1789. In February, 1790 all monasteries and convents, except those devoted to educational and charitable work, were dissolved, and new religious vows were forbidden. The Assembly then “replaced the 135 bishops with 85, one for each départment, and provided one curé for every 6,000 inhabitants. Bishops were henceforth to be elected (by an electorate including non-believers, Protestants and Jews) without reference to Rome.”
The weakened position of the Church encouraged the Protestants, and in June 300 died in clashes between Catholics and Protestants in Nîmes. Meanwhile, 150,000 papal subjects living in Avignon and the Comtat agitated for integration with France. Pope Pius VI rejected this, and on March 29 he also rejected the Declaration of the Rights of Man and all the religious legislation so far passed in the Assembly. On July 12 a Civil Constitution for the Clergy was passed, rationalising the Church’s organisation, putting all the clergy on the State’s pay-roll and decreeing the election of the clergy by lay assemblies who might included Protestants and Jews as well as Catholics. The Pope had already, on July 10, pleaded with the King to veto the Civil Constitution, but the king, advised by weak bishops, had already given his preliminary sanction.
With the Pope against the Civil Constitution, its acceptance or rejection became a test of faith for Catholics. As opinion polarised, on October 30 thirty bishops from the Assembly signed an Exposition of Principles, explaining that, as Doyle writes, “they could not connive at such radical changes without consulting the Church through either a council or the Pope. Nevertheless patriots saw it as an incitement to disobey the law, and local authorities, clamorously supported by Jacobin clubs, began to enforce it. Bishops began to be expelled from suppressed sees; chapters were dissolved. In October and early November the first departmental bishops were elected. But this time the clergy did not meekly accept its fate. There were protests. ‘I can no more’, declared the incumbent of the doomed see of Senez, ‘renounce the spiritual contract which binds me to my Church than I can renounce the promises of my baptism… I belong to my flock in life and in death… If God wishes to test his own, the eighteenth century, like the first century, will have its martyrs.’ The first elected bishop, the deputy Expilly, who was chosen by the Finistère department, was refused confirmation by the archbishop of Rennes. In Soissons, the bishop was dismissed by the departmental authorities for denouncing the Civil Constitution. It was impossible to dismiss all the 104 priests of Nantes who did the same, but their salaries were stopped. Evidently there was to be no peaceful transition to a new ecclesiastical order, and indignant local authorities bombarded the Assembly with demands for action. Eventually, on 27 November, action was taken. The deputies decided, after two days of bitter debate, to dismiss at once all clerics who did not accept the new order unequivocally. And to test this acceptance they imposed an oath. All beneficed clergy were to swear after mass on the first available Sunday ‘to be faithful to the nation, the King and the law, and to uphold with all their power the constitution declared by the National Assembly and accepted by the king.’ All who refused were to be replaced at once through the procedures laid down in the Civil Constitution.
“The French Revolution had many turning-points: but the oath of the clergy was, if not the greatest, unquestionably one of them. It was certainly the Constituent Assembly’s most serious mistake. For the first time the revolutionaries forced fellow citizens to choose; to declare themselves publicly for or against the new order… With no word from Rome, the king sanctioned the new decree of 26 December, so that oath-taking (or refusal) dominated public life throughout the country in January and February 1791. The clergy in the Assembly themselves set the pattern, in that they were completely divided. Only 109 took the oath, and only two bishops, one of them Talleyrand. As the deadline approached on 4 January the Assembly was surrounded by crowds shouting for nonjurors to be lynched; and the patriots, led unpersuasively by the Protestant Barnave, used every possible argument and procedural ploy to sway waverers. But there were none. And faced with this example from the majority of clerical deputies, it is little wonder that so many clerics in the country at large became refractories (as nonjurors were soon being called)… Above all, there was a massive refusal of the oath throughout the west…In the end, about 54 per cent of the parish clergy took the oath. This suggests that well over a third of the country was now prepared to signal that the Revolution had gone far enough…”
There is a bitter irony in these events. How often, since 1066 and the Investitures Conflict, had Popes bent western kings to their evil will! However, as present events now demonstrated, these were pyrrhic victories, which, in weakening the Monarchy, ultimately weakened the Church, too, in that Church and Monarchy are the two essential pillars of every Christian society. Right up to the Reformation the Popes had failed to understand that attacks on the throne were also attacks on the altar, and that an accusation of “royal despotism” would almost invariably be linked with one of “episcopal despotism”. The Counter-Reformation Popes were more careful to respect monarchical authority, and Louis XIV’s abrupt about-turn from Gallicanism to Ultramontanism witnessed to their continuing influence. But the constant political intrigues of the papal society of the Jesuits, which made them a kind of “state within the state”, led to their being banned by all the governments of Western Europe - a severe blow from which the power of the Popes never fully recovered and which was an important condition of the success of the revolution. The Masons and even more radical groups like the “Illuminati” (see below) were quick to take the place of the Jesuits as the main threat to established authority, while using the Jesuits’ methods. And now, at the end of the eighteenth century, when papism was in full retreat before the onslaught of enlightened despots like Joseph II and revolutionary democrats like the French National Assembly, and the Popes were desperately in need of the support of “Most Catholic Kings” such as Louis XVI, they paid the price for centuries of papal anti-monarchism. Indeed, since it was Papism that destroyed the Orthodox symphony of powers, and thereby created the conditions for the revolution, there was some sense in Catherine II’s suggestion that the European powers “embrace the Greek religion to save themselves from this immoral, anarchic, wicked and diabolical plague…”
In its second, Jacobin phase the revolution revealed its anti-Christian essence most clearly. Thus at the funeral of Marat in July, 1793, the following eulogy was given: “O heart of Marat, sacré coeur… can the works and benevolence of the son of Mary be compared with those of the Friend of the People and his apostles to the Jacobins of our holy Mountain?… Their Jesus was but a false prophet but Marat is a god…”
The revolution was in essence anti-Christian because it came to provide a new faith instead of Christianity: the cult of the nation. Let us recall the earlier stages in the rise of the cult of the nation: the oath to the nation that Rousseau provided for Napoleon’s native Corsica; the speech of the Polish marshal, Josef Pulaski at Bar in 1768, when he said: “We are to die so that the motherland may live; for while we live the motherland is dying”; the birth of the American nation in 1776; the abortive Irish revolution of 1783; the abortive Dutch revolution of 1785, which declared liberty the “inalienable right” of every citizen, and whose “Leiden draft” declared: “the Sovereign is no other than the vote of the people”.
But these were merely dress-rehearsals for the full emergence of the new nationalist faith, whose foundation stone, as we have seen, was the third of the Rights of Man declared by the French National Assembly on August 26, 1789: “The principle of all sovereignty lies in the nation. No body of men, and no individual, can exercise authority which does not emanate directly therefrom.”
It should be understood that this was not simply an expression of patriotism, but precisely a new faith to replace all existing faiths. For “the nation, as Abbé Siéyès put it, recognized no interest on earth above its own, and accepted no law or authority other than its own – neither that of humanity at large nor of other nations” – nor, it goes without saying, of God. The nation therefore stood in the place of God; in the strict sense of the word, it was an idol. So Hobsbawm rightly comments: “’The people’ identified with ‘the nation’ was a revolutionary concept; more revolutionary than the bourgeois-liberal programme which purported to express it.”
But what precisely was the nation, and how was it revealed? To this question the most revolutionary of the philosophes and the prophet of nationalism, Rousseau, had provided the answer. The nation, he said, is revealed in the general will, which was not to be identified with the will of any individual, such as the king, or group, such as a parliamentary majority, but only in some spontaneous, mystical upswelling of emotion that carried all before it and was not to be questioned or criticised by any rational considerations. It was a “holy madness”, to use Lafayette’s phrase.
“’He who would dare to undertake to establish a nation would have to feel himself capable of altering, so to speak, human nature, to transform each individual, who by his very nature is a unique and perfect whole, into a mere part of a greater whole, from which this individual would in a sense receive his life and his being,’ Rousseau had written. He understood that any polity, however logical, simple, elegant, poetic or modern, would be inadequate to replace the layered sacrality of something like the Crown of France and the whole theological and mythical charge of the Catholic Church. Human emotions needed something richer to feed on than a mere ‘system’ if they were to be engaged. And engaged they must be, for if one removed religious control of social behaviour and the monarch’s role as ultimate arbiter, the very fount-head of civil sanction would dry up. Something had to be put in their place. The question was ultimately how to induce people to be good in a godless society.
“As it was the people themselves who gave the state its legitimacy, it was they who had to be invested with divinity. The monarch would be replaced by a disembodied sovereign in the shape of the nation, which all citizens must be taught to ‘adore’. ‘It is education that must give to the souls of men the national form, and so direct their thoughts and their tastes, that they will be patriotic by inclination, by passion, by necessity,’ Rousseau explained. This education included not only teaching but also sport and public ceremonies designed to inculcate the desired values. ‘From the excitement caused by this common emulation will be born that patriotic intoxication which alone can elevate men above themselves, and without which liberty is no more than an empty word and legislation but an illusion.’
“A precondition of this was the the total elimination of Christianity. Being a sentimental person, Rousseau could not remain entirely unmoved by what he saw as the ‘sublime’ core of Christianity. But the existence of a morally independent religion alongside the civil institutions was bound to be destructive. ‘Far from binding the hearts of the citizens to the state, it detaches them from it, as from all earthly things,’ he writes: ‘I can think of nothing more contrary to the social spirit.’ It forced on people ‘two sets of laws, two leaders, two motherlands’, subjecting them to ‘contradictory duties’ and preventing them from being ‘both devout practitioners and good citizens’. Christianity demanded self-denial and submission, but only to God, and not to any creation of Man’s. A Christian’s soul could not be fused with the ‘collective soul’ of the nation, challenging the very basis of Rousseau’s proposition. His assertion that ‘a man is virtuous when his particular will is in accordance in every respect with the general will’, was heresy in Christian terms, according to which virtue consists in doing the will of God. There was no room for someone whose ultimate loyalty was to God in Rousseau’s model, which substituted the nation for God.”
Zamoyski continues: “Anthropologically visualized as a universal ideal female, the nation kindled desire for selfless sacrifice in its cause, and that was the great strength of the French revolution. ‘Since it appeared to be more concerned with the regeneration of the human race than with reforming France, it aroused feelings that no political revolutions had hitherto managed to inspire,’ explained Tocqueville. ‘It inspired proselytism and gave birth to the propagande,’ he continued, and, ‘like Islam, flooded the whole world with its soldiers, its apostles and its martyrs.’”
A programme known as de-christianization was now launched. The calendar and festivals of the old religion were replaced by those of the new, civic religion of the nation. Thus July 14, August 10, January 21 (the day of the execution of Louis XVI) and May 31 (the day of the establishment of the Jacobin tyranny) were commanded to be celebrated as feast-days.
Bamber Gascoigne writes: “August 10th was the first anniversary of the day on which the Paris mob had stormed the Tuileries and had put an effective end to the monarchy. The occasion was celebrated with a Festival of Regeneration, also known by the even more uninspiring name of Festival of the Unity and Indivisibility of the Republic. Among the ruins of the Bastille Jacques-Louis David had built a huge figure of a seated woman. She was Mother Nature. From her breasts there spurted two jets of water, at which delegates filled their cups and drank libations. Three months later there was a Festival of Reason, in which an actress from the opera played the Goddess of Reason and was enthroned in the cathedral of Notre-Dame – with the red bonnet of Liberty on her head and a crucifix beneath one of her elegant feet.”
All the churches in Paris were closed, and the royal tombs were destroyed. Then there arrived in the Nièvre in September, 1793 the representative Fouché, who “transformed it into a beacon of religious terror. Fouché, himself a former priest, came from the Vendée, where he had witnessed the ability of the clergy to inspire fanatical resistance to the Revolution’s authority. Christianity, he concluded, could not coexist in any form with the Revolution and, brushing aside what was left of the ‘constitutional’ Church, he inaugurated a civic religion of his own devising with a ‘Feast of Brutus’ on 22 September at which he denounced ‘religious sophistry’. Fouché particularly deplored clerical celibacy: it set the clergy apart, and in any case made no contribution to society’s need for children. Clerics who refused to marry were ordered to adopt and support orphans or aged citizens. The French people, Fouché declared in a manifesto published on 10 October, recognized no other cult but that of universal morality; and although the exercise of all creeds was proclaimed to be free and equal, none might henceforth be practised in public. Graveyards should exhibit no religious symbols, and at the gate of each would be an inscription Death is an eternal sleep. Thus began the movement known as dechristianization. Soon afterwards Fouché moved on to Lyons; but during his weeks in Nevers his work had been watched by Chaumette, visiting his native town from Paris. He was to carry the idea back to the capital, where it was energetically taken up by his colleagues at the commune.
“Other representatives on mission, meanwhile, had also taken to attacking the outward manifestations of the Catholic religion. At Abbeville, on the edge of priest-ridden Flanders, Dumont favoured forced public abjuration of orders, preferably by constitutional clergy whose continued loyalty to the Revolution could only now be proved by such gestures. On October 7 in Rheims, Ruhl personally supervised the smashing of the phial holding the sacred oil of Clovis used to anoint French kings. None of this was authorized by the Convention: on the other hand the adoption on 5 October of a new republican calendar marked a further stage in the divorce between the French State and any sort of religion. Years would no longer be numbered from the birth of Christ, but from the inauguration of the French Republic on 22 September 1792. Thus it was already the Year II. There would be twelve thirty-day months with evocative, seasonal names; each month would have three ten-day weeks (décades) ending in a rest-day (décadi). Sundays therefore disappeared and could not be observed unless they coincided with the less-frequent décadis. The introduction of the system at this moment only encouraged representatives on mission to intensify their lead; and dechristianization became an important feature of the Terror in all the former centres of rebellion when they were brought to heel. Once launched it was eminently democratic. Anybody could join in smashing images, vandalizing churches (the very word was coined to describe this outburst of iconoclasm), and theft of vestments to wear in blasphemous mock ceremonies. Those needing pretexts could preach national necessity when they tore down bells or walked off with plate that could be recast into guns or coinage. Such activities were particular favourites among the Revolutionary Armies. The Parisian detachments marching to Lyons left a trail of pillaged and closed churches, and smouldering bonfires of ornaments, vestments, and holy pictures all along their route. Other contributions took more organization, but Jacobin clubs and popular societies, not to mention local authorities, were quite happy to orchestrate festivals of reason, harmony, wisdom, and other such worthy attributes to former churches; and to recruit parties of priests who, at climactic moments in these ceremonies, would renounce their vows and declare themselves ready to marry. If their choice fell on a former nun, so much the better.
“When Chaumetter returned from Nevers, the Paris Commune made dechristianization its official policy. On 23 October the images of kings on the front of Notre-Dame were ordered to be removed: the royal tombs at Saint-Denis had already been emptied and desecrated by order of the Convention in August. The word Saint began to be removed from street names, and busts of Marat replaced religious statues. Again the Convention appeared to be encouraging the trend when it decreed, on 20 October, that any priest (constitutional or refractory) denounced for lack of civisme by six citizens would be subject to deportation, and any previously sentenced to deportation but found in France should be executed. Clerical dress was now forbidden in Paris, and on 7 November Gobel, the elected constitutional bishop, who had already sanctioned clerical marriage for his clergy, came with eleven of them to the Convention and ceremonially resigned his see. Removing the episcopal insignia, he put on a cap of liberty and declared that the only religion of a free people should be that of Liberty and Equality. In the next few days the handful of priests who were deputies followed his example. Soon Grégoire, constitutional bishop of Blois, was the only deputy left clinging to his priesthood and clerical dress. The sections meanwhile were passing anti-clerical motions, and on 12 November that of Gravilliers, whose idol had so recently been Jacques Roux, sent a deputation to the Convention draped in ‘ornaments from churches in their district, spoils taken from the superstitious credulity of our forefathers and repossessed by the reason of free men’ to announce that all churches in the section had been closed. This display followed a great public ceremony held in Notre-Dame, or the ‘Temple of Reason’, as it was now redesignated, on the tenth. On this occasion relays of patriotic maidens in virginal white paraded reverently before a temple of philosophy erected where the high altar had stood. From it emerged, at the climax of the ceremony, a red-capped female figure representing Liberty. Appreciatively described by an official recorder of the scene as ‘a masterpiece of nature’, in daily life she was an actress; but in her symbolic role she led the officials of the commune to the Convention, where she received the fraternal embrace of the president and secretaries.
“However carefully choreographed, there was not much dignity about these posturings; and attacks on parish churches and their incumbents (who were mostly now popularly elected) risked making the Revolution more enemies than friends. Small-town and anti-religious Jacobin zeal, for example, provoked a minor revolt in the Brie in the second week in December. To shouts of Long live the Catholic Religion, we want our priests, we want the Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, crowds of peasants sacked the local club. Several thousands took up arms and joined the movement, and only a force of National Guards and sansculottes from the Revolutionary Army restored order in a district whose tranquillity was vital to the regular passage of food supplies to the capital from southern Champagne. But even before this the Committee of Public Safety was growing anxious about the counter-productive effects of dechristianization. Robespierre in particular, who [following his teacher, Rousseau] believed that religious faith was indispensable to orderly, civilized society, sounded the alarm. On November 21 he denounced anti-religious excesses at the Jacobin club. They smacked of more fanaticism than they extinguished. The people believed in a Supreme Being, he warned, whereas atheism was aristocratic. At the same time he persuaded the Committee to circularize popular societies warning them not to fan superstition and fanaticism by persecution. On 6 December, finally, the Convention agreed to reiterate the principle of religious freedom in a decree which formally prohibited all violence or threats against the ‘liberty of cults’. But by then it was too late. The example of Paris had encouraged Jacobin zealots everywhere, and with the repression of revolt in full swing and the role of priests in the Vendée particularly notorious, the remaining trappings of religion were too tempting a target to ignore. The commune’s response to Robespierre on 23 November had been to decree the closing of all churches in the capital; and soon local authorities were shutting them wholesale throughout the country. By the spring, churches were open for public worship only in the remotest corners of France, such as the Jura mountains. By then, perhaps 20,000 priests had been bullied into giving up their status, and 6,000 had given their renunciation the ultimate confirmation by marrying. In some areas, such as Provence, dechristianization only reached its peak in March or April 1794."
On October 31 the Girondists went to the guillotine. By the Law of 14 Frumaire (4 December) extreme centralisation was decreed, heralding the end of the Terror, but accelerating the Terror within the central administration itself. In March it was the turn of the Hébertists; in April – of the Dantonists. On March 27 the Revolutionary Army was disbanded. By the end of April the commune had been purged.
Robespierre was still alive, preaching the new, revolutionary virtue and religion. By the Decree of 18 Floréal (7 May) it was declared that the French people recognised a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul, and that a cult worthy of the Supreme Being was the fulfilment of a man’s civic duties. Thus the emphasis was still on man’s civic duties: religion had no independent function outside the State, in accordance with the words of Abbé Guillaume Raynal in 1780: “The State, it seems to me, is not made for religion, but religion for the State.”
It was the same with morality, which was now defined to include among the highest virtues “the hatred of bad faith and tyranny, the punishment of tyrants and traitors, help to the unhappy, respect for the weak, protection to the oppressed, to do all the good possible to others and to be unjust to nobody.”
On 20 Prairial (8 June), Robespierre moved that “the nation should celebrate the Supreme Being. Thus every locality was given a month to make its preparations. The fact that 8 June was also Whit Sunday may or may not have been a coincidence; if not, it could have been conceived either as a challenge or as an olive branch to Christianity. In the event little direction was given to the localities on how to organize the festival. Some adopted the props of all-too-recent festivals of reason, merely painting out old slogans with new ones. Others used the opportunity to allow mass to be said publicly for the first time in months. But in Paris the organization of the occasion was entrusted to the experienced hands of the painter David, himself a member of the Committee of General Security. He built an artificial mountain in the Champ de Mars, surmounted by a tree of liberty, and thither a mass procession made its way from the Tuileries. At its head marched the members of the Convention, led by their president, who happened that week to be Robespierre. He used the opportunity to deliver two more eulogies of virtue and republican religion, pointedly ignoring, though not failing to notice, the smirks of his fellow deputies at the posturings of this pseudo-Pope. Others found it no laughing matter. ‘Look at the bugger,’ muttered Thuriot, an old associate of Danton. ‘It’s not enough for him to be master, he has to be God.’”
Like the other gods of the revolution, Robespierre did not survive its terror. On 22 Prairial (10 June, 1794), witnesses and defending counsels were decreed to be no longer necessary in trials – so no one was safe. On 9 Thermidor (27 June) Robespierre fell from power. The next day, screaming in terror, he was executed.
While the fall of Robespierre marked the end of the most fanatical phase in the revolution, normal life was not restored quickly. “On 18 September 1794, the Convention had carried the drift of the Revolution since 1790 to a logical conclusion when it finally renounced the constitutional Church. The Republic, it decreed, would no longer pay the costs or wages of any cult – not that it had been paying them in practice for a considerable time already. It meant the end of state recognition for the Supreme Being, a cult too closely identified with Robespierre. But above all it marked the abandonment of the Revolution’s own creation, the constitutional Church. For the first time ever in France, Church and State were now formally separated. To some this decree looked like a return to dechristianization, and here and there in the provinces there were renewed bursts of persecution against refractories. But most read it, correctly, as an attempt to deflect the hostility of those still faithful to the Church from the Republic. The natural corollary came with the decree of 21 February 1795 which proclaimed the freedom of all cults to worship as they liked. The tone of the law was grudging, and it was introduced with much gratuitous denigration of priestcraft and superstition. Religion was defined as a private affair, and local authorities were forbidden to lend it any recognition or support. All outward signs of religious affiliation in the form of priestly dress, ceremonies, or church bells remained strictly forbidden. The faithful would have to buy or rent their own places of worship and pay their own priests or ministers…”
The French Revolution: (3) Babeuf and the Directory
Let us summarise the effects of the revolution so far. “Where the Church was concerned,” writes Hampson, “the Civil Constitution of 1790 had the social effect of a Reformation, in the sense that it deprived a wealthy corporate institution of its autonomous position within the state. Politically, this was the opposite of a Reformation, since it destroyed the basis of the Gallican Church and made the French clergy dependent upon Rome.”
“Nobles were never proscribed as such and their property was not confiscated unless they went into exile or were condemned for political offences. Some noble families suffered very heavy casualties during the Terror; others survived without much difficulty. The ‘anti-feudal’ legislation of the Constituent Assembly bore heavily on those who income was derived mainly from manorial dues; those whose wealth came from their extensive acres may have gained more from the abolition of tithes than they lost from increased taxation. Some made profitable investments in church land which were the ‘best buy’ of the revolution since massive inflation reduced to a nominal figure the price paid by those who had opted to buy in instalments…Over the country as a whole the proportion of land owned by the nobility was somewhat reduced by the revolution but in most parts a substantial proportion of the landowners still came from the nobility, and the land was the most important source of wealth until well into the nineteenth century.”
“The urban radicals whom the more radical – but nevertheless gentlemanly – revolutionary leaders liked to eulogize as sans-culottes, fared badly… As an observer reported in 1793, ‘That class has suffered badly; it took the Bastille, was responsible for the tenth of August and so on… Hébert and Marat, two of the most extreme of the radical journalists, agreed that the sans-culottes were worse off than they had been in 1789. Soon, of course, all this was going to change… but it never did.”
“The revolution did not ‘give the land to the peasants’. They already possessed about a quarter of it, although most of them did not own enough to be self-sufficient. The Church lands were mostly snapped up by the wealthier farmers or by outside speculators… The prevailing economic theories persuaded the various assemblies to concentrate very heavily on direct taxation, most of which fell on the land. Requisitioning of food, horses and carts was borne exclusively by the peasants….
“Once again the revolution greatly increased the impact of the state on the day-to-day life of the community. This was especially obvious where religion was concerned.”
After Thermidor and the execution of Robespierre, a new phase of the Revolution began. In 1795 a committee of five, the Directory, was established. Fearing coups from the royalist right as well as the Jacobin left, it continued the slow torture of the Dauphin (Louis XVII), who died in prison on June 10.
“With the Directory,” writes Edmund Wilson, “the French Revolution had passed into the period of reaction which was to make possible the domination of Bonaparte. The great rising of the bourgeoisie, which, breaking out of the feudal forms of the monarchy, dispossessing the nobility and the clergy, had presented itself to society as a movement of liberation, had ended by depositing the wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of people and creating a new conflict of classes. With the reaction against the Terror, the ideals of the Revolution were allowed to go by the board. The five politicians of the Directory and the merchants and financiers allied with them were speculating in confiscated property, profiteering in army supplies, recklessly inflating the currency and gambling on the falling gold louis. And in the meantime, during the winter of 1795-96, the working people of Paris were dying of hunger and cold in the streets.”
This situation led to attempts to overthrow the government, the most significant of which was that of “Gracchus” Babeuf, who “rallied around him those elements of the Revolution who were trying to insist on its original aims. In his paper, The Tribune of the People, he denounced the new constitution of 1795, which had abolished universal suffrage and imposed a high property qualification. He demanded not merely political but also economic equality. He declared that he would prefer civil war itself to ‘this horrible concord which strangles the hungry’. But the men who had expropriated the nobles and the Church remained loyal to the principle of property itself. The Tribune of the People was stopped, and Babeuf and his associates were sent to prison.
“While Babeuf was in jail, his seven-year-old daughter died of hunger. He had managed to remain poor all his life. His popularity had been all with the poor. His official posts had earned him only trouble. Now, as soon as he was free again, he proceeded to found a political club, which opposed the policies of the Directory and which came to be known as the Society of the Equals. They demanded in a Manifesto of the Equals (not, however, at that time made public) that there should be ‘no more individual property in land; the land belonged to no one… We declare that we can no longer endure, with the enormous majority of men, labor and sweat in the service and for the benefit of a small minority. It is has now been long enough and too long that less than a million individuals have been disposing of that which belongs to more than twenty millions of their kind… Never has a vaster design been conceived or put into execution. Certain men of genius, certain sages, have spoken of it from time to time in a low and trembling voice. Not one of them has had the courage to tell the whole truth… People of France! Open your eyes and your heart to the fullness of happiness. Recognize and proclaim with us the Republic of Equals!’
“The Society of Equals was also suppressed; Bonaparte himself closed the club. But, driven underground, they now plotted an insurrection; they proposed to set up a new directory. And they drafted a constitution that provided for ‘a great national community of goods’ and worked out with some precision the mechanics of a planned society. The cities were to be deflaed and the population distributed in villages. The State was to ‘seize upon the new-born individual, watch over his early moments, guarantee the milk and care of his mother and bring him to the maison nationale, where he was to acquire the virtue and enlightenment of a true citizen.’ There was thus to be equal education for all. All able-bodied persons were to work, and the work that was unpleasant or arduous was to be accomplished by everybody’s taking turns. The necessities of life were to be supplied by the government, and the people were to eat at communal tables. The government was to control all foreign trade and to pass on everything printed.
“In the meantime, the value of the paper money had depreciated almost to zero. The Directory tried to save the situation by converting the currency into land warrants, which were at a discount of eight-two per cent the day they were issued; and there was a general belief on the part of the public that the government had gone bankrupt. There were in Paris along some five hundred thousand people in need of relief. The Babouvistes placarded the city with a manifesto…; they declared that Nature had given to every man an equal right to the enjoyment of every good, and it was the purpose of society to defend that right, that Nature had imposed on every man the obligation to work, and that no one could escape this obligation without committing a crime; that in ‘a true society’ there would be neither rich nor poor; that the object of the Revolution had been to destroy every inequality and to establish the well-being of all; that they Revolution was therefore ‘not finished’, and that those who had done away with the Constitution of 1793 were guilty of lese majesté against the people…
“Babeuf’s ‘insurrectionary committee’ had agents in the army and the police, and they were doing such effective work that the government tried to send its troops out of Paris, and, when they refused to obey, disbanded them. During the early days of May, 1796, on the eve of the projected uprising, the Equals were betrayed by a stool pigeon and their leaders were arrested and put in jail. The followers of Babeuf made an attempt to rally a sympathetic police squadron, but were cut down by a new Battalion of the Guard which had been pressed into service for the occasion.
“Babeuf was made a public example by being taken to Vendôme in a cage – an indignity which not long before had filled the Parisians with furty when the Austrians had inflicted it on a Frenchman…
“[At this trial] the vote, after much disagreement, went against Babeuf. One of his sons had smuggled in to him a tin dagger made out of a candlestick, and when he heard the verdict pronounced, he stabbed himself in the Roman fashion, but only wounded himself horribly and did not die. The next morning (May 27, 1797) he went to the guillotine. Of his followers thirty were executed and many sentenced to penal servitude or deportation.”
The French Revolution: (4) Napoleon Bonaparte
Thus the revolution appeared to have lost its way, consumed in poverty, corruption and mutual blood-letting. It was saved by a young soldier, Napoleon Bonaparte, who was as sincerely faithful to the spirit of the revolution as Cromwell had been. Madame de Stael called Robespierre on horseback After all, he came from Corsica, which in 1755 had successfully rebelled from Genoa, and for which Rousseau wrote one of his most seminal works, Project de constitution pour la Corse, in 1765. But, like Cromwell (and Caesar), he found that in order to save the republic he had to take control of it and rule it like a king.
His chance came on 19 Brumaire (November 10), 1799, when he overthrew the Directory (he described parliamentarism as “hot air”), and frightened the two elective assemblies into submission. On December 13 a new constitution was proclaimed with Bonaparte as the first of three Consuls with full executive powers. And on December 15 the three Consuls declared: “Citizens, the Revolution is established upon its original principles: it is consummated…”
Paul Johnson writes, “the new First Consul was far more powerful than Louis XIV, since he dominated the armed forces directly in a country that was now organized as a military state. All the ancient restraints on divine-right kingship – the Church, the aristocracy and its resources, the courts, the cities and their charters, the universities and their privileges, the guilds and their immunities – all had been swept away by the Revolution, leaving France a legal blank on which Bonaparte could stamp the irresistible force of his personality.”
But, again like Caesar and Cromwell, he could never confess to being a king in the traditional sense. Under him, in Davies’ phrase, “a pseudo-monarchy headed pseudo-democratic institutions; and an efficient centralized administration ran on a strange cocktail of legislative leftovers and bold innovation.” So, as J.M. Roberts writes, while Napoleon reinstituted monarchy, “it was in no sense a restoration. Indeed, he took care so to affront the exiled Bourbon family that any reconciliation with it was inconceivable. He sought popular approval for the empire in a plebiscite and got it.
This was a monarchy Frenchmen had voted for; it rested on popular sovereignty, that is, the Revolution. It assumed the consolidation of the Revolution which the Consulate had already begun. All the great institutional reforms of the 1790s were confirmed or at least left intact; there was no disturbance of the land sales which had followed the confiscation of Church property, no resurrection of the old corporations, no questioning of the principle of equality before the law. Some measures were even taken further, notably when each department was given an administrative head, the prefect, who was in his powers something like one of the emergency emissaries of the Terror (many former revolutionaries became prefects)…”
Cromwell had eschewed the trappings and ceremonial of monarchy, but Napoleon embraced them with avidity. The trend towards monarchy and hierarchy was already evident elsewhere; and “earlier than is generally thought,” writes Philip Mansel, “the First Consul Bonaparte aligned himself with this monarchical trend, acquiring in succession a guard (1799), a palace (1800), court receptions and costumes (1800-02), a household (1802-04), a dynasty (1804), finally a nobility (1808)… The proclamation of the empire in May 1804, the establishment of the households of the Emperor, the Empress and the Imperial Family in July, the coronation by the pope in December of that year, were confirmations of an existing monarchical reality.”
Moreover, Napoleon spread monarchy throughout Europe. In the wake of his conquests, and excluding the direct annexations to the French Empire, the kingdoms and Grand Duchies of Italy, Venice, Rome, Naples, Lucca, Dubrovnik, Holland, Mainz, Bavaria, Württemburg, Saxony, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Westphalia and Spain were all established or re-established with still greater monarchical power - and all ruled by Napoleon’s relations by blood or marriage. According to Stendhal, Napoleon’s court “totally corrupted” him “and exalted his amour propre to the state of a disease… He was on the point of making Europe one vast monarchy.”
“As one of his secretaries Baron Meneval wrote, he saw himself as ‘the pillar of royalty in Europe’. On January 18th, 1813, he wrote to his brother Jerome that his enemies, by appealing to popular feeling, represented ‘upheavals and revolutions… pernicious doctrines.’ In Napoleon’s opinion his fellow monarchs were traitors to ‘their own cause’ when in 1813 they began to desert the French Empire, or in 1814 refused to accept his territorial terms for peace…”
Jocelyn Hunt writes: “Kings before 1791 were said to be absolute but were limited by all kinds of constraints and controls. The Church had an almost autonomous status. Bonaparte ensured that the Church was merely a branch of the civil service. Kings were anointed by the Church, and thus owed their authority to God: Bonaparte took power through his own strength, camouflaged as ‘the General Will’ which, as Correlli Barnett acidly remarks, ‘became synonymous with General Bonaparte’. Indeed, when he became emperor in 1804, he crowned himself...
“The First Consul’s choice of ministers was a far more personal one than had been possible for the kings of France. Bonaparte established a system of meeting his ministers individually, in order to give his instructions. In the same way, Bonaparte chose which ‘ordinary’ citizens he would consult; kings of France had mechanisms for consulting ‘the people’ but these had fallen into disuse and thus, when the Estates General met in 1789, the effect was revolutionary. Bonaparte’s legislative body was, until 1814, submissive and compliant.…
“Police control and limitations on personal freedom had been a focus of condemnation by the Philosophes before the Revolution, but had not been entirely efficient: a whole industry of importing and distributing banned texts had flourished in the 1770s and 1780s. Bonaparte’s police were more thorough, and so swingeing were the penalties that self-censorship rapidly became the safest path for a newspaper to take. Bonaparte closed down sixty of the seventy-three newspapers in Paris in January, 1800, and had a weekly summary prepared of all printed material, but he was soon able to tell his Chief of Police, Fouché, ‘They only print what I want them to.’ In the same way, the hated lettres de cachet appear limited and inefficient when compared to Bonaparte’s and Fouché’s record of police spies, trials without jury and imprisonment without trial. Bonaparte’s brief experience as a Jacobin leader in Ajaccio had taught him how to recognise, and deal with, potential opponents.
“The judiciary had stood apart from the kings of the ancien régime: while the King was nominally the supreme Judge, the training of lawyers and judges had been a matter for the Parlements, with their inherent privileges and mechanisms. The Parlements decided whether the King’s laws were acceptable within the fundamental laws of France. Under the Consulate, there were no such constraints on the legislator. The judges were his appointees, and held office entirely at his pleasure; the courts disposed of those who opposed or questioned the government, far more rapidly that had been possible in the reign of Louis XVI. Imprisonment and deportation became regularly used instruments of control under Bonaparte.
“Kings of France were fathers to their people and had a sense of duty and service. Bonaparte, too, believed that he was essential to the good and glory of France, but was able to make his own decisions about what constituted the good of France in a way which was not open to the king. Finally, while the monarchy of France was hereditary and permanent, and the position of First Consul was supposed to be held for ten years, Bonaparte’s strength was demonstrated when he changed his own constitution, first to give him the role for life and then to become a hereditary monarch. All in all, no monarch of the ancien régime had anything approaching the power which Bonaparte had been permitted to take for himself…
“When a Royalist bomb plot was uncovered in December, 1800, Bonaparte seized the opportunity to blame it on the Jacobins, and many were guillotined, with over a hundred more being exiled or imprisoned. The regime of the Terror had operated in similar ways to remove large numbers of potential or actual opponents. Press censorship and the use of police spies ensured that anti-government opinions were not publicly aired. The Declaration of the Rights of Man had guaranteed freedom of expression; but this freedom had already been eroded before Bonaparte’s coup. The Terror had seen both moral and political censorship, and the Directory had on several occasions exercised its constitutional right to censor the press. Bonaparte appears merely to have been more efficient…
“Bonaparte certainly held power without consulting the French people; he took away many of the freedoms they had been guaranteed in 1789; he taxed them more heavily than they had been taxed before. [In 1803 he wrote:] ‘I haven’t been able to understand yet what good there is in an opposition. Whatever it may say, its only result is to diminish the prestige of authority in the eyes of the people’.”
In 1804, he even declared himself emperor with the name Napoleon, after which Beethoven tore out the title-page of his Eroica symphony, which had been dedicated to him, and said: “So he too is nothing but a man. Now he also will trample all human rights underfoot, and only pander to his own ambition; he will place himself above everyone else and become a tyrant…” As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Absolute government found huge scope for its rebirth [in] that man who was to be both the consummator and the nemesis of the Revolution.” So Napoleon was undoubtedly a despot, but a despot who could claim many precedents for his despotism in the behaviour of the Jacobins and Directory. And if he was not faithful to the forms of the revolution in its early phase, replacing democracy (of a despotic kind) with monarchy (of a populist kind), he nevertheless remained faithful to its spirit.
And what was that spirit? On the one hand, the principle that nobody and nothing should be independent of the State – in other words, the principle of totalitarianism. And on the other, the principle that the Nation was the supreme value, and serving and dying for the Nation the supreme glory.
And yet “at bottom,” as Johnson notes, “Bonaparte despised the French, or perhaps it would be more exact to say the Parisians, the heart of the ‘political nation’. He thought of them, on the basis of his experience during the various phases of the Revolution, as essentially frivolous.” The truth is, therefore, that it was neither the State nor the Nation that Bonaparte exalted above all, – although he greatly increased the worship of both State and Nation in subsequent European history, – but himself.
So the spirit that truly reigned in the Napoleonic era can most accurately be described as the spirit of the man-god, of the Antichrist, of whom Bonaparte himself, as the Russian Holy Synod quite rightly said, was the incarnation and forerunner. This antichristian quality is most clearly captured in Madame De Staël’s characterization: “I had the disturbing feeling that no emotion of the heart could ever reach him. He regards a human being like a fact or a thing, never as an equal person like himself. He neither hates nor loves… The force of his will resides in the imperturbable calculations of his egotism. He is a chess-master whose opponents happen to be the rest of humanity… Neither pity nor attraction, nor religion nor attachment would ever divert him from his ends… I felt in his soul cold steel, I felt in his mind a deep irony against which nothing great or good, even his own destiny, was proof; for he despised the nation which he intended to govern, and no spark of enthusiasm was mingled with his desire to astound the human race.”
Napoleon and Catholicism
The Revolution had already swept away all the complex structures of feudalism, thereby preparing the way for the totalitarian state. But Napoleon went further. Thus in addition to the measures discussed above, he abolished trade unions, introduced a standardised system of weights and measures, and a standardised system of education and legislation, the famous Code Napoléon. Everything, from religion and charity to economics and the government of friendly sister-republics, such as Holland, had to be controlled from the centre. And the centre was Napoleon.
Napoleon’s attitude towards religion was on the one hand respectful and on the other hand manipulative and utilitarian. His respectfulness is revealed in the following remark: “There are only two forces in the world: the sword and the spirit; by spirit I mean the civil and religious institutions; in the long run the sword is always defeated by the spirit.” On the other hand, his essentially unbelieving, utilitarian attitude is revealed in the following: “I see in religion not the mystery of the Incarnation but the mystery of order in society”. “What is it that makes the poor man take it for granted that ten chimneys smoke in my palace while he dies of cold – that I have ten changes of raiment in my wardrobe while he is naked – that on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion, which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have.”
In other words, religion was powerful, and as such had to be respected. But it was powerful not because it was true, but because it was a – perhaps the – major means of establishing order in society. More particularly, it was the major means of establishing obedience to his rule – which is why he issued an Imperial Catechism whose purpose was to “bind by religious sanctions the conscience of the people to the august person of the Emperor”:
A: Because God… has made him the agent of His power on earth. Thus it is that to honour and serve our Emperor is to honour and serve God Himself.
Napoleon, writes Doyle, “never made the mistake of underestimating either the power of religion or the resilience of the Church. Under orders in the spring of 1796 to march on Rome to avenge the murder by a Roman mob of a French envoy, he was confronted by a Spanish emissary from the pontiff. ’I told him [the Spaniard reported], if you people take it into your heads to make the pope say the slightest thing against dogma or anything touching on it, you are deceiving yourselves, for he will never do it. You might, in revenge, sack, burn and destroy Rome, St. Peter’s etc. but religion will remain standing in spite of your attacks. If all you wish is that the pope urge peace in general, and obedience to legitimate power, he will willingly do it. He appeared to me captivated by this reasoning…’ Certainly he continued while in Italy to treat the Pope with more restraint than the Directory had ordered: and when, early the next year, the Cispadane Republic was established in territories largely taken from the Holy See, he advised its founders that: ‘Everything is to be done by degrees and with gentleness. Religion is to be treated like property.’ Devoid of any personal faith, in Egypt he even made parade of following Islam in the conviction that it would strengthen French rule. By the time he returned to Europe, it was clear that Pope Pius VI would not after all be the last…
“This approach bore one important fruit: in his Christmas sermon for 1797 the new Pope, Pius VII, declared that Christianity was not incompatible with democracy – a very major concession to the revolution that later Popes would take back.
“On his second entry into Milan, in June 1800, he convoked the city’s clergy to the great cathedral, and declared, even before Marengo was fought: ‘It is my firm intention that the Christian, Catholic and Roman religion shall be preserved in its entirety, that it shall be publicly performed… No society can exist without morality; there is no good morality without religion. It is religion alone, therefore, that gives to the State a firm and durable support…’”
Religious toleration was both in accordance with the ideals of democracy and politically expedient. Thus to the same clergy convocation he said: “The people is sovereign; if it wants religion, respect its will.” And to his own Council of State he said: “My policy is to govern men as the majority wish. That, I believe, is the way to recognize the sovereignty of the people. It was… by turning Muslim that I gained a hold in Egypt, by turning ultramontane that I won over people in Italy. If I were governing Jews, I should rebuild Solomon’s temple.”.
It is in this astonishingly cynical attitude to religion that Napoleon reveals his modernity. It is what made him perhaps the closest forerunner to the Antichrist that had yet appeared on the stage of world history, and closer even, in some ways, than Lenin or Stalin. For the Antichrist will not – at first – persecute religion; he will rather try to be the champion of all religions – in order to subdue them all to his will. He will very likely be an ecumenist as Napoleon was. And he will rebuild Solomon’s temple…
Napoleon’s first task in the religious sphere was to heal the breach between the Constitutional Church, which had accepted the revolution, and the non-jurors, who had rejected it. Only the non-jurors were recognised by the Pope, so an agreement had to be reached with Rome. Finally, on July 15, 1801, a Concordat was signed.
“This document,” writes Cronin, “opens with a preamble describing Roman Catholicism as ‘the religion of the great majority of the French people’ and the religion professed by the consuls. Worship was to be free and public. The Pope, in agreement with the Government, was to re-map dioceses in such a way as to reduce their number by more than half to sixty. The holders of bishoprics were to resign and if they declined to do so, were to be replaced by the Pope. The First Consul was to appoint new bishops; the Pope was to invest them. The Government was to place at the disposal of bishops all the un-nationalized churches necessary for worship, and to pay bishops and curés a suitable salary.
“The Concordat was an up-to-date version of the old Concordat, which had regulated the Church in France for almost 300 years. But it was less Gallican, that is, it gave the French hierarchy less autonomy. Napoleon conceded to the Pope not only the power of investing bishops, which he had always enjoyed, but the right, in certain circumstances, to depose them, which was something new. Napoleon did this in order to be able to effect a clean sweep of bishops.
“Napoleon did not discuss the Concordat beforehand with his Council of State. When he did show it to them they criticized it as insufficiently Gallican. The assemblies, they predicted, would never make it law unless certain riders were added. Finally seventy ‘organic articles’ were drawn up and added to the Concordat. For example, all bulls from Rome were to be subject to the Government’s placet, one of which asserted that the Pope must abide by the decisions of an ecumenical council…”
In April, 1802, Napoleon reopened the churches in France, which proved to be one of his most popular measures, and it enabled him to enlist the Church in support of his government – as did, of course, his coronation by the Pope. Moreover, notes Johnson, “by making peace with the Church, he prepared the way for a reconciliation with the old landowners and aristocrats who had been driven into exile by the Revolution, and whom he wanted back to provide further legitimacy to his regime.”
“But even while seeking the Church’s support,” writes Cronin, “Napoleon kept firmly to the principle that the temporal and spiritual are two separate realms, and had to be kept separate in France. He might easily have used his growing authority to subordinate the Church to the State, but although he was occasionally tempted to do so, he quickly drew back… Equally, Napoleon refrained from subordinating the State to the Church. When bishops urged him to shut all shops and cabarets on Sundays so that the faithful should not be enticed from Mass, Napoleon replied: ‘The curé’s power resides in exhortations from the pulpit and in the confessional; police spies and prisons are bad ways of trying to restore religious practices.’”
However, while Napoleon wanted the Church to flourish, he was too fundamentally irreligious to allow it to escape the general control of the State. This was made abundantly clear at his coronation in 1804, when instead of allowing the Pope to crown him, he took the crown from his hands and crowned himself! “For the pope’s purposes,” he said to Cardinal Fesch, “I am Charlemagne… I therefore expect the pope to accommodate his conduct to my requirements. If he behaves well I shall make no outward changes; if not, I shall reduce him to the status of bishop of Rome…” Not for nothing did Napoleon say: “If I were not me, I would like to be Gregory VII.”  Gregory had secularised the papacy by making it into a secular kingdom. Napoleon had done the same from the opposite direction…
Again, he appointed a Minister of Religions to solve the day-to-day problems of the Church, and fixed the salary of curés at 500 francs. Then, in 1809, he occupied Rome and the Papal States and removed Pius from his position as ruler in exchange for a handsome salary. “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, “although a descendant of David, did not want an earthly kingdom…” Pius then excommunicated Napoleon for his “blasphemy” and refused to invest his nominees to vacant bishoprics. Napoleon had still not tamed the rebellious priest by the time of his downfall…
Monsieur Emery, the director of Saint-Sulpice, defended the Pope, reminding Napoleon “that God had given the Pope spiritual power over all Christians. ‘But not temporal power,’ objected Napoleon. ‘Charlemagne gave him that, and I, as Charlemagne’s successor, intended to relieve him of it. What do you think of that, Monsieur Emery?’ ‘Sire, exactly what Bossuet thought. In his Declaration du clergé de France he says that he congratulates not only the Roman Church but the Universal Church on the Pope’s temporal sovereignty because, being independent, he can more easily exercise his functions as father of all the faithful.’ Napoleon replied that what was true for Bossuet’s day did not apply in 1811, when western Europe was ruled by one man, not disputed by several”.
Thus in France, as in England, the established Church survived the Revolution. The restoration of the one-man-rule went hand-in-hand with the restoration of the Church, if not to a position of independence, still less “symphony” with the State, at any rate of greater influence. In the longer term, however, the Catholic Church’s authority and influence continued to decline…
With regard to the Nation, Napoleon managed to persuade his fellow-countrymen that everything he did was for the glory and honour of France, and that nothing was more important than the glory and honour of France. And so while his despotism angered some Frenchmen, the tickling of their pride was ample compensation, and enabled them reconcile themselves with the loss of their freedom. “As Frenchmen accorded more and more weight to Napoleon’s wishes, so the notion of honour came to the fore in the French Republic: honour and its sister concept, glory, patriotism à outrance and the chivalry that had made Napoleon crown Josephine…”
If the nation was the new Church, and Napoleon its new Christ, the revolution itself was the Holy Spirit. It blew where it wished, overthrowing kings, liberating subject peoples and making them into “real” nations. This liberation of nations was conceived as being a democratic, egalitarian process; it by no means implied the superiority of any one nation over the others, which would simply be a repetition, on the collective level, of the despotism that the revolution had come to destroy. The religion of the French revolution was a universalist religion based on equal rights for all men and all nations. It was believed that once the kings had been removed, the general will of each nation would reveal itself, spreading peace and harmony not only within, but also between, nations. Thus “sooner or later,” said Mirabeau to the National Assembly, “the influence of a nation that… has reduced the art of living to the simple notions of liberty and equality – notions endowed with irresistible charm for the human heart, and propagated in all the countries of the world – the influence of such a nation will undoubtedly conquer the whole of Europe for Truth, Moderation and Justice, not immediately perhaps, not in a single day…”
But it was not long before such noble sentiments were being transformed into a purely pagan pride. “’You are, among the nations, what Hercules was amongst the heroes,’ Robespierre assured his countrymen. ‘Nature has made you sturdy and powerful; your strength matches your virtue and your cause is that of the gods.’ France was unique in her destiny, she was La Grande Nation, and all interests were necessarily subordinate to hers. Her service was the highest calling, since it naturally benefited mankind.”
Soon it became evident to other nations, whether those bordering France or her overseas colonies, that the French believed not so much in the Nation (i.e. any and every nation) as the Nation (one particular nation, the only truly Great Nation) – which could only be France. Thus in 1802 Napoleon himself said: “Never will the French Nation give chains to men whom it has once recognized as free.” And yet in the very same year, when the former French colony of Haiti became the first country to declare its freedom in the wake of the revolution, Napoleon tried to reintroduce slavery there, and his troops were defeated by black soldiers singing the Marseillaise...
And that was only the beginning. In the next thirteen years Napoleon created a swathe of suffering and destruction throughout Europe from Lisbon to Moscow that had not been seen since the invasions of the Huns and the Goths. In retrospect, the seemingly irrational and chaotic system of old Europe, whereby kings could buy and sell territories to which they were quite unrelated by birth or upbringing, turned out to have kept the peace far better than the system of more clearly defined, homogeneous nation-states that emerged as a result of the Napoleonic wars. This is not to say, of course, that there were no wars under the old system. But they tended to be short in duration, with relatively few casualties, which were mainly confined to the warrior class, and they were very quickly patched up by some redistribution of territories among the monarchs. By contrast, the revolutionary wars that began after 1792 were more like the religious wars of pre-1648 vintage: much bloodier and crueller, involving far greater casualties among the civilian populations. Moreover, they never came to a real end, since the losers felt bound to recover the territories lost and avenge the wounds inflicted on their national or regional pride. After all, if the people, and not the king, was now sovereign, victory in war had to be won over the people (or rather, the “enemies” of “the people”) as well as the king. Thus as Napoleon exported the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Fraternity into neighbouring countries, their freedom was destroyed, their equality with their “brothers” who had “liberated” them was jettisoned, and the dream of universal brotherhood became the nightmare of universal war. For “abroad, liberty simply meant French rule.”
How did the internationalist dream turn into a nationalist nightmare? The problem was partly a conceptual one: it turned out to be notoriously difficult to define what “the nation” was, by what criteria it should be defined (territory? religion? blood? language?). Revolutionary definitions of who was a “patriot” – that is, the true member of the nation - invariably meant defining large sections of the population who did not accept this definition or did not come under it as being “aliens” or “traitors” or “enemies of the people”.
But the problem went deeper: even when a certain degree of unanimity had been achieved in the definition of the nation, - as Napoleon achieved it for France, for example, in the period 1800-1813, - there were now no accepted limits on the national will, no authority higher than the nation itself. This inevitably resulted in nationalism in the evil sense of the word that has become so tragically familiar to us in twentieth-century fascism – not a natural pride in one’s own nation and its achievements, but the exaltation of the nation to the level of divinity, and of faith in the nation to the level of the true faith, the defence of which justified any and every sacrifice of self and others. If in “Dark Age” (i.e. Orthodox) and Medieval (i.e. Catholic) Europe, men had seen in the Church a higher, supranational authority which arranged “Truces of God” and served, at least in principle, as a higher court of appeal to which kings and nations submitted, this was now finally swept away by article three of the Rights of Man, which pitted the “general wills” of an ever-increasing number of sovereign nations against each other in apparently endless and irreconcilable hostility.
Unless, that is, they all recognized France, the revolutionary nation par excellence, as their true nation. And there were some who did this; Thomas Jefferson, for example, American ambassador to Paris, said: “Every man has two countries – his own, and France.” Others, while not recognizing France as their own nation, nevertheless welcomed the conquering French armies into their own land Thus as late as 1806 the German philosopher Hegel called Napoleon “that world spirit” and hoped that he would defeat his opponents: “Everyone prays for the success of the French army”. Such a substitution of loyalty to the messianic revolutionary nation of the time rather than one’s own was to manifest itself again in the twentieth century, when millions of people around the world betrayed their own country for the sake of the greater glory of the Soviet Union…
However, as captivation turned to captivity, pious internationalism (or French messianism) turned into violent xenophobia, and enthusiasm into disillusion. Among the nations that had been “forced to be free” by the French, only the Poles (conveniently protected by Germany from French invasion, and needing French support against Russia) remained faithful to the Napoleonic vision.
Doyle writes: “An exuberant, uncompromising nationalism lay behind France’s revolutionary expansion in the 1790s: but when the French found, after this first impact of a nation in arms on its neighbours, was that the neighbours responded in kind. They found that the doctrine of the sovereignty of the nation, proclaimed by them at the outset of the Revolution in 1789, could be turned against them by other peoples claiming their own national sovereignty. In states long united by custom and language, such as the Dutch Republic, all the French example did was to reinforce patriotic sentiments already strong. In areas never before united, like Italy, it created a powerful national sentiment for the first time by showing that archaic barriers and divisions could be swept away. The first Italian nationalists placed their hopes in French power to secure their ends, but from the start their attitude was double-edged. ‘Italy,’ declared the winning entry for an essay competition on the best form of Italian government, sponsored by the new French regime in Milan in 1796, ‘has almost always been the patrimony of foreigners who, under the pretext of protecting us, have consistently violated our rights, and, while giving us flags and fine-sounding names, have made themselves masters of our estate. France, Germany and Spain have held lordship over us in turn… it is therefore best to provide… the sort of government capable of opposing the maximum of resistance to invasion.’ The tragedy for nationalistic Italian Jacobins was that, when popular revulsion against the French invaders swept the peninsula in 1798 and 1799, they found themselves identified with the hated foreigners. Elsewhere, peoples and intellectual nationalists found themselves more at one; and not the least of the reasons why France’s most inveterate enemies were able to resist her successfully was the strength of volunteering. An Austrian call for volunteers against the French produced 150,000 men in 1809. Three years later the Russians were able to supplement their normal armed forces with over 420,000 more or less willing recruits to drive out the alien invader. Only nationalism could successfully fight nationalism: and when it did, as Clausewitz… saw, it would be a fight to the death.”
Again, as Hobsbawm notes, the Anglo-French conflict had “a persistence and stubbornness unlike any other. Neither side was really – a rare thing in those days, though a common one today – prepared to settle for less than total victory”. The main legacy of the revolution, therefore, was total war. War between classes, war between nations, war between religions. Such was the “fraternity” the revolution of the revolution…
The Jews and the Revolution
Of all the nationalisms stirred up by the revolution, the most important was that of the Jews. In fact, it was the French revolution that gave the Jews the opportunity to burst through into the forefront of world politics for the first time since the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. There were 39,000 of them in France in 1789; most (half according to one estimate, nine-tenths according to another) were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim living in Alsace and Lorraine, which France had acquired under the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
“It is important,” writes Nesta Webster, “to distinguish between these two races of Jews [the Ashkenazi and the Sephardim] in discussing the question of Jewish emancipation at the time of the Revolution. For whilst the Sephardim had shown themselves good citizens and were therefore subject to no persecutions, the Ashkenazim by their extortionate usury and oppressions had made themselves detested by the people, so that rigorous laws were enforced to restrain their rapacity. The discussions that raged in the National Assembly on the subject of the Jewish question related therefore mainly to the Jews of Alsace.”
The eighteenth century had already witnessed some important changes in the relationship between the State and Jewry. In England, the Jews had achieved emancipation de facto, if not de jure. This was helped by the small number of Jews in Britain, and the non-ideological, approach of the British government.
It was a different matter on the continent, where a more ideological approach prevailed. In 1782 the Masonic Austrian Emperor Joseph II published his Toleranzpatent, whose purpose was that “all Our subjects without distinction of nationality and religion, once they have been admitted and tolerated in our States, shall participate in common in public welfare,… shall enjoy legal freedom, and encounter no obstacles to any honest way of gaining their livelihood and of increasing general industriousness… Existing laws pertaining to the Jewish nation… are not always compatible with these Our most gracious intentions.” Most restrictions on the Jews were removed, but these new freedoms applied only to the “privileged Jew” – that is, the Jew whom the State found “useful” in some way – and not to the “foreign Jew”. Moreover, even privileged Jews were not granted the right of full citizenship and craft mastership. For Joseph wanted to grant tolerance to the Jews, but not full equality.
As for France, “already, in 1784, the Jews of Bordeaux had been accorded further concessions by Louis XVI; in 1776 all Portuguese Jews had been given religious liberty and the permission to inhabit all parts of the kingdom. The decree of January 28, 1790, conferring on the Jews of Bordeaux the rights of French citizens, put the finishing touch to this scheme of liberation. [The Sephardic Jews of South-West France and papal Avignon, who were already more assimilated than their Ashkenazi co-religionists in Alsace, were given full citizenship in July, 1790.] But the proposal to extend this privilege to the Jews of Alsace evoked a storm of controversy in the Assembly and also violent insurrections amongst the Alsace peasants.”
In their first debate on the subject, on September 28, 1789, they made a further important distinction between the nation and the individuals constituting the nation. Thus Stanislas Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre argued that “there cannot be a nation within a nation”, so “the Jews should be denied everything as a nation but granted everything as individuals.” A separate nation of the Jews could not be allowed to exist within France. For “virtually all – moderates no less than radicals, Dantonists no less than Robespierrists, Christians as well as deists, pantheists, and atheists – held that equality of status in the state they were in their various ways intent on establishing was bound up of necessity with the elimination of all groups, classes, or corporations intermediate (and therefore mediating) between the state itself and the citizen.”
Vital writes: “The immediate issue before the Assembly was the admission of certain semi-pariah classes – among them actors and public executioners – to what came to be termed ‘active citizenship’. It was soon apparent, however, that the issues presented by the Jews were very different. It was apparent, too, that it would make no better sense to examine the Jews’ case in tandem with that of the Protestants. The latter, like the Jews, were non-Catholics, but their national identity was not in doubt, nor, therefore, their right to the new liberties being decreed for all. Whatever else they were, they were Frenchmen. No one in the National Assembly thought otherwise. But were the Jews Frenchmen? If they were not, could they become citizens? The contention of the lead speaker in the debate, Count Stanislaw de Clermont-Tonnerre, was that the argument for granting them full rights of citizenship needed to be founded on the most general principles. Religion was a private affair. The law of the state need not and ought not to impinge upon it. So long as religious obligations were compatible with the law of the state and contravened it in no particular it was wrong to deprive a person, whose conscience required him to assume such religious obligations, of those rights which it was the duty of all citizens qua citizens to assume. One either imposed a national religion by main force, so erasing the relevant clause of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen to which all now subscribed. Or else one allowed everyone the freedom to profess the religious opinion of his choice. Mere tolerance was unacceptable. ‘The system of tolerance, coupled.. to degrading distinctions, is so vicious in itself, that he who is compelled to tolerate remains as dissatisfied with the law as is he whom it has granted no more than such a form of tolerance.’ There was no middle way. The enemies of the Jews attacked them, and attacked him, Clermont-Tonnerre, on the grounds that they were deficient morally. It was also held of the Jews that they were unsociable, that their laws prescribed usury, that they were forbidden to mix with the French by marriage or at table or join them in defence of the country or in any other common enterprise. But these reproaches were either unjust or specious. Usury was blameworthy beyond a doubt, but it was the laws of France that had compelled the Jews to practise it. And so with most of the other charges. Once the Jews had title to land and a country of their own the practice of usury would cease. So would the unsociability that was held against them. So would much of their religious eccentricity [ces travers religieux]. As for the further argument, that they had judges and laws of their own, why so they did, and on this matter he, Clermont-Tonnerre, would say to his critics (coming to the passage in his address to the Assembly that would be quoted over and over again in the course of the two centuries that followed), that that indeed was impermissible.
“’As a nation the Jews must be denied everything, as individuals they must be granted everything; their judges can no longer be recognized; their recourse must be to our own exclusively; legal protection for the doubtful laws by which Jewish corporate existence is maintained must end; they cannot be allowed to create a political body or a separate order within the state; it is necessary that they be citizens individually.’
“There remained the question, what if, as some argued, it was the case that the Jews themselves had no interest in citizenship? Why in that case, he went on, ‘if they do not want it, let them say so, in which case expel them [s’ils veulent ne l’être pas, qu’ils le disent, et alors, qu’on les bannisse]’. The idea of a society of non-citizens within the state and a nation within a nation was repugnant to him. But in fact, the speaker concluded, that was not at all what the Jews wanted. The evidence was to the contrary. They wished to be incorporated into the nation of France.
“Clermont-Tonnerre was promptly contradicted on this last, vital point by the abbé Maury. The term ‘Jew’, said the abbé did not denote a religious sect, but a nation, one which had laws which it had always followed and by which it wished to continue to abide. ‘To proclaim the Jews citizens would be as if to say that, without letters of naturalization and without ceasing to be English or Danish, Englishmen and Danes could become Frenchmen.’ But Maury’s chief argument was of a moral and social order. The Jews were inherently undesirable, socially as well as economically. They had been chased out of France, and then recalled, no less than seven times – chased out by avarice, as Voltaire had rightly put it, readmitted by avarice once more, but in foolishness as well.
“’The Jews have passed seventeen centuries without mingling with the other nations. They have never engaged in anything but trade in money; they have been the plague of the agricultural provinces; not one of them has ever dignified [su ennoblir] his hands by driving a plough. Their laws leave them no time for agriculture; the Sabbath apart, they celebrate fifty-six more festivals than the Christians in each year. In Poland they possess an entire province. Well, then! While the sweat of Christian slaves waters the furrows in which the Jews’ opulence germinates they themselves, as their fields are cultivated, engage in weighing their ducats and calculating how much they can shave off the coinage without exposing themselves to legal penalties.’
“They have never been labourers, Maury continued, not even under David and Solomon. And even then they were notorious for their laziness. Their sole concern was commerce. Would you make soldiers of them, the abbé asked. If you did, you would derive small benefit from them: they have a horror of celibacy and they marry young. He knew of no general who would wish to command an army of Jews either on the Sabbath – a day on which they never gave battle – or indeed at any other time. Or did the Assembly imagine that they could make craftsmen of them when their many festivals and sabbath days presented an insurmountable obstacle to such an enterprise. The Jews held 12 million mortgages in Alsace alone, he informed his colleagues. Within a month of their being granted citizenship they would own half the province outright. In ten years’ time they would have ‘conquered’ all of it, reducing it to nothing more than a Jewish colony – upon which the hatred the people of Alsace already bore for the Jews would explode.
“It was not that he, Maury, wished the Jews to be persecuted. ‘They are men, they are our brothers; anathema on whoever speaks of intolerance!’ Nor need their religious opinions disturb anyone [!!!]. He joined all others in agreeing that they were to be protected. But that did not mean that they could be citizens. It was as individuals that they were entitled to protection, not as Frenchmen.
“Robespierre took the opposite line, supporting Clermont-Tonnerre. All who fulfilled the generally applicable conditions of eligibility to citizenship were entitled to the rights that derived from it, he argued, including the right to hold public office. And so far as the facts were concerned, much of what Maury had said about the Jews was ‘infinitely exaggerated’ and contrary to known history. Moreover, to charge the Jews themselves with responsibility for their own persecution at the hands of others, was absurd.
“’Vices are imputed to them… But to whom should these vices be imputed if not to ourselves for our injustice?… Let us restore them to happiness, to country [patrie], and to virtue by restoring them to the dignity of men and citizens; let us reflect that it can never be politic, whatever anyone might say, to condemn a multitude of men who live among us to degradation and oppression.’”
Thus spoke the man who was soon to lead the most degrading and oppressive régime in European history to that date. Indeed, it is striking how those who spoke most fervently for the Jews – apart from leaders of the Jewish community such as the banker Cerfbeer and Isaac Beer – were Freemasons or Illuminati.
Thus in the two years before the crucial debate on September 27, 1791, writes General Nechvolodov, “fourteen attempts were made to give the Jews civic equality and thirty-five major speeches were given by several orators, among them Mirabeau, Robespierre, Abbé Grégoire, Abbé Sièyes, Camille, Desmoulins, Vernier, Barnave, Lameth, Duport and others.
“’Now there is a singular comparison to be made,’ says Abbé Lemann, ‘- all the names which we have just cited and which figure in the Moniteur as having voted for the Jews are also found on the list of Masons… Is this coincidence not proof of the order given, in the lodges of Paris, to work in favour of Jewish emancipation?’
“And yet, in spite of the revolutionary spirit, the National Assembly was very little inclined to give equality of civil rights to the Jews. Against this reform there rose up all the deputies from Alsace, since it was in Alsace that the majority of the French Jews of that time lived….
“But this opposition in the National Assembly did not stop the Jews. To attain their end, they employed absolutely every means.
“According to Abbé Lemann, these means were the following:
“First means: entreaty. A charm exercised over several presidents of the Assembly. Second: the influence of gold. Third means: logic. After the National Assembly had declared the ‘rights of man’, the Jews insisted that these rights should logically be applied to them, and they set out their ideas on this subject with an ‘implacable arrogance’.
“Fourth means: recourse to the suburbs and the Paris Commune, so as to force the National Assembly under ‘threat of violence’ to give the Jews equality.
“’One of their most thorough historians (Graetz),’ says Abbé Lemann, ‘did not feel that he had to hide this manoeuvre. Exhausted, he says, by the thousand useless efforts they had made to obtain civil rights, they thought up a last means. Seeing that it was impossible to obtain by reason and common sense what they called their rights, they resolved to force the National Assembly to approve of their emancipation.
“’To this end, naturally, were expended vast sums, which served to establish the ‘Christian Front’ which they wanted.
“’In the session of the National Assembly of January 18, 1791, the Duke de Broglie expressed himself completely openly on this subject: ‘Among them,’ he said, ‘there is one in particular who has acquired an immense fortune at the expense of the State, and who is spending in the town of Paris considerable sums to win supporters of his cause.’ He meant Cerfbeer.
“At the head of the Christian Front created on this occasion were the lawyer Godard and three ecclesiastics: the Abbés Mulot, Bertoliot and Fauchet.
“Abbé Fauchet was a well-known illuminatus, and Abbé Mulot – the president of the all-powerful Paris Commune, with the help of which the Jacobins exerted, at the time desired, the necessary pressure on the National and Legislative Assemblies, and later on the Convention.
“What Gregory, curé of Embermeuil, was for the Jews in the heart of the National Assembly, Abbé Mulot was in the heart of the Commune.
“However, although they were fanatical Jacobins, the members of the Commune were far from agreeing to the propositions of their president that they act in defence of Jewish rights in the National Assembly. It was necessary to return constantly to the attack, naturally with the powerful help of Cerfbeer’s gold and that of the Abbés Fauchet and Bertoliot. This latter declared during a session of the Commune on this question: ‘It was necessary that such a happy and unexpected event as the revolution should come and rejuvenate France… Let us hasten to consign to oblivion the crimes of our fathers.’
“Then, during another session, the lawyer Godard bust into the chamber with fifty armed ‘patriots’ dressed in costumes of the national guard with three-coloured cockades. They were fifty Jews who, naturally provided with money, had made the rounds of the sections of the Paris Commune and of the wards of the town of Paris, talking about recruiting partisans of equality for the Jews. This had its effect. Out of the sixty sections of Paris fifty-nine declared themselves for equality (only the quartier des Halles abstained). Then the Commune addressed the National Assembly with an appeal signed by the Abbés Mulot, Bertoliot, Fauchet and other members, demanding that equality be immediately given to the Jews.
“However, even after that, the National Assembly hesitated in declaring itself in the manner provided. Then, on September 27, the day of the penultimate session of the Assembly before its dissolution, the Jacobin deputy Adrien Duport posed the question of equality for the Jews in a categorical fashion. The Assembly knew Adrien Duport’s personality perfectly. It knew that in a secret meeting of the chiefs of Freemasonry which preceded the revolution, he had insisted on the necessity of resort to a system of terror. The Assembly yielded. There followed a decree signed by Louis XVI granting French Jews full and complete equality of rights…”
The power of the Jewish minority was revealed especially during the reign of terror under Robespierre. 2300 Catholic churches were converted into “temples of Reason”. And at that point some voices were raised, writes Tikhomirov, “demanding that the ban be spread onto the Jews also, and that circumcision be forbidden. These demands were completely ignored, and were not even put to the vote. In the local communes individual groups of especially wild Jacobins, who had not been initiated into higher politics, sometimes broke into synagogues, destroying the Torah and books, but it was only by 1794 that the revolutionary-atheist logic finally forced even the bosses to pose the question of the annihilation not only of Catholicism, but also of Jewry. At this point, however, the Jews were delivered by 9 Thermidor, 1794. Robespierre fell and was executed. The moderate elements triumphed. The question of the ban of Jewry disappeared of itself, while the Constitution of Year III of the Republic granted equal rights to the Jews.”
But this was not the end of the matter. In the late 1790s a new wave of Ashkenazis entered France from Germany, attracted by the superior status their French brothers now enjoyed. This was to lead to further disturbances in Alsace, which it was left to Napoleon to deal with…
“Nevertheless,” as Paul Johnson writes, “the deed was done. French Jews were now free and the clock could never be turned back. Moreover, emancipation in some form took place wherever the French were able to carry the revolutionary spirit with their arms. The ghettos and Jewish closed quarters were broken into in papal Avignon (1791), Nice (1792) and the Rhineland (1792-3). The spread of the revolution to the Netherlands, and the founding of the Batavian republic, led to Jews being granted full and formal rights by law there (1796). In 1796-8 Napoleon Bonaparte liberated many of the Italian ghettos, French troops, young Jews and local enthusiasts tearing down the crumbling old walls.
“For the first time a new archetype, who had always existed in embryonic form, began to emerge from the shadows: the revolutionary Jew. Clericalists in Italy swore enmity to ‘Gauls, Jacobins and Jews’. In 1793-4 Jewish Jacobins set up a revolutionary regime in Saint Esprit, the Jewish suburb of Bayonne. Once again, as during the Reformation, traditionalists saw a sinister link between the Torah and subversion.”
However, the above picture of the Jewish struggle for emancipation in Paris and, later, Bayonne should not obscure the fact that there was still very strong opposition to the idea of emancipation from within Jewry itself led especially by the rabbinic leaders of Ashkenazi Jewry in Poland.
Thus Zalkind Hourwitz was a Polish Jew who won a prize for an essay advocating Jewish emancipation from the Royal Society for Arts and Sciences at Metz in 1787. Nevertheless, as Vital writes, he “made no bones about his view of the internal constraints to which Jews in all parts were subject through the workings of the rabbinical-Talmudic system: of the limits it set upon their worldly freedom, of the manner in which it effectively barred their entry into society on a basis of equality. The social liberation of the Jews was conditional, he believed, on the power that the rabbis and the parnassim [chief synagogue officials] jointly exercised over ordinary people in their daily lives being terminated – in great matters as in small. ‘Their rabbis and syndics [i.e. parnassim] must be strictly forbidden to assume the least authority over their fellows outside the synagogue, or refuse honours to those who have shaved off their beards, or curled their hair, or who dress like Christians, go to the theatre, or observe other customs that bear no actual relation to their religion, but derive from superstition alone as a means of distinguishing them from other peoples.’”
In France, it had been the less typical, socially marginalized Jews who had pressed for emancipation. Even the more acculturated Sephardic Jews of Bourdeaux and Bayonne had been slow to ask for emancipation, first, because they feared that they might have to pay for liberties which they already enjoyed de facto, and secondly, because they wanted to be clearly delineated from the Ashkenazi Jews of Alsace.
The latter, continues Vital, “had been slower still to ask for liberation. There is no evidence of their authorized representatives pressing for anything remotely of the kind before the Revolution; and when they made their own first approach to the new National Assembly it was to ask for no more than an end to the special taxes laid upon them and the abolition of the residential, and travel restrictions to which they were subject. The greatest anxiety of the Alsatians was to retain their own internal communal autonomy – to which end, with only rare exceptions, they (at all events, their authorized representatives) were prepared to forgo emancipation altogether. Only when they learned that other branches of French Jewry, the small community in Paris among them, were prepared to yield to the demand that they give up their ancient corporate status did the Alsatians and Lorrainers fall, reluctantly, into line.”
The question: to emancipate or not to emancipate? was to cause bitter divisions in Jewry that have continued to the present day. It brought into sharp focus another question: was it possible for the Jews, while remain Jewish, ever to become an integral part of non-Jewish society? And if not, how were they to live – as a separate nation with its own homeland and language as the other Gentile nations, or in some other way?
The extreme revolutionary zeal of many of the champions of Jewish emancipation, on the one hand, and the equally extreme bigotry and ghetto-creating mentality of the opponents of emancipation, on the other, suggested that there was no easy solution to this problem, even with the best intentions of the Gentile rulers.
For, as Norman Stone points out, “Jewish emancipation was a double-edged operation. It required a fundamental change in the conduct and the attitudes both of the host societies and of the Jews themselves. It demanded the dismantling not only of the constraints imposed on Jews from outside but also of the ‘internal ghetto’ in Jewish minds. Modern concern with the roots of anti-Semitism sometimes overlooks the severity of the Jews’ own laws of segregation. Observant Jews could not hold to the 613 rules of dress, diet, hygience and worship if they tried to live outside their own closed community; and intermarriage was strictly forbidden. Since Judaic law taught that Jewishness was biologically inherited in the maternal line, Jewish women were jealously protected. A girl who dared to marry out could expect to be disowned by her family, and ritually pronounced dead. Extreme determination was needed to withstand such acute social pressures…”
Napoleon and the Jews
If the French revolution gave the Jews their first great political victory, Napoleon gave them their second. On May 22, 1799, Napoleon’s Paris Moniteur published the following report, penned from Constantinople on April 17: “Buonaparte has published a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and Africa to come and place themselves under his flag in order to re-establish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number and their battalions are threatening Aleppo.”
This was not the first time that the Jews had persuaded a Gentile ruler to restore them to Jerusalem. In the fourth century the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and start rebuilding the Temple. However, fire came out from the foundations and black crosses appeared on the workers’ garments, forcing them to abandon the enterprise.
And the Jews were to be thwarted again. For British sea-power prevented Napoleon from reaching Jerusalem and making himself, as was reported to be his intention, king of the Jews. The Jews would have to wait over a century before another Gentile power – this time, the British – again offered them a return to Zion.
Napoleon now learned what many rulers before and after had learned: that kindness towards the Jews does not make them more tractable. Nechvolodov writes: “Since the first years of the Empire, Napoleon I had become very worried about the Jewish monopoly in France and the isolation in which they lived in the midst of the other citizens, although they had received citizenship. The reports of the departments showed the activity of the Jews in a very bad light: ‘Everywhere there are false declarations to the civil authorities; fathers declare the sons who are born to them to be daughters… Again, there are Jews who have given an example of disobedience to the laws of conscription; out of sixty-nine Jews who, in the course of six years, should have formed part of the Moselle contingent, none has entered the army.’
“By contrast, behind the army, they give themselves up to frenzied speculation.
“’Unfortunately,’ says Thiers describing the entry of the French into Rome in his History of the Revolution, ‘the excesses, not against persons but against property, marred the entry of the French into the ancient capital of the world… Berthier had just left for Paris, Massena had just succeeded him. This hero was accused of having given the first example. He was soon imitated. They began to pillage the palaces, convents and rich collections. Some Jews in the rear of the army bought for a paltry price the magnificent objects which the looters were offering them.’
“It was in 1805, during Napoleon’s passage through Strasbourg, after the victory of Austerlitz, that the complaints against the Jews assumed great proportions. The principal accusations brought against them concerned the terrible use they made of usury. As soon as he returned to Paris, Napoleon judged it necessary to concentrate all his attention on the Jews. In the State Council, during its session of April 30, he said, among other things, the following on this subject:
“’The French government cannot look on with indifference as a vile, degraded nation capable of every iniquity takes exclusive possession of two beautiful departments of Alsace; one must consider the Jews as a nation and not as a sect. It is a nation within a nation; I would deprive them, at least for a certain time, of the right to take out mortgages, for it is too humiliating for the French nation to find itself at the mercy of the vilest nation. Some entire villages have been expropriated by the Jews; they have replaced feudalism… It would be dangerous to let the keys of France, Strasbourg and Alsace, fall into the hands of a population of spies who are not at all attached to the country.’”
Napoleon eventually decided on an extraordinary measure: to convene a 111-strong Assembly of Jewish Notables in order to receive clear and unambiguous answers to the following questions: did the Jewish law permit mixed marriages; did the Jews regard Frenchmen as foreigners or as brothers; did they regard France as their native country, the laws of which they were bound to obey; did the Judaic law draw any distinction between Jewish and Christian debtors? At the same time, writes Johnson, Napoleon “supplemented this secular body by convening a parallel meeting of rabbis and learned laymen, to advise the Assembly on technical points of Torah and halakhah. The response of the more traditional elements of Judaism was poor. They did not recognize Napoleon’s right to invent such a tribunal, let alone summon it…”
However, if some traditionalists did not welcome it, other Jews received the news with unbounded joy. “According to Abbé Lemann,” writes Nechvolodov, “they grovelled in front of him and were ready to recognize him as the Messiah. The sessions of the Sanhedrin [composed of 46 rabbis and 25 laymen from all parts of Western Europe] took place in February and March, 1807, and the Decision of the Great Sanhedrin began with the words:
“’Blessed forever is the Lord, the God of Israel, Who has placed on the throne of France and of the kingdom of Italy a prince according to His heart. God has seen the humiliation of the descendants of ancient Jacob, and He has chosen Napoleon the Great to be the instrument of His mercy… Reunited today under his powerful protection in the good town of Paris, to the number of seventy-one doctors of the law and notables of Israel, we constitute a Great Sanhedrin, so as to find in us a means and power to create religious ordinances in conformity with the principles of our holy laws, and which may serve as a rule and example to all Israelites. These ordinances will teach the nations that our dogmas are consistent with the civil laws under which we live, an do not separate us at all from the society of men…’”
“Love of country is in the heart of Jews a sentiment so natural, so powerful, and so consonant with their religious opinions, that a French Jew considers himself in England, as among strangers, although he may be among Jews; and the case is the same with English Jews in France. To such a pitch is this sentiment carried among them, that during the last war, French Jews were fighting desperately against other Jews, the subject of countries then at war with France.”
“The Jewish delegates,” writes Platonov, “declared that state laws had the same obligatory force for Jews, that every honourable study of Jewish teaching was allowed, but usury was forbidden, etc. [However,] to the question concerning mixed marriages of Jews and Christians they gave an evasive, if not negative reply. ‘Although mixed marriages between Jews and Christians cannot be clothed in a religious form, they nevertheless do not draw upon them any anathema.”
On the face of it, the Decision of the Sanhedrin was a great triumph for Napoleon, who could now treat Jewry as just another religious denomination, and not a separate nation. And indeed, as Douglas Reed says, “Orthodox Judaism, with the face of it turned towards the West, denied any suggestion that the Jews would form a nation within nations. Reform Judaism in time ‘eliminated every prayer expressing so much as even the suspicion of a hope or desire for any form of Jewish national resurrection’ (Rabbi Moses P. Jacobson).”
However, the Jews did not restrain their money-lending and speculative activities, as Napoleon had pleaded with them. On the contrary, only one year after the convening of the Great Sanhedrin, Napoleon was forced to adopt repressive measures against their financial excesses. Moreover, Napoleon created rabbinic consistories in France having disciplinary powers over Jews and granted rabbis the status of state officials – a measure that was strengthen the powers of the rabbis over their people. In time Jewish consistories were created all over Europe. They “began the stormy propaganda of Judaism amidst Jews who had partially fallen away from the religion of their ancestors, organised rabbinic schools and spiritual seminaries for the education of youth in the spirit of Talmudic Judaism.”
Moreover, as Tikhomirov points out, “no laws could avert the international links of the Jews. Sometimes they even appeared openly, as in Kol Ispoel Khaberim (Alliance Israelite Universelle), although many legislatures forbid societies and unions of their own citizens to have links with foreigners. The Jews gained a position of exceptional privilege. For the first time in the history of the diaspora they acquired greater rights than the local citizens of the countries of the dispersion. One can understand that, whatever the further aims for the resurrection of Israel might be, the countries of the new culture and statehood became from that time a lever of support for Jewry.”
Indeed, the main result of the Great Sanhedrin, writes Nechvolodov, “was to unite Judaism still more. “’Let us not forget from where we draw our origin,’ said Rabbi Salomon Lippmann Cerfbeer on July 26, 1808, in his speech for the opening of the preparatory assembly of the Sanhedrin:- ‘Let it no longer be a question of “German” or “Portuguese” Jews; although disseminated over the surface of the globe, we everywhere form only one unique people.’”
The emancipation of the Jews in France led to their emancipation in other countries under French influence, as we have seen. Even after the fall of Napoleon, on June 8, 1815, the Congress of Vienna decreed that “it was incumbent on the members of the German Confederation to consider an ‘amelioration’ of the civil status of all those who ‘confessed the Jewish faith in Germany.’” Gradually, though not without opposition, Jewish emancipation spread throughout Europe.
Napoleon and the Latin American Revolutions
Another kind of nationalism owed its origins to the impact of Napoleon, not on whole societies, but directly on certain individuals, who then tried to imitate Napoleon’s impact on society as a whole. Such individuals were generally ambitious adventurers who managed by hook or by crook to impose themselves on weakened government structures and then claim for themselves the mandate of the people, as if their individual will represented the “general will” of the people. Simple despotism, in other words, disguised as liberation from despotism. Very often these “liberated” peoples had no idea that they had been a distinct nation before, and would have been much happier without any “liberator”. They were indeed “forced to be free”, in Rousseau’s phrase.
The most famous of the “liberators” was Simon Jose Antonio de la Santissima Trinidad de Bolivar. Bolivar is a good example of the terrible spiritual damage done to a whole generation of young men by the heroic image of Napoleon. Just as Napoleon himself stood between the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the passion of the Romantic age, uniting them in the image of himself fighting for both the ideals of the Enlightenment and the death-defying glory of the romantic hero, so did Bolivar and a host of similar adventurers in Central and South America aspire to unite national “liberation” with personal glory.
“Bolivar arrived in the French capital just in time for Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor of the French, an event he watched with fascination. In March 1805 ... he saw Napoleon crown himself king of Italy. ‘I centred my attention on Napoleon and saw nothing but him out of that crowd of men,’ he wrote. He travelled on to Rome under the spell of this vision and there, after considering what he had seen, he ascended the Monte Sacro, where he fell on his knees and swore an oath before Rodriguez to liberate South America.”
Bolivar seized his chance after Napoleon deposed King Ferdinand VII of Spain, which eventually unleashed a strong nationalist backlash in Spain – but not before breaking the legal links between Spain and its colonies in the Americas. Returning to Venezuela, Boliva proceeded to win, lose and finally reconquer Caracas from the Spaniards in a series of civil wars distinguished by appalling savagery on both sides. Although the Venezuelan Republic had been proclaimed on a whites-only franchise in 1811, thereby excluding all Indians and blacks from “the nation”, and although Bolivar himself was a slave-owner and to all intents and purposes Spanish, on reconquering Caracas in 1813 he immediately likened all royalist Spaniards to wandering Jews, to be “cast out and persecuted”, and declared: “Any Spaniard who does not work against tyranny in favour of the just cause, by the most active and effective means, shall be considered an enemy and punished as a traitor to the country and in consequence shall inevitably be shot. Spaniards and Canarios, depend upon it, you will die, even if you are simply neutral, unless you actively espouse the liberation of America.” Bolivar was as good as his word, and proceeded to slaughter the whole Spanish population of Caracas – whereupon the people he had supposedly come to liberate, the Indians and blacks, both free and slave, marched against him under the slogan of “Long live Ferdinand VII”! After murdering a further 1200 Spaniards in retaliation, Bolivar then harangued the inhabitants of Caracas, saying: “You may judge for yourselves, without partiality, whether I have not sacrificed my life, my being, every minute of my time in order to make a nation of you.”
Like his idol Napoleon, and many Latin American strongmen since, Bolivar did not like the people expressing its will in elections, which he called “the greatest scourge of republics [which] produce only anarchy”. The liberator of Mexico, Agustin de Iturbide, agreed, proclaiming himself Emperor in 1822. But such unrepublican immodesty was nothing compared to Bolivar’s, who “hung in the dining room of his villa outside Bogota a huge portrait of himself being crowned by two genii, with the inscription: ‘Bolivar is the God of Colombia’.”
Nor, in the end, did he have much time for the people he had liberated. Shortly after the assassination of his right-hand man, General José Antonio de Sucre, when he was in self-imposed exile in Europe, he admitted that independence was the only benefit he had brought “at the cost of everything else”, and declared: “America is ungovernable. He who serves the revolution ploughs the sea… This country will inexorably fall into the hands of uncontrollable multitudes, thereafter to pass under… tyrants of all colours and races. Those who have served the revolution have ploughed the sea. The only thing to do in America is emigrate.” And again: “America can be ruled only by an able despotism.”
Despotism also prevailed in another “liberated” country of the region, Paraguay, where it became a “secular replacement” for the former “Jesuit communist empire”.
“After independence,” writes David Landes, “like other debris states of the great Hispanic empire, Paraguay had fallen almost immediately under the control of dictators. The laws said republic, but the practice was one-man rule – a mix of benevolent despotism and populist tyranny. The first of these dictators…, Dr. Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, was something special. A Jacobin ideologue, and like many of the French variety, a lawyer by training, Francia was committed to a republic of equals and him more equal than the rest. He was he was the ‘organic leader’, the elitist embodying the popular will… Dr. Francia and his successors, Lopez father and son, would turn the country into an enlightened Sparta – egalitarian, literate, disciplined, and brave.”
“It is generally accepted,” writes Zamoyski, “that the former Spanish colonies never again achieved the wealth in which they had basked before 1810. Some maintain that they were also better governed, more lawful and more peaceful under Spanish rule than at any time since, and there is something to be said for this view.
“Slavery was finally abolished in the former Spanish colonies in the late 1850s, but economic slavery remained endemic throughout the region. The manner in which independence and nationhood were forced upon these societies gave rise to systemic instability. The various Liberators could not count on devotion to a cause to animate their troops and supporters, as the cause was imaginary. Nor could they mobilize one whole section of the population on behalf of a specific interest for any length of time. And they certainly could not depend on colleagues, who were bound, sooner or later, to contest their authority. They therefore had to keep rearranging alliances and decapitating any faction that grew too strong. In order to enlist the loyalty and sympathy of the lower orders, they would make a point of drawing these into the army. But as such recruits became professionals, they cut their links with the classes they came from and grew into arrogant Praetorians who carried with them an element of incipient mutiny.”
There is a profound irony here. The cult of the nation introduced by article three of the Rights of Man was meant to unite the peoples, not disunite them. But in fact it divided and splintered the Americas, as it had divided and splintered Europe.
Romanticism and Nationalism
Reference has already been made to that broader movement, known as Romanticism, which fed into the development of nationalism from the other side of the Rhine. Romanticism was born as a reaction to the Enlightenment and, more generally, to the whole classical concept of civilisation. If the English Enlightenment dominated the cultural life of the early 18th century, and the French Enlightenment - the later part of the century, then German Romanticism dominated the intellectual and cultural life of the 19th century.
Hume had shown that the empirical, rationalist view of the world had, paradoxically, no rational foundations, for it led to a denial of the objective existence of God, the soul, morality and even of the external world. Kant desperately attempted to rescue something from Hume’s withering criticism. But ultimately he begat, not a rebirth of empiricism on rational foundations, but the German philosophy of idealism, which turned everything on its head by defining the world as spirit, the objective as the subjective.
Romanticism is the counterpart in art to idealism in philosophy. Jacques Barzun attempts to define it thus: “In Romanticism thought and feeling are fused; its bent is toward exploration and discovery at whatever risk of error or failure; the religious emotion is innate and demands expression. Spirit is a reality but where it is placed varies and is secondary: the divine may be reached through nature or art. The individual self is a source of knowledge on which one must act; for one is embarked – engagé, as the 20C Existentialists say. To act, enthusiasm must overcome indifference or despair; impulse must be guided by imagination and reason. The search is for truths, which reside in particulars, not in generalities; the world is bigger and more complex than any set of abstractions, and it includes the past, which is never fully done with. Meditating on past and present leads to the estimate of man as great and wretched. But heroes are real and indispensable. They rise out of the people, whose own mind-and-heart provides the makings of high culture. The errors of heroes and peoples are the price of knowledge, religion, and art, life itself being a heroic tragedy.”
Sir Isaiah Berlin’s definition is also illuminating: “Since the Greeks, and perhaps long before them, men have believed that to the central questions about the nature and purpose of their lives, and of the world in which they lived, true, objective, universal and eternal answers could be found. If the answers could not be discovered by me, then perhaps by someone more expert or wiser than I; if not in the circumstances in which I found myself, then in others more propitious: in an innocent and happy past – a Garden of Eden from which our ancestors had for their sins been expelled, or perhaps in a golden age that still lay in the future, which posterity (perhaps after much labour and suffering) would, or at any rate could, one day reach. It was assumed that all the truly central problems were soluble in principle even if not in practice. Somewhere true answers to all genuine questions must exist, if not in the minds of men, then in the mind of an omniscient being – real or imaginary, material or ideal, a personal deity, or the universe come to full consciousness of itself.
“This presupposition, which underlies most classical and Christian thought, orthodox and heretical, scientific and religious, was connected with the belief that, whether men knew it or not, the whole of life on earth was in some sense bound up with the search for answer to the great, tormenting questions of fact and of conduct; of what there is, was, will be, can be; of what to do, what to live by, what to seek, hope for, admire, fear, avoid; whether the end of life was happiness or justice or virtue or self-fulfilment or grace and salvation. Individuals, schools of thought, entire civilisations differed about what the answers were, about the proper method of discovering them, about the nature and place of moral or spiritual or scientific authority – that is to say, about how to identify the experts who are qualified to discover and communicate the answers. They argued about what constitutes such qualifications and justifies such claims to authority. But there was no doubt that the truth lay somewhere; that it could in principle be found. Conflicting beliefs were held about the central questions: whether the truth was to be found in reason or in faith, in the Church or the laboratory, in the insights of the uniquely privileged individual – a prophet, a mystic, an alchemist, a metaphysician – or in the collective consciousness of a body of men – the society of the faithful, the traditions of a tribe, a race, a nation, a social class, an academy of experts, an elite of uniquely endowed or trained beings – or, on the contrary, in the mind or heart of any man, anywhere, at any time, provided that he remained innocent and uncorrupted by false doctrines. What was common to all these views – incompatible enough for wars of extermination to have been fought in their name – was the assumption that there existed a reality, a structure of things, a rerum natura, which the qualified enquirer could see, study and, in principle, get right. Men were violently divided about the nature and identity of the wise – those who understood the nature of things – but not about the proposition that such wise men existed or could be conceived, and that they would know that which would enable them to deduce correctly what men should believe, how they should act, what they should live by and for.
“This was the great foundation of belief which romanticism attacked and weakened. Whatever the differences between the leading romantic thinkers – the early Schiller and the later Fichte, Schelling and Jacobi, Tieck and the Schlegels when they were young, Chateaubriand and Byron, Coleridge and Carlyle, Kierkegaard, Stirner, Nietzsche, Baudelaire – there runs through their writings a common notion, held with varying degrees of consciousness and depth, that truth is not an objective structure, independent of those who seek it, the hidden treasure waiting to be found, but is itself in all its guises created by the seeker. It is not to be brought into being necessarily by the finite individual: according to some it is created by a greater power, a universal spirit, personal or impersonal, in which the individual is an element, or of which he is an aspect, an emanation, an imperfect reflection. But the common assumption of the romantics that runs counter to the philosophia perennis is that the answers to the great questions are not to be discovered so much as to be invented. They are not something found, they are something literally made. In its extreme Idealistic form it is a vision of the entire world. In its more familiar form, it confines itself to the realm of values, ideals, rules of conduct – aesthetic, religious, social, moral, political – a realm seen not as a natural or supernatural order capable of being investigated, described and explained by the appropriate method – rational examination or some more mysterious procedure – but as something that man creates, as he creates works of art; not by imitating, or even obtaining illumination from, pre-existent models or truths, or by applying pre-existent truths or rules that are objective, universal, eternal, unalterable but by an act of creation, the introduction into the world of something literally novel – the activity, natural or supernatural, human or in part divine, owing nothing to anything outside it (in some versions because nothing can be conceived as being outside it), self-subsistent, self-justified, self-fulfilling. Hence that new emphasis on the subjective and ideal rather than the objective and the real, on the process of creation rather than its effects, on motives rather than consequences; and, as a necessary corollary of all this, on the quality of the vision, the state of mind or soul of the acting agent – purity of heart, innocence of intention, sincerity of purpose rather than getting the answer right, that is, accurate correspondence to the ‘given’. Hence the emphasis on activity, movement that cannot be reduced to static segments, the flow that cannot be arrested, frozen, analysed without being thereby fatally distorted; hence the constant protest against the reduction of ‘life’ to dead fragments, of organism to ‘mere’ mechanical or uniform units; and the corresponding tendency towards similes and metaphors drawn from ‘dynamic’ sciences – biology, physiology, introspective psychology – and the worship of music, which, of all the arts, appears to have the least relation to universally observable, uniform natural order. Hence, too, the celebration of all forms of defiance directed against the ‘given’ – the impersonal, the ‘brute fact’ in morals or in politics – or against the static and the accepted, and the value placed on minorities and martyrs as such, no matter what the ideal for which they suffered.
“This, too, is the source of the doctrine that work is sacred as such, not because of its social function, but because it is the imposition of the individual or collective personality, that is, activity, upon inert stuff. The activity, the struggle is all, the victory nothing: in Fichte’s words, ‘Frei sein ist nichts – frei werden ist der Himmel’ (‘To be free is nothing – to become free is very heaven’). Failure is nobler than success. Self-immolation for a cause is the thing, not the validity of the cause itself, for it is the sacrifice undertaken for its sake that sanctifies the cause, not some intrinsic property of it.
“These are the symptoms of the romantic attitude. Hence the worship of the artist, whether in sound, or word, or colour, as the highest manifestation of the ever-active spirit, and the popular image of the artist in his garret, wild-eyed, wild-haired, poor, solitary, mocked-; but independent, free, spiritually superior to his philistine tormentors. This attitude has a darker side too: worship not merely of the painter or the composer or the poet, but of that more sinister artists whose materials are men – the destroyer of old societies, and the creator of new ones – no matter at what human cost: the superhuman leader who tortures and destroys in order to build on new foundations – Napoleon in his most revolutionary aspect. It is this embodiment of the romantic ideal that took more and more hysterical forms and in its extreme ended in violent irrationalism and Fascism. Yet this same outlook also bred respect for individuality, for the creative impulse, for the unique, the independent, for freedom to live and act in the light of personal, undictated beliefs and principles, of undistorted emotional needs, for the value of personal life, of personal relationships, of the individual conscience, of human rights. The positive and negative heritage of romanticism – on the one hand contempt for opportunism, regard for individual variety, scepticism of oppressive general formulae and final solutions, and on the other self-prostration before superior beings and the exaltation of arbitrary power, passion and cruelty – these tendencies, at once reflected and promoted by romantic doctrines, have done more to mould both the events of our century and the concepts in terms in which they are viewed and explained than is commonly recognised in most histories of our time.”
Romanticism was an individualist attitude par excellence: but it had its collectivist analogues, including nationalism, which may therefore be said to have been nurtured from the streams both of the French Enlightenment and of the German Romantic anti-Enlightenment. Thus “for Byronic romantics,” writes Berlin, “’I’ is indeed an individual, the outsider, the adventurer, the outlaw, he who defies society and accepted values, and follows his own – it may be to his doom, but this is better than conformity, enslavement to mediocrity. But for other thinkers ‘I’ becomes something much more metaphysical. It is a collective – a nation, a Church, a Party, a class, an edifice in which I am only a stone, an organism of which I am only a tiny living fragment. It is the creator; I myself matter only in so far as I belong to the movement, the race, the nation, the class, the Church; I do not signify as a true individual within this super-person to whom my life is organically bound. Hence German nationalism: I do this not because it is good or right or because I like it – I do it because I am a German and this is the German way to live. So also modern existentialism – I do it because I commit myself to this form of existence. Nothing makes me; I do not do it because it is an objective order which I obey, or because of universal rules to which I must adhere; I do it because I create my own life as I do; being what I am, I give it direction and I am responsible for it. Denial of universal values, this emphasis on being above all an element in, and loyal to, a super-self, is a dangerous moment in European history, and has led to a great deal that has been destructive and sinister in modern times; this is where it begins, in the political ruminations and theories of the earliest German romantics and their disciples in France and elsewhere.”
Thus modern European nationalism is the fruit of the union of two ideas coming from two different directions: the French Enlightenment idea of the sovereignty and rights of the Nation, and the German Romantic idea of the uniqueness and self-justification of the Nation. However, if these were the general ideological sources of modern nationalism, in the particular cases of French and German nationalism the immediate causes were more mundane: in the French case, pride, the pride of knowing that France was the first nation to proclaim and realise the ideals of the revolution, and in the German case wounded pride, “some form of collective humiliation" as a result of Napoleon’s victories.
In its early stages Kant, Hegel and Goethe had all praised the Revolution; and Kant’s disciple, Fichte, had even declared that “henceforth the French Republic alone can be the country of the Just”. “But,” writes Zamoyski, “as the revolution progressed, the feeling grew in Germany that the French, with their habitual shallowness, had got it all wrong. They had allowed the pursuit of liberty to degenerate into mob rule and mass slaughter of innocent people because they perceived liberty in mechanical terms. German thinkers were more interested in ‘real liberty', and many believed that it was the ‘corrupt’ nature of the French that had doomed the revolution to failure. Such conclusions allowed for a degree of smugness, suggesting as they did that the French Enlightenment, for all its brilliance, had been flawed, while German intellectual achievements had been more profound and more solid.
“Fichte identified Germany’s greatness as lying in her essentially spiritual destiny. She would never stoop to conquer others, and while nations such as the French, the English or the Spanish scrambled for wealth and dominance, Germany’s role was to uphold the finest values of humanity. Similar claims to a moral mission for Germany were made by Herder, Hölderlin, Schlegel and others…
“It had been central to Herder’s argument that each nation, by virtue of its innate character, had a special role to play in the greater process of history. One after another, nations ascended the world stage to fulfil their ordained purpose. The French were crowding the proscenium, but there was a growing conviction that Germany’s time was coming, and her destiny was about to unfold. The Germans certainly seemed ready for it. The country was awash with under-employed young men, and since the days of the proto-romantic movement of Sturm und Drang the concept of action, both as a revolt against stultifying rational forces and as a transcendent act of self-assertion, had become well established. Fichte equated virtually any action, provided it was bold unfettered, with liberation.
“The problem was that the nation was still not properly constituted. Some defined it by language and culture, or, like Fichte, by a level of consciousness. The Germans were, according to him, more innately creative than other nations, being the only genuine people in Europe, an Urvolk, speaking the only authentic language, Ursprache. Others saw the nation as a kind of church, defined by the ‘mission’ of the German people. Adam Müller affirmed that this mission was to serve humanity with charity, and that any man who dedicated himself to this common purpose should be considered a German. In his lectures of 1806, Fichte made the connection between committed action and nationality. Those who stood up and demonstrated their vitality were part of the Urvolk, those who did not were un-German. Hegel saw the people as a spiritual organism, whose expression, the collective spirit or Volksgeist, was its validating religion. The discussion mingled elements of theology, science and metaphysics to produce uplifting and philosophically challenging confusion.
“But in the absence of clear geographical or political parameters, Germany’s national existence was ultimately dependent on some variant of the racial concept. And this began to be stated with increasing assertiveness. ‘In itself every nationality is a completely closed and rounded whole, a common tie of blood relationship unites all its members; all… must be of one mind and must stick together like one man’, according to Joseph Görres, who had once been an enthusiastic internationalist. ‘This instinctive urge that binds all members into a whole is a law of nature which takes preference over all artificial contracts… The voice of nature in ourselves warns us and points to the chasm between us and the alien’.
“The location and identification of this ‘closed and rounded whole’ involved not just defining German ethnicity, but also delving into the past in search of a typically German and organic national unit to set against the old rationalist French view of statehood based on natural law and the rights of man. The bible of this tendency was Tacitus’s Germania. Placed in its own time, this book is as much about Rome as about Germanic tribes. It imagines the ultimate non-Rome, a place that had not been cleared and cultivated, and a people innocent of the arts of industry and leisure. The forest life it describes is the antithesis to the classical culture of Rome. It is also in some ways the original noble savage myth, representing everything that decadent Rome had lost; beneath Tacitus’s contempt for the savage denizens of the forest lurks a vague fear that by gaining in civilization the Romans had forfeited certain rugged virtues.
“The German nationalists picked up this theme, which mirrored their relation to French culture. Roma and Germania, the city and the forest, corruption and purity, could stand as paradigms for the present situation. The ancient Teutonic hero Arminius (Hermann) had led the revolt of the German tribes against Rome and defeated the legions in the Teutoburg Forest. His descendants who aspired to throw off the ‘Roman’ universalism of France could take heart.”
Dostoyevsky developed the theme of Germany versus Rome: “Germany’s aim is one; it existed before, always. It is her Protestantism – not that single formula of Protestantism which was conceived in Luther’s time, but her continual Protestantism, her continual protest against the Roman world, ever since Arminius, - against everything that was Rome and Roman in aim, and subsequently – against everything that was bequeathed by ancient Rome to the new Rome and to all those peoples who inherited from Rome her idea, her formula and element; against the heir of Rome and everything that constitutes this legacy…
“Ancient Rome was the first to generate the idea of the universal unity of men, and was the first to start thinking of (and firmly believing in) putting it practically into effect in the form of universal empire. However, this formula fell before Christianity – the formula but not the idea. For this idea is that of European mankind; through this idea its civilization came into being; for it alone mankind lives.
“Only the idea of the universal Roman empire succumbed, and it was replaced by a new ideal, also universal, of a communion in Christ. This new ideal bifurcated into the Eastern ideal of a purely spiritual communion of men, and the Western European, Roman Catholic, papal ideal diametrically opposed to the Eastern one.
“This Western Roman Catholic incarnation of the idea was achieved in its own way, having lost, however, its Christian, spiritual foundation and having replaced it with the ancient Roman legacy. [The] Roman papacy proclaimed that Christianity and its idea, without the universal possession of lands and peoples, are not spiritual but political. In other words, they cannot be achieved without the realization on earth of a new universal Roman empire now headed not by the Roman emperor but by the Pope. And thus it was sought to establish a new universal empire in full accord with the spirit of the ancient Roman world, only in a different form.
“Thus, we have in the Eastern ideal – first, the spiritual communion of mankind in Christ, and thereafter, in consequence of the spiritual unity of all men in Christ and as an unchallenged deduction therefrom – a just state and social communion. In the Roman interpretation we have a reverse situation: first it is necessary to achieve firm state unity in the form of a universal empire, and only after that, perhaps, spiritual fellowship under the rule of the Pope as the potentate of this world.
“Since that time, in the Roman world this scheme has been progressing and changing uninterruptedly, and with its progress the most essential part of the Christian element has been virtually lost. Finally, having rejected Christianity spiritually, the heirs of the ancient Roman world likewise renounced [the] papacy. The dreadful French revolution has thundered. In substance, it was but the last modification and metamorphosis of the same ancient Roman formula of universal unity. The new formula, however, proved insufficient. The new idea failed to come true. There even was a moment when all the nations which had inherited the ancient Roman tradition were almost in despair. Oh, of course, that portion of society which in 1789 won political leadership, i.e. the bourgeoisie, triumphed and declared that there was no necessity of going any further. But all those minds which by virtue of the eternal laws of nature are destined to dwell in a state of everlasting universal fermentation seeking new formulae of some ideal and a new word indispensable to the progress of the human organism, - they all rushed to the humiliated and the defrauded, to all those who had not received their share in the new formula of universal unity proclaimed by the French revolution of 1789. These proclaimed a new word of their own, namely, the necessity of universal fellowship not for the equal distribution of rights allotted to a quarter, or so, of the human race, leaving the rest to serve as raw material and a means of exploitation for the happiness of that quarter of mankind, but, on the contrary – for universal equality, with each and every one sharing the blessings of this world, whatever these may prove. It was decided to put this scheme into effect by resorting to all means, i.e., not by the means of Christian civilisation – without stopping at anything.
“Now, what has been Germany’s part in this, throughout these two thousand years? The most characteristic and essential trait of this great, proud and peculiar people – ever since their appearance on the historical horizon – consisted of the fact that they never consented to assimilate their destiny and their principles to those of the outermost Western world, i.e. the heirs of the ancient Roman tradition. The Germans have been protesting against the latter throughout these two thousand years. And even though they did not (never did so far) utter ‘their word’, or set forth their strictly formulated ideal in lieu of the ancient Roman idea, nevertheless, it seems that, within themselves, they always were convinced that they were capable of uttering this ‘new word’ and of leading mankind. They struggled against the Roman world as early as the times of Arminius, and during the epoch of Roman Christianity they, more than any other nation, struggled for the sovereign power against the new Rome.
“Finally, the Germans protested most vehemently, deriving their formula of protest from the innermost spiritual, elemental foundation of the Germanic world: they proclaimed the freedom of inquiry, and raised Luther’s banner. This was a terrible, universal break: the formula of protest had been found and filled with a content; even so it still was a negative formula, and the new, positive word was not yet uttered.
“And now, the Germanic spirit, having uttered this ‘new word’ of protest, as it were, fainted for a while, quite parallel to an identical weakening of the former strictly formulated unity of the forces of his adversary. The outermost Western world, under the influence of the discovery of America, of new sciences and new principles, sought to reincarnate itself in a new truth, in a new phase.
“When, at the time of the French revolution, the first attempt at such a reincarnation took place, the Germanic spirit became quite perplexed, and for a time lost its identity and faith in itself. It proved impotent to say anything against the new ideas of the outermost Western world. Luther’s Protestantism had long outlived its time, while the idea of free inquiry had long been accepted by universal science. Germany’s enormous organism more than ever began to feel that it had no flesh, so to speak, and no form for self-expression. It was then that the pressing urge to consolidate itself, at least outwardly, into a harmonious organism was born in Germany in anticipation of the new future aspects of her eternal struggle against the outermost Western world…”
This “pressing urge” could only be satisfied by the creation of a powerful state, the German Reich. For, wrote Fichte: “Though… the bones of our national unity… may have bleached and died in the storms and rains and burning suns of several centuries, yet the reanimating breath of the spirit world has not ceased to inspire. It will yet raise the dead bones of our national body and join them bone to bone so that they shall stand forth grandly with a new life… No man, no god, nothing in the realm of possibility can help us, but we alone must help ourselves, as long as we deserve it.”
Striking here is the Biblical imagery on the one hand (the vision of the dead bones from Ezekiel 37), and the explicit affirmation that “no man, no god” can help the German nation in its quest for resurrection. How different this quasi-Christian, but in fact pagan call was from the much more Christian call to arms issued by the Russian Church and State to its people only five years later! This shows that the revival of German nationalism owed less to the resurrection of Christian faith than to the resurrection of paganism, and of the myths of the pagan German gods; whose final burial would come over a century later, in the ruins of Nazi Berlin…
“Fichte,” writes Paul Johnson, “was much impressed by Niccolò Machiavelli and saw life as a continuing struggle for supremacy among the nations. The nation-state most likely to survive and profit from this struggle was the one which extended its influence over the lives of its people most widely. And such a nation-state – Germany was the obvious example – would naturally be expansive. ‘Every nation wants to disseminate as widely as possible the good points which are peculiar to it. And, in so far as it can, it wants to assimilate the entire human race to itself in accordance with an urge planted in men by God, an urge on which the community of nations, the friction between them, and their development towards perfection rest.’
“This was a momentous statement because it gave the authority of Germany’s leading academic philosopher to the proposition that the power impulse of the state was both natural and healthy, and it placed the impulse in the context of a moral world view. Fichte’s state was totalitarian and expansive, but it was not revolutionary. Its ‘prince” ruled by hereditary divine right. But ‘the prince belongs to his nation just as wholly and completely as it belongs to him. Its destiny under divine providence is laid in his hands, and he is responsible for it.’ So the prince’s public acts must be moral, in accordance with law and justice, and his private life must be above reproach. In relations between states, however, ‘there is neither law nor justice, only the law of strength. This relationship places the divine, sovereign fights of fate and of world rule in the prince’s hands, and it raises him above the commandments of personal morals and into a higher moral order whose essence is contained in the words, Salus et decus populi suprema lex esto.’ This was an extreme and menacing statement that justified any degree of ruthlessness by the new, developing nation-state in its pursuit of self-determination and self-preservation. The notion of a ‘higher moral order’, to be determined by the state’s convenience, was to find expression, in the 20th century, in what Lenin called ‘the Revolutionary Conscience’ and Hitler ‘the Higher Law of the Party’. Moreover, there was no doubt what kind of state Fichter had in mind. It was not only totalitarian but German. In his Addresses to the German Nation (1807), he laid down as axiomatic that the state of the future can only be the national state, in particular the German national state, the German Reich.”
It was the German Masons who first changed towards Napoleon. As Tikhomirov writes, “having betrayed their fatherland at first, they raised their voices against the French, by virtue of which the German national movement arose.” The stimulus to this was undoubtedly, as Zamoyski writes, “Napoleon’s crushing defeat of the Prussians at the Battle of Jena in 1806. The humiliation of seeing the prestigious army created by the great Frederick trounced by the French led to painful self-appraisal and underlined the need for regeneration. But it also stung German pride and dispelled the last shreds of sympathy for France – and, with them, the universalist dreams of the previous decade.
“The French became villains, and Napoleon himself was even portrayed as the Antichrist, a focus for the crusading struggle of deliverance that would regenerated Germany. Poets composed patriotic verse and anti-Napoleonic songs…
“An analogous wave of renewal swept through society. In 1808 the Tugenbund or League of Virtue, a society for the propagation of civic virtue, was formed in Königsberg and quickly ramified through Prussia. In 1809 Ludwig Jahn founded the more middle-class Deutsche Bund, based in Berlin. Joseph Görres demanded that all foreign elements be expunged from national life, so that essential German characteristics might flourish, and declared that no power could stand in the way of a nation intent on defending its soul. ‘That to which the Germans aspire will be granted to them, the day when, in their interior, they will have become worthy of it.’ Even the archetypically Enlightenment cosmopolitan Wilhelm von Humboldt was turning into a Prussian patriot. He was reorganizing the state education system at the time, and manage to transform it into a curiously spiritual one in which education and religion of state are inextricably intertwined.
“But while the mood changed, reality had not. Germany was still divided and cowered under French hegemony. To the deep shame of much of her officer corps, Prussia was still an ally of France when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. Her forces, which did not take part in the march on Moscow, were to support the French and secure their flank in East Prussia. And it was when the frozen remnants were trudging back into Prussia and Poland that this support would have been most welcome. But it was precisely then that the Prussian military judged it safe to show their colours. General von Yorck, in command of 14,000 men in East Prussia, found himself in a pivotal position. With his support, Marshal Macdonald would be able to hold the line of the River Niemen and keep the Russians out of Poland; without it, he had no option but full retreat. The Prussian general had been in touch with the Russians for some time, through the intermediary of a young German officer in Russian service by the name of Carl von Clausewitz. On Christmas Day 1812 Yorck met the commander of the Russian advance guard and, by a convention he signed with them at Tauroggen, repudiated Prussia’s alliance with France. It was an act of mutiny, the first in a series of acts by the German army to ‘save’ the fatherland against the orders of its political leaders. It was also the signal for all the nationalists to come out into the open.
“The irascible Ernst Moritz Arndt was well to the fore. ‘Oh men of Germany!’ he exhorted, ‘feel again your God, hear and fear the eternal, and you heard and fear also your Volk; you feel again in God the honour and dignity of your fathers, their glorious history rejuvenates itself again in you, their firm and gallant virtue reblossoms in you, the whole German Fatherland stands again before you in the august halo of past centuries… One faith, one love, one courage, and one enthusiasm must gather again the whole German Volk in brotherly community… Be Germans, be one, will to be one by love and loyalty, and no devil will vanquish you.’
“The king of Prussia did not feel quite brave enough to ‘be German’ yet. He ordered the arrest of Yorck, and then moved to Breslau, where he was out of reach of the French. In March 1813, when he saw that it was safe for him to jump on the anti-Napoleon bandwagon, Frederick William announced the formation of citizens’ volunteer forces, the Landwehr and the Landsturm. On 17 March he issued a proclamation to the effect that his soldiers would ‘fight for our independence and the honour of the Volk’, and summoned every son of the fatherland to participate. ‘My cause is the cause of my Volk,’ he concluded, less than convincingly. But nobody was looking too closely at anyone’s motives in the general excitement. The cause of the German fatherland justified everything. ‘Strike them dead!’ Heinrich von Kleist had urged the soldiers setting off to war with the French. ‘At the last judgement you will not be asked for your reasons!’
“The campaign of 1813, when the patched-up Napoleonic forces attempted to stand up to the combined armies of Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Austria, and finally succumbed at Leipzig, should, according to Chateaubriand, go down in history as ‘the campaign of young Germany, of the poets’. That was certainly the perception. The by no means young Fichte finished his lecture on the subject of duty and announced to his students at Berlin that the course was suspended until they gained liberty or death. He marched out of the hall amid wild cheers, and led the students off to put their names down for the army…
“The War of Liberation, Freiheitskrieg, was, above all, a war of purification and self-discovery. It did not stop with the expulsion of French forces from Germany in 1813. If anything, it was in the course of 1814, when Napoleon's forces were fighting for survival on French soil, that the War of Liberation really got going in Germany…
“But the War of Liberation was being waged no less vehemently at the cultural level. The poets were not squeamish when it came to singing of the national crusade, while the painters rallied to the cause in a memorable way. Caspar David Friedrich, who had already done so much to represent the symbolic German landscape as an object of worship through a series of paintings in which people are depicted contemplating its wonder like so many saints adoring the nativity in a medieval triptych, now turned to glorifying the nation. He painted several representations of an imaginary tomb of Hermann, evocatively set among craggy boulders and fir trees. And he also produced various set-pieces representing the war. Other painters depicted groups of patriotic German volunteers going forth in their hats to free the fatherland. Joseph Görres led a movement demanding the completion of Cologne Cathedral as a sign of German regeneration. ‘Long shall Germany live in shame and humiliation, a prey to inner conflict and alien arrogance, until her people return to the ideals from which they were seduced by selfish ambition, and until true religion and loyalty, unity of purpose and self-denial shall again render them capable of erecting such a building as this,’ he wrote.”
And yet the majority of the German people no longer believed either in the Catholicism that had erected Cologne cathedral, nor in the Protestantism that had first raised the word of protest against the Franco-Roman world and civilisation. As so often happens with nationalistic movements, the attempt to resurrect the past was actually a sign that the past was definitely dead. Thus European nationalism, of which German nationalism was perhaps the most characteristic example, was a new, degenerate religion taking up the void in the European soul that was left by the death of Christianity.
“The nation,” writes Mosse, “was the intermediary between the individual and a personal scheme of values and ethics; outside the nation no life or creativity was possible.”
Görres put it as follows: “Let the nation learn to trace itself to its source, delve into its roots: it will find in its innermost being a fathomless well-spring which rises from subterranean treasure; many minds have already been enriched by drawing on the hoard of the Niebelungen; and still it lies there inexhaustible, in the depths of its lair.”
From now on, European man would only rarely be induced to die for God or Church or Sovereign. But he could be induced to die for his country. And that not simply because it is natural to die for hearth and home, but because the nation was now seen to incarnate the highest value, whether that value was defined as simply racial superiority (Germany), or cultural eminence (France), or the rule of law in freedom (England).
However, Mosse argues, “it must never be forgotten that the vision of a better life was a part of all nationalisms. In none of the [nationalist] ideologies discussed was the worship of the nation something in and of itself; it was always the necessary way to a better life, a new freedom… All believed that once they had been united by a true national spirit greater happiness for everybody would be the result.”
“European politics in the nineteenth century,” writes Golo Mann, “fed on the French Revolution. No idea, no dream, no fear, no conflict appeared which had not been worked through in that fateful decade: democracy and socialism, reaction, dictatorship, nationalism, imperialism, pacifism.”
However, of these ideas the one that dominated immediately after the defeat of Napoleon was reaction.
Napoleon’s escape from Elba in 1814, and the closeness of the struggle that finally succeeded in overthrowing him in 1815, meant that, as Davies writes, the Congress of Vienna that reconvened after Waterloo “met in chastened mood. The representatives of the victorious powers could not be accused, as in the previous year, of ‘dancing instead of making progress’. They were ready to risk nothing. They were determined, above all, to restore the rights of monarchy – the sacred institution considered most threatened by the Revolution. In so doing they, with the partial exception of Tsar Alexander, as we shall see in the next chapter, paid little attention to the claims either of democracy or of nationality….
“The spirit of the settlement, therefore, was more than conservative: it actually put the clock back. It was designed to prevent change in a world where the forces of change had only been contained by a whisker. The Duke of Wellington’s famous comment on Waterloo was: ‘a damned nice thing, the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’. Such was the feeling all over Europe. The issue between change and no change was so close that the victors felt terrified of the least concession. Even limited, gradual reform was viewed with suspicion. ‘Beginning reform,’ wrote the Duke in 1830, ‘is beginning revolution.’ What is more, France, the eternal source of revolutionary disturbances, had not been tamed. Paris was to erupt repeatedly – in 1830, 1848, 1851, 1870. ‘When Paris sneezes,’ commented the Austrian Chancellor, Metternich, ‘Europe catches cold.’ French-style democracy was a menace threatening monarchy, Church, and property – the pillars of everything he stood for. It was, he said, ‘the disease which must be cured, the volcano which must be extinguished, the gangrene which must be burned out with a hot iron, the hydra with jaws open to swallow up the social order’.
“In its extreme form, as embodied by Metternich, the reactionary spirit of 1815 was opposed to any sort of change which did not obtain prior approval. It found expression in the first instance in the Quadruple Alliance of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Britain, who agreed to organize future congresses whenever need arose, and then in a wider ‘Holy Alliance’ organized by the Tsar. The former produced the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), which readmitted France to the concert of respectable nations. The latter produced the proposal that the powers should guarantee existing frontiers and governments in perpetuity.”
France readmitted to the concert of nations because the victorious powers judged that it was an ideology, Jacobinism, rather than a nation, France, that was the real enemy, while former revolutionaries who no longer practised revolution could be forgiven (the reverse judgement was made in 1919). For, as Eric Hobsbawn writes, “it was now known that revolution in a single country could be a European phenomenon; that its doctrines could spread across the frontiers and, what was worse, its crusading armies could blow away the political systems of a continent. It was now known that social revolution was possible; that nations existed as something independent of states, peoples as something independent of their rulers, and even that the poor existed as something independent of the ruling classes. ‘The French Revolution,’ De Bonald had observed in 1796, ‘is a unique event in history.’ The phrase is misleading: it was a universal event. No country was immune from it. The French soldiers who campaigned from Andalusia to Moscow, from the Baltic to Syria – over a vaster area than any body of conquerors since the Mongols, and certainly a vaster area than any previous single military force in Europe except the Norsemen – pushed the universality of their revolution home more effectively than anything else could have done. And the doctrines and institutions they carried with them, even under Napoleon, from Spain to Illyria, were universal doctrines, as the governments knew, and as the peoples themselves were soon to know. A Greek bandit and patriot expressed their feelings completely: “’According to my judgement,’ said Koloktrones, ‘the French Revolution and the doings of Napoleon opened the eyes of the world. The nations knew nothing before, and the people thought that kings were gods upon the earth and that they were bound to say that whatever they did was well done. Through this present change it is more difficult to rule the people.’”
The French revolution had another long-term effect: it justified all kinds of crime in the name of politics.
As Paul Johnson writes: “Perhaps the most significant characteristic of the dawning modern world, and in this respect it was a true child of Rousseau, was the tendency to relate everything to politics. In Latin America, every would-be plunderer or ambitious bandit now called himself a ‘liberator’; murderers killed for freedom, thieves stole for the people. In Spain, during the 1820s, believers and nonbelievers, those who liked kings and those who hated them, began to regard their faith, or lack of it, as a justification for forming private armies which defied the lawful authorities. Organized crime now took a party label and put forward a program and thereby became better organized and a more formidable threat to society.
“Thus violence acquired moral standing and the public was terrorized for its own good. Many years before, Samuel Johnson, in upholding the rights of authority, had qualified his defense by pointing to a corresponding and inherent human right to resist oppresssion: ‘Why all this childish jealousy of the power of the Crown?… In no government can power be abused long. Mankind will not bear it. If a sovereign oppresses his people to a great degree, they will rise and cut off his head.’ The French Revolution had lowered the threshold of abuse at which men rose. It proved that cutting off royal heads was easier than had previously been thought and did not bring down the heavens. That undoubted fact was now a permanent temptation to every enemy of society who wished to acquire moral respectability for his crimes. It operated, in particular, throughout the Mediterranean area, where every government oppressed its subjects to some degree and there were usually no lawful forms of redress. In the past, men with a grievance had suffered in silence or taken to the hills and robbed. Now the hitherto resigned joined secret societies, and the bandits called themselves politicians.”
These secret societies continued the revolution on an international scale. Johnson again: “Like the Comintern in the 1930s, they were a European phenomenon and, to some extent, coordinated and centrally directed. But unlike the Comintern, they did not have an ultimate national base, where they could be trained and from which money and arms could flow.
“The most important figure, or so it was supposed, was Filipo Michele Buonarrotti (1761-1837), a Pisan by birth, and proud of his descent from Michelangelo. Becoming a naturalized French citizen, he took part in the French Revolution and was imprisoned and deported for his part in the conspiracy organized by François-Emile Babeuf, the proto-communist who tried to overthrow the Directory. He came out of prison in 1809 and immediately resumed underground work in northern Italy with Republican elements in the French occupation and local malcontents and ‘patriots’. He founded a network called the Adelphi, which migrated to Geneva when the Austrians took over Lombardy and changed its name to the Sublime Perfect Masters.
“The Sublime Perfect Masters combined illuminism, freemasonry and radical politics with a good deal of pretentious symbolism. Its structure was hierarchical, only the most senior levels knowing its inner secrets, and Buonarrotti came closer to the isolated cell system of modern terrorist groups, which makes them so difficult to destroy, even if penetrated. The various police forces never discovered much about his apparatus, which is the reason we know so little about it. In theory it was formidable, since it had links with a Directive Committee in Paris which coordinated Orléanist, Jacobin, Bonapartist, and Republican subversion, with various German groups, such as the Tugendbund and the Unbedingren; with Spanish Masons and communeros; and even with a Russian group called the Union of Salvation, the whole supposedly existing under a mysterious body, also in Geneva, called the Grand Firmament. In Italy, the Sublime Perfect Masters had links with the Carbonari, which operated in the center and the south. Contact was maintained by special handshakes, secret codes, invisible ink and other devices… But it is a notable fact that Buonarrotti, in particular, and the networks, in general, never once succeeded in organizing a successful conspiracy or one which can fairly be said to have got off the ground. Moreover when uprisings did take place and governments were overthrown, as in Spain in 1820, Buonarrotti – like Marx, and indeed Lenin, later – was taken completely by surprise…”
The major powers had many problems in their struggle against the revolution. One was that it required large resources and in particular a much larger police (and secret police) apparatus than any state had hitherto possessed. Secondly, the powers were not united amongst themselves. France was still distrusted; Austria did not want Russian Cossacks settling problems on her territory; Britain, which had played such an important role in defeating Napoleon, was nevertheless not averse to helping this or that revolutionary movement (particularly in the Iberian Peninsula and South America) if this suited her balance-of-power politics, and was opposed to “interventionism on ideological grounds, as practiced by the Holy Alliance, because its object was to impose or sustain a particular type of government, which ran directly counter to the Zeitgeist”.
The Zeitgeist was anti-monarchist; and even the absolutist rulers felt they could not go completely against it. They made their first compromise with it in the conditions they imposed on France in 1818. For, as Hobsbawm writes, while “the Bourbons were restored,… it was understood that they had to make concessions to the dangerous spirit of their subjects. The major changes of the Revolution were accepted, and that inflammatory device, a constitution, was granted to them – though of course in an extremely moderate form – under the guise of a Charter ‘freely conceded’ by the returned absolute monarch, Louis XVIII.” Another compromise was the granting of senior posts to former revolutionaries, “reconciling”, if that were possible, the reactionary King Louis XVIII with some of the men who had caused his brother Louis XVI’s death.
Making concessions to the Zeitgeist was only a short-term solution. For appeasement, as rulers from Ethelred the Unready to Joseph Chamberlain have discovered, can never tame a really determined enemy, but rather whets his appetite for more. As Friedrich von Gentz to the Laibach Congress of the Holy Alliance, 1821: “Revolution must be fought with flesh and blood. Moral weapons are manifestly powerless.”
What was needed was another, more powerful spirit to oppose the corrupt spirit of the times, a positive doctrine of religious and political authority that was deeper and truer than the revolutionary doctrine. But none of the great powers was able to provide a positive teaching to reinforce and justify their alternately conciliatory and repressive measures, for the simple reason that none of them – with the exception of Russia – was Orthodox, and very few, even in Russia, were capable of communicating that positive message to those infected with the revolutionary contagion. What the great powers did have was a negative teaching, a teaching on the evil of the revolution that had some truth in it, but, precisely because it was only negative, little effectiveness. The most fervently anti-revolutionary power, as was to be expected, was the Vatican, which was trying to make up for its lapse in the time of Napoleon. Thus in his encylical Mirari vos (1832), Pope Gregory XVI declared that anti-monarchism was a crime against the faith, and that liberty of conscience flowed from “the most fetid fount of indifferentism”.
But the most eloquent defenders of the old order were two French aristocrats, Count Joseph de Maistre, a former envoy of Sardinia to Russia, and Viscount Louis de Bonald. De Maistre wrote: “All grandeur, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner: he is the horror and bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and at that moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears. God, Who is the author of sovereignty, is the author also of punishment.”
De Bonald wrote: “Today… who does not see the danger of granting anyone and everyone… the terrible liberty to indoctrinate, in religion and in politics, a public which everywhere is made up largely of mistaken, ignorant, and violent men?… There is no true liberty of the press… except under the guarantee of censorship to prevent licence of thought. There is no civil liberty without laws to prevent actions that create disorder.”
Berlin writes on these deeply conservative authors: “What the entire Enlightenment has in common is denial of the central Christian doctrine of original sin, believing instead that man is born either innocent and good, or morally neutral and malleable by education or environment, or, at worst, deeply defective but capable of radical and indefinite improvement by rational education in favourable circumstances, or by a revolutionary reorganisation of society as demanded, for example, by Rousseau. It is this denial of original sin that the Church condemned most severely in Rousseau’s Émile, despite its attack on materialism, utilitarianism and atheism. It is the powerful reaffirmation of this Pauline and Augustinian doctrine that is the sharpest single weapon in the root-and-branch attack on the entire Enlightenment by the French counter-revolutionary writers Maistre, Bonald and Chateaubriand, at the turn of the century.
“… The doctrines of Joseph de Maistre and his followers and allies… formed the spearhead of the counter-revolution in the early nineteenth century in Europe. Maistre held the Enlightenment to be one of the most foolish, as well as the most ruinous, forms of social thinking. The conception of man as naturally disposed to benevolence, co-operation and peace, or, at any rate, capable of being shaped in this direction by appropriate education or legislation, is for him shallow and false. The benevolent Dame Nature of Hume, Holbach and Helvétius is an absurd figment. History and zoology are the most reliable guides to nature: they show her to be a field of unceasing slaughter. Men are by nature aggressive and destructive; they rebel over trifles – the change to the Gregorian calendar in the mid-eighteenth century, or Peter the Great’s decision to shave the boyars’ beards, provoke violent resistance, at times dangerous rebellions. But when men are sent to war, to exterminate beings as innocent as themselves for no purpose that either army can grasp, they go obediently to their deaths and scarcely ever mutiny. When the destructive instinct is evoked men feel exalted and fulfilled. Men do not come together, as the Enlightenment teaches, for mutual co-operation and peaceful happiness; history makes it clear that they are never so united as when given a common altar upon which to immolate themselves. This is so because the desire to sacrifice themselves or others is at least as strong as any pacific or constructive impulse.
“Maistre felt that men are by nature evil, self-destructive animals, full of conflicting drives, who do not know what they want, want what they do not want, do not want what they want, and it is only when they are kept under constant control and rigorous discipline by some authoritarian elite – a Church, a State, or some other body from whose decisions there is no appeal – that they can hope to survive and be saved. Reasoning, analysis, criticism shake the foundations and destroy the fabric of society. If the source of authority is declared to be rational, it invites questioning and doubt; but if it is questioned it may be argued away; its authority is undermined by able sophists, and this accelerates the forces of chaos, as in France during the reign of the weak and liberal Louis XVI. If the State is to survive and frustrate the fools and knaves who will always seek to destroy it, the source of its authority must be absolute, so terrifying, indeed, that the least attempt to question it must entail immediate and terrible sanctions: only then will men learn to obey it. Without a clear hierarchy of authority – awe-inspiring power – men’s incurably destructive instincts will breed chaos and mutual extermination. The supreme power – especially the Church – must never seek to explain or justify itself in rational terms; for what one man can demonstrate, another may be able to refute. Reason is the thinnest of walls against the raging seas of violent emotion: on so insecure a basis no permanent structure can ever be erected. Irrationality, so far from being an obstacle, has historically led to peace, security and strength, and is indispensable to society: it is rational institutions – republics, elective monarchies, democracies, associations founded on the enlightened principles of free love – that collapse soonest; authoritarian Churches, hereditary monarchies and aristocracies, traditional forms of life, like the highly irrational institutions of the family, founded on life-long marriage – it is they that persist.
“The philosophes proposed to rationalise communications by inventing a universal language free from the irrational survivals, the idiosyncratic twists and turns, the capricious peculiarities of existing tongues; if they were to succeed, this would be disastrous, for it is precisely the individual historical development of a language belonging to a people that absorbs, enshrines and encapsulates a vast wealth of half-conscious, half-remembered collective experience. What men call superstition and prejudice are but the crust of custom which by sheer survival has shown itself proof against the ravages and vicissitudes of its long life; to lose it is to lose the shield that protects men’s national existence, their spirit, the habits, memories, faith that have made them what they are. The conception of human nature which the radical critics have promulgated and on which their whole house of cards rests is an infantile fantasy. Rousseau asks why it is that man, who was born free, is nevertheless everywhere in chains; Maistre replies, ‘This mad pronouncement, Man is born free, is the opposite of the truth.’ ‘It would be equally reasonable,’ adds the eminent critic Émile Faguet in an essay on Maistre, ‘to say that sheep are born carnivorous, and everywhere nibble grass.’ Men are not made for freedom, nor for peace. Such freedom and peace as they have had were obtained only under wisely authoritarian governments that have repressed the destructive critical intellect and its socially disintegrating effects. Scientists, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, democrats, Jansenists, Protestants, Jews, atheists – these are the sleepless enemy that never ceases to gnaw at the vitals of society. The best government the world has ever known was that of the Romans: they were too wise to be scientists themselves; for this purpose they hired the clever, volatile, politically incapable Greeks. Not the luminous intellect, but dark instincts govern man and societies; only elites which understand this, and keep the people from too much secular education, which is bound to make them over-critical and discontented, can give to men as much happiness and justice and freedom as, in this vale of tears, men can expect to have. But at the back of everything must lurk the potentiality of force, of coercive power.
“In a striking image Maistre says that all social order in the end rests upon one man, the executioner. Nobody wishes to associate with this hideous figure, yet on him, so long as men are weak, sinful, unable to control their passions, constantly lured to their doom by evil temptations or foolish dreams, rest all order, all peace, all society. The notion that reason is sufficient to educate or control the passions is ridiculous. When there is a vacuum, power rushes in; even the bloodstained monster Robespierre, a scourge sent by the Lord to punish a country that had departed from the true faith, is more to be admired – because he did hold France together and repelled her enemies, and created armies that, drunk with blood and passion, preserved France – than liberal fumbling and bungling. Louis XIV ignored the clever reasoners of his time, suppressed heresy, and died full of glory in his own bed. Louis XVI played amiably with subversive ideologists who had drunk at the poisoned well of Voltaire, and died on the scaffold. Repression, censorship, absolute sovereignty, judgements from which there is no appeal, these are the only methods of governing creatures whom Maistre described as half men, half beasts, monstrous centaurs at once seeking after God and fighting him, longing to love and create, but in perpetual danger of falling victims to their own blindly destructive drives, held in check by a combination of force and traditional authority and, above all, a faith incarnated in historically hallowed institutions that reason dare not touch.
“Nation and race are realities; the artificial creations of constitution-mongers are bound to collapse. ‘Nations,’ said Maistre, ‘are born and die like individuals’; they ‘have a common soul’, especially visible in their language. And since they are individuals, they should endeavour to remain of one race. So too Bonald, his closest intellectual ally, regrets that the French nation has abandoned its racial purity, thus weakening itself. The question of whether the French are descended from Franks or Gauls, whether their institutions are Roman or German in origin, with the implication that this could dictate a form of life in the present, although it has its roots in political controversies in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, now takes the colour of mystical organicism, which transcends, and is proof against, all forms of discursive reasoning. Natural growth alone is real for Maistre. Only time, only history, can create authority that men can worship and obey: mere military dictatorship, a work of individual human hands, is brutal force without spiritual power; he calls it bâtonocratie, and predicts the end of Napoleon.
“In similar strain Bonald denounce individualism whether as a social doctrine or an intellectual method of analysing historical phenomena. The inventions of man, he declared, are precarious aids compared to the divinely ordained institutions that penetrate man’s very being – language, family, the worship of God. By whom were they invented? Whenever a child is born there are father, mother, family, language, God; this is the basis of all that is genuine and lasting, not the arrangements of men drawn from the world of shopkeepers, with their contracts, or promises, or utility, or material goods. Liberal individualism inspired by the insolent self-confidence of mutinous intellectuals has led to the inhuman competition of bourgeois society, in which the strongest and the fastest win and the weak go to the wall. Only the Church can organise a society in which the ablest are held back so that the whole of society can progress and the weakest and least greedy also reach the goal.
“These gloomy doctrines became the inspiration of monarchist politics in France, and together with the notion of romantic heroism and the sharp contrast between creative and uncreative, historic and unhistoric, individuals and nations, duly inspired nationalism, imperialism, and finally, in their most violent and pathological form, Fascist and totalitarian doctrines in the twentieth century.” 
And yet Berlin is wrong in attributing both fascism and communism to the monarchical backlash against the French Revolution. Fascism, it is true, was based on worship of the people, its historical tradition and its State. However, the Russian and other communist revolutions were in every way the descendants of the universalist and internationalist French Revolution, whose catastrophic failure they failed to study properly (not considering it to be a failure, but a glorious success!) and which they were therefore condemned to repeat on a still vaster and bloodier scale.
But de Maistre was also wrong in thinking that the Catholic idea, the idea that the evil passions can be tamed by blind obedience to an unquestioned, absolute authority, could stop the revolution. The Catholic idea was now dead – Napoleon killed it when he took the crown from the Pope and crowned himself. Only the Orthodox idea, the idea brought to Paris by the Russian Tsar, remained…
2. THE EAST: THE MAN-GOD DEFEATED
Fear God, honour the king.
I Peter 2.17.
In the reign of Alexander I Masonry tried finally to substitute for Orthodoxy a certain ‘true Church’, or ‘inner Christianity’, in the system of State power, leaving the former religion only for governing ‘the plebs’.
The not-born-in-the-purple emperor, who wanted to be a not-yet-anointed prophet, did not foresee that, besides physical and political forces, states are inspired and act through higher moral forces, that violence elicits against itself those same forces which are in submission to it, that cunning can be outwitted or destroyed by desperation, and that right by its firmness and foresight is always more powerful than craftiness and spite.
Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (1813).
Napoleon never conquered two of his enemies: Britain and Russia; and it is tempting to see in these nations two principles that the revolution failed to subordinate to itself in the way that it had (at least temporarily) subordinated Catholicism to itself. These were, first: the love of freedom - not the ecstatic, collectivist, Rousseauist “freedom to” that the revolution represented, but the more sober, individualist, Lockean “freedom from” that was ingrained especially in the stubborn spirit of the island race. In the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the revolution made considerable inroads into English life, but never destroyed its restraining, individualistic, anti-despotic influence completely. The second, and far greater, principle was the love of God in Orthodoxy, which inspired Russia to drive the Grande Armée all the way from burning Moscow to the streets of Paris. Throughout the nineteenth century Russia remained the main bulwark of civilisation against the revolution, but finally succumbed to it in the catastrophe of 1917.
Tsar Paul I of Russia
Beginning with Tsar Paul I, the son of Emperor Peter III and Empress Catherine II, Russia began, slowly and hesitantly, to recover from the abyss of westernism and absolutism initiated by Peter the Great.
St. John Maximovich writes: “The Tsarevich Paul Petrovich, who spent his childhood at the court of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, - his mother could not exercise an immediate influence on him, - was very different in his character and convictions from the Empress Catherine. Catherine II preferred to remove her son from the inheritance and make her eldest grandson, Alexander Pavlovich, her heir… At the end of 1796 Catherine II finally decided to appoint Alexander as her heir, passing Paul by, but she suddenly and unexpectedly died. The heir, Tsarevich Paul Petrovich, ascended the throne…”
Tsar Paul, who had been educated by Metropolitan Platon of Moscow, and shared his teacher’s devotion to pre-Petrine Russia, witnessed to the terrible condition the eighteenth-century tsars had brought Russia: “On ascending the throne of All-Russia, and entering in accordance with duty into various parts of the state administration, at the very beginning of the inspection We saw that the state economy, in spite of the changes in income made at various times, had been subjected to extreme discomforts from the continuation over many years of unceasing warfar and other circumstances. Expenses exceeded income. The deficit was increasing from year to year, multiplying the internal and external debts; in order to make up a part of this deficit, large sums were borrowed, which brought great harm and disorder with them…”
The coronation took place in the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow on April 5, 1797, the first day of Holy Pascha. The rite moved a significant step away from the symbolism of the First Rome, which had been the model of the eighteenth-century Tsars, and back to the symbolism of the New Rome of Constantinople, the Mother-State of Holy Rus’. For before putting on the purple, Paul ordered that he be vested in the dalmatic, one of the royal vestments of the Byzantine emperors…
Then, writes Protopriest Lev Lebedev, “he himself read out a new law [Uchrezhdenie] on the Imperial Family which he had composed together with [the Tsaritsa] Maria Fyodorovna. By this law he abolished Peter I’s decree of 1722 on the right of the Russian Autocrat to appoint the Heir to the Thone according to his will and revived the Basic Act of 1613. From now on and forever (!) a strict order of succession was established according to which the eldest son became his father’s heir, and in the case of childlessness – his elder brother. The law also foresaw various other cases, determining the principles of the succession to the Throne in accordance with the ancient, pre-Petrine (!) Russian customs and certain important new rules (for example, a Member of the Imperial Family wanting to preserve his rights to the succession must enter only into an equal by blood marriage with a member of a royal or ruling house, that is, who is not lower than himself by blood). Paul I’s new law once and for all cut off the danger in Russia of those ‘revolution’-coups which had taken place in the eighteenth century. And it meant that the power of the nobility over the Russian Tsars was ending; now they could be independent of the nobility’s desires and sympathies. The autocracy was restored in Russia! Deeply wounded and ‘offended’, the nobility immediately, from the moment of the proclamation of the law ‘On the Imperial Family’ entered into opposition to Paul I. The Tsar had to suffer the first and most powerful blow of the opposition. This battle between the Autocrat and the nobility was decisive, it determined the future destiny of the whole state. It also revealed who was who in Great Russia. All the historians who hate Paul I are not able to diminish the significance of the Law of 1797, they recognise that it was exceptionally important and correct, but they remark that it was the only outstanding act of this Emperor (there were no others supposedly). But such an act would have been more than sufficient for the whole reign! For this act signified a radical counter-coup – or, following the expression of the time, counter-revolution - to that which Catherine II had accomplished.
“However, the haters lie here, as in everything else! The law was not the only important act of his Majesty. On the same day of 1797 Paul I proclaimed a manifesto in which for the first time the serf-peasants were obliged to make an oath of allegiance to the Tsars and were called, not ‘slaves’, but ‘beloved subjects’, that is, they were recognised as citizens of the State! There is more! Paul I issued a decree forbidding landowners to force serfs to work corvée for more than three days in the week: the other three days the peasants were to work for themselves, and on Sundays – rest and celebrate ‘the day of the Lord’, like all Christians. Under the threat of severe penalties it was confirmed that masters were forbidden to sell families of peasants one by one. It was forbidden to subject serfs older than seventy to physical punishments. (And at the same time it was permitted to apply physical punishments to noblemen who had been condemned for criminal acts.) All this was nothing other than the beginning of the liberation of the Russian peasants from serfdom! In noble circles of the time it was called a ‘revolution from above’, and for the first time they said of about their Emperor: ‘He is mad!’ Let us recall that this word was used in relation to the ‘peasant’ politics of Paul I. He even received a special ‘Note’ from one assembly of nobles, in which it was said that ‘the Russian people has not matured sufficiently for the removal of physical punishments’.”
“We know of a case when the Tsar came to the defence of some peasants whose landowner was about to sell them severally, without their families and land, so as to make use of the peasants’ property. The peasants refused to obey, and the landowner informed the governor of the rebellion. But the governor did not fail to carry out his duty and quickly worked out what was happening. On receiving news about what was happening, Tsar Paul declared the deal invalid, ordered that the peasants be left in their places, and that the landowner be severely censured in his name. The landowner’s conscience began to speak to him: he gathered the village commune and asked the peasants for forgiveness. Later he set off for St. Petersburg and asked for an audience with his Majesty. ‘Well, what did you sort out with your peasants, my lord? What did they say?’ inquired the Emperor of the guilty man. ‘They said to me, your Majesty: God will forgive…’ ‘Well, since God and they have forgiven you, I also forgive you. But remember from now on that they are not your slaves, but my subjects just as you are. You have just been entrusted with looking after them, and you are responsible for them before me, as I am for Russia before God…’ concluded the Sovereign.”
The Tsar also acted to humble the pride of the Guards regiments which, together with the nobility, had acted the role of king-makers in the eighteenth century. “He forbade the assigning of noblemen’s children, babies, into the guards (which had been done before him to increase ‘the number of years served’). The officers of the guards were forbidden to drive in four- or six-horse carriages, to hide their hands in winter in fur muffs, or to wear civilian clothing in public. No exception was made for them by comparison with other army officers. At lectures and inspections the Guards were asked about rules and codes with all strictness. How much, then and later, did they speak (and they still write now!) about the ‘cane discipline’ and the amazing cruelties in the army under Paul I, the nightmarish punishments which were simply means of mocking the military…. Even among the historians who hate Paul I we find the admission that the strictnesses of the Emperor related only to the officers (from the nobility), while with regard to the soldiers he was most concerned about their food and upkeep, manifesting a truly paternal attentiveness. By that time the ordinary members of the Guards had long been not nobles, but peasants. And the soldierly mass of the Guards of Paul I very much loved him and were devoted to him. Officers were severely punished for excessive cruelty to soldiers… On the fateful night of the murder of Paul I the Guards soldiers rushed to support him. The Preobrazhensky regiment refused to shout ‘hurrah!’ to Alexander Pavlovich as to the new Emperor, since they were not sure whether his Majesty Paul I was truly dead. Two soldiers of the regiment demanded that their commanders give them exact proof of the death of the former Emperor. These soldiers were not only not punished, but were sent as an ‘embassy’ of the Preobrazhensky to the grave of Paul I. On their return the regiment gave the oath of allegiance to Alexander I. That was the real situation of the Russian soldier of Paul’s times, and not their fictitious ‘rightlessness’!”
“The Emperor Paul’s love for justice and care for the simple people was expressed also in the accessibility with which he made his subjects happy, establishing the famous box in the Winter palace whose key was possessed by him personally and into which the first courtier and the last member of the simple people could cast their letters with petitions for the Tsar’s immediate defence or mercy. The Tsar himself emptied the box every day and read the petitions, leaving not a single one of them unanswered.
“There was probably no sphere in the State which did not feel the influence of the industrious Monarch. Thus he ordered the minting of silver rubles to struggle against he deflation in the value of money. The Sovereign himself sacrificed a part of the court’s silver on this important work. He said that he himself would eat on tin ‘until the ruble recovers its rate’. And the regulation on medical institutions worked out by the Emperor Paul could be used in Russia even in our day.”
“Paul I gave hierarchs in the Synod the right themselves to choose a candidate for the post of over-procurator, took great care for the material situation of the clergy, and the widows and orphans of priests, and forbade physical punishments for priests before they had been defrocked.”
He also increased the lands of hierarchical houses and the pay of the parish clergy, and freed the clergy from being pressed into army service. The power of bishops was extended to all Church institutions and to all diocesan servers. In general, as K.A. Papmehl writes, “Paul proved to be much more generous and responsive to the Church’s financial needs than his mother. Although this may to some – perhaps considerable – extent be attributed to his general tendency to reverse her policies, it was probably due, in at least equal measure, to his different attitude toward the Church based, as it undoubtedly was, on sincere Christian belief…. One symptom of this different attitude was that, unlike his predecessor – or, indeed, successor, Paul dealt with the Synod not through the Ober-Prokurator, but through the senior ecclesiastical member: first Gavriil and later Amvrosii.”
“One of the Tsar’s contemporaries, N.A. Sablukov, who had the good fortune, thanks to his service at the Royal Court, to know the Emperor personally, remembered the Emperor Paul in his memoirs as ‘a deeply religious man, filled with a true piety and the fear of God…. He was a magnanimous man, ready to forgive offences and recognise his mistakes. He highly prized righteousness, hated lies and deceit, cared for justice and was merciless in his persecution of all kinds of abuses, in particular usury and bribery.’
“The well-known researcher of Paul, Shabelsky-Bork, writes: ‘While he was Tsarevich and Heir, Paul would often spend the whole night in prayer. A little carpet is preserved in Gatchina; on it he used to pray, and it is worn through by his knees.’ The above-mentioned N.A. Sablukov recounts, in agreement with this: ‘Right to the present day they show the places on which Paul was accustomed to kneel, immersed in prayer and often drenched in tears. The parquet is worn through in these places. The room of the officer sentry in which I used to sit during my service in Gatchina was next to Paul’s private study, and I often heard the Emperor’s sighs when he was standing at prayer.’
“The historical records of those years have preserved a description of the following event: ‘A watchman had a strange and wonderful vision when he was standing outside the summer palace… The Archangel Michael stood before the watchman suddenly, in the light of heavenly glory, and the watchman was stupefied and in trembling from this vision… And the Archangel ordered that a cathedral should be raised in his honour there and that this command should be passed on to the Emperor Paul immediately. The special event went up the chain of command, of course, and Paul Petrovich was told about everything. But Paul Petrovich replied: “I already know”: he had seen everything beforehand, and the appearance to the watchman was a kind of repetition…’ From this story we can draw the conclusion that Tsar Paul was counted worthy also of revelations from the heavenly world…”
The Annexation of Georgia and the Edinoverie
Tsar Paul’s love for the Church found expression in two important events in year 1800 that strengthened, respectively, the security of the Orthodox world against the external foe, and its internal unity: the annexation of Georgia and the reunion of some of the Old Believers with the Orthodox Church on a “One Faith” (Edinoverie) basis.
Since the Georgians made their first appeal for Russian protection in 1587, they had suffered almost continual invasions from the Persians and the Turks, leading to many martyrdoms, of which the most famous was that of Queen Ketevan in 1624. One king, Rostom, even adopted Islam and persecuted Orthodoxy. In fact, from 1634 until the ascent of the throne by King Wakhtang in 1701, all the sovereigns of Georgia were Muslim. The eighteenth century saw only a small improvement, and in 1762 King Teimuraz II travelled to Russian for help. In 1783 protection was formally offered to King Heraclius II of Kartli-Kakhetia, and the Catholicos of Georgia became a member of the Russian Holy Synod while retaining his title.
“The last most heavy trial for the Church of Iberia,” writes P. Ioseliani, was the irruption of Mahomed-Khan into the weakened state of Georgia, in the year 1795. In the month of September of that year the Persian army took the city of Tiflis, seized almost all the valuable property of the royal house, and reduced the palace and the whole of the city into a heap of ashes and of ruins. The whole of Georgia, thus left at the mercy of the ruthless enemies of the name of Christ, witnessed the profanation of everything holy, and the most abominable deeds and practices carried on in the temples of God. Neither youth nor old age could bring those cruel persecutors to pity; the churches were filled with troops of murderers and children were killed at their mothers’ breasts. They took the Archbishop of Tiflis, Dositheus, who had not come out of the Synod of Sion, made him kneel down before an image of [the most holy Mother of God], and, without mercy on his old age, threw him from a balcony into the river Kur; then they plundered his house, and set fire to it. The pastors of the Church, unable to hide the treasures and other valuable property of the Church, fell a sacrifice to the ferocity of their foes. Many images of saints renowned in those days perished for ever; as, for instance, among others, the image of [the most holy Mother of God] of the Church of Metekh, and that of the Synod of Sion. The enemy, having rifled churches, destroyed images, and profaned the tombs of saints, revelled in the blood of Christians; and the inhuman Mahomed-Khan put an end to these horrors only when there remained not a living soul in Tiflis.
“King George XIII, who ascended the throne of Georgia (A.D. 1797-1800) only to see his subjects overwhelmed and rendered powerless by their incessant and hopeless struggles with unavoidable dangers from enemies of the faith and of the people, found the resources of the kingdom exhausted by the constant armaments necessary for its own protection; before his eyes lay the ruins of the city, villages plundered and laid waste, churches, monasteries, and hermitages demolished, troubles within the family, and without it the sword, fire, and inevitable ruin, not only of the Church, but also of the people, yea, even of the very name of the people. In the fear of God, and trusting to His providence, he made over Orthodox Georgia in a decided manner to the Tzar of Russia, his co-religionist; and thus obtained for her peace and quiet. It pleased God, through this king, to heal the deep wounds of an Orthodox kingdom.
“Feeling that his end was drawing near, he, with the consent of all ranks and of the people, requested the Emperor Paul I to take Georgia into his subjection for ever (A.D. 1800). The Emperor Alexander I, when he mounted the throne, promised to protect the Georgian people of the same faith with himself, which had thus given itself over unreservedly and frankly to the protection of Russia. In his manifesto to the people of Georgia (A.D. 1801) he proclaimed the following:- ‘One and the same dignity, one and the same honour, and humanity laid upon us the sacred duty, after hearing the prayers of sufferers, to grant them justice and equity in exchange for their affliction, security for their persons and for their property, and to give to all alike the protection of the law.’”
What we have called “Georgia” was in fact the kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti in Eastern Georgia. But there was another independent Georgian kingdom in the West, Imeretia. After the annexation of the eastern kingdom, “the Russian government,” as we read in the Life of Hieroschemamonk Hilarion the Georgian of Mount Athos, “initiated correspondence with the Imeretian king concerning the uniting of his nation with Russia. King Solomon II sought the counsel of his country’s foremost nobles, and in 1804, due to pressure from Russia, he was left with little choice but to set forth the following: since the kind did not have an heir to the throne, Imeretia would retain her indepedence until his death, remaining in brotherly relations with Russia as between two realms of the same faith. The Russian army had free passage across Imeretian territory to the Turkish border, and the Imeretian army was required to render them aid. The relations of the two countries were to be upheld in those sacred terms which are proper to God’s anointed rulers and Christian peoples united in an indivisible union of soul – eternally and unwaveringly. But after the king’s death the legislation of the Russian Empire would be introduced. The resolution was then sent to the Governor-General of the Caucasus in Tbilisi for forwarding to Tsar Alexander I.
“Despite the general approval of the resolution by the king’s subjects, one nobleman, Prince Zurab Tsereteli, began plotting how he could seize the Imeretian throne for himself. He first attempted to erode the friendly relations between the two monarchs by slandering each to the other. Unable to sow discord, he began a communication with the Russian governor-general of the Caucasus, Alexander Tormasov. Depicting the royal suite in the darkest colors to the governor-general, after repeated intrigues he finally succeeded in his designs. Eventually, the report reached the tsar. He, believing the slander, ordered Tormasov to lure Solomon II to Tbilisi and escort him to Russia, where he would remain a virtual prisoner.
“Not able to believe that others could be so base, treacherous and ignoble, the king fell into the trap set by Tormasov and Prince Zurab. Fr. Ise [the future Hieroschemamonk Hilarion] had initially warned the king of Prince Zurab’s disloyalty. However, upon learning of his wife’s reposed he returned to Kutaisi and was unable to furthr counsel the king.
“King Solomon II and his entire retinue were eventually coaxed all the way to Tbilisi. There they were put under house arrest; the plan being to send the king to live out his days in a palace in St. Petersburg. Preferring exile to imprisonment, the king and his noblemen conceived a plan of escape and fled across the border to Turkey. There, with Fr. Ise and his retinue, he lived out the remainder of his life. After great deprivations and aborted attempts to reclaim the Imeretian Kingdom from Russia, King Solomon II reposed at Trebizond on February 19, 1815, in his forty-first year…
“After the king’s death, Fr. Ise intended to set out for Imeretia (then annexed to Russia) no matter what the consequences. He informed all the courtiers, who numbered about six hundred men, and suggested that they follow his example. Many of them accepted his decision joyfully, but fear of the tsar’s wrath hampered this plan. Fr. Ise reassured everyone, promising to take upon himself the task of mediating before the tsar. He immediately wrote out a petition in the name of all the princes and other members of the retinue, and sent it to the tsar. The sovereign graciously received their petition, restored them to their former ranks, and returned their estates…”
The annexation of Georgia marked an important step forward in Russia’s progress to becoming the Third Rome. In the eighteenth century the gathering of the Russian lands had been completed, and the more or less continuous wars with Turkey demonstrated Russia’s determination to liberate the Orthodox of the Balkans and the Middle East. Georgia was the first non-Russian Orthodox nation to enter the empire of the Third Rome on a voluntary basis…
At the same time, however, there was a large community of believers within Russia, the Old Believers, that rejected the right of the Russian Church and State to lead Orthodoxy. But a movement began among some Old Believer communities towards union with the Orthodox on the basis of edinoverie, or “One Faith” – that is, agreement on dogmas and the authority of the Orthodox hierarchy, but with the former Old Believers allowed to retain the pre-Niconian rites.
“Before 1800,” writes K.V. Glazkov, “almost all the Old Believer communities had united with the Orthodox Church on their own conditions. Besides, there were quite a few so-called crypto-Old Believers, who formally belonged to the ruling Church, but who in their everyday life prayed and lived according the Old Believer ways (there were particularly many of these amidst the minor provincial nobility and merchant class). This state of affairs was evidently not normal: it was necessary to work out definite rules, common for all, for the union of the Old Believers with the Orthodox Church. As a result of negotiations with the Muscovite Old Believers the latter in 1799 put forward the conditions under which they would agree to accept a priesthood from the Orthodox Church. These conditions, laid out in 16 points, partly represented old rules figuring in the 1793 petition of the Starodub ‘agreers’, and partly new ones relating to the mutual relations of the ‘one-faithers’ with the Orthodox Church. These relations required the union of the ‘one-faithers’ with the Orthodox Church, but allowed for their being to a certain degree isolated. On their basis the Muscovite Old Believers submitted a petition to his Majesty for their reunion with the Orthodox Church, and Emperor Paul I wrote at the bottom of this document: ‘Let this be. October 27, 1800.’ This petition with the royal signature was returned to the Muscovite Old Believers and was accepted as complete confirmation of their suggested conditions for union, as an eternal act of the recognition of the equal validity and honour of Old Believerism and Orthodoxy.
“But on the same day, with the remarks (or so-called ‘opinions’) of Metropolitan Plato of Moscow, conditions were confirmed that greatly limited the petition of the Old Believers. These additions recognised reunited Old Believerism as being only a transitional stage on the road to Orthodoxy, and separated the ‘old-faith’ parishes as it were into a special semi-independent ecclesiastical community. Wishing to aid a change in the views of those entering into communion with the Church on the rites and books that they had acquired in Old Believerism, and to show that the Old Believers were falsely accusing the Church of heresies, Metropolitan Plato called the ‘agreers’ ‘one-faithers’…
“The one-faithers petitioned the Holy Synod to remove the curses [of the Moscow Council of 1666-1667] on holy antiquity, but Metropolitan Plato replied in his additional remarks that they were imposed with justice. The Old Believers petitioned for union with the Church while keeping the old rites, but Metropolitan Plato left them their rites only for a time, only ‘in the hope’ that with time the reunited would abandon the old rites and accept the new…
“Amidst the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church the view became more and more established that the ‘One Faith’ was a transitional step towards Orthodoxy. But in fact the One Faith implies unity in dogmatic teaching and the grace of the Holy Spirit with the use in the Divine services of various Orthodox rites. But the old rite continued to be perceived as incorrect, damaged and in no way blessed by the Church, but only ‘by condescension not forbidden’ for a time.”
In the last part of the reign of Catherine II, following the excesses of Jacobinism in France, a reaction had set in against Masonry. Catherine backed away from her Enlightenment ideas when she saw the effect they produced in the revolution. “’Yesterday I remembered,” she wrote to Grimm in 1794, “that you told me more than once: this century is the century of preparations. I will add that these preparations consisted in preparing dirt and dirty people of various kinds, who produce, have produced and will produce endless misfortunes and an infinite number of unfortunate people.’
“The next year she categorically declared that the Encyclopédie had only two aims: the one – to annihilate the Christian religion, and the other – royal power. ‘I will calmly wait for the right moment when you will see how right is my opinion concerning the philosophers and their hangers-on that they participated in the revolution…, for Helvétius and D’Alambert both admitted to the deceased Prussian king that this book had only two aims: the first – to annihilate the Christian religion, and the second – to annihilate royal power. They spoke about this already in 1777.”
In his estimate of Masonry and French influence, if in little else, Tsar Paul was in agreement with his mother. Well-known Masons were required to sign that they would not open lodges (the rumour that Paul himself became a Mason in the house of I.P. Elagin in 1778 is false), and the great General Suvorov was sent to Vienna to join Austria and Britain in fighting the French. But the French continued to advance through Europe, and when, in 1797, Napoleon threatened the island of Malta, the knights of the Order of the Maltese Cross, who had ruled the island since the 16th century, appealed to the protection of Tsar Paul. Paul accepted the responsibility, and in gratitude the Maltese offered that he become their Grand Master. The Order was Catholic, but anti-French and anti-revolutionary, so Paul accepted.
In 1798 Napoleon seized Malta. Paul then entered into an alliance union with Prussia, Austria and England against France. A Russian fleet entered the Mediterranean, and in 1799 a Russian army under Suvorov entered Northern Italy, liberating the territory from the French.
However, writes Lebedev, “in 1800 England seized the island of Malta, taking it away from the French and not returning it to the Maltese Order. Paul I sent Suvorov with his armies back to Russia and demanded that Prussia take decisive measures against England (the seizure of Hanover), threatening to break relations and take Hanover, the homeland of the English monarchs, with Russian forces. But at the same time there began direct relations between Paul and Napoleon. They began in an unusual manner. Paul challenged Napoleon to a duel so as to decide State quarrels by means of a personal contest, without shedding the innocent blood of soldiers. Bonaparte declined from the duel, but had a high opinion of Paul I’s suggestion, and as a sign of respect released his Russian prisoners without any conditions, providing them with all that they needed at France’s expense. Paul I saw that with the establishment of Napoleon in power, an end had been put to the revolution in France. Therefore he concluded a union with Napoleon against England (with the aim of taking Malta away from her and punishing her for her cunning), and united Russia to the ‘continental blockade’ that Napoleon had constructed against England, undermining her mercantile-financial might. Moreover, in counsel with Napoleon, Paul I decided [on January 12, 1801] to send a big Cossack corps to India – the most valuable colony of the English. To this day his Majesty’s order has been deemed ‘mad’ and ‘irrational’. But those who say this conceal the fact that the plan for this Russian expedition against India did not at all belong to Paul I: it arose under Catherine II and was seriously considered by her (Paul I only put it into action).
“Russia’s break with England and the allies signified for them catastrophe and in any case an irreparable blow to the British pocket, and also to the pocket of the major Russian land-owners and traders (English trade in Russia had been very strong for a long time!). From the secret masonic centres of England and Germany an order was delivered to the Russian Masons to remove the Empeor and as quickly as possible!
“Long disturbed by Paul I’s attitude, the Russian nobility were quick to respond to the Masonic summons. Even before this,… in 1798 the Russian Masons had succeeded in sowing dissension in the Royal Family. They slandered the Tsaritsa Maria Fyodorovna of supposedly trying to rule her husband and instead of him. At the same time he was ‘set up with’ the beauty Lopukhina, the daughter of a very powerful Mason, and a faithful plotter. But the affair was foiled through the nobility of the Emperor. Learning that Lopukhina loved Prince Gagarin, Paul I arranged their marriage, since he was just good friends with Lopukhina. The Masons had to save the situation in such a way that Prince Gagarin himself began to help his own wife come closer to Paul I. She settled in the Mikhailov palace and became a very valuable agent of the plotters. From the autumn of 1800 the plot rapidly acquired a systematic character. Count N.P. Panin (the college of foreign affairs) was drawn into it, as was General Count Peter Alexeyevich von der Pahlen, the governor of Petersburg and a very close advisor of the Tsar, General Bennigsen (also a German), Admiral Ribas (a native of the island of Malta), the brothers Plato, Nicholas and Valerian Zubov and their sister, in marriage Princes Zherbtsova, the senators Orlov, Chicherin, Tatarinov, Tolstoy, Torschinsky, Generals Golitsyn, Depreradovich, Obolyaninov, Talysin, Mansurov, Uvarov, Argamakov, the officers Colonel Tolbanov, Skaryatin, a certain Prince Yashvil, Lieutenant Marin and very many others (amongst them even General M.I. Kutuzov, one of the prominent Masons of those years). At the head of the conspiracy stood the English consul in Petersburg, Sir Charles Whitford. According to certain data, through him England paid the plotters two million rubles in gold.
“The most important plotters were the Mason-Illuminati, who acted according to the principle of their founder Weishaupt: ‘slander, slander – something will stick!’ Floods of slanderous inventions poured onto the head of the Emperor Paul I. Their aim was to ‘prove’ that he was mad, mentally ill and therefore in the interests of the people (!) and dynasty (!) he could not remain in power. The slander was strengthened by the fact that the Emperor’s orders either were not carried out, or were distorted to an absurd degree, or in his name instructions of a crazy character were given out. Von Pahlen was especially successful in this. He began to insinuate to Paul I that his son Alexander Pavlovich (and also Constantine), with the support of the Empress, wanted to cast him from the throne. And when Paul I was upset by these communications, it was insinuated to his sons and Alexander and Constantine that the Emperor by virtue of a paranoid illness was intending to imprison them together with their mother for good, while he was supposedly intending to place the young Prince Eugene of Wurtemburg, who had then arrived in Russia, on the throne. Noble society was frightened by the fact that Paul I in a fit of madness [supposedly] wanted to execute some, imprison others and still others send to Siberia. Pahlen was the person closest to the Tsar and they could not not believe him! While he, as he later confessed, was trying to deceive everyone, including Great Prince Alexander. At first the latter was told that they were talking about removing his father the Emperor from power (because of his ‘illness’), in order that Alexander should become regent-ruler. Count N.P. Panin sincerely believed precisely in this outcome of the affair, as did many other opponents of Paul I who had not lost the last trace of humanity. At first Alexander did not at all agree with the plot, and prepared to suffer everything from his father to the end. But Panin, and then Pahlen convinced him that the coup was necessary for the salvation of the Fatherland! Alexander several times demanded an oath from the plotters that they would not allow any violence to his father and would preserve his life. These oaths were given, but they lied intentionally, as Pahlen later boasted, only in order to ‘calm the conscience’ of Alexander. They convinced Constantine Pavlovich in approximately the same way. The coup was marked for the end of March, 1801. Before this Ribas died, and Panin landed up in exile, from which he did not manage to return. The whole leadership of the plot passed to Pahlen, who from the beginning wanted to kill the Emperor. Many people faithful to his Majesty knew about this, and tried to warn him. Napoleon also heard about all this through his own channels, and hastened to inform Paul I in time…. On March 7, 1801 Paul I asked Pahlen directly about the plot. He confirmed its existence and said that he himself was standing at the head of the plotters, since only in this way could he know what was going on and prevent it all at the necessary moment… This time, too, Pahlen succeeded in deceiving the Tsar, but he felt that it would not do that for long, and that he himself ‘was hanging by a thread’. He had to hurry, the more so in that many officials, generals and especially all the soldiers were devoted to Paul I. Besides, the Jesuits, who were at war with the Illuminati, knew everything about the plot in advance. In the afternoon of March 11, in the Tsar’s reception-room, Pater Gruber appeared with a full and accurate list of the plotters and data on the details. But they managed not to admit the Jesuit to an audience with Paul I. Palen told Alexander that his father had already prepared a decree about his and the whole Royal Family’s incarceration in the Schlisselburg fortress, and that for that reason it was necessary to act without delay. Detachments of units loyal to Paul I were removed from the Mikhailov castle, where he lived. On March 11, 1801 the father invited his sons Alexander and Constantine and personally asked them whether they had any part in the conspiracy, and, having received a negative reply, considered it necessary that they should swear as it were for a second time to their faithfulness to him as to their Tsar. The sons swore, deceptively… On the night of the 11th to 12th of March, 1801, an English ship entered the Neva with the aim of taking the conspirators on board in case they failed. Before that Charles Whitford had been exiled from Russia. Zherebtsova-Zubova was sent to him in England so as to prepare a place for the conspirators there if it proved necessary to flee. On the night of the 12th March up to 60 young officers who had been punished for misdemeanours were assembled at Palen’s house and literally pumped with spirits. One of them drunkenly remarked that it would be good for Russia if all the members of the Royal Family were slaughtered at once! The rest rejected such an idea with horror, but it spoke volumes! After much drinking they all moved by night across Mars field to the Mikhailov castle. There the brave officers were scared to death by some crows which suddenly took wing at night in an enormous flock and raised a mighty cry. As became clear later, some of the young officers did not even know where they were being led and why! But the majority knew. One by one (and frightening each other), they managed to enter in two groups into Paul I’s bedroom, having killed one faithful guard, a chamber-hussar at the doors (the second ran for the sentry). Paul I, hearing the noise of a fight, tried to run through a secret door, but a tapestry, ‘The School in Athens’, a gift from the murdered king and queen of France, fell on top of him. The plotters caught the Tsar. Bennigsen declared to him that they were arresting him and that he had to abdicate from the throne, otherwise they could not vouch for the consequences. The greatly disturbed Paul I did not reply. He rushed to a room where a gun was kept, trying to break out of the ring of his murderers, but they formed a solid wall around him, breathing in the face of the Emperor, reeking of wine and spitefulness. Where had the courtier nobles disappeared! ‘What have I done to you?’ asked Paul I. ‘You have tormented us for four years!’ was the reply. The drunken Nicholas Zubov took hold of the Emperor by the hand, but the latter struck the scoundrel on the hand and repulsed him. Zubov took a swing and hit the Tsar on the left temple with a golden snuff-box given by Catherine II, wounding his temple-bone and eyes. Covered with blood, Paul I fell to the ground. The brutalized plotters hurled themselves at him, trampled on him, beat him, suffocated him. Special zeal was displayed by the Zubovs, Skoriatin, Yashvil, Argamakov and, as people think, Pahlen (although there are reasons for thinking that he took no personal part in the fight). At this point the sentries made up of Semenovtsy soldiers faithful to Alexander appeard (the soldiers had not been initiated into the plot). Bennigsen and Pahlen came out to them and said that the Tsar had died from an attack of apoplexy and now his son Alexander was on the throne. Pahlen rushed into Alexander’s rooms. On hearing of the death of his father, Alexander sobbed. ‘Where is your oath? You promised not to touch my father!’ he cried. ‘Enough of crying! They’re going to lift all of us on their bayonets! Please go out to the people!’ shouted Pahlen. Alexander, still weeping, went out and began to say something to the effect that he would rule the state well… The sentries in perplexity were silent. The soldiers could not act against the Heir-Tsarevich, but they could also not understand what had happened. But the simple Russian people, then and later and even now (!) understood well. To this day (since 1801) believing people who are being oppressed by the powerful of this world in Petersburg (and recently also in Leningrad) order pannikhidas for ‘the murdered Paul’, asking for his intercession. And they receive what they ask for!...
“And so the plot of the Russian nobles against the Emperor they did not like succeeded. Paul I was killed with the clear connivance of his sons. The eldest of them, Alexander, became the Tsar of Russia. In the first hours and days nobody yet suspected how all this would influence the destiny of the country in the future and the personal destiny and consciousness of Alexander I himself. All the plotters had an evil end. Some were removed by Alexander I, others were punished by the Lord Himself. The main regicide Pahlen was quickly removed from all affairs and sent into exile on his estate. There he for a long time went mad, becoming completely irresponsible. Nicholas Zubov and Bennigsen also went mad (Zubov began to eat his own excreta). Having falsely accused Paul I of being mentally ill, they themselves became truly mentally ill! God is not mocked. ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’, He said. The joy of the Russian nobility was not especially long-lived. Alexander I and then Nicholas I were nevertheless sons of their father! Both they and the Emperors who followed them no longer allowed the nobility to rule them. Immediately the Russian nobility understood this, that is, that they no longer had any power over the Autocracy, they began to strive for the annihilation of the Autocracy in Russia altogether, which they succeeded in doing, finally, in February, 1917 – true, to their own destruction!.. Such was the zig-zag of Russian history, beginning with Catherine I and ending with Nicholas II.
“The reign of Emperor Paul Petrovich predetermined the following reigns in the most important thing. As we have seen, this Tsar ‘turned his face’ towards the Russian Orthodox Church, strengthened the foundations of the Autocracy and tried to make it truly of the people. Personally this cost him his life. But thereby the later foundations were laid for the State life of Russia in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries: ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality!’ Or, in its military expression – ‘For the Faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland!’”
“The prophecy of the clairvoyant monk Abel was completely fulfilled. He personally foretold to the Emperor Paul: ‘Your reign will be short, and I, the sinner, see your savage end. On the feast of St. Sophronius of Jerusalem you will receive a martyric death from unfaithful servants. You will be suffocated in your bedchamber by evildoers whom you warm on your royal breast… They will bury you on Holy Saturday… But they, these evildoers, in trying to justify their great sin of regicide, will proclaim that you are mad, and will blacken your good memory.… But the Russian people with their sensitive soul will understand and esteem you, and they will bring their sorrows to your grave, asking for your intercession and the softening of the hears of the unrighteous and cruel.’ This part of the prophecy of Abel was also fulfilled. When Paul was killed, for many years the people came to his grave to pray, and he is considered by many to be an uncanonised saint.”
Monk Abel prophesied the following about Paul’s son and successor, Tsar Alexander I: “Under him the French will burn down Moscow, but he will take Paris from them and will be called the Blessed. But his tsar’s crown will be heavy for him, and he will change the exploit of service as tsar for the exploit of fasting and prayer, and he will be righteous in God’s eyes.”
The reign of Tsar Alexander can be divided into three phases: a first phase until 1812, when he was strongly influenced by the ideas of the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment; a second phase from 1812 to about 1822, when the main influence on him was a kind of romantic mysticism; and a third phase until his death, when he returned to True Orthodoxy. Tsar Alexander faced, in a particularly acute form, the problems faced by all the “enlightened despots” of the eighteenth century – that is, how to relieve the burdens of his people without destroying the autocratic system that held the whole country together. Like his fellow despots, Alexander was strongly influenced by the ideals of the French revolution and by the masonic ferment that, as we have seen, had penetrated the nobility of Russia no less than the élites of Western Europe. So it is not surprising that he should have wavered between the strictly autocratic views of his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, the Holy Synod and the court historian Nicholas Karamzin, on the one hand, and the liberalism of the Masons that surrounded him, on the other.
Only ten days after the death of his father, Alexander returned to the Winter Palace one night to find an anonymous letter on his desk, full of liberal, anti-autocratic sentiments of the kind that Alexander had espoused in his youth.  “Is it possible,” it asked, “to set aside the hope of nations in favour of the sheer delight of self-rule?… No! He will at last open the book of fate which Catherine merely perceived. He will give us immutable laws. He will establish them for ever by an oath binding him to all his subjects. To Russia he will say, ‘Here lie the bounds to my autocratic power and to the power of those who will follow me, unalterable and everlasting.’”
The author turned out to be a member of the chancery staff, Karazin. “There followed,” writes Palmer, “an episode which anywhere except Russia would have seemed fantastic. When summoned to the Tsar’s presence, Karazin feared a severe rebuke for his presumption. But Alexander was effusively magnanimous. He embraced Karazin warmly and commended his sense of patriotic duty. Karazin, for his part, knelt in tears at Alexander’s feet, pledging his personal loyalty. Then the two men talked at length about the problems facing the Empire, of the need to safeguard the people from acts of arbitrary tyranny and to educate them so that they could assume in time the responsibilities of government…”
Alexander was further hindered in breaking with his liberal past by the guilt he felt at not stopping his father’s murder, and by the fact that in the early part of his reign he was still surrounded by many of those Masons who had murdered his father. The result was a continual increase in the power of Masonry. “The movement was encouraged,” writes Hartley, “by the rumours, which cannot be substantiated, that Alexander I became a mason (he certainly visited lodges in Russia and Germany); his younger brother Constantine certainly was a mason. Regional lodges continued to flourish and young army officers who accompanied Russian forces through Europe in 1813 and 1814 also attended, and were influenced by, lodges in the territory through which they passed. The constitutions of secret societies which were formed by army officers in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, like the Order of the Russian Knights and the Union of Salvation and Welfare, copied some of their rules and hierarchical organization from masonic lodges. In 1815, the higher orders of masonry in Russia were subordinated to the Astrea grand lodge.”
In January, 1800 A.F. Labzin opened the “Dying Sphinx” lodge in Petersburg. The members of the order were sworn to sacrifice themselves and all they had to the aims of the lodge, whose existence remained a closely guarded secret. In 1806 Labzin founded The Messenger of Zion as the vehicle of his ideas. Suppressed at first by the Church hierarchy, it was allowed to appear by the synodal over-procurator Prince Golitsyn in 1817.
“The Messenger of Zion,” writes Walicki, “preached the notion of ‘inner Christianity’ and the need for a moral awakening. It promised its readers that once they were morally reborn and vitalized by faith, they would gain suprarational powers of cognition and be able to penetrate the mysteries of nature, finding in them a key to a superior revelation beyond the reach of the Church.
“Labzin’s religion was thus a nondenominational and antiecclesiastical Christianity. Men’s hearts, he maintained, had been imbued with belief in Christ on the first day of creation; primitive pagan peoples were therefore closer to true Christianity than nations that had been baptized but were blinded by the false values of civilization. The official Church was only an assembly of lower-category Christians, and the Bible a ‘silent mentor who gives symbolic indications to the living teacher residing in the heart’. All dogmas, according to Labzin, were merely human inventions: Jesus had not desired men to think alike, but only to act justly. His words ‘Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden’ showed that he did not mean to set up any intermediate hierarchy between the believers and God.”
In 1802 A.A. Zherebtsov opened the “United Friends” lodge in Petersburg. Its aim was “to remove between men the distinctions of races, classes, beliefs and views, and to destroy fanaticism and superstition, and annihilate hatred and war, uniting the whole of humanity through the bonds of love and knowledge.” Then there was the society of Count Grabianka, “The People of God”. “The aim of the society was ‘to announce at the command of God the imminent Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and his glorious reign upon earth’ and to prepare the humble and faithful souls for the approaching Kingdom of God. ‘As in the Rosecrucian lodges,’ writes Sokolskaia, ‘in the lodge of Count Grabianka people indulged, besides theosophy, in alchemy and magic. But while asserting that the brothers of the “Golden Rose Cross” had as their object of study ‘white, Divine magic’, the leaders of the Rosecrucians accused the followers of Count Grabianka of indulging in reading books of black magic and consorting with evil spirits. In sorrow at the lack of firmness of these brothers, who had become enmeshed in a new teaching, the leaders wrote: ‘Those who are known to us are wavering on their path and do not know what to join. And – God have mercy on them! – they are falling into the hands of evil magicians or Illuminati…’”
Finally, in 1810 an Illuminati lodge, “Polar Star”, was opened by the German Lutheran and pantheist mystic Professor I.A. Fessler. Fessler included among its adepts no less a person than M.M. Speransky, the Minister of Finance.
“’Speransky,’ writes Professor Shiman, ‘was a Freemason who accepted the strange thought of using the organization of the lodge for the reform of the Russian clergy, which was dear to his heart. His plan consisted in founding a masonic lodge that would have branch-lodges throughout the Russian State and would accept the most capable clergy as brothers.
“’Speransky openly hated Orthodoxy. With the help of Fessler he wanted to begin a war against the Orthodox Church. The Austrian chargé d’affaires Saint-Julien, wrote in a report to his government on the fall of Speransky that the higher clergy, shocked by the protection he gave to Fessler, whom he had sent for from Germany, and who had the rashness to express Deist, antichristian views, were strongly instrumental in his fall (letter of April 1, 1812). However, our ‘liberators’ were in raptures with Speransky’s activities….’”
This Masonic ferment was not without its effect on the conduct of government. Thus within a few weeks of ascending the throne Alexander formed a neglassny komitet (secret committee) composed of three or four people of liberal views, who with the emperor plotted the transformation of Russia on liberal lines.
“On June 24, 1801,” writes V.F. Ivanov, “the secret committee opened its proceedings. Alexander called it, on the model of the revolution of 1789, ‘the Committee of public safety’, and its opponents from the conservative camp – ‘the Jacobin gang’.
“There began criticism of the existing order and of the whole government system, which was recognised to be ‘ugly’. The firm and definite conclusion was reached that ‘only a constitution can muzzle the despotic government’”.
However, Alexander’s coronation in September, 1801, in Moscow, the heart of Old Russia with its autocratic traditions, pulled him in the opposite direction to the liberal ideas of St. Petersburg. “After being anointed with Holy Oil by the Metropolitan, Alexander swore a solemn oath to preserve the integrity of the Russian lands and the sacred concept of autocracy; and he was then permitted, as one blessed by God, to pass through the Royal Doors into the Sanctuary where the Tsars had, on this one occasion in their lives, the privilege of administering to themselves the Holy Sacrament. But Alexander felt unworthy to exercise the priestly office in this way; and, as [Metropolitan] Platon offered him the chalice, he knelt to receive communion as a member of the laity. Although only the higher clergy and their acolytes witnessed this gesture of humility, it was soon known in the city at large and created a deep impression of the new Tsar’s sense of spiritual discipline.”
St. Petersburg and Moscow, liberal “ecumenism” and Orthodoxy autocracy, the True Church of Orthodoxy and the false “inner church” of Masonry, divided Alexander’s heart between them, making his reign a crossroads in Russian history.
Alexander, Napoleon and Speransky
Alexander was finally forced to make his choice for Orthodoxy by the appearance on the frontiers of Russia of that supreme representative of the despotic essence of liberalism – Napoleon.
Tsar Paul had been murdered with the connivance of the British. Knowing this, Alexander “did not trust the British…, and much that Consul Bonaparte was achieving in France appealed to his own political instincts. Provided Napoleon had no territorial ambitions in the Balkans or the eastern Mediterranean, Alexander could see no reason for a clash of interests between France and Russia. The Emperor’s ‘young friends’ on the Secret Committee agreed in general with him rather than with [the Anglophile] Panin, and when Alexander discussed foreign affairs with them during the late summer of 1801, they received the impression that he favoured settling differences with France as a preliminary to a policy of passive isolation. As St. Helens wrote to Hawksbury shortly before Alexander’s departure for Moscow, ‘The members of the Emperor’s Council, with whom he is particularly connected… been… zealous in promoting the intended peace with France, it being their professed System to endeavour to disengage the Emperor from all foreign Concerns… and induce him to direct his principal attention to the affairs of the Interior.’”
However, the influence of Napoleon on Alexander began to wane after the Russian Emperor’s meeting with the Prussian king Frederick William and his consort Queen Louise in June, 1802. The closeness of the two monarchs threatened to undermine the Tsar’s policy of splendid isolation from the affairs of Europe, and alarmed his foreign minister Kochubey, as well as annoying the French. But isolation was no longer a practical policy as Napoleon continued to encroach on the rights of the German principalities, and so Alexander replaced his foreign minister and, in May, 1803, summoned General Arakcheev to strengthen the Russian army in preparation for possible conflicts in the future…
In 1804 the Duc d’Enghien was kidnapped in Baden by French agents, put on trial and executed as a traitor. “Alexander was enraged by the crime. The Duc d’Enghien was a member of the French royal house. By conniving at his kidnapping and execution the First Consul became, in Alexander’s eyes, a regicide. Nor was this the only cause of the Tsar’s indignation. He regarded the abduction of the Duke from Baden as a particular insult to Russia, for Napoleon had been repeatedly reminded that Alexander expected the French authorities to respect the lands of his wife’s family. His response was swift and dramatic. A meeting of the Council of State was convened in mid-April at which it was resolved, with only one dissentient voice, to break off all diplomatic contact with France. The Russian Court went into official mourning and a solemn note of protest was despatched to Paris.
“But the French paid little regard to Russian susceptibilities. Napoleon interpreted Alexander’s complaint as unjustified interference with the domestic affairs and internal security of France. He entrusted the reply to Talleyrand, his Minister of Foreign Affairs, and a bland statement appeared in the official Moniteur: ‘If, when England prepared the assassination of Paul I, the Russian Government had discovered that the organizers of the plot were no more than a league away from the frontier, would it not have seized them at once?’ No allusion could have been better calculated to wound the Tsar than this deliberate reference to the circumstances of his own accession. It was a rhetorical question which he found hard to forgive or forget. A month later news came from Paris that the First Consul had accepted from the French Senate the title of Emperor. Now, to all his other transgressions, Napoleon had added contempt for the dynastic principle. Resolutely the successor of Peter the Great refused to acknowledge the newest of empires.”
Alexander now set about forming a defensive alliance with Austria and Prussia against France (there were extensive negotiations with Britain, too, but no final agreement was reached). The Tsar and his new foreign minister, the Pole Czartoryski, added an interesting ideological element to the alliance. “No attempt would be made to impose discredited regimes from the past on lands liberated from French military rule. The French themselves were to be told that the Coalition was fighting, not against their natural rights, but against a government which was ‘no less a tyranny for France than the rest of Europe’. The new map of the continent must rest on principles of justice: frontiers would be so drawn that they coincided with natural geographical boundaries, provided outlets for industries, and associated in one political unit ‘homogeneous peoples able to agree among themselves’.”
Appealing to peoples over the heads of their rulers, and declaring that states should be made up of homogeneous ethnic units were, of course, innovative steps, derived from the French revolution, which presented considerable dangers for multi-ethnic empires such as the Russian and the Austrian. Similarly new and dangerous was the idea that the nation was defined by blood alone. None of these ideological innovations appealed to the other nations, and the Coalition (including Britain) that was eventually patched up in the summer of 1805 was motivated more by Napoleon’s further advances in Italy than by a common ideology.
However, although the British defeated Napoleon at sea at Trafalgar, it was a different story on land. At Austerlitz the Allies lost between 25,000 and 30,000 men killed, wounded or captured. And this was only the beginning. In 1806 Napoleon routed the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt, and in 1807, after an indecisive conflict at Eylau, he defeated the Russians at Friedstadt. Almost the whole of Europe up to the borders of the Russian empire was in French hands…
Two religious events of the year 1806 gave a deeper and darker hue to the political and military conflict. In France Napoleon re-established the Jewish Sanhedrin, which then proclaimed him the Messiah. Partly in response to this, the Holy Synod of the Russian Church called Napoleon the antichrist, declaring that he was threatening “to shake the Orthodox Greco-Russian Church, and is trying by a diabolic invasion to draw the Orthodox into temptation and destruction”. It said that during the revolution Napoleon had bowed down to idols, to human creatures and whores. Finally, ‘to the greater disgrace of the Church of Christ he has thought up the idea of restoring the Sanhedrin, declaring himself the Messiah, gathering together the Jews and leading them to the final uprooting of all Christian faith”.
In view of this unprecedented anathema, and the solemn pledges he had made to the King of Prussia, it would have seemed unthinkable for Alexander to enter into alliance with Napoleon at this time. And yet this is precisely what he did at the famous treaty of Tilsit, on the river Niemen, in July, 1807. It came as a terrible shock to many that he should invite Napoleon to the meeting, saying: “Alliance between France and Russia has always been a particular wish of mine and I am convinced that this alone can guarantee the welfare and peace of the world”. Queen Louise of Prussia, who was very close to Alexander, wrote to him: “You have cruelly deceived me”. And it is hard not to agree with her since, with Alexander’s acquiescence, Napoleon took most of the Prussian lands and imposed a heavy indemnity on the Prussians, while Alexander took a part of what had been Prussian territory in Poland, the province of Bialystok. The only concession Alexander was able to wring from the Corsican was that King Frederick should be restored to the heart of his greatly reduced kingdom “from consideration of the wishes of His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias”.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn has argued that the peace of Tilsit was in Russia’s interests and should have been maintained, since it would have averted the war of 1812 and the huge loss of life that involved. And he points to little-known facts, such as the burning alive in the fire of Moscow of 15,000 Russian soldiers who were recovering from wounds suffered at Borodino in the military hospitals of the city. However, he fails to take into account the long-term destructive power of the ideology of the French revolution, of which Napoleon was the carrier. If Napoleon had not invaded Russia in 1812, and been defeated there, that ideology would have been firmly established throughout Europe up to the borders of Russia, and would have had an intensified influence inside Russia. As it was, the defeat of Napoleon gave the counter-revolution a chance to halt, if not finally stamp out, the virus of revolution.
“As the days went by with no clear news from Tilsit, the cities of the Empire were again filled with alarming rumours, as they had been after Austerlitz: was Holy Russia to be sold to the Antichrist? For, whatever the fashion on the Niemen, in St. Petersburg and Moscow the Church still thundered on Sundays against Bonaparte, that ‘worshipper of idols and whores’. The Holy Synod was unaccustomed to diplomatic revolution…”
Metropolitan Platon of Moscow wrote to the Tsar warning him not to trust Napoleon, whose ultimate aim was to subjugate the whole of Europe. In other letters, Platon compared Napoleon to Goliath and to “the Pharaoh, who will founder will all his hosts, just as the other did in the Red Sea”.
Of course, in view of his crushing military defeats, Alexander was in a weak position at Tilsit. Nevertheless, if he could not defeat his enemy, he did not have to enter into alliance with him or legitimise his conquests, especially since Napoleon did not (at that time) plan to invade Russia. To explain Alexander’s behaviour, which went against the Church, his Allies and most of public opinion at home, it is not sufficient to point to the liberal ideas of his youth, although those undoubtedly played a part. It is necessary to point also to a personal factor, the romantically seductive powers of that truly antichristian figure, Napoleon Bonaparte. As we have seen in the last chapter, Napoleon had seduced a whole generation of young people in Europe and America; so it is hardly surprising that the Tsar should also have come under his spell.
As Tsaritsa Elizabeth perceptively wrote to her mother: “You know, Mamma, this man [Napoleon] seems to me like an irresistible seducer who by temptation or force succeeds in stealing the hearts of his victims. Russia, the most virtuous of them, has defended herself for a long time; but she has ended up no better than the others. And, in the person of her Emperor [Alexander], she has yielded as much to charm as to force. He feels a secret attraction to his enticer which is apparent in all he does. I should indeed like to know what magic it is that he [Napoleon] employs to change people’s opinions so suddenly and so completely…”
In any case, “the peace of Tilsit,” writes Ivanov, ”did not bring pacification. A year after Tilsit a meeting took place at Erfurt between Napoleon and Alexander, to which Alexander brought Speransky. At this last meeting Napoleon made a huge impression and convinced him of the need of reforming Russia on the model of France.
“The historian Professor Shiman in his work, Alexander I, writes:
“’And so he (Alexander) took with him to Erfurt the most capable of his officials, the privy councillor Michael Mikhailovich Speransky, and put him in direct contact with Napoleon, who did not miss the opportunity to discuss with him in detailed conversations various questions of administration. The result of these conversations was a whole series of outstanding projects of reform, of which the most important was the project of a constitution for Russia.’
“Alexander returned to Petersburg enchanted with Napoleon, while his State-Secretary Speransky was enchanted both with Napoleon and with everything French.
“The plan for a transformation of the State was created by Speransky with amazing speed, and in October, 1809 the whole plan was on Alexander’s desk. This plan reflected the dominant ideas of the time, which were close to what is usually called ‘the principles of 1789’.
“1) The source of power is the State, the country.
“2) Only that phenomenon which expresses the will of the people can be considered lawful.
“3) If the government ceases to carry out the conditions on which it was summoned to power, its acts lose legality. The centralised administration of Napoleon’s empire influenced Alexander’s ideas about how he should reform his own administration.
“4) So as to protect the country from arbitrariness, and put a bound to absolute power, it is necessary that it and its organs – the government institutions – should be led in their acts by basic laws, unalterable decrees, which exactly define the desires and needs of the people.
“5) As a conclusion from what has been said: the basic laws must be the work and creation of the nation itself.
“Proceeding from the proposition expressed by Montesquieu that ‘three powers move and rule the state: the legislative power, the executive power and the judicial power’, Speransky constructed the whole of his plan on the principle of the division of powers – the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Another masonic truth was introduced, that the executive power in the hands of the ministers must be subject to the legislative, which was concentrated in the State Duma.
“The plot proceeded, led by Speransky, who was supported by Napoleon.
“After 1809 stubborn rumours circulated in society that Speransky and Count N.P. Rumyantsev were more attached to the interests of France than of Russia.
“Karamzin [the historian] in his notes and conversations tried to convince Alexander to stop the carrying out of Speransky’s reforms, which were useless and would bring only harm to the motherland.
“Joseph de Maistre saw in the person of Speransky a most harmful revolutionary, who was undermining the foundations of all state principles and was striving by all means to discredit the power of the Tsar.
“For two years his Majesty refused to believe these rumours and warnings. Towards the beginning of 1812 the enemies of Speransky in the persons of Arakcheev, Shishkov, Armfeldt and Great Princess Catherine Pavlovna convinced his Majesty of the correctness of the general conviction of Speransky’s treachery.
“The following accusations were brought against Speransky: the incitement of the masses of the people through taxes, the destruction of the finances and unfavourable comments about the government.
“A whole plot to keep Napoleon informed was also uncovered. Speransky had been entrusted with conducting a correspondence with Nesselrod, in which the main French actors were indicated under pseudonyms. But Speransky did not limit himself to giving this information: on his own, without authorisation from above, he demanded that all secret papers and reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be handed over to him. Several officials were found who without objections carried out his desire….
“Then from many honourable people there came warnings about the traitrous activities of Speransky.
“At the beginning of 1812 the Swedish hereditary prince Bernadotte, who was in opposition to Napoleon, informed Petersburg that ‘the sacred person of the Emperor is in danger’ and that Napoleon was ready with the help of a big bribe to establish his influence in Russia again.
“A letter was intercepted in which Speransky told a friend about the departure of his Majesty with the aim of inspecting the fortifications that had been raised on the western border, and he used the expression ‘our Boban’. ‘Our Boban’ was a humorous nickname inspired by Voltaire’s story, ‘White Bull’.
“Speransky was completely justly accused of belonging to the most harmful sect of Masonry, the Illuminati. Moreover, it was pointed out that Speransky was not only a member of it, but was ‘the regent of the Illuminati’.
“Speransky’s relations with the Martinists and Illuminati were reported by Count Rastopchin, who in his ‘Note on the Martinists’, presented in 1811 to Great Princess Catherine Pavlovna, said that ‘they (the Martinists) were all more or less devoted to Speransky, who, without belonging in his heart to any sect, or perhaps any religion, was using their services to direct affairs and keep them dependent on himself.’
“Finally, in the note of Colonel Polev, found in Alexander I’s study after his death, the names of Speransky, Fessler, Magnitsky, Zlobin and others were mentioned as being members of the Illuminati lodge…
“On March 11, 1812 Sangley was summoned to his Majesty, who informed him that Speransky ‘had the boldness to describe all Napoleon’s military talents and advised him to convene the State Duma and ask it to conduct the war while he absented himself’. ‘Who am I then? Nothing?’, continued his Majesty. ‘From this I see that he is undermining the autocracy, which I am obliged to transfer whole to my heirs.’
“On March 16 Professor Parrot of Derpt university was summoned to the Winter Palace. ‘The Emperor,’ he wrote in a later letter to Emperor Nicholas I, ‘angrily described to me the ingratitude of Speransky, whom I had never seen, expressing himself with feeling that drew tears from him. Having expounded the proof of his treachery that had been presented to him, he said to me: ‘I have decided to shoot him tomorrow, and have invited you here because I wish to know your opinion on this.’
“Unfortunately, his Majesty did not carry out his decision: Speransky had too many friends and protectors. They saved him, but for his betrayal he was exiled to Nizhni Novgorod, and then – in view of the fact that the Nizhni Novgorod nobility were stirred up against him – to Perm…. At a patriotic banquet in the house of the Provincial Governor Prince Gruzinsky in Nizhni Novgorod, the nobles’ patriotism almost cost Speransky his life. ‘Hang him, execute him, burn Speransky on the pyre’ suggested the Nizhni Novgorod nobles.
“Through the efforts of his friends, Speransky was returned from exile and continued his treachery against his kind Tsar. He took part in the organisation of the uprising of the Decembrists, who after the coup appointed him first candidate for the provisional government.”
However, it was Napoleon’s invasion rather than any internal factors that swung the scales in favour of the status quo, thereby paradoxically saving Russia from a 1789-style revolution. Napoleon decided on this fatal step after a gradual cooling in relations between the two countries, ending with Alexander’s withdrawal, in December, 1810, from the economically disastrous Continental System that Napoleon had established against England. By May, Tsar Alexander was showing a much firmer, and more realistic, attitude to the political and military situation: “Should the Emperor Napoleon make war on me, it is possible, even probable, that we shall be defeated. But this will not give him peace… We shall enter into no compromise agreements; we have plenty of open spaces in our rear, and we shall preserve a well-organized army… I shall not be the first to draw my sword, but I shall be the last to sheathe it… I should sooner retire to Kamchatka than yield provinces or put my signature to a treaty in my conquered capital which was no more than a truce…”
The invasion also probably saved Russia from a union with Catholicism, which by now had made its Concordat with Napoleon and was acting, very probably, on Napoleon’s orders. For in 1810 Metropolitan Platon of Moscow, as K.A. Papmehl writes, “became the recipient of ecumenical overtures by the French senator Grégoire (formerly Bishop of Blois), presumably on Napoleon’s initiative. In a letter dated in Paris in May of that year, Grégoire referred to the discussions held in 1717, at the Sorbonne, between Peter I and some French bishops, with a view of exploring the prospects of re-unification. Peter apparently passed the matter on to the synod of Russian bishops who, in their turn, indicated that they could not commit themselves on a matter of such importance without consulting the Eastern Patriarchs. Nothing had been heard from the Russian side since then. Grégoire nevertheless assumed that the consultation must have taken place and asked for copies of the Patriarchs’ written opinions. He concluded his letter by assuring Platon that he was hoping and praying for reunification of the Churches…
“Platon passed the letter to the Synod in St. Petersburg. In 1811 [it] replied to Grégoire, with Emperor Alexander’s approval, to the effect that a search of Russian archives failed to reveal any of the relevant documents. The idea of a union, Platon added, was, in any case ‘contrary to the mood of the Russian people’ who were deeply attached to their faith and concerned with its preservation in a pure and unadulterated form.”
Only a few years before, at Tilsit in 1807, the Tsar had said to Napoleon: “In Russia I am both Emperor and Pope – it’s much more convenient.” But this was not true: if Napoleon was effectively both Emperor and Pope in France, this could never be said of the tsars in Russia, damaged though the Orthodox symphony of powers had been by a century of absolutism and anti-Orthodox acculturation. And the restraint on Alexander’s power constituted by what remained of that symphony of powers evidently led him to think again about imitating the West too closely, whether politically or ecclesiastically.
That the symphony of powers was still intact was witnessed at the consecration of the Kazan cathedral in St. Petersburg on September 27, 1811, the tenth anniversary of Alexander’s coronation. “There was an ‘immense crowd’ of worshippes and onlookers. Not for many years had the people of St. Petersburg witnessed so solemn a ceremony symbolizing the inter-dependence of Church and State, for this essential bond of Tsardom was customarily emphasized in Moscow rather than in the newer capital. To some it seemed, both at the time and later, that the act of consecration served Alexander as a moment of re-dedication and renewal, linking the pledges he had given at his crowning in Moscow with the mounting challenge from across the frontier. For the rest of the century, the Kazan Cathedral remained associated in people’s minds with the high drama of its early years, so that it became in time a shrine for the heroes of the Napoleonic wars.”
It was from the Kazan Cathedral that Alexander set out at the start of the campaign, on April 21, 1812. As Tsaritsa Elizabeth wrote to her mother in Baden: “The Emperor left yesterday at two o’clock, to the accompaniment of cheers and blessings from an immense crowd of people who were tightly packed from the Kazan Church to the gate of the city. As these folk had not been hustled into position by the police and as the cheering was not led by planted agents, he was – quite rightly – moved deeply by such signs of affection from our splendid people!… ‘For God and their Sovereign’ – that was the cry! They make no distinction between them in their hearts and scarcely at all in their worship. Woe to him who profanes the one or the other. These old-world attitudes are certainly not found more intensively anywhere than at the extremes of Europe. Forgive me, dear Mamma, for regaling you with commonplaces familiar to everyone who has a true knowledge of Russia, but one is carried away when speaking of something you love; and you know my passionate devotion to this country.”
A century later, at the beginning of a still greater war against a western enemy, another German-born Tsaritsa would express almost exactly similar sentiments on seeing her husband and Tsar go to battle…
And so Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 acquired a significance that the other Napoleonic wars in continental Europe did not have: it became a struggle, not simply between two not-so-different political systems, but between two radically opposed faiths: the faith in the Revolution and the faith in Orthodoxy. 1812 produced an explosion of Russian patriotism and religious feeling. More religious feeling than patriotism, which was not immediately evident in some parts of the population at the beginning of the invasion. For, as K.N. Leontiev writes: “It was ecclesiastical feeling and obedience to the authorities (the Byzantine influence) that saved us in 1812. It is well-known that many of our peasants (not all, of course, but those who were taken unawares by the invasion) found little purely national feeling in themselves in the first minute. They robbed the landowners’ estates, rebelled against the nobility, and took money from the French. The clergy, the nobility and the merchants behaved differently. But immediately they saw that the French were stealing the icons and putting horses in our churches, the people became harder and everything took a different turn…”
God’s evident support for the heroic Russian armies, at the head of which was the “Reigning” icon of the Mother of God, reanimated a fervent pride and belief in Holy Russia. Of particular significance was the fact that it had been Moscow, the old capital associated with Orthodoxy and the Muscovite tsars, rather than the new and westernized capital of St. Petersburg, which had borne the brunt of the suffering. For it was not so much the indecisive battle of Borodino, a contest in which, according to Napoleon, “the French showed themselves worthy of victory and the Russians of being invincible”, as the burning of Moscow, which destroyed 80% of dwellings in the city, and Alexander’s refusal to surrender even after that, which proved the decisive turning-point, convincing Napoleon that he could not win…
The terrible sufferings of the French on their return march are well-known. There was even cannibalism, - a sure sign of apocalyptic times, - as the soldiers of the Great Army began to put their fellow-soldiers in the stew pots. Out of the vast army that set out for Russia, only 120,000 returned, 35,000 of them French.
However, the victory of the Orthodox was almost prevented by the intrigues of the Masons. Prominent among them was the commander-in-chief of the army Kutuzov, who, according to Sokolskaia, was initiated into Masonry at the “Three Keys” lodge in Regensburg, and was later received into lodges in Frankfurt, Berlin, Petersburg and Moscow, penetrating into the secrets of the higher degrees. The Tsar was against Kutuzov’s appointment, but said: “The public wanted his appointment, I appointed him: as regards myself personally, I wash my hands of him.”
He was soon proved right in his premonition. The Russian position at the battle of Borodino was poorly prepared by Kutuzov, and he himself took no part in it. The previous commander-in-chief, Barclay, took the lead and acted heroically. Then he followed the agreed plan by retreating and evacuating Moscow. But Kutuzov put all the blame for this on Barclay. De Maistre, writing to his master, the King of Sardinia, was horrified: “There are few crimes to compare with openly attributing all the horror and destruction of Moscow to General Barclay, who is not Russian and has nobody to defend him.”
In Moscow, the patriotic Count Rastopchin, well aware of the pro-Napoleonic sentiments of the nobility, had them evacuated, while Kutuzov slept. As the Martinist Runich said: “Rastopchin, acting through fear, threw the nobility, the merchants and the non-gentry intellectuals out of Moscow in order that they should not give in to the enticements and influence of Napoleon’s tactics. He stirred up the hatred of the people by the horrors [of the fire, which was lit on Rastopchin’s orders] that he ascribed to the foreigners, whom he mocked at the same time. He saved Russia from the yoke of Napoleon.”
“The fire of Moscow started the people’s war. Napoleon’s situation deteriorated from day to day. His army was demoralised. The hungry French soldiers wandered round the outskirts of Moscow searching for bread and provisions. Lootings and murders began. Discipline in the army declined sharply. Napoleon was faced with a threatening dilemma: either peace, or destruction.
“Peace negotiations began. On September 23 at Tarutino camp Kutuzov met Napoleon’s truce-envoy Lauriston. Kutuzov willingly accepted this suggestion and decided to keep the meeting a complete secret. He told Lauriston to meet him outside the camp, beyond the line of our advance posts, on the road to Moscow. Everything was to be done in private and the profect for a truce was to be put forward very quickly. This plan for a secret agreement between Napoleon and the masonic commander-in-chief fell through. Some Russian generals and especially the English agent attached to the Russian army, [General] Wilson, protested against the unofficial secret negotiations with Napoleon. On September 23 Wilson made a scene in front of Kutuzov; he came to him as the representative of the general staff and army generals and declared that the army would refuse to obey him. Wilson was supported by the Duke of Wurtemburg, the Emperor’s uncle, his son-in-law the Duke of Oldenburg and Prince Volkonsky, general-adjutant, who had arrived not long before with a report from Petersburg. Kutuzov gave way, and the meeting with Lauriston took place in the camp headquarters.
“Kutuzov’s failure in securing peace did not stop him from giving fraternal help to Napoleon in the future.
“After insistent urgings from those close to him and at the insistence of his Majesty, Kutuzov agreed to attack near Tarutino.
“The battle of Tarutino revealed the open betrayal of the commander-in-chief.
“’When in the end the third and fourth corps came out of the wood and the cavalry of the main army was drawn up for the attack, the French began a general retreat. When the French retreat was already an accomplished fact and the French columns were already beyond Chernishina, Bennigsen moved his armies forward.
“The main forces at the moment of the French retreat had been drawn up for battle. In spite of this, and the persuasions of Ermolov and Miloradovich, Kutuzov decisively refused to move the armies forward, and only a part of the light cavalry was set aside for pursuing the enemy, the rest of the army returned to the Tarutino camp.
“Bennigsen was so enraged by the actions of the field-marshal that after the battle he did not even consider it necessary to display military etiquette in front of him and, on receiving his congratulations on the victory, did not even get off his horse.
“In private conversations he accused Kutuzov not only of not supporting him with the main army for personal reasons, but also of deliberately holding back Osterman’s corps.
“For many this story will seem monstrous; but from the Masonic point of view it was necessary: the Mason Kutuzov was only carrying out his obligations in relation to his brother (Murat), who had been beaten and fallen into misfortune.
“In pursuing the retreating army of Napoleon Kutuzov did not have enough strength or decisiveness to finish once and for all with the disordered French army. During the retreat Kutuzov clearly displayed criminal slowness.
“’The behaviour of the field-marshall drives me mad,’ wrote the English agent General Wilson about this.” For “the Masonic oath was always held to be higher than the military oath.”
The Aftermath of Victory
The victory over Napoleon elicited an explosion of religious feeling, not least in the Tsar himself, who said: “The burning of Moscow enlightened my soul, and the judgement of God on the icy fields filled my heart with a warmth of faith such as I had not felt before. Then I came to know God as He is depicted in the Holy Scriptures. I am obliged to the redemption of Europe from destruction for my own redemption”. All the crosses and medallions minted in memory of 1812, he said, were to bear the inscription: “Not to us, not to us, but to Thy name give the glory”.
God was teaching the Russians a most important lesson: that those western, and especially French, influences which had so inundated Russia in the century up to 1812, were unequivocally evil and threatened to destroy all that was good in Russia. As Bishop Theophan the Recluse wrote generations later: “We are attracted by enlightened Europe… Yes, there for the first time the pagan abominations that had been driven out of the world were restored; then they passed and are passing to us, too. Inhaling into ourselves these poisonous fumes, we whirl around like madmen, not remembering who we are. But let us recall 1812: Why did the French come to us? God sent them to exterminate that evil which we had taken over from them. Russia repented at that time, and God had mercy on her.”
Tragically, however, that lesson was only partially and superficially learned. Although the Masonic plans to overthrow both Church and State had been foiled, both Masonry and other unhealthy religious influences continued to flourish. And discontent with the existing order was evident in both the upper and the lower classes.
Thus the question arose of the emancipation of the peasants, who had played such a great part in the victory, voluntarily destroying their own homes and crops in order to deny them to the French. They hoped for more in return than they actually received, especially those who had marched in the armies that marched to Paris, observing, as Zamoyski notes, “that peasants in France and Germany lived in proper houses and ate well, and that even Prussian soldiers were treated in more human fashion than they were themselves”.
“There was great bitterness,” writes Hosking, “among peasants who returned from their militia service to find that there was no emancipation. Alexander, in his manifesto of 30 August 1814, thanking and rewarding all his subjects for their heroic deeds, said of the peasants simply that they would ‘receive their reward from God’…. Some nobles tried to persuade the authorities not to allow them back, but to leave them in the regular army as ordinary soldiers. The poet Gavriil Derzhavin was informed by his returnees that they had been ‘temporarily released’ and were now state peasants and not obliged to serve him. Rumours circulated that Alexander had intended to free them all, but had been invited to a special meeting of indignant nobles at night in the Senate, from which he had allegedly been rescued, pleading for his life, by his brother Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich…”
Here we have the theme, familiar throughout later Russian history, of the people laying the blame for their woes, not on the tsar, but on the nobles. Some peasants may have wanted emancipation and a share in the nobles’ wealth. But they wanted it with the Tsar and through the Tsar, not as the expression of some egalitarian and anti-monarchist ideology. Tsarism and Orthodoxy were the great strengths of Russia, which her enemies always underestimated. The French revolution in this, its imperialist, expansionist phase, overthrew many kingdoms and laid the seeds for the overthrow of still more; but it broke against the rock of the Russian people’s faith in their God and their Tsar…
However, if the masses of the people were still Orthodox and loyal to the Tsar, this was becoming more and more difficult to say of the nobility. We have seen the extent to which Masonry penetrated the bureaucracy in the early part of Alexander’s reign. Unfortunately, the triumphant progress of the Russian army into the heart of Masonry, Paris, did not destroy this influence, but only served to strengthen it. For, as Zamoyski writes, “if nobles at home wanted to keep their serfs, the nobles who served as officers in the armies that occupied Paris were exposed to other, liberal influences. They had been brought up speaking French and reading the same literature as educated people in other countries. They could converse effortlessly with German and English allies as well as with French prisoners and civilians. Ostensibly, they were just like any of the Frenchmen, Britons and Germans they met, yet at every step they were made aware of profound differences. The experience left them with a sense of being somehow outside, almost unfit for participation in European civilisation. And that feeling would have dire consequences…”
Not only Masonry and liberalism, but all kinds of pseudo-religious mysticism flooded into Russia from the West. There was, writes N. Elagin, “a veritable inundation of ‘mystical’ and pseudo-Christian ideas… together with the ‘enlightened’ philosophy that had produced the French Revolution. Masonic lodges and other secret societies abounded; books containing the Gnostic and millenarian fantasies of Jacob Boehme, Jung-Stilling, Eckhartshausen and other Western ‘mystics’ were freely translated into Russian and printed for distribution in all the major cities of the realm; ‘ecumenical’ salons spread a vague teaching of an ‘inner Christianity’ to the highest levels of Russian society; the press censorship was under the direction of the powerful Minister of Spiritual Affairs, Count Golitsyn, who patronized every ‘mystical’ current and stifled the voice of traditional Orthodoxy by his dominance of the Holy Synod as Procurator; the Tsar Alexander himself, fresh from his victory over Napoleon and the formation of a vaguely religious ‘Holy Alliance’ of Western powers, favored the new religious currents and consulted with ‘prophetesses’ and other religious enthusiasts; and the bishops and other clergy who saw what was going on were reduced to helpless silence in the face of the prevailing current of the times and the Government’s support of it, which promised exile and disgrace for anyone who opposed it. Many even of those who regarded themselves as sincere Orthodox Christians were swept up in the spiritual ‘enthusiasm’ of the times, and, trusting their religious feelings more than the Church’s authority and tradition, were developing a new spirituality, foreign to Orthodoxy, in the midst of the Church itself. Thus, one lady of high birth, Ekaterina P. Tatarinova, claimed to have received the gift of ‘prophecy’ on the very day she was received into the Orthodox Church (from Protestantism), and subsequently she occupied the position of a ‘charismatic’ leader of religious meetings which included the singing of Masonic and sectarian hymns (while holding hands in a circle), a peculiar kind of dancing and spinning when the ‘Holy Spirit’ would come upon them, and actual ‘prophecy’ – sometimes for hours at a time. The members of such groups fancied that they drew closer to the traditions of Orthodoxy by such meetings, which they regarded as a kind of restoration of the New Testament Church for ‘inward’ believers, the ‘Brotherhood in Christ’, as opposed to the ‘outward’ Christians who were satisfied with the Divine services of the Orthodox Church… The revival of the perennial ‘charismatic’ temptation in the Church, together with a vague ‘revolutionary’ spirit imported from the West, presented a danger not merely to the preservation of true Christianity in Russia, but to the very survival of the whole order of Church and State…”
V.N. Zhmakin writes: “From 1812 there began with us in Russia a time of the domination of extreme mysticism and pietism… The Emperor Alexander became a devotee of many people simultaneously, from whatever quarter they declared their religious enthusiasm… He protected the preachers of western mysticism, the Catholic paters… Among the first of his friends and counsellors was Prince A.N. Golitsyn, who was ober-procurator of the Synod from 1803… He had the right to affirm the Synodal decisions… Prince Golitsyn was the complete master of the Russian Orthodox Church in the reign of Alexander I… Having received no serious religious education, like the majority of aristocrats of that time, he was a complete babe in religious matters and almost an ignoramus in Orthodoxy… Golitsyn, who understood Orthodoxy poorly, took his understanding of it only from its external manifestations… His mystical imagination inclined in favour of secrecy, fancifulness, originality… He became simultaneously the devotee of all the representatives of contemporary mysticism, such as Mrs. Krunder, the society of Quakers, Jung Schtilling, the pastors… etc. Moreover, he became the pitiful plaything of all the contemporary sectarians, all the religious utopians, the representatives of all the religious theories, beginning with the Masons and ending with the … eunuch Selivanov and the half-mad Tatarinova. In truth, Prince Golitsyn at the same time protected the mystics and the pietists, and gave access into Russia to the English missionaries, and presented a broad field of activity to the Jesuits, who, thanks to the protection of the Minister of Religious Affairs, sowed a large part of Russia with their missions… He himself personally took part in the prayer-meetings of the Quakers and waited, together with them, for the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, he himself took part in the religious gatherings of Tatarinova, which were orgies reminiscent of the Shamans and khysts…. Thanks to Prince Golitsyn, mystical literature received all rights of citizenship in Russia – works shot through with mystical ravings were distributed en masse… By the direct order of Prince Golitsyn all the more significant mystical works and translations were distributed to all the dioceses to the diocesan bishops. In some dioceses two thousand copies of one and the same work were sent to some dioceses… Prince Golitsyn… acted… in the name of the Holy Synod… and in this way contradicted himself;… the Synod as it were in its own name distributed works which actually went right against Orthodoxy…. He strictly persecuted the appearance of such works as were negatively oriented towards mysticism… Many of the simple people, on reading the mystical works that came into their hands, … were confused and perplexed.”
Something of the atmosphere of St. Petersburg at that time can be gathered from the recollections of the future Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov), when he went there for service in the newly reformed ecclesiastical schools in 1809. “The Synod greeted him with the advice to read ‘Swedenborg’s Miracles’ and learn French. He was taken to court to view the fireworks and attend a masquerade party in order to meet Prince Golitsyn…, quite literally ‘amidst the noise of a ball’… This was Philaret’s first masquerade ball, and he had never before seen a domino. ‘At the time I was an object of amusement in the Synod,’ Philaret recalled, ‘and I have remained a fool’.”
As Alexander pursued the remnants of Napoleon’s Great Army into Poland in the bitterly cold winter of 1812-13, he was “in a state bordering on religious ecstasy. More and more he turned to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Daniel with the apocalyptic vision of how the all-conquering King of the South is cast down by the King of the North. It seemed to him as if the prophecies, which had sustained him during the dark days of autumn and early winter, were now to be fulfilled: Easter this year would come with a new spiritual significance of hope for all Europe. ‘Placing myself firmly in the hands of God I submit blindly to His will,’ he informed his friend Golitsyn from Radzonow, on the Wrkra. ‘My faith is sincere and warm with passion. Every day it grows firmer and I experience joys I had never know before… It is difficult to express in words the benefits I gain from reading the Scriptures, which previously I knew only superficially… All my glory I dedicate to the advancement of the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ’… At Kalisch (Kalisz) on the border of the Grand-Duchy of Warsaw and Prussia the Tsar concluded a convention with Frederick William: the agreement provided for a close military alliance between Russia and Prussia, stipulating the size of their respective contingents and promising Prussia territory as extensive as in 1806; but the final clauses went beyond the normal language of diplomacy to echo Alexander’s religious inspiration. ‘Let all Germany join us in our mission of liberation,’ the Kalisch Treaty said. ‘The hour has come for obligations to be observed with that religious faith, that sacred inviolability which holds together the power and permanence of nations.’”
Of course, there were difficult battles still to be fought, and alarms to be endured. Not the least of them was Napoleon’s escape from Elba, which he had been unwisely given (as many others had foreseen, Elba was much too close to the mainland) at the insistence of the ever-chivalrous Alexander, after which he was only with great difficulty finally defeated at Waterloo in June, 1815. Nevertheless, the Tsar showed great tenacity of purpose, in contrast to his weakness at Tilsit, in pushing all the way to Paris and the complete overthrow of the antichrist-emperor, and must take the main credit for finally seeing a legitimate Bourbon king placed on the throne of France.
Perhaps the best measure of his victory was the Orthodox Divine Liturgy celebrated on Alexander’s namesday, September 12, on seven altars on the Plain of Vertus, eighty miles east of Paris, in the presence of the Russian army and all the leading political and military leaders of Europe. Neither before nor since in the modern history of Europe has there been such a universal witness, by all the leaders of the Great Powers, to the true King of kings and Lord of lords.
And if this was just a diplomatic concession on the part of the non-Orthodox powers, it was much more than that for Alexander. His truly Orthodox spirit, so puzzling to the other leaders of Europe, was manifested in a letter he wrote that same evening: “This day has been the most beautiful in all my life. My heart was filled with love for my enemies. In tears at the foot of the Cross, I prayed with fervour that France might be saved…”
A few days later Alexander presented his fellow sovereigns with a sacred treaty which he urged them to sign and publish. The treaty was designed to bind the rulers of Europe to a union in virtue, requiring them “to take as their sole guide the precepts of the Christian religion”. The Tsar insisted on proclaiming the treaty dedicated “to the Holy and Indivisible Trinity” in Paris because it was the most irreligious of all Europe’s capital cities.
Only the King of Prussia welcomed the idea. The Emperor of Austria was embarrassed; and in private agreed with his chancellor, Metternich, that Alexander was mad. On the British side, the Duke of Wellington confessed that he could hardly keep a straight face. He and Castlereagh mocked it in private.
Why such irreverence when all agreed that they had come together to defend religion and legitimate government against the atheist Jacobinism? First, because it was not religion, but legitimate government, - more precisely, their own positions, - that most of the statesmen were really interested in, little understanding that the foundation of legitimate government is religion. And secondly, because there had been no agreement in Europe about what “the Christian religion” was for nearly 800 years…
Nevertheless, Tsar Alexander was now the most powerful man in Europe, and the others could not afford to reject his project out of hand. So, led by Metternich, they set about discreetly editing the treaty of its more mystical elements until it was signed by the monarchs of Russia, Austria and Prussia (the British and the Turks opted out, as did the Pope of Rome) on September 26. 
“Conformably to the word of the Holy Scriptures,” declared the signatories, “the three contracting Monarchs will remain united by the bonds of a true and indissoluble fraternity, and considering each other as fellow countrymen, they will on all occasions, and in all places led each other aid and assistance; and regarding themselves towards their subjects and armies as fathers of families, they will lead them, in the same fraternity with which they are animated to protect religion, peace and justice.” They pledged themselves to stand together as “members of a single Christian nation” – a remarkable idea in view of the fact that of the three members of the Alliance, one, Russia, was Orthodox, another, Austria, was Catholic, and the third, Prussia, was Protestant.
Golitsyn wrote about the Sacred Alliance in positively chiliastic terms: “This act cannot be recognized as anything other than a preparation for that promised kingdom of the Lord which will be upon the earth as in the heavens.” And the future Metropolitan Philaret wrote: “Finally the kingdoms of this world have begun to belong to our Lord and His Christ”.
But if the Russians’ vision was apocalyptic, that of the Germans was backward-looking in accordance with that romantic medievalism that was sweeping the Germanic lands. For, as Bamber Gascoigne writes: “The Middle Ages were the period when Europe had seemed to be a single Christian nation, and the medieval yearnings of the Romanic Movement played a large part in the political dreams of the right. In 1799 Novalis had anticipated the mood in an essay called Christendom or Europe. He advocated returning to a rather vaguely defined medieval structure of society, in which the virtues were ‘respect for antiquity, attachment to spiritual institutions, a love for the monuments of our ancestors, and the old glorious state families, and the joy of obedience.’ Of all these merits, the joy of obedience was undoubtedly the most attractive to the Christian rulers signing the Holy Alliance. The only prince to abstain was the English prince regent, who was advised by Castlereagh that the alliance was ‘a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’ (the strictly utilitarian Jeremy Bentham had an even more pungent phrase for such matters, ‘nonsense on stilts’). The Christian princes wasted no time in reviving certain ancient institutions which had been abolished under the Enlightenment or by Napoleon. The Index of Prohibited Books and the Inquisition were restored; and the Jesuits, who for two centuries had been a symbol of papal influence throughout Europe, were re-established.”
Even some renowned churchmen seem to have been temporarily influenced by the ecumenist spirit of this project. Fortunately, however, later tsars, while retaining the politics of alliances with monarchical states against the revolution (Nicholas I even helped the Sultan of Turkey against the Pasha of Egypt in 1833), did not attach to it that ecumenist religious significance given to it by Tsar Alexander. A dangerous temptation had been narrowly averted…
The Polish Question
One of the most important issues faced by the Great Powers in 1815 was the settlement of Poland. As was to be expected, the Poles welcomed Napoleon after he defeated the Prussians at Jena in 1806, even if his claims to be a liberator were well and truly tarnished by then (Polish soldiers had suffered particularly in helping the French tyrant’s attempts to crush Dominican independence). But Napoleon was the means, they felt, to their own independence. They were doomed to be disappointed, however. In 1807 Napoleon created the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, and by 1812 controlled almost all the lands of the former Republic – but did not restore it to full independence. And then the Russian armies came back… Nevertheless, Polish soldiers faithfully followed Napoleon both to Elba and to St. Helena, and the cult of Napoleon remained alive in Polish hearts for a long time. Thus the poet Mickiewicz signed himself “Adam Napoleon Mickiewicz”.
But in fact Tsar Alexander offered the Poles more than Napoleon had ever given them – one of the most liberal constitutions in Europe, affording the Poles more rights than even the Russians! As Lebedev writes: “Great was the joy of Emperor Alexander I in connection with the fact that in 1815 he succeeded in creating a Polish Kingdom that was free both from Prussia and from Austria and almost completely – from Russia! For he gave this Kingdom a Constitution! An unparalleled situation was created. While remaining a part of the Russian Empire, Poland was at the same time a state within a state, and distinct from Russia precisely because it had rights and freedoms which did not exist in Russia! But this seemed little to the proud (and therefore the blind) Poles! They were dreaming of recreating, then and there, the [Polish State] in that ‘greatness’ which, as they thought, it had had before the ‘division of Poland. A revolutionary ‘patriotic’ movement began in which even the friend of Alexander I’s youth, A. Chartoryskij, took part. Like other Polish ‘pans’ [nobles], he looked with haughty coldness on the actions of the Emperor in relation to Poland. The Polish gentry did not value them…”
A complicating factor in the Polish question was Freemasonry. The Masonic historian Jasper Ridley writes: “Alexander I’s attitude to Freemasonry in Russia was affected by the position in Poland. The first Freemasons’ lodge in Poland was formed in 1735; but the Freemasons were immediately attacked by the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church, which was influential in Poland, and in 1738 King Augustus II issued a decree suppressing them. His successor, King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatovsky, was sympathetic to the Freemasons. He allowed the first Polish Grand Lodge to be formed in 1767, and ten years later he himself became a Freemason.
“The partition of Poland between Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa in 1772, was followed by the further partitions of 1793 and 1796, which eliminated Poland as a country. It was a black day for the Polish Freemasons. Only Frederick the Great and his successors in Prussia tolerated them; they were suppressed in Austrian Poland in 1795 and in Russian Poland in 1797. Some of the leaders of the Polish resistance… were Freemasons; but the most famous of all the heroes of Polish independence, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, was not a Freemason, though he was a personal friend of La Fayette.
“When Napoleon defeated the Russians at Eylau and Friedland, and established the Grand Duchy of Warsaw under French protection in 1807, he permitted and encouraged the Freemasons, and in March 1810 the Grand Orient of Poland was established. After the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander I did not ban the Freemasons in that part of Poland which again came under Russia. When he visited Warsaw in November 1815 he was entertained at a banquet by the Polish Freemasons, and was made a member of the Polish Grand Orient. In 1816 General Alexander Rojnezky became Deputy Grand Master of the Polish Grand Orient, and he drafted a new constitution for the Freemasons which brought the organization to a considerable extent under the control of the Russian government. This aroused the resentment of patriotic Poles who did not like the Russians. In 1819 Major Victor Lukacinsky formed a rival masonic organization. It was free from Russian control and only Poles were admitted.
“The development in Poland was probably one of the factors which persuaded Tsar Alexander to change his attitude towards Freemasonry [and the Polish Kingdom]; though another was his general shift towards a reactionary [sic] policy which followed the formation of the Holy Alliance against revolution between Russia, Austria and Prussia. He asked Lieutenant General Egor Alexandrovich Kushelev, who was a senator and himself a prominent Freemason, to report to him on the masonic lodges in Russia.
“Kushelev’s report, in June 1821, stated that although true Freemasons were loyal subjects and their ideals and activities were praiseworthy, masonic lodges could be used as a cover for revolutionary activities, as they had been in the Kingdom of Naples; and the same was happening in Russia, especially in three of the St. Petersburg lodges.
“’This is the state, Most Gracious Sovereign, in which Masonic lodges now exist in Petersburg. Instead of the Spirit of Christian mildness and of true Masonic rules and meekness, the spirit of self-will, turbulence and real anarchy acts through them.’
“Within a month of receiving Kushelev’s report, Alexander I banned the publication of masonic songs and all other masonic documents. On 1 August 1822 he issued a decree suppressing the Freemasons throughout Russia. In November he issued a similar decree banning the Freemasons and all other secret societies in Russian Poland. These decrees were re-enacted by his more reactionary brother, Tsar Nicholas I, when Nicholas succeeded Alexander…”
If the Polish problem was difficult to solve, the Jewish problem was even more intractable. The two nations had much in common: both were nations without states, distrustful of each other but united in their craving for national autonomy, both were motivated by a fiercely anti-Orthodox faith, and both occupied approximately the same territories in what was now Western Russia, the subjects of that people, the Russians, whom they had both exploited in the not-so-distant past. The future of Europe, and Christian civilization in general, would to a large extent depend on how well Orthodox Russia would succeed in assimilating and neutralising this breeding-ground of the Revolution…
Now for a century or so before the French revolution, all the major countries of Europe, with the partial exception of Britain and her colonies, had been absolutist in their political structure. In each the monarch supported an official religion which was in decline but still powerful, and in each there were large religious minorities that were sometimes tolerated and sometimes persecuted – the Huguenots in France, the Orthodox in Austro-Hungary, the Orthodox and Armenians in Turkey, the Old Believers and Catholics in Russia, the Orthodox and Protestants in Poland, the Jews everywhere…
The universal principles proclaimed by the Enlightenment, together with the idea of the holiness of the Nation proclaimed by the French revolution, led to the emancipation of the Jews, first in France, and then in most of the countries of Europe. The process was slow and accompanied by many reverses and difficulties, but inexorable. The only great power which firmly and consistently resisted this trend was Russia….
It was not that the Russians did not want to emancipate their Jewish population if that had been possible without harm to the Christians. The record of the Russian empire in giving full rights to natives of various subject populations was in fact very good – we only have to look at the large number of Baltic German names among the senior officials of the empire, the large measure of autonomy given to the Finns, and the way in which Tatar khans and Georgian princes were fully assimilated. But the Jews presented certain intractable problems not presented by the other peoples of the empire.
The first was the sheer number of Jews who suddenly found themselves within the boundaries of the Russian empire. Thus Hartley writes: “The empire acquired a further c. 250,000 Jews after the establishment of the Congress Kingdom of Poland in 1815. There was a substantial Jewish population in Bessarabia (11.3 per cent in 1863). In 1854, the Jewish population of the whole empire was estimated as 1,062,132.” These numbers grew rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century. And by the beginning of the twentieth century, according to Lebedev, about half the number of the Jews in the whole world were to be found in the Russian empire.
Still more important than the sheer numbers of Russian Jews was their social structure and their attitude to Christians in general and Russians in particular. We have seen how important the internal Jewish authority of the kahal was considered by the enlightened Polish Jew Hourwitz. The Tsar’s servants were soon to make this discovery for themselves. Tsar Paul I appointed the poet and state official Gavriil Romanovish Derzhavin to make a special investigation of the Jewish question. After visiting Belorussia twice, writes Platonov, Derzhavin “noted the ominous role of the kahals – the organs of Jewish self-rule on the basis of the bigoted laws of the Talmud, which ‘a well-constructed political body must not tolerate’, as being a state within the state. Derzhavin discovered that the Jews, who considered themselves oppressed, established in the Pale of Settlement a secret Israelite kingdom divided into kahal districts with kahal administrations endowed with despotic power over the Jews which inhumanly exploited the Christians and their property on the basis of the Talmud. …
“Derzhavin also uncovered the concept of ‘herem’ – a curse which the kahal issued against all those who did not submit to the laws of the Talmud. This, according to the just evaluation of the Russian poet, was ‘an impenetrable sacrilegious cover for the most terrible crimes’.
“In his note Derzhavin ‘was the first to delineate a harmonious, integral programme for the resolution of the Jewish question in the spirit of Russian statehood, having in mind the unification of all Russian subjects on common ground’.
“Paul I, after reading the note, agreed with many of its positions and decorated the author. However, the tragic death of the Tsar as the result of an international Masonic conspiracy destroyed the possibility of resolving the Jewish question in a spirit favourable for the Russian people. The new Emperor, Alexander I, being under the influence of a Masonic environment, adopted a liberal position. In 1802 he created a special Committee for the improvement of the Jews, whose soul was the Mason Speransky, who was closely linked with the Jewish world through the well-known tax-farmer Perets, whom he considered his friend and with whom he lived.
“Another member of the committee was G.R. Derzhavin. As general-governor, he prepared a note ‘On the removal of the deficit of bread in Belorussia, the collaring of the avaricious plans of the Jews, on their transformation, and other things’. Derzhavin’s new note, in the opinion of specialists, was ‘in the highest degree a remarkable document, not only as the work of an honourable, penetrating statesman, but also as a faithful exposition of all the essential sides of Jewish life, which hinder the merging of this race with the rest of the population.’
“In the report of the official commission on the Jewish question which worked in the 1870s in the Ministry of the Interior, it was noted that at the beginning of the reign of Alexander I the government ‘stood already on the ground of the detailed study of Jewry and the preparation that had begun had already at that time exposed such sides of the public institutions of this nationality which would hardly be tolerable in any state structure. But however often reforms were undertaken in the higher administrative spheres, every time some magical brake held up the completion of the matter.’ This magical brake stopped Derzhavin’s proposed reform of Jewry, which suggested the annihilation of the kahals in all the provinces populated by Jews, the removal of all kahal collections and the limitation of the influx of Jews to a certain percentage in relation to the Christian population, while the remaining masses were to be given lands in Astrakhan and New Russia provinces, assigning the poorest to re-settlement. Finally, he proposed allowing the Jews who did not want to submit to these restrictions freedom to go abroad. However, these measures were not confirmed by the government.
“Derzhavin’s note and the formation of the committee elicited great fear in the Jewish world. From the published kahal documents of the Minsk Jewish society it becomes clear that the kahals and the ‘leaders of the cities’ gathered in an extraordinary meeting three days later and decided to sent a deputation to St. Petersburg with the aim of petitioning Alexander I to make no innovations in Jewish everyday life. But since this matter ‘required great resources’, a very significant sum was laid upon the whole Jewish population as a tax, refusal from which brought with it ‘excommunication from the people’ (herem). From a private note given to Derzhavin by one Belorussian landowner, it became known that the Jews imposed their herem also on the general procurator, uniting with it a curse through all the kahals ‘as on a persecutor’. Besides, they collected ‘as gifts’ for this matter, the huge sum for that time of a million rubles and sent it to Petersburg, asking that ‘efforts be made to remove him, Derzhavin, from his post, and if that was not possible, at any rate to make an attempt on his life’.”
Not surprisingly, Tsar Alexander’s Statute for the Jews of December 9, 1804 turned out to be fairly liberal – much more liberal than the laws of Frederick Augustus in Napoleon’s Duchy of Warsaw. Its strictest provisions related to a ban on Jews’ participation in the distilling and retailing of spirits.
Also, writes Vital, “there was to be no relaxation of the ancient rule that Jews (negligible exceptions apart) were to be prevented from penetrating into ‘inner Russia’. Provision was made for an eventual, but determined, attack on the rabbinate’s ancient – but in the government’s view presumptuous and unacceptable – practice of adjudicating cases that went beyond the strict limits of the religious (as opposed to the civil and criminal domain), but also on rabbinical independence and authority generally….
“But the Jews themselves could take some comfort in it being expressly stated that there was to be no question of forcible conversion to Christianity; that they were not to be oppressed or harassed in the observance of their faith and in their general social activities; that the private property of the Jews remained inviolable; and that Jews were not to be exploited or enserfed. They were, on the contrary, to enjoy the same, presumably full protection of the law that was accorded other subjects of the realm. They were not to be subject to the legal jurisdiction of the landowners on whose estates they might happen to be resident. And they were encouraged in every way the Committee could imagine – by fiscal and other economic incentives, for example, by the grant of land and loans to develop it, by permission to move to the New Russian Territories in the south – to undergo decisive and (so it was presumed) irreversible change in the two central respects which both Friezel and Derzhavin had indeed, and perfectly reasonably, regarded as vital: education and employment. In this they were to be encouraged very strongly; but they were not to be forced…”
However, the liberal Statute of 1804 was never fully implemented, and was succeeded by stricter measures towards the end of Alexander’s reign and in the reign of his successor, Nicholas I. There were many reasons for this. Among them, of course, was Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, which, if it had been successful, would have united the Western Sephardic Jews with the Eastern Ashkenazi Jews in a single State, free, emancipated, and under their own legally convened Sanhedrin. But not only did Napoleon not succeed: the invasion of Russia was the graveyard of his empire. In 1813, and again in 1815, the Russian armies entered Paris. From now on, the chief target of the Jews’ hatred would be the Russian Empire…
But the main reason for the tightening of Russian policy was “the Jews’ abhorrence of Christianity, the intensely negative light in which non-Jewish society had always been regarded, and the deeply ingrained suspicion and fear in which all forms of non-Jewish authority were commonly held.” If the French delegates who emancipated the French Jews could ignore this fact, the Russian Tsars could not. For, as the prosemitic and anti-Russian author, David Vital writes, “there were differences between Russian and the other European states not only in the political relationship between state and Church, but in respect of the place of religion generally… It was not merely that in principle Russia continued to be held by its Autocrat and his minions to be a Christian state with a particular duty to uphold its own Orthodox Church. It was that, far from the matter of the state’s specifically Christian duty slowly wasting away, as in the west, it continued actively to exercise the minds of Russia’s rulers as one of the central criteria by which questions of public policy were to be judged and decided. The continuous search for an effective definition of the role, quality, and ultimate purposes of the Autocracy itself was an enterprise which, considering the energy and seriousness with which it was pursued, sufficed in itself to distinguish Russia from its contemporaries. The programmes to which the state was committed and all its structures were under obligation to promote varied somewhat over time. But in no instance was there serious deviation from the rule that Russian Orthodoxy was and needed to remain a central and indispensable component of the ruling ethos. Nineteenth-century Russia was… an ideological state in a manner and to a degree that had become so rare as to be virtually unknown in Europe and would not be familiar again for at least a century…”
The Tsars’ gradual tightening of policy in relation to the Jews had little or no effect on the basic problem of religious and social antagonism. As Platonov writes: “The statute of the Jews worked out in 1804, which took practically no account of Derzhavin’s suggestion, continued to develop the isolation of the Jewish communities on Russian soil, that is, it strengthened the kahals together with their fiscal, judicial, police and educational independence. However, the thought of re-settling the Jews out of the western region continued to occupy the government after the issuing of the statute in 1804. A consequence of this was the building in the New Russian area (from 1808) of Jewish colonies in which the government vainly hoped to ‘re-educate’ the Jews, and, having taught them to carry out productive agricultural labour, to change in this way the whole structure of their life. Nevertheless, even in these model colonies the kahal-rabbinic administration retained its former significance and new settlements isolated themselves from the Christian communities; they did not intend to merge with them either in a national or in a cultural sense. The government not only did not resist the isolation of the Jews, but even founded for them the so-called Israelite Christians (that is, Talmudists who had converted to Orthodoxy). A special committee existed from 1817 to 1833.”
Church-State relations were greatly strained in Alexander’s reign by the Bible Society. “Founded in 1804 in England by Methodists and Masons, the Bible Society extended its wide activity also in Russia. The Society had large financial resources. In 1810 the monetary contributions of the Bible Society attained 150,000 rubles, and at the end of 1823 there were already 300 such societies in Russia. Under the mask of love for one’s neighbour and the spreading of the word of God, the bible societies began to conduct oral propaganda and publish books directed against [the Orthodox Christian] religion and the State order. These books were published under the management of the censor, which was attached to the Ministry of Spiritual Affairs and Popular Enlightenment, which was headed by the Emperor Alexander’s close friend, Prince A.N. Golitsyn. The main leaders of the Bible societies were members of the Masonic lodges, who preached the rejection of Orthodoxy, the Church and the rites of the Church. In 1819 there was published Stankevich’s book, ‘A conversation in the coffin of a child’, which was hostile to the institution of the Orthodox Church. Then Yastrebov published a work entitled ‘An appeal to men to follow the inner promptings of the Spirit of Christ’. This work was recognised to be a sermon ‘of seditious elements against the Christian religion’ and the good order of the State. In 1824 there appeared ‘a blasphemous interpretation of the Gospel’ published by the director of the Russian Bible Society. This work openly pursued the aim of stirring up people against the Church and the Throne. Besides the publication of books directed against Orthodoxy, foreign religious propaganda was conducted. Two Catholic priests from Southern Germany, Gosner and Lindl, preached Protestantism, a sect beloved by the Masons. The Methodists and other sectarians sowed their tares and introduced heresies amidst the Orthodox. At the invitation of the Mason Speransky, the very pope of Masonry, Fessler, came and took charge of the work of destroying the Orthodox Church.
“The Orthodox clergy were silent. They could not speak against the evil that was being poured out everywhere. All the powerful men of the world were obedient instruments of Masonry. The Tsar, who was falsely informed about the aims and tasks of the Bible Society by Prince Golitsyn, gave the latter his protection from on high.”
“Golitsyn,” writes Oleg Platonov, “invited to the leadership of the Bible Society only certain hierarchs of the Russian Church that were close to him. He de facto removed the Holy Synod from participation in this matter. At the same time he introduced into it secular and clerical persons of other confessions, as if underlining that ‘the aim of the Society is higher than the interests of one, that is the Russian Church, and that it develops its activities in the interests of the whole of Christianity and the whole of the Christian world’.
“As the investigator of the Bible Society I.A. Chistovich wrote in 1873, ‘this indifferent cosmopolitanism in relation to the Church, however pure its preachers might be in their ideal simplicity of heart, was, however, was an absurdity at that, as at any other time. Orthodoxy is, factually speaking, the existing form of the Christian faith of the Greco-Russian Church, and is completely in accord with the teaching and statutes of the Ancient Universal Church. Therefore Christianity in its correct ecclesiastical form only exists in the Orthodox Church and cannot have over or above it any other idea… But the Bible Society was directed precisely against such an ideal, and they sought it out or presupposed it.’
“In an official document of the Bible Society the ideas of Masonic ecumenism were openly declared. ‘The heavenly union of faith and love,’ it says in a report of the Russian Bible Society in 1818, ‘founded by means of Bible Societies in the great Christian family, reveal the beautiful dawn of the wedding day of Christians and that time when there will be one pastor and one flock, that is, when there will be one Divine Christian religion in all the various formations of Christian confessions.’
“The well-known Russian public figure, the academic A.S. Shishkov wrote on this score: ‘Let us look at the acts of the Bible Societies, let us see what they consist of. It consists in the intention to construct out of the whole human race one general republic or other and one religion – a dreamy and undiscriminating opinion, born in the minds either of deceivers or of the vainly wise… If the Bible Societies are trying only to spread piety, as they say, then why do they not unite with our Church, but deliberately act separate from her and not in agreement with her? If their intention consists in teaching Christian doctrines, does not our Church teach them to us? Can it be that we were not Christians before the appearance of the Bible Societies? And just how do they teach us this? They recruit heterodox teachers and publish books contrary to Christianity!… Is it not strange – even, dare I say it, funny – to see our metropolitans and hierarchs in the Bible Societies sitting, contrary to the apostolic rules, together with Lutherans, Catholics, Calvinists and Quakers – in a word, with all the heterodox? They with their grey hairs, and in their cassocks and klobuks, sit with laymen of all nations, and a man in a frock suit preaches to them the Word of God (of God as they call it, but not in fact)! Where is the decency, where the dignity of the church server? Where is the Church? They gather in homes where there often hang on the walls pictures of pagan gods or lascivious depictions of lovers, and these gatherings of theirs – which are without any Divine services, with the reading of prayers or the Gospel, sitting as it were in the theatre, without the least reverence – are equated with Church services, and a house without an altar, unconsecrated, where on other days they feast and dance, they call the temple of God! Is this not similar to Sodom and Gomorrah?’”
At this critical moment for Russian Orthodoxy, God raised up righteous defenders of the faith, such as Archimandrite, later Bishop Innocent (Smirnov) and then Metropolitan Michael (Desnitsky) and the superior of the Novgorod Yuriev monastery, Archimandrite Photius (Spassky).
Metropolitan Michael protested at Golitsyn’s removal of the censorship of spiritual books from the Holy Synod into the hands of laymen, which meant giving free expression to the pseudo-mystical sects. There were stormy scenes between the prince and the metropolitan even in the Synod.
“The holy hierarch Philaret [at that time archbishop of Yaroslavl], as a Member of the Synod was witness to the heated speeches of Metropolitan Michael in defence of the Church and undoubtedly approved of his actions. In his eyes the first-ranking hierarch was rightly considered to be a pillar of the Orthodox Church, restraining the onslaught of false mysticism. And when this pillar collapsed (he died), and the storms did not die down, Philaret, like many others, was seized by fear for the destiny of the Church. Under the influence of a vision seen by someone concerning Metropolitan Michael, a sorrowful picture of Church life, full of misery and darkness, was revealed. He believed that in such a situation only a person possessing the spirit and power of the Prophet Elijah could work with benefit for the Church. However, the holy hierarch was profoundly convinced that the Church was supported, not by people, but by the Lord. And since he saw that it was impossible to save the Church only by human efforts, without the help of God, he decided that it was better for him to withdraw himself from everything as far as he could. Evidently, Philaret preferred a different method of warfare with various kinds of heterodox preachers and sectarian societies from that employed by Metropolitan Michael. And these methods were: a correct organization of the spiritual schools throughout Russia and the spiritual enlightenment of the Russian people through the distribution of Orthodox spiritual literature…”
However, while Philaret withdrew to concentrate on spiritual education, a man with the spirit and strength of the Prophet Elijah was found. Fr. Photius (Spassky), later superior of Yuriev monastery near Novgorod, began his open defence of Orthodoxy in 1817. “Bureaucratic and military Petersburg were angry with the bold reprover. His first speech was unsuccessful. Photius’ struggle… against the apostates from Orthodoxy, the followers of the so-called inner Church, ended with his expulsion from Petersburg.
“After the expulsion of Photius the Masons celebrated their victory. But the joy of the conquerors turned out to be short-lived. The exile was found to have followers. Photius received special support at a difficult time of his life from the great righteous woman, Countess Anna Alexeevna Orlova-Chesmenskaia, who presented a model of piety. She not only protected him, but chose him as her leader and confessor. The firmness and courage with which Photius fought against the enemies of Orthodoxy attracted the mind and heart of Countess Orlova, a woman of Christian humility and virtue. After the death of her instructor, Countess Orlova explained why it was Photius whom she chose as her spiritual director. ‘He attracted my attention,’ wrote Countess Orlova, ‘by the boldness and fearlessness with which he, being a teacher of the law of God at the cadet corps and a young monk, began to attack the dominant errors in faith. Everybody was against him, beginning with the Court. He did not fear this. I wanted to get to know him and entered into correspondence with him. His letters seemed to me to be some kind of apostolic epistles. After getting to know him better, I became convinced that he personally sought nothing for himself.’”
However, the struggle against Masonry was helped by other events. As we have seen, Kushelev reported to the Tsar on the revolutionary activity in the Polish and Russian lodges. And then there was the Congress of the Sacred Alliance in Verona in 1822. Lebedev writes that at this Congress “Metternich unexpectedly, on the basis of masonic documents that had unexpectedly fallen into his possession, demonstrated that the secret societies of all countried, being in constant communication with each other, constituted one common plot, which was subject only to the secret leaders, and only for form’s sake accepted different programmes in different countries, depending on circumstances and conditions. He was supported by the Prussian minister, Count Haugwitz, who himself had formerly been a Mason. He made a detailed report in which he showed that the ‘enmity’ of various unions of Masonry was only for show, to divert attention. In actual fact Masonry in its depths was one and its aim was the subjection of the world, and in the first place the subjection of the monarchs, so that they become weapons in the hands of the Masons. Haugwitz added that since 1777 personally ruled not only a part of the Prussian lodges, but also Masonry in Poland and Russia! We can imagine how shocked his Majesty Alexander I was as he sat in the hall. He had been born in the same year of 1777 and had entered Masonry in 1803. Everybody was stunned. The Austrian Emperor Frantz and the Russian Emperor Alexander I decided to attack this great evil. In 1822 Masonry was forbidden in Russia by a decree of the Tsar. The lodges were disbanded, the ‘brothers’’ correspondence with abroad was strictly forbidden. At the same time this was the third powerful blow that shook the soul of Alexander I with the collapse of his faith in the nobility of the Masonic ideas and strivings. Strict censorship was introduced, especially in the publication of books of a spiritual nature. Now his Majesty began to pay attention to the rebukes of Masonry and mysticism issuing from Archimandrite Innocent, who had suffered earlier for this, of the metropolitan of the capital Michael, Metropolitan Seraphim who succeeded him, and also of the zealous defender of Orthodoxy Archimandrite Photius (Spassky)… Seraphim and Photius, joining forces, were able to to show Alexander the danger for Orthodoxy of ‘fashionable’ tendencies in though, the harmfulness of the activity of Prince Golitsyn, and return the heart of the Tsar to Holy Orthodoxy. A visit to Valaam monastery, conversations with Vladyka Seraphim, with Elder Alexis of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra made a great impression on Alexander and showed him that what his exalted soul had sought throughout his life was contained in the experience, rules and methods of Orthodox asceticism, which was just then experiencing an unusual ascent, being armed with such books as The Philokalia and others, especially on the doing of the Jesus prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’). This was Alexander’s fourth powerful spiritual shock. It had two kinds of consequences. When, in April, 1924, after many fruitless exhortation, Archimandrite Photius publicly (in a private house) pronounced ‘anathema’ on Prince Golitsyn and the latter retired, his Majesty accepted his retirement.”
Archimandrite Photius wrote: “the Masonic faith is of Antichrist, and its whole teaching and writings are of the devil”, and “in the spring of 1824 [he] wrote two epistles to his Majesty. In one of them he said that ‘in our time many books, and many societies and private people are talking about some kind of new religion, which is supposedly pre-established for the last times. This new religion, which is preached in various forms, sometimes under the form of a new world…, sometimes of a new teaching, sometimes of the coming of Christ in the Spirit, sometimes of the union of the churches, sometimes under the form of some renewal and of Christ’s supposed thousand-year reign, sometimes insinuated under the form of a so-called new religion – is apostasy from the faith of God, the faith of the apostles and the fathers. It is faith in the coming Antichrist, it is propelling the revolution, it is thirsting for blood, it is filled with the spirit of Satan. Its false-prophets and apostles are Jung-Stilling, Eckartshausen, Thion, Bohme, Labzin, Fessler and the Methodists…’
“His Majesty was favourably disposed to the epistle of Archimandrite Photius in spite of the fact that it contained criticism of all his recent friends and of the people who had enjoyed his protection. Almost at the same time there appeared the book of Gosner, about whose harmful line Archimandrite Photius had reported to his Majesty on April 17, 1824.
“On April 20, 1824, Emperor Alexander received Photius, who was ordered: ‘Come by the secret entrance and staircase into his Majesty’s study so that nobody should know about this’. Their conversation lasted for three hours, and on May 7 Photius sent his second epistle with the title: ‘Thoroughly correct the work of God. The plan for the revolution published secretly, or the secret iniquities practised by secret society in Russia and everywhere.’
“On April 29 Photius gave his Majesty another note: ‘To your question how to stop the revolution, we are praying to the Lord God, and look what has been revealed. Only act immediately. The way of destroying the whole plan quietly and successfully is as follows: 1) to abolish the Ministry of Spiritual Affairs and remove two others from a well-known person; 2) to abolish the Bible Society under the pretext that there are already many printed Bibles, and they are now not needed; 3) the Synod is, as before, to supervise education, to see if there is anything against the authorities and the faith anywhere; 4) to remove Koshelev, exile Gosner, exile Fessler and exile the Methodists, albeit the leading ones. The Providence of God is now to do nothing more openly.’
“This flaming defence of Orthodoxy [by Photius] together with Metropolitan Seraphim was crowned with success: on May 15, 1824 the Ministry of Spiritual Affairs was abolished.”
The Synod was now freer; it had a new over-procurator in the place of Golitsyn, and was purged of those members that had been linked with him. The Tsar had paid heed to Photius’ appeal. “God conquered the visible Napoleon who invaded Russia,” he said to him. “May He conquer the spiritual Napoleon through you!”
However, not everyone saw only good in the struggle against the Bible Society and the false mystics. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, who had been Archimandrite Photius’ early sponsor, had declined to enter into open warfare against the mystics, partly because of his personal friendship with Golitsyn, and partly because he had another approach to mysticism.
“At the same time as the negative actions which Golitsyn had permitted against the Church, the Moscovite archpastor saw in him much that was positive and recognized him to be one of the zealots of the spiritual side of the ecclesiastical organism. One way or the other, with the support of Prince Golitsyn it had been possible to publish many useful ecclesiastical books of a mystical character, but in an Orthodox spirit. Of course, Philaret was Orthodox in his views on mysticism. He clearly understood that in mysticism the most important question is its relation to the Church and the institutions of the Church. Every form of isolation could bring only harm, not good. Philaret recognized the usefulness of mystical teaching in the spirit of Orthodoxy and was far from sympathizing with a superficial approach to the latter. In the actions of the opponents of mysticism he found excesses, while the very method of the struggle against the latter he considered to be open to criticism and of little use. What, for example, did the party of Arakcheev and Photius gain by their victory? Absolutely nothing…. First of all, mystical literature was subjected to terrible attacks, and that which was formerly considered useful was now recognized to be harmful, demonic and heretical. All books of a mystical character were ordered to be removed from the libraries of educational institutions and a veto placed on them. Terrible difficulties were placed in the way of the publication of patristic literature. Publishers were frightened, as it were, to publish, for example, the writings of St. Macarius, they were frightened to appear thereby to be supporters of mysticism. The opponents of the Bible Society did great harm also to the translation of the Holy Scriptures into Russian…”
Philaret had been taking an active part in this translation because he saw in it the best means of diverting the often misdirected religious aspirations of Russian society in the direction of Orthodoxy. “’Let the bread not be taken away from the child’… - Metropolitan Philaret firmly believed in the renovatory power of the Word of God. He uninterruptedly bound his destiny with the work on the Bible, with the translation of the Holy Scriptures. And it is difficulty properly to value his Biblical exploit. For him personally it was bound up with great trials and sorrow.”
For the work of translation was vigorously opposed by Metropolitan Seraphim, Archimandrite Photius and Admiral Shishkov, the new minister of education.
Thus Shishkov “denied the very existence of the Russian language – ‘as if he saw in it a certain person’, he saw in it only baseness and meanness, ‘the simple people’s’ dialect of the single Slavic-Russian language. He saw in [Philaret’s] determination to translate the Word of God an ill-intentioned undertaking, ‘a weapon of revolutionary plots’, ‘how can one dare to change the words which are venerated as having come from the mouth of God?’… And translate it into what? Who would read these translations, would they not pile up everywhere in torn-up copies?… From the translation of the Bible Shishkov turned to the Catechism of Philaret and to his Notes on the Book of Genesis, where the Biblical and New Testament texts were translated in a Russian ‘reworking’. He was particularly disturbed by the fact that the Catechism was printed in a large print-run (18,000!) – he saw in this the clear manifestation of some criminal intention. Archimandrite Photius, on his part,… reproached the ‘unhealthy and harmful’ work of the Biblical translation – ‘the power of the translation was such that it clearly overthrew the dogmas of Church teaching or cast doubt on the truth of the Church’s teaching and traditions’. And Photius directly attacked Philaret, who, in his words, ‘was struggling on behalf of a God-fighting assembly’ and was supposedly ‘influencing the translation of the Bible in order rather to give a new appearance to the Word of God, thereby assisting faithlessness, innovation and all kinds of ecclesiastical temptations’. He directly called Philaret’s Catechism ‘gutter water’. As Philaret was told by his disciple Gregory, who was then rector of the Petersburg Academy and many years later Metropolitan of Novgorod and Petersburg, they were saying about the Bible Society that ‘it was founded in order to introduce a reformation’. They feared the translation of the Old Testament, and in particular the five books of Moses, lest it somehow seduced people to return to the Old Testament ritual law, or fall into Molokanism and Judaism (this thought was Magnitsky’s). They began ‘to say unpleasant things’ about Philaret in Petersburg, and it was suggested that he be removed to the Caucasus as exarch of Georgia… In these years Philaret was in Moscow and took no notice of the Petersburg rumours and ‘Alexandrine politics’. As before, he directly and openly defended the work on the Bible and attempted to show that ‘the very desire to read the Holy Scriptures is already an earnest of moral improvement’. To the question, what was the purpose of this new undertaking in a subject so ancient and not subject to change as Christianity and the Bible, Philaret replied: ‘What is the purpose of this new undertaking? But what is new here? Dogmas? Rules of life? But the Bible Society preaches none of these things, and gives into the hands of those who desire it the book from which the Orthodox dogmas and pure rules of life were always drawn by the true Church in the past and to the present day. A new society? But it introduces no novelty into Christianity, and produces not the slightest change in the Church’… They asked: ‘Why is this undertaking of foreign origin?’ But, replied Philaret, so much with us ‘is not only of foreign origin, but also completely foreign’…
“The supposed zealots succeeded in obtaining the banning of Philaret’s Catechism on the excuse that there were ‘prayers’ in it – the Symbol of faith and the Commandments – in Russian. The Russian translation of the New Testament was not banned, but the translation of the Bible was stopped. And as Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev remembered later ‘with great sorrow and horror’, from fear of conversions to Judaism, ‘they found it necessary to commit to the flames of brick factories several thousand copies of the five books of the Prophet Moses translated into Russian in the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and printed by the Bible Society’. M. Philaret reacted sharply and sorrowfully to these actions, which were carried out bypassing the Holy Synod. ‘I don’t know what it was all about, but I cannot see that it was about anything else than Orthodoxy. I cannot understand by whom and how and why doubt can be cast on a work as pure and approved by all, as sacred as anything on earth. It would be no small matter if the doubt threatened only the one man who was the instrument of this work; but does it not threaten the Hierarchy? Does it not threaten the Church? If the Orthodoxy of a Catechism that was triumphantly approved by the Most Holy Synod is in doubt, then will not the Orthodoxy of the Most Holy Synod itself not be in doubt? Will not allowing this shake the Hierarchy to its foundations, will it not disturb the peace of the Church? Will it not produce a serious temptation for the Church?’ Metropolitan Seraphim calmed Philaret, saying that Orthodoxy was not in question here, that everything came down to the language, but he refused ‘to reply in a satisfactory manner’ ‘why the Russian language must have no place in the Catechism, which was, moreover, short, and intended for small children who had no knowledge whatsoever of the Slavonic language, and for that reason were not able to understand the truths of the faith which were expounded to them in that language’… The ban on the Catechism (1828) was removed only when all the texts had been put into Slavonic and the Russian translation of the Symbol, the Lord’s Prayer and the Commandments had been left out. M. Philaret was deeply shaken by these events. ‘Smoke is eating into their eyes’, he wrote to his vicar, ‘and they are saying: how corrosive is the light of the sun! They can hardly breathe from the smoke and with difficulty decree: how harmful is the water from the source of life! Blessed is he who can not only raise his eyes to the mountains, but run there for the clean air, the living water!… Blessed is he who can sit in his corner and weep for his sins and pray for the Sovereign and the Church, and has no need to take part in public affairs, becoming tainted with the sins of others and multiplying his own sins!’ Above all Philaret was alarmed by the un-thought-through hastiness and interference of secular people, ‘people who have been called neither by God, nor by their superiors’, and who rise up in bold self-opiniated fashion against the appointed teachers.”
The destruction of the Holy Scriptures simply because they were in a Russian translation, and of the official Catechism of the Russian Church simply because it quoted the Scriptures in Russian rather than Slavonic, was a phenomenon which, in another age, would have led to a schism. But Philaret refrained from open protest because he did not want to create a schism. Nor, since Metropolitan Seraphim of St. Petersburg had threatened to retire if Philaret insisted on continuing his translation, did he want a rupture between the two senior sees in the Church. However, with heresy overwhelming so many from the left, and blind prejudice parading as traditionalism from the right, the Russian Church was in a precarious position…
The Serbian Revolution
In Greece and the Balkans the ideas of the French revolution found expression in national liberation movements, which succeeded in liberating a large part of the Orthodox lands in Europe from the Turkish yoke. The vital question for these lands as they gradually liberated themselves in the course of the 19th century was: would freedom allow them to re-establish the genuinely Orthodox “symphonic” model of Church-State relations which had prevailed throughout the region before the fall of Constantinople? Unfortunately, the answer in the case of each newly emergent state – Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria – was: no.
The first condition of “symphony” is the existence of a genuinely independent Orthodox Church able to exert a strong moral influence on the powers that be. After the Turkish conquest, the influence of the Serbian Church even increased, and thanks to the collaborative policies of the Serb leaders after Kosovo, the Turks even allowed the re-establishment of the Serbian Patriarchate at Peć in 1557.
As Branimir Anzulovic writes, “it no longer served the Serbian state because that state had ceased to exist; but it served the Ottoman state, and as the only surviving national institution, it became the main carrier of Serbian national identity. Its nonreligious functions were even expanded under the Turkish system of millets – ethnoreligious communities of non-Islamic peoples, which enjoyed a considerable degree of religious and cultural autonomy and were in charge of administrative duties such as the collection of taxes… [One] scholar described the Serbian Orthodox Church, at the time of the Peć patriarchate, as “a sort of a vassal clerocratic state within the framework of the power military-feudal empire”’”.
The Serbian Church was in general loyal to its Turkish masters (the first patriarch of the Peć patriarchate was a close relative of the Grand Vizier Mehmet Pasha Sokollu). However, when, in 1690, King Leopold I of Hungary invited them to cross over to his land, 40,000 Serbs (according to another source, 37,000 families) took up his invitation with the blessing of Patriarch Arsenije III. This led to the foundation of the Serbian metropolitanate of Karlovcy in Slavonia in 1713. Towards the end of the 19th century, there were six dioceses under Karlovcy with about a million faithful. In 1766 the Peć patriarchate was abolished, as was the autocephalous archbishopric of Ochrid in the following year. From that time the role of the Church decreased, without ever ceasing to be important, and non-Orthodox political models and theories began to infiltrate Serbian society, not least the nationalist ideas of the French revolution, which played a significant part in the Serbs’ own revolution in the first half of the 19th century.
The Serbian revolution began as a rebellion against the Dahis, the four top Janissary commanders, who were terrorising both the Serbs and the Muslims in the province and effectively annulling the autonomy that the sultan had given them.
Tim Judah writes: “Local leaders, including Kardjordje, a swine dealer who had fought both in the Austrian Freikorps and in the Turkish-organised Serbian army, began to plot their removal. But the Dahis struck first. In early 1804 they executed up to 150 of the Serbian knezes or local leaders in an operation they called ‘The Cutting Down of the Chiefs’. It was this that provoked the rebellion. At first the Serbs did not claim to be fighting to rid themselves of Ottoman domination but rather claimed to be rebelling in the name of the sultan against the repressive Dahis. Karadjordje was elected as leader of the uprising on 14 February 1804. He soon succeeded in liberating almost all of the pashalik, especially after the sultan ordered forces from Bosnia to intervene to finish off the Dahis.
“At this early stage, the Serbs were joined by at least part of the pashalik’s Muslim population, whom the Serbs called the ‘Good Turks’, and who were also keen to rid themselves of the rapacious Dahis. However, as the Serb aim soon changed to a demand for complete independence, co-operation rapidly turned to confrontation and massacre.
“In the negotiations that followed the defeat of the Dahis, the Serbs demanded the restoration of their autonomy, but the Turks became alarmed. The rebels were making contact with Serbs in other parts of the Ottoman Empire and with semi-independent Montenegro. Karadjordje had also sent a delegation to Russia to appeal for help, and he was talking ‘of throwing off the yoke that the Serb has borne since Kosovo’. Another Ottoman army was sent to crush the rebels, but it was soundly beaten at Ivankovac on 18 August 1805. Meeting in Smederovo in 1805, the insurgents decided not only to repudiate the pashalik’s annual tribute to the sultan but to take the struggle beyond the borders of the province. In reply a jihad or holy war was declared against them.
“At the end of 1806, Russia went to war with the Ottomans, and the Serbs were encouraged to keep fighting. A modest Russian force was sent to fight alongside the Serbs. Within weeks, though, the Russians and the Turks signed the Treaty of Slobozia, in which neither side bothered to mention the Serbs…
“In 1809, fighting between the Serbs and Turks resumed, with some Russian help. Russia soon needed to muster all its strength to counter Napoleon’s campaign of 1812, so a peace treaty was concluded in Bucharest with the Turks. It specified that Serbia would revert to Ottoman rule, with the proviso that there would be a general amnesty for participants in the insurrection. The Serbs rejected this, but their defences collapsed in the ensuing Turkish onslaught. Karadjordje fled, along with thousands of refugees, who sought protection in the Habsburg provinces, Wallachia and Russia. The Turkish vengeance was terrible. Villages were burned and thousand were sent into slavery. On 17 October 1813 alone, 1,800 women and children were sold as slaves in Belgrade. Soon afterwards a halt was called to the reprisals, and many of the refugees began returning. Some of the former insurgent leaders, such as Miloš Obrenović from the Rudnik district (who had not fled), now made their peace with the Turks, who confirmed them in their local positions of power. It was an untenable situation. In 1814, one of Karadjordje’s former commanders started a new rebellion, but it did not catch on. In the wake of the fresh reprisals following its defeat, however, preparations were made for yet another uprising. Led by Obrenović, the rebels had by mid-July 1815 succeeded in freeing a large part of the pashalik.
“Just as before, it was the international situation which helped shape developments. With Napoleon defeated at Waterloo in 1815, the Turks were wary of the Russians in case they intervened again on behalf of the Serbs. So, after much negotiation, a deal was struck with Obrenović. The Belgrade pashalik was to become an autonomous province. Serbian chiefs were granted the right to collect taxes, but the Turks could remain only in the towns and forts of the province.
“Obrenović was born in 1783 into a poor family which had originally come to Serbia from Hercegovina. As a child he tended cattle for his neighbours and later joined his brother, who had his own livestock business. He was a brave commander in the first uprising and after the second he proved himself a shrewd but brutal and murderous politician. He constantly sought increased concessions from the Turks while he gradually undermined their residual power in Serbia. In 1817, influence by the Philike Hetairia, a Greek revolutionary secret society, Karadjordje slipped back into Serbia. Sensing danger for both himself and his plans, Obrenović sent his agents who murdered Karadjordje with an axe. His skinned head was stuffed and sent to the sultan. This act was to spark off a feud between the families which was periodically to convulse Serbian politics until 1903. Then the last Obrenović and his wife were murdered by being thrown out of the palace windows in Belgrade. The hapless King Aleksandar allegedly grabbed the parapet, but he fell to his death after one of the conspirators used his sword to chop off his fingers.
“Miloš Obrenović was as rapacious as any Turk had been in collecting taxes. As his rule became ever more oppressive, there were seven rebellions against him including three major uprisings between 1815 and 1830. In 1830 the sultan nevertheless formally accepted Miloš’s hereditary princeship.”
It was hardly to be expected that such a ruler would restore the glorious traditions of St. Sabbas and the Nemanja dynasty. And Serbian history from now on was dominated by two sharply contrasting, but equally unOrthodox ideologies: the westernizing, secular tradition deriving from the Enlightenment, and the bloodthirsty, tribal-heroic and nationalist tradition represented by the Montenegrin bishop-prince and poet Petar Petrović Njegoš (d. 1851).
Montenegro united Church and State in the only completely independent Orthodox land in the Balkans. Fortescue writes: “In 1516, Prince George, fearing lest quarrels should weaken his people (it was an elective princedom), made them swear always to elect the bishop as their civil ruler as well. These prince-bishops were called Vladikas… In the 18th century the Vladika Daniel I (1697-1737) succeeded in securing the succession for his own family. As Orthodox bishops have to be celibate, the line passed (by an election whose conclusion was foregone) from uncle to nephew, or from cousin to cousin. At last, in 1852, Danilo, who succeeded his uncle as Vladika, wanted to marry, so he refused to be ordained bishop and turned the prince-bishopric into an ordinary secular princedom. Since then, another person has been elected Metropolitan of Cetinje, according to the normal Orthodox custom.”
In view of the Serbian wars of the 1990s, it is important to note the long-term influence of the Montenegrim Prince-Bishop Njegoš’ famous poem, The Mountain Wreath, which glorifies the mass slaughter of Muslims who refuse to convert to Christianity on a certain Christmas Eve. The principal character, Vladyka Danilo, says:
We will baptize with water or with blood!
We’ll drive the plague out of the pen!
Let the son of horror ring forth,
A true altar on a blood-stained rock!
And in another poem Njegoš writes that “God’s dearest sacrifice is a boiling stream of tyrant’s blood”.
An armed struggle against the infidel for the sake of Christ and His glory could indeed serve as the subject of a worthy and truly Christian glorification. But there is little that is Christian in this bishop’s poem. Even Bishop Nikolai Velimirović, an admirer of Njegoš, had to admit: “Njegoš’s Christology is almost rudimentary. No Christian priest has ever said less about Christ than this metropolitan from Cetinje.”
This bloodthirsty, nationalist and only superficially Christian tradition, which was continued by such figures as the poet Vuk Karadžić, who called the Serbs “the greatest people on the planet” and boosted the nation’s self-esteem “by describing a culture 5,000 years old and claiming that Jesus Christ and His apostles had been Serbs”, was to have profound effects on the future of Serbia, and through Serbia, on European history as a whole.
The Greek Revolution
In Greece, as in Serbia, the ideas of the French revolution caused great excitement and nationalist bombast. Thus Benjamin of Lesbos wrote: “Nature has set limits to the aspirations of other men, but not to those of the Greeks. The Greeks were not in the past and are not now subject to the laws of nature.”
The dreams of the Greeks were excited by a number of causes. First, there were the political factors: the rebellion of the Muslim warlord Ali Pasha against the Sultan in 1820 and the inexorable gradual southward expansion of the Russian Empire, which drew Greek minds to the prophecies about the liberation of “the City”, Constantinople, by to xanthon genos, “the yellow-haired race” – whom the Greeks identified with the Russians. Secondly, the wealthier merchants chafed at the restrictions on the accumulation of capital in the Ottoman empire, and longed for the more business-friendly kind of regime that their travels acquainted them with in Western Europe. And thirdly, and most importantly, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth, these merchants subsidised an explosion in the publication of Greek books and in the provision of educational opportunities for young Greeks.
Such an emphasis on education had been made by the holy new Hieromartyr Cosmas of Aitolia (+1779), who built schools in over two hundred towns and villages. But he emphasised education in Orthodoxy in order to escape the snares of western culture. These merchants, however, sent young Greeks to the universities of Western Europe, especially Germany, where they were infected by western ideas. For “here,” writes Clogg, “they came into contact not only with the heady ideas of the Enlightenment, of the French Revolution and of romantic nationalism but they were made aware of the extraordinary hold which the language and civilisation of ancient Greece had over the minds of their educated European contemporaries.
“During the centuries of the Tourkokratia knowledge of the ancient Greek world had all but died out, but, under the stimulus of western classical scholarship, the budding intelligentsia developed an awareness that they were the heirs to an heritage that was universally revered throughout the civilised world. By the eve of the war in independence this progonoplexia (ancestor obsession) and arkhaiolatreia (worship of antiquity), to use the expressive Greek terms, had reached almost obsessive proportions. It was precisely during the first decade of the nineteenth century that nationalists, much to the consternation of the Church authorities, began to baptise their children with the names of (and to call their ships after) the worthies of ancient Greece rather than the Christian saints….”
The Church’s concern was understandable; for the ideas inflaming the minds of young Greeks were far from Orthodox. Especially dangerous was the western revolutionary ideology of freedom – not spiritual freedom, but the freedom of the individual and the nation from all external bonds. The Greeks already had experience of the bitter fruits of revolution; for in 1770 “the ill-fated Orlov expedition to the Peloponessos, launched by Catherine the Great, and the combined Russian-Greek attempt to free the Peloponnesos from the tyranny of the Ottoman Muslims, ended in disaster. In addition to destroying the Greek military forces and many of the Russians, the Albanian Muslim mercenaries, who were called in by the Ottoman Muslims, wreaked havoc on the local population…” But this tragedy did not prevent many Greeks, and even some prominent churchmen, from being influenced by the French revolution of 1789.
The Church’s attitude to the revolution was expressed in a work called Paternal Teaching, which appeared in the revolutionary year of 1789, and which, according to Charles Frazee, "was signed by Anthimus of Jerusalem but was probably the work of the later Patriarch Gregory V. The document is a polemic against revolutionary ideas, calling on the Christians 'to note how brilliantly our Lord, infinite in mercy and all-wise, protects intact the holy and Orthodox Faith of the devout, and preserves all things'. It warns that the devil is constantly at work raising up evil plans; among them is the idea of liberty, which appears to be so good, but is only there to deceive the people. The document points out that [the struggle for] political freedom is contrary to the Scriptural command to obey authority, that it results in the impoverishment of the people, in murder and robbery. The sultan is the protector of Christian life in the Ottoman Empire; to oppose him is to oppose God."
Patriarch Gregory was also a determined opponent of the religious ecumenism that was the other side of the coin of Masonry’s call to revolutionary violence: “Let us neither say nor think that [they who teach erroneous doctrines] also believe in one Lord, have one Baptism, and confess the one Faith. If their opinions are correct, then by necessity our own must be incorrect. But if our own doctrines are upheld and believed and given credence and confessed by all as being good, true, correct, and unadulterated, manifestly then, the so-called sacraments of all heretics are evil, bereft of divine grace, abominable, and loathsome, and the grace of ordination and the priesthood by which these sacraments are performed has vanished and departed from them. And when there is no priesthood, all the rest are dead and bereft of spiritual grace. We say these things, beloved, lest anyone – either man or woman – be misled by the heterodox regarding their apparent sacraments and their so-called Christianity. Rather, let each one stand firmly in the blameless and true Faith of Christ, especially that we may draw to ourselves those who have been led astray and, as though they were own members, unite them to the one Head, Christ, to Whom be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
However, Patriarch Gregory’s negative attitude towards the political and religious revolution was not shared by another famous hierarch of the time who came from the same village of Dhimitsana in the Peloponnese: Metropolitan Germanus of Old Patras. And so when the Phanariot Greek Alexander Ypsilantis crossed from Russia into Turkish-occupied Romania with a small band of Greeks in 1821, a simultaneous rebellion took place in the Peloponnese under the leadership of Metropolitan Germanus and eight other bishops. Ypsilantis' force was soon crushed, for it was repudiated by both the Russian Tsar and the Romanian peasants. But Germanos' campaign prospered, in spite of the deaths of five of the bishops in prison. And soon the south of Greece and the islands of Hydra, Spetsae and Poros were in Greek hands.
At this point the frightened Turks put pressure on Patriarch Gregory and his Synod to anathematize Ypsilantes and all those who cooperated with him. They obeyed. Some have argued that the patriarch secretly repudiated this anathema and sympathised with the insurgents; which is why the Turks, suspecting him of treachery, hanged him on April 10. “In any case,” writes Fr. Anthony Gavalas, “the anathema was ignored, as were all the other letters unfavourable to the plans of the revolutionaries, as having been issued under duress. There is an opinion that the patriarch knew that the anathema would be so considered and issued it, hoping to placate the Turks on the one hand, and on the other, to gain time for the revolution to gain strength.” However, the patriarch’s righteousness of character precludes the possibility that he could have been plotting against a government to which he had sworn allegiance and for which he prayed in the Divine Liturgy. Moreover, he had always refused to join the philiki hetairia, the secret, masonic-style society to which most of the insurgents (including Ypsilantis and Metropolitan Germanus) belonged.
This society, founded among the Greek diaspora in Odessa in 1814, was created with the aim of liberating the Motherland from the Ottoman empire. Its essentially pagan inspiration is indicated by its initiation rituals, which carried the penalty of death for those who betrayed the secret and commended the initiate “to the protection of the Great Priests of the Eleusinian Mysteries”. By 1821 almost a thousand members had been initiated into the society. Significantly, the patriarch’s body was picked up by a Russian ship and taken to Odessa, mutely pointing to where the organisation that had truly caused his death was centred.
The essentially western ideology of the Greek revolution explains why so many young westerners, among whom the most famous was the poet Byron, to join the Greek freedom-fighters. But they were fighting, not for Orthodox Greece, but for their romantic vision of ancient, pagan Greece. Significantly, there were no volunteers from Orthodox Russia, whose tsars correctly saw in the revolutionary spirit a greater threat to the well-being of the Orthodox peoples than Turkish rule.
Certainly, the Greeks had to pay a heavy price for the political freedom they gained. After the martyrdom of Patriarch Gregory, the Turks ran amok in Constantinople; and there were further pogroms in Smyrna, Adrianople, Crete and especially Chios, which had been occupied by the revolutionaries and where in reprisal tens of thousands were killed or sold into slavery. When the new patriarch, Eugenius, again anathematised the insurgents, twenty-eight bishops and almost a thousand priests in free Greece in turn anathematised the patriarch, calling him a Judas and a wolf in sheep's clothing, and ceasing to commemorate him in the Liturgy.
And what was it all for? When Byron was dying in Greece in 1824, the Duc d’Orléans commented “that he was dying so that one day people would be able to eat sauerkraut at the foot of the Acropolis”. He was not far from the truth; for after Greece was declared independent in 1830, in 1833 Otto I, son of the king of Bavaria, became king. As Zamoyski sardonically comments: “Sauerkraut indeed…”
Inevitably, therefore, as Charles Frazee writes, the new State of Greece, "looked to the west, the west of the American and French Revolutions, rather than to the old idea of an Orthodox community as it had functioned under the Ottomans. The emotions of the times did not let men see it; Orthodoxy and Greek nationality were still identified, but the winds were blowing against the dominant position of the Church in the life of the individual and the nation..."
Thus, forgetting the lessons of the council of Florence four hundred years earlier, the new State and Church entered into negotiations with the Pope for help against the Turks. Metropolitan Germanus was even empowered to speak concerning the possibility of a reunion of the Churches. However, it was the Pope who drew back at this point, pressurized by the other western States which considered the sultan to be a legitimate monarch.
The western powers helped Greece again when, in 1827, an Allied fleet under a British admiral destroyed the Turkish-Egyptian fleet at Navarino. But after the assassination of the president of Greece, Count Kapodistrias, in 1832, the country descended further into poverty and near civil war.
Then, in 1833, the western powers appointed a Catholic prince, Otto of Bavaria, as king of Greece, with three regents until he came of age, the most important being the Protestant George von Maurer. Maurer proceeded to work out a constitution for the country, which proposed autocephaly for the Church under a Synod of bishops, and the subordination of the Synod to the State on the model of the Bavarian and Russian constitutions, to the extent that "no decision of the Synod could be published or carried into execution without the permission of the government having been obtained". In spite of the protests of the patriarch of Constantinople and the tsar of Russia, and the walk-out of the archbishops of Rethymnon and Adrianople, this constitution was ratified by the signatures of thirty-six bishops on July 26, 1833.
In 1844 the Church reiterated her new canonical position: “The Orthodox Church of Greece acknowledges our Lord Jesus Christ as her Head. She is inseparably united in faith with the Church of Constantinople and with every other Christian Church of the same profession, but is autocephalous, exercises her sovereign rights independently of every other Church and is governed by the members of the Holy Synod.” The Ecumenical Patriarch refused to acknowledge the new Synod. And many Greeks were also unhappy.
The Greek Church therefore exchanged the admittedly uncanonical position of the patriarchate of Constantinople under Turkish rule for the even less canonical position of a Synod unauthorized by the patriarch and under the control of a Catholic king and a Protestant constitution! In addition to this, all monasteries with fewer than six monks were dissolved, and heavy taxes imposed on the remaining monasteries. And very little money was given to a Church which had lost six to seven thousand clergy in the war, and whose remaining clergy had an abysmally low standard of education.
In spite of this, Divine grace worked to transform the situation from within, as it had in Russia. Thus in 1839 the Synod forbade marriages between Orthodox and heterodox; and gradually, within the Synod and outside, support for reunion with the patriarchate grew stronger. Then, in 1843, a bloodless coup forced the king to dismiss his Bavarian aides and summon a National Assembly to draw up a constitution in which the indissoluble unity of the Greek Church with Constantinople was declared.
In 1849 the Greek government sent the Patriarch the Order of St. Saviour; but he was still not mollified. However, under Russian pressure, he and his Synod finally, on June 29, 1851, issued a Tomos which recognized the autocephaly of the Greek Church, but with conditions: that the State should not interfere in the affairs of the Church (as if it never interfered in the affairs of the Patriarchate!), that the name of the Patriarch should be commemorated at every Liturgy in Greece, that the Holy Chrism should be sent from Constantinople, and that the Greek Holy Synod should submit all important questions to the Patriarch. Although there were some protests against these conditions, the quarrel now died down…
The Kollyvades Movement
During the Greek War of Independence there came to a head a long-running dispute over the canonicity of two liturgical practices: (1) the performing of services commemorating the dead on Sundays, and (2) the practice of receiving Divine Communion no more than two or three times a year.
The so-called “Kollyvades” Fathers – so called after the kollyva, or boiled wheat, which is traditionally given out at memorial services in the Greek Church – rose up against these practices, saying that memorial services for the dead should be held, according to Apostolic Tradition, on Saturdays, not Sundays, and that Communion should be received as often as possible consistent with proper preparation for the sacrament. There was much opposition to the teaching of Kollyvades, and successive patriarchs adopted a compromise position based on the principle of “economy” or condescension. Thus in 1772 Patriarch Theodosius II decreed in a letter: “Those who perform memorial services for the dead of Saturday do well, as they keep the ancient Tradition of the Church, while those who perform them on Sunday do not sin.” Again, in 1819 Patriarch Gregory V decreed that memorial services “be performed without distinction on Sundays and Saturdays, as well as on other days of the week, in order to terminate completely that dispute which arose long ago.” 
As for the receiving of Communion, “in 1775, Ecumenical Patriarch Theodosios sought to reconcile the two factions. He wrote to the monks of Athos saying that the early Christians received Holy Communion every Sunday, while those of the subsequent period received it every forty days, after penance; he advised that whoever felt himself prepared should follow the former, whereas if he did not he should follow the latter. But this did not bring an end to the dispute. Like the contention about memorial services, it continued until the early part of the nineteenth century. In 1819, Patriarch Gregory V wrote to the monks of the Holy Mountain that Communion should not be received at certain set times, but whenever one felt oneself read for it, following confession and other necessary preparation.”
Constantine Cavarnos points out that the Kollyvades controversy witnesses to the revival of Greek Orthodox spirituality in the period. And he continues: “There is another very important side to the Kollyvades movement: its revival of Eastern Orthodox mysticism. Together with the Kollyvades’ fervor for a stricter adherence to Sacred Tradition went an endeavour to revive and cultivate this mysticism, known as hesychasm. After the vindication of hesychasm by the Synod of Hagia Sophia in 1351 and the canonization of the great defender of hesychasm, Gregory Palamas, hesychasm gradually fell into relative oblivion. It was revived by the Kollyvades, particularly Macarios and Nicodemos. The Philokalia, a monumental anthology of ascetic-mystical writings by some thirty Greek Fathers which played a role of first rate importance in the revival of hesychasm in Greece, the other Balkan countries and Russia, owed its publication to these two saints….”
The Philokalia was translated into Slavonic by the Russian Athonite monk St. Paisius Velichkovsky, who thereby brought the neo-hesychast movement to Romania and Russia. Here it was destined to bring forth much fruit, notably among the famous Elders of Optina monastery…
Even the opposition aroused by the Kollyvades, especially on Mount Athos, was turned to the good by Divine Providence. “Contrary to all the anticipations of the Anti-Kollyvades, this persecution served to spread the ideas of the Kollyvades throughout Greece. Many of the Kollyvades left Mount Athos and scattered all over Greece, especially the Aegean islands, becoming spiritual awakeners and reformers through their sermons, personal counsels, the establishment of monasteries that developed into luminous centers of spiritual life, and their exemplary Christian character and way of life.”
The Decembrist Rebellion
The wave of revolutionary violence reached Russia after the supposed death of Tsar Alexander I on November 19, 1825. During the interregnum, on December 14, a group of army officers attempted to seize power in St. Petersburg. The Decembrist conspirators were divided into a Northern Society based in St. Petersburg and a Southern society based in Tulchin, headquarters of the Second Army in the Ukraine.
“In the ideology of the Northern Society especially,” writes Walicki, “there were certain elements reminiscent of the views of the aristocratic opposition of the reign of Catherine II. Many of the members in this branch of the Decembrist movement were descendants of once powerful and now impoverished boyar families… Nikita Muraviev claimed that the movement was rooted in the traditions of Novgorod and Pskov, of the twelfth-century Boyar Duma, of the constitutional demands presented to Anne by the Moscow nobility in 1730, and of the eighteenth-century aristocratic opposition. The poet Kondraty Ryleev painted an idealized portrait of Prince Andrei Kurbsky (the leader of the boyar revolt against Ivan the Terrible) and even devoted one of his ‘elegies’ to him…In his evidence before the Investigating Commission after the suppression of the revolt, Petr Kakhovsky stated that the movement was primarily a response to the high-handedness of the bureaucracy, the lack of respect for ancient gentry freedom, and the favoritism shown to foreigners. Another Northern Decembrist, the writer and literary critic Aleksandr Bestuzhev… wrote that his aim was ‘monarchy tempered by aristocracy’. These and similar facts explain Pushkin’s view, expressed in the 1830’s, that the Decembrist revolt had been the last episode in the age-old struggle between autocracy and boyars…
“The Decembrists used the term ‘republic’ loosely, without appearing to be fully aware that there were essential differences between, for instance, the Roman republic, the Polish gentry republic, the old Russian city states, and modern bourgeois republics… Muraviev modeled his plan for a political system on the United States… The theorists of the Northern Society made no distinction between criticism of absolutism from the standpoint of the gentry and similar criticism from a bourgeois point of view. Hence they saw no difficulty in reconciling liberal notions taken largely from the works of Bentham, Benjamin Constant and Adam Smith with an idealization of former feudal liberties and a belief in the role of the aristocracy as a ‘curb on despotism’. The theoretical premise here was the ‘juridical world view’ of the Enlightenment, according to which legal and political forms determined the revolution of society.”
The Northern Decembrists were in favour of the emancipation of the serfs. However, they insisted that the land should remain with the gentry, thereby ensuring the continued dependence of the serfs on the gentry. “The conviction that the peasants ought to be overjoyed merely at the abolition of serfdom was shared by many Decembrists. Yakushkin, for instance, could not conceal his exasperation at his peasants’ demand for land when he offered to free them. When they were told that the land would remain the property of the landlord, their answer was: ‘Then things had better stay as they were. We belong to the master, but the land belongs to us.’”
The Northern Decembrists worked out a new interpretation of Russian history conceived “as an antithesis to Karamzin’s theory of the beneficial role of autocracy. “An innate Russian characteristic, the Decembrists maintained – one that later developments had blunted but not destroyed – was a deep-rooted love of liberty. Autocracy had been unknown in Kievan Russia: the powers of the princes had been strictly circumscribed there and decisions on important affairs of state were taken by the popular assemblies. The Decembrists were especially ardent admirers of the republican city-states of Novgorod and Pskov. This enthusiasm was of practical significance, since they were convinced that the ‘spirit of liberty’ that had once imbued their forbears was still alive; let us but strike the bell, and the people of Novgorod, who have remained unchanged throughout the centuries, will assemble by the bell tower, Ryleev declared. Kakhovsky described the peasant communes with their self-governing mir as ‘tiny republics’, a living survival of Russian liberty. In keeping with this conception, the Decembrists thought of themselves as restoring liberty and bringing back a form of government that had sound historical precedents.”
This reinterpretation of Russian history was false. Russia was imbued from the beginning with the spirit of Orthodox autocracy and patriarchy: the “republics” of Pskov and Novgorod were exceptions to the historical rule. And if Kievan autocracy was less powerful than the Muscovite or Petersburg autocracies, this was not necessarily to its advantage. Russia succumbed to the Mongols because the dividedness of her princes precluded a united defence. And there can be little doubt that she would not have survived into the nineteenth century as an independent Orthodox nation if she had not been an autocracy.
The leader of the Southern Society, Colonel Pavel Pestel, had more radical ideas in his draft for a constitution, Russian Justice, which was based on two assumptions: “that every man has a natural right to exist and thus to a piece of land large enough to allow him to make a basic living; and that only those who create surplus wealth have a right to enjoy it. After the overthrow of tsarism, therefore, Pestel proposed to divide land into two equal sectors: the first would be public property (or, more accurately, the property of the communes); the second would be in private hands. The first would be used to ensure everyone a minimum living, whereas the second would be used to create surplus wealth. Every citizen was entitled to ask his commune for an allotment large enough to support a family; if the commune had more land available, he would even be able to demand several such allotments. The other sector would remain in private hands. Pestel felt that his program ensured every individual a form of social welfare in the shape of a communal land allotment but also left scope for unlimited initiative and the opportunity of making a fortune in the private sector.
“Pestel believed that his program had every chance of success since land ownership in Russia had traditionally been both communal and private. Here he obviously had in mind the Russian village commune; it should be emphasized, however, that Pestel’s commune differed essentially from the feudal obshchina in that it did not restrict its members’ movement or personal freedom and did not impose collective responsibility for individual members’ tax liabilities.”
The Decembrist rebellion was not as important for what it represented in itself as for the halo of martyrdom which its exiles acquired, inspiring Herzen and other sons of the gentry in their much more radical ideas and plans. The Decembrists were romantic dreamers rather than hardened revolutionaries – one of their leaders, the poet Ryleyev, mounted the scaffold with a volume of Byron’s works in his hands. But this did not diminish the evil effect their words and deeds had on the minds of succeeding generations. And the saints of Russia were severe in their condemnation.
“They say,” writes Platonov, “that in 1825, not long before the Decembrist rebellion, a Mason, apparently Pestel, asked St. Seraphim for a blessing. But he shouted angrily at him, as at the greatest criminal and apostate from Christ: ‘Go where you came from,’ – and threw him out.”
579 people arrested and brought to trial. 40 were given the death sentence and the rest – hard labour. In the end only five were executed. The soldiers were flogged. On August 21, 1826 Tsar Nicholas confirmed his predecessor’s ban on the Masonic lodges…
“And so for the first time in Russian history,” writes Lebedev, “a rebellion of the nobility had as its aim not the removal of one sovereign by another, but the annihilation of tsarist power altogether… It became clear that [the Decembrists’] links in ‘society’ were so significant and deep, and the sympathy for them so broad, that one could speak of a betrayal of the Throne and Church – or, at any rate, of the unreliability – of the noble class as a whole.”
V.F. Ivanov writes: “As an eyewitness put it, the rebellion in Petersburg shocked the general mass of the population of Russia profoundly. In his words, ‘the attempt to limit the Tsar’s power and change the form of government seemed to us not only sacrilege, but an historical anomaly; while the people, seeing that the plotters belonged exclusively to the upper class, considered the nobility to be traitors, and this added one more sharp feature to that secret hatred which it nourished towards the landowners. Only the progressives and the intelligentsia of the capital sympathised with the unfortunate madmen’ (Schilder).
“The best people turned away from the affair in disgust and branded the work of the Mason-Decembrists that of Cain. In the words of Karamzin: ‘Look at the stupid story of our mad liberalists! Pray God that not so many real rogues are found among them. The soldiers were only victims of a deception. Sometimes a fine day begins with a storm: may it be thus in the new reign… God saved us from a great disaster on December 14…’”
St. Seraphim of Sarov
In 1844 Nicholas Alexandrovich Motovilov, a nobleman of Simbirsk province and a close friend of the greatest saint of the age, Seraphim of Sarov (+1833), made notes of his conversations with the saint, which provide the best spiritual commentary on the age. At the beginning of the twentieth century Sergius Alexandrovich Nilus found these notes and published them as follows:
“… As a demonstration of true zeal for God Batyushka Seraphim cited the holy Prophet Elijah and Gideon, and for hours at a time he talked in an inspired manner about them. Every judgement that he made about them was concluded by its application to life, precisely our own life, and with an indication of how we… can draw soul-saving instructions from their lives. He often spoke to me about the holy King, Prophet and Ancestor of God David, at which point he went into an extraordinary spiritual rapture. How one had to see him during those unearthly minutes! His face, inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit, shone like the sun, and I – I speak the truth – on looking at him felt in my eyes as if I was looking at the sun. I involuntarily recalled the face of Moses when he had just come down from Sinai. My soul, pacified, entered such a quiet, and was filled with such great joy, that my heart was ready to embrace within itself not only the whole human race, but also the whole creation of God, pouring out in love towards everything that is of God…
“’So, your Godbelovedness, so,’ Batyushka used to say, leaping from joy (those who still remember this holy elder will relate how he would sometimes be seen leaping from joy), ‘”I have chosen David my servant, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will”’…
“In explaining how good it was to serve the Tsar and how much his life should be held dear, he gave as an example Abishai, David’s war-commander.
“’Once,’ said Batyushka Seraphim, ‘to satisfy the thirst of David, he stole in to a spring in view of the enemy camp and got water, and, in spite of a cloud of arrows released at him from the enemy camp, returned to him completely unharmed, bringing the water in his helmet. He had been saved from the cloud of arrows only because of his zeal towards the King. But when David gave an order, Abishai replied: “Only command, O King, and everything will be done in accordance with your will.” But when the King expressed the desire to take part himself in some bloody deed to encourage his warriors, Abishai besought him to preserve his health and, stopping him from participating in the battle, said: “There are many of us, your Majesty, but you are one among us. Even if all of us were killed, as long as you were alive, Israel would be whole and unconquered. But if you are gone, then what will become of Israel?”…’
“Baytushka Fr. Seraphim loved to explain himself at length, praising the zeal and ardour of faithful subjects to the Tsar, and desiring to explain more clearly how these two Christian virtues are pleasing to God, he said:
“’After Orthodoxy, these are our first Russian duty and the chief foundation of true Christian piety.’
“Often from David he changed the subject to our great Emperor [Nicholas I] and for hours at a time talked to me about him and about the Russian kingdom, bewailing those who plotted evil against his August Person. Clearly revealing to me what they wanted to do, he led me into a state of horror; while speaking about the punishment prepared for them from the Lord, and in confirmation of his words, he added:
“’This will happen without fail: the Lord, seeing the impenitent spite of their hearts, will permit their undertakings to come to pass for a short period, but their illness will turn upon their heads, and the unrighteousness of their destructive plots will descend upon them. The Russian land will be reddened with streams of blood, and many noblemen will be killed for his great Majesty and the integrity of his Autocracy: but the Lord will not be wrath to the end, and will not allow the Russian land to be destroyed to the end, because in it alone will Orthodoxy and the remnants of Christian piety be especially preserved.
“Once,” as Motovilov continued in his notes, “I was in great sorrow, thinking what would happened in the future with our Orthodox Church if the evil contemporary to us would be multiplied more and more. And being convinced that our Church was in an extremely pitiful state both from the great amount of carnal debauchery and… from the spiritual impiety of godless opinions sown everywhere by the most recent false teachers, I very much wanted to know what Batyushka Seraphim would tell me about this.
“Discussing the holy Prophet Elijah in detail, he said in reply to my question, among other things, the following:
“’Elijah the Thesbite complained to the Lord about Israel as if it had wholly bowed the knee to Baal, and said in prayer that only he, Elijah, had remained faithful to Lord, but now they were seeking his soul, too, to take it… So what, batyushka, did the Lord reply to this? “I have left seven thousand men in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So if in the kingdom of Israel, which had fallen away from the kingdom of Judah that was faithful to God, and had come to a state of complete corruption, there still remained seven thousand men faithful to the Lord, then what shall we say about Russia? I think that at that time there were no more than three million in the kingdom of Israel at that time. And how many do we have in Russia now, batyushka?’
“I replied: ‘About sixty million.’
“And he continued: ‘Twenty times more. Judge for yourself how many more of those faithful to God that brings!… So, batyushka, those whom He foreknew, He also predestined; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He guards, and those He also glorifies… So what is there for us to be despondent about!… God is with us! He who hopes in the Lord is as Mount Sion, and the Lord is round about His people… The Lord will keep you, the Lord will protect you on your right hand, the Lord will preserve your coming in and your going out now and to the ages; by day the sun will not burn you, nor the moon by night.’
“And when I asked him what this meant, and to what end he was talking to me about it:
“’To the end,’ replied Batyushka Fr. Seraphim, ‘that you should know that in this way the Lord guards His people as the apple of His eye, that is, the Orthodox Christians, who love Him and with all their heart, and all their mind, in word and deed, day and night serve Him. And such are those who completely observe all the commandments, dogmas and traditions of our Eastern Universal Church, and confess the piety handed down by it with their lips, and really, in all the circumstances of life, act according to the holy commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
“In confirmation of the fact that there were still many in the Russian land who remained faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, who lived in Orthodoxy and piety, batyushka Fr. Seraphim once said to one acquaintance of mine – either Fr. Gury, the former guest-master of Sarov, or Fr. Simeon, the owner of Maslinshensky court, - that once, when he was in the Spirit, he saw the whole land of Russia, and it was filled and as it were covered with the smoke of the prayers of believers praying to the Lord…”
St. Seraphim not only clearly condemned the Decembrists for their attack on the Tsardom: he prophetically saw that this evil would continue to grow and would lead in the end to the Russian revolution of 1917: "More than half a century will pass. Then evildoers will raise their heads high. This will happen without fail: the Lord, seeing the impenitent evil of their hearts, will allow their enterprises for a short time. But their sickness will rebound upon their own heads, and the unrighteousness of their destructive plots will fall upon them. The Russian land will become red with rivers of blood... Before the birth of the Antichrist there will be a great, protracted war and a terrible revolution in Russia passing all bounds of human imagination, for the bloodletting will be most terrible: the rebellions of Ryazan, Pugachev and the French revolution will be nothing in comparison with what will take place in Russia. Many people who are faithful to the fatherland will perish, church property and the monasteries will be robbed; the Lord's churches will be desecrated; good rich people will be robbed and killed, rivers of Russian blood will flow..."
Part II. LIBERALISM AND AUTOCRACY
3. THE WEST: THE DUAL REVOLUTION
The King reigns, but does not govern.
Adolphe Thiers, Le National, 4 February, 1830.
The system worked, throughout Europe, with an extraordinary success and facilitated the growth of wealth on an unprecedented scale. To save and to invest became at once the duty and the delight of a large class. The savings were seldom drawn on, and accumulating at compound interest, made possible the material triumphs which we now all take for granted. The morals, the politics, the literature and the religion of the age joined in a grand conspiracy for the promotion of saving. God and Mammon were reconciled. Peace on earth to men of good means. A rich man could, after all, enter into the Kingdom of Heaven – if only he saved.
John Maynard Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923).
We intend to dethrone the King of heaven
as well as the monarchs of the earth.
The Paris Commune.
The short period of reaction in France under the absolutist monarchy of Charles X came to an end with the “July Days” revolution of 1830, which introduced a constitutional monarchy headed by another Bourbon, Louis-Philippe, the Duke of Orléans. At almost the same time, in 1832, the British parliament passed the Reform Act, which rationalized and extended the franchise, consolidating the role of the middle class in government. With liberalism triumphant in these two countries (as also, of course, in the United States), the revolution acquired a second wind throughout Europe. Everybody could see that reaction was over and liberalism was here to stay. Its progress might be checked temporarily; it might be appeased for a time with concessions that fell short of the full liberal programme. But even emperors, such as Napoleon III, would have to seek a popular mandate and pay at least nominal deference to constitutional ideals.
And then there was the industrial revolution, which was to transform every State in Western Europe, and from there – the whole world.
The origins of the industrial revolution are to be found in the agrarian revolution of the eighteenth century. Its essential features were the “privatisation” of the common land (in England, the pioneer in both the agrarian and industrial revolutions, through the Enclosure Acts of 1760 to 1830), its more efficient capitalist exploitation by a new breed of capitalist landowners, creating a new surplus in food and market in agricultural produce, and the destruction of the feudal bonds that bound the peasant to the land that he worked and the landowner for whom he worked. This led to the creation of a large number of landless agricultural labourers who, in the absence of work in the countryside, sought it in the new industrial enterprises that were being created in the towns to exploit a series of important technological innovations.
Liberalism’s triumph was aided by an offshoot of the industrial revolution, the revolution in communications. “The most famous demonstration,” writes Norman Stone, “of the value of superior communication was staged on 19 June 1815, when Nathan Rothschild made a record killing on the London stock market, having used a special yacht to bring news of Waterloo many hours in advance of his rivals.”
But yachts were as nothing compared to the new, machine-produced means of communication, such as the electric telegraph (1835). The impact of the explosion in newspaper reading was so great that the Austrian Chancellor Metternich wondered “whether society can exist along with the liberty of the press.” Thus in the revolution of 1848, writes Eric Hobsbawm, “even the most arch-reactionary Prussian junkers discovered… that they required a newspaper capable of influencing ‘public opinion’ – in itself a concept linked with liberalism and incompatible with traditional hierarchy.”
As the poet Robert Southey wrote: “The steam engine and the spinning engines, the mail coach and the free publication of the debates in parliament… Hence follow in natural and necessary consequences increased activity, enterprise, wealth and power; but on the other hand, greediness of gain, looseness of principle, wretchedness, disaffection and political insecurity…”
The world as we know it today is largely the product of this dual revolution – the political revolution in France and the industrial revolution in Britain - that took place in the central decades of the nineteenth century.
But first let us examine that union of revolutionary sentiment and romanticism noted in the first chapter. The Enlightenment had undermined faith and religion, substituting for them reason and science. The Counter-Enlightenment, convinced of the narrowness and superficiality of these, put forward imagination and art instead. The artist was now prophet and priest; and since artistic imagination was the path to all truth, it was the path to political truth also. And political action, too; for the Romantics insisted on the unity of mind and heart, feeling and action. For, as William Blake put it as early as 1793, “Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.”
And so Romantic art became identified with the revolution. We see the tendency for art to become the mouthpiece of the revolution as early as that paragon of classicism – Mozart. In his opera The Marriage of Figaro, which avoided the censorship that had banned Beaumarchais’ play of the same name, a distinct strand of anti-aristocratic rebelliousness is given vigorous expression – although masters and servants are touchingly united in the final chorus. Again, in Don Giovanni, while the Don’s words Viva la liberta! celebrated sexual rather than political revolution (the two invariably go together), the censors, fearing that word liberta!, still demanded that he sing Viva la societa! instead. Finally, The Magic Flute, composed in 1791, celebrated that Masonic society that was the heart of the revolution.
The French revolution was almost unanimously acclaimed by poets and philosophers. Wordsworth exclaimed what bliss it was to be alive at the dawn of the revolution, and Byron and Shelley considered it their duty as poets to join the revolution. Painters such as David chose revolutionaries as their subjects, and invariably portrayed the object of their revolutionary desires, liberty, as a half-naked young woman (the link between political rebellion and sexual lust has always been close).
It was the same with instrumental music. In 1803, Beethoven devoted the first great work of romantic music, the Eroica symphony, to the god of the early revolution, Napoleon, only to scratch out the dedication when he found that his idol had feet of clay. Somewhat later, Berlioz, Liszt and Chopin were all close to the revolutionary movement…
The artist who most clearly represented the link between art and the revolution in the early nineteenth century was Lord Byron. It was not simply that Byron died, as we have seen, in the cause of the Greek revolution: his poetry expressed a cynical, disillusioned, anti-establishment and anti-Christian, and yet still vaguely idealistic mood that swept Europe in the wake of the failure of the first French revolution. Indeed, “Byronism” represented a whole phase in European sensibility.
Dostoyevsky had a highly questionable, but, as always, illuminating point of view on Byronism. “First of all,” he wrote, “one shouldn’t use the word ‘Byronist’ as an invective. Byronism, though a momentary phenomenon, was a great, sacred and necessary one in the life of European mankind and, perhaps, in that of the entire human race. Byronism appeared at a moment of dreadful anguish, disillusionment and almost despair among men. Following the ecstatic transports of the new creed in the new ideals proclaimed at the end of the last century in France, then the most progressive nation of European mankind, the outcome was very different from what had been expected; this so deceived the faith of man that there has never perhaps been a sadder moment in the history of Western Europe. The new idols – raised for one moment only – fell not only as a result of external (political) causes, but because of their intrinsic bankruptcy – which was clearly perceived by the sagacious hearts and the progressive minds. The new outcome was not yet in sight; the new valve was not yet revealed, and everybody was suffocating under the weight of a former world, which drew and narrowed itself down over mankind in a most dreadful manner. The old idols lay shattered.
“It was at this very moment that a great and mighty genius, a passionate poet appeared. In his melodies there sounded mankind’s anguish of those days, its gloomy disillusionment in its mission and in the ideals which had deceived it. It was a novel, then unheard-of muse of vengeance and sorrow, malediction and despair. The spirit of Byronism, as it were, swept mankind as a whole, and everything responded to it. It was precisely as if a valve had been opened: at least, amidst the universal and dull groans – mostly unconscious – this was a mighty outcry in which all the cries and moans of mankind combined and merged in one chord. How could it not have been felt in Russia and particularly by so great, ingenious and leading a mind as that of Pushkin? – In those days also, in Russia no strong mind, no magnanimous heart could have evaded Byronism. And not only because of compassion from afar for Europe and European mankind, but because precisely at that time in Russia, too, there arose a great many unsolved and tormenting questions, a great many old disillusionments…”
While agreeing with Dostoyevsky’s account of the origins of Byronism and its significance, we may doubt whether it was “great, sacred and necessary”; nor was every magnanimous heart in Europe touched by Byron’s demonic genius. For demonic is certainly what it was. His unfettered will defied both the impediment of his deformed foot, which he saw “as the mark of satanic connection”, and all the laws of morality, of which the end, for a Christian consciousness, could only be the hell he describes in “The Giaour”:
So do the dark in soul expire,
Or live like Scorpion girt with by fire;
So writhes the mind Remorse hath riven,
Unfit for earth, undoom’d for heaven,
Darkness above, despair beneath,
Around it flame, within it death!
Art and Revolution: (2) The July Days
Let us look more closely at the link between Romantic art and the revolution. Artistic imagination in the Romantic sense was much more than the ability to fantasise. Jacques Barzun writes: “Out of the known or knowable, Imagination connects the remote, interprets the familiar, or discovers hidden realities. Being a means of discovery, it must be called ‘Imagination of the real’. Scientific hypotheses perform that same office; they are products of imagination.
“This view of the matter explains why to the Romanticists the arts no longer figured as a refined pleasure of the senses, an ornament of civilized existence, but as one form of the deepest possible reflection on life. Shelley, defending his art, declares poets to be the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’. The arts convey truths; they are imagination crystallized; and as they transport the soul they reshape the perceptions and possibly the life of the beholder. To perform this feat requires genius, because it is not a mechanical act. To be sure, all art makes use of conventions, but to obey traditional rules and follow set patterns will not achieve that fusion of idea and form which is properly creation. It was Romanticist discussion that made the word creation regularly apply to works of art…
“Those Romanticist words, recharged with meaning, helped to establish the religion of art. That faith served those who could and those could not partake of the revived creeds. To call the passion for art a religion is not a figure of speech or a way of praise. Since the beginning of the 19C, art has been defined again and again by its devotees as ‘the highest spiritual expression of man’. The dictum leaves no room for anything higher and this highest level is that which, for other human beings, is occupied by religion. To 19C worshippers the arts form a treasury of revelations, a body of scriptures, the makers of this spiritual testament are prophets and seers. And to this day the fortunate among them are treated as demigods…”
The word “creation” was understood by the Romantics in almost a literal sense, as the activity of the Word of God creating something out of nothing. This meant, however, that Romantic art was not only a path to truth: it created its own truth. But since truth is not created by man, but revealed to him by God, this can only mean that Romantic “creationism” was demonic in origin.
Thus, as Sir Isaiah Berlin writes, “whatever the differences between the leading romantic thinkers – the early Schiller and the later Fichte, Schelling and Jacobi, Tieck and the Schlegels when they were young, Chateaubriand and Byron, Coleridge and Carlyle, Kierkegaard, Stirner, Nietzsche, Baudelaire – there runs through their writings a common notion, held with varying degrees of consciousness and depth, that truth is not an objective structure, independent of those who seek it, the hidden treasure waiting to be found, but is itself in all its guises created by the seeker. It is not to be brought into being necessarily by the finite individual: according to some it is created by a greater power, a universal spirit, personal or impersonal, in which the individual is an element, or of which he is an aspect, an emanation, an imperfect reflection. But the common assumption of the romantics runs counter to the philosophia perennis is that the answers to the great questions are not to be discovered so much as to be invented. They are not something found, they are something literally made. In its extreme Idealistic form it is a vision of the entire world. In its more familiar conduct – aesthetics, religious, social, moral, political – a realm seen not as a natural or supernatural order capable of being investigated, described and explained by the appropriate method – rational examination or some more mysterious procedure – but as something that man creates, as he creates works of art; not by imitating, or even obtaining illumination from, pre-existent models or truths, or by applying pre-existent truths that are objective universal, eternal unalterabl; but by an act of creation, the introduction into the world of something literally novel – the unique expression of an individual and therefore unique creative activity, natural or supernatural, human or in part divine, owing nothing to anything outside it (in some versions because nothing can be conceived as being outside it), self-subsistent, self-justified, self-fulfilling. Hence that new emphasis on the subjective and ideal rather than the objective and the real, on the process of creation rather than its effects, on motives rather than consequences; and, as a necessary corollary of this, on the quality of the vision, the state of mind or soul of the acting agent – purity of heart, innocence of intention, sincerity of purpose rather than getting the answer right, that is, accurate correspondence to the ‘given’. Hence the emphasis on activity, movement that cannot be reduced to static segments, the flow that cannot be arrested, frozen, analysed without being thereby fatally distorted; hence the constant protest against the reduction of ‘life’ to dead fragments, of organism to ‘mere’ mechanical or uniform units; and the corresponding tendency towards similes and metaphors drawn from ‘dynamic’ sciences – biology, physiology, introspective psychology – and the worship of music, which, of all the arts, appears to have the least relation to universally observable, uniform natural order. Hence, too, celebration of all forms of defiance directed against the ‘given’ – the impersonal, the ‘brute fact’ in morals or in politics – or against the static and the accepted, and the value placed on minorities and martyrs as such, no matter what the ideal for which they suffer.”
By virtue of this common desire to defy the “given”, the identification of the revolution with romantic art, as Adam Zamoyski notes, was almost complete. “’People and poets are marching together,’ wrote the French critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve in 1830. ‘Art is henceforth on a popular footing, in the arena with the masses.’ There was something in this. Never before or since had poetry been so widely and so urgently read, so taken to heart and so closely studied for hidden meaning. And it was not only in search of aesthetic or emotional uplift that people did so, for the poet had assumed a new role over the past two decades. Art was no longer an amenity but a great truth that had to be revealed to mankind, and the artist was one who had been called to interpret this truth, a kind of seer. In Russia, Pushkin solemnly declared the poet’s status as a prophet uttering the burning words of truth. The American Ralph Waldo Emerson saw poets as ‘liberating gods’ because they had achieved freedom themselves, and could therefore free others. The pianist and composer Franz Liszt wanted to rcapture the ‘political, philosophical and religious power’ that he believed music had in ancient times. William Blake claimed that Jesus and his disciples were all artists, and that he himself was following Jesus through his art. ‘God was, perhaps only the first poet of the universe,’ Théophile Gauthier reflected. By the 1820s artists regularly referred to their craft as a religion, and Victor Hugo represented himself alternately as Zoroaster, Moses and Christ, somewhere between prophet and God.”
Of all the art-forms the one having the most direct revolutionary impact, combining as it did poetry, theatre, visual art and music, was opera. Daniel Auber’s La Muette de Portici, had a revolutionary subject, a tenor playing the part of the revolutionary dressed in open shirt, tricolor pantaloons and a red Phrygian cap and singing a refrain ‘Amour sacré de la Patrie’ which contained a phrase out of the Marseillaise. It brought the house down, becoming, in spite of the censors’ best efforts, a symbol of subversion and a sign pointing to what was to come in the revolutionary year of 1830.
“The first night of Victor Hugo’s play Hernani, on 25 February 1830, set the tone for the new year. The play, which is about an outlaw struggling for love and liberation against fate and the Habsburg establishment, nicely encapsulated all the most fashionable themes. Its form also broke all the artistic conventions, and in the preface Hugo declared that the Romantic style was no more or less than liberalism in the arts. The theatre was the scene of a pitched battle between classicists and Romantics, an artistic dress rehearsal for what was to come in the political sphere.
“The ineptitude of the opposition under the Restoration had given the Bourbons the impression that they were firmly in the saddle. Louis XVIII died peacefully in 1824 and was uneventfully succeeded by his brother, the Comte d’Artois, as Charles X. He began turning back the clock as soon as he ascended the throne, insisting on having himself crowned at Rheims in May 1825 with the full ceremonial of tradition. Meaning to strengthen the throne’s position further, Charles X strove to undermine the principles of the Charte that had been the foundation of the Restoration. An economic depression in the years 1826-7 provoked unrest in various parts, and in November 1827 there was a rising in Paris. But the feelings that led to it were diffuse and vague. Among the young men on the barricades was Auguste Blanqui, who confessed to not knowing exactly what he was fighting for, even though this was to be the beginning of a long life dedicated to revolt. The rising was quickly quashed, but the emotions that underlay it were not so easily dealt with.
“These had no leader to coalesce around, aside from the largely symbolic figure of Lafayette. He had been associated with every conspiracy since 1815, but did not lead any of them. Although he took pride in his revolutionary credentials and could not resist young enthusiasts, he had grown more practical with age and was now keener on constitutional reform. He nevertheless remained the most respected figure in French public life. His American trip of 1824 had enhanced his standing, and his agitation for the Greek cause had given him an opportunity to fly the flag of liberty. He was recognized as representing all that was finest in French political culture.
“Frustrated by the Chamber of Deputies, Charles X decided to dissolve it and call an election in March 1830. This yielded an increased opposition. The king set his mind on a show of strength and on 26 July announced a set of emergency ordonnances, abrogating press freedom, dissolving the newly-elected Chamber and limiting the franchise for the next election. The following day barricades began to go up and people started looting gunsmiths’ shops. The situation was serious but not critical, as the protesters had no leaders, no plan, and no particular idea of what they wanted. Nor were they representatives of the population at large. The former Napoleonic marshal Marmont was in command of the 10,000 troops in the capital, and he should have been able to prevent the rising from gaining ground, but he received conflicting orders. The king intended to ride the stron but then changed his mind, by which time it was too late. After two days of confused fighting, Marmont’s troops began to go over to the other side. By 29 July most of Paris was controlled by the insurgents, and the municipal committee in the Hôtel de Ville was behaving like a provisional government. Charles X fled abroad, as he had done on 16 July 1789.
“The rising, unplanned and undirected, was motivated by a spectrum of grievances and desires, but frustration of one sort or another was probably the dominant motor during its three-day duration, which came to be called ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’. Some of the insurgents wer poor and hungry, but poverty and hunger were noticeably absent from the slogans and banners. The most commonly heard shout was ‘Vive la liberté!’, but its meaning depended very much on who was doing the shouting. There were those who wanted constitutional change, but most would have been hard put to it to define their demands. The cry of ‘Smash the Romantics!’ was more in evidence than any calls for bread or better working conditions.
“The Romantics were out in force. Alexandre Dumas manned a barricade with the painter Paul Huet, a former Carbonaro. Franz Liszt was caught up in the excitement and roamed the streets encouraging the insurgents and meditating a Revolutionary Symphony. Stendhal stayed at home during the three days, engrossed in Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, that bible of the cult of Napoleon. Dumas, who was helping to build a barricade on the Place de l’Odéon on the second day of the revolt, witnessed a scene that fully justified Stendhal’s studies. As he and his companions toiled away, tearing up paving-stones and heaving furniture on to the barricade, the owner of a nearby riding-school rode up on a white horse, in a tightly buttoned coat and a black tricorn hat, and came to a halt, with one hand held behind his back. The resemblance to Napoleon was so striking that the whole crowd began to shout: ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ An old woman fell to her knees, made the sign of the cross, and cried out: ‘Oh! Jesus! that I should have been allowed to see him before I die!…’
“In the moral confusion, it was symbols and shibboleths that carried the day. Foremost among these was the Marseillaise. It was on the lips of the first confused crowds as they began to build their barricades, and the sound electrified the capital. When the tenor Nourrit sang it on the stage of the Opéra, a religious silence fell, and some went down on their knees. By popular demand, Nourrit would mount the stage in full National Guard uniform every evening for the next three months to sin the sacred hymn, holding a tricolor flag. For the composer Hector Berlioz, the hymn provided one of the great musical experiences of his life. He had been writing an orchestral cantata for the competition of the Institut de France when the revolution began. All through 28 July he worked feverishly at the score in the Palais Mazarin, while bullets and cannon-balls thudded against the walls and pattered over the roof. The following day, having finished the piece, he got hold of a pistol and joined ‘the holly rabble’ on the streets. At one point he came across a group of young men singing rousing battle-songs. A crowd gathered, and when Berlioz and the singers wanted to leave, they were pursued by thousands of frantic admirers. They were finally cornered in a cul-de-sac, and had no option but to continue singing. They ascended to a first-floor room and opened the windows so that they could be seen and heard by the crowd. They intoned the Marseillaise. ‘Almost at once the seething mass at our feet grew quiet and a holy stillness fell upon them,’ recalls Berlioz. When it came to the chorus of ‘Aux armes, citoyens!’ the multitude of men, women and children, ‘hot from the barricades, their pulses still throbbing with the excitement of the recent struggle’, gave voice, and Berlioz sank to the floor, overcome with emotion.
“The other defining symbol of Les Trois Glorieuses was the tricolor, also banned in 1814. Dumas was crossing a bridge on 28 July when he suddenly saw it flying over Notre Dame. ‘I leaned over the parapet, my arms outstretched, my eyes fixed and bathed in tears.’ And it was the tricolor that was to decide the outcome of the revolution. The instincts driving the insurgents on to the barricades, and those that made the royal troops waver and then go over to the other side, were emotional and spiritual rather than political. Those July days were not born of any deep sense of injustice and they wer not about bringing in a new social order. They were a rejection of the Bourbon restoration and an attempt to regain the spirit of 1789. They were a reaffirmation of the primacy of the nation, which had been ignored and insulted by the Bourbons.
“On 29 July, when the fighting was pretty well over, Lafayette set out for the Hôtel de Ville, cheered by the population. He was the one man everyone could fall in behind. But he was not the man who could wield power. No one understood this better than the only member of the French royal family still in Paris, the Duc d’Orléans. Louis Philippe d’Orléans had been crafting his image carefully, gradually manoeuvring himself into the position of being both the acceptable face of royalty and the representative of the spirit of 1792. He cultivated artists and heaped patronage and flattery on popular writers, who served him well. In 1824 he sponsored a great exhibition of contemporary French painting at the Palais-Royal, which, incidentally, featured two great canvases by Vernet depicting him at Valmy and Jemappes.
“The duke kept out of sight during the July Days, using Béranger and Ary Scheffer to put forward his name and sound out opinion on his behalf. He had the support of many constitutional liberals, and of what might be described as the business interest. As soon as it became apparent that the cause of Charles X was dead, people opposed to a republic began to look to Orléans as the lesser of two evils. It was only than that he sidled into the limelight. On 20 July a delegation from the moderates to the Chamber of Deputies invited Orléans to become ‘Lieutenant of the Kingdom’ and the following day he went to the Hôtel de Ville, where Lafayetter was doing his best to contain the more radical elements.
“As Orléans stood on the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville with Lafayetter, facing a sullen crowd, he had the brilliant idea of seizing a huge tricolor flag and brandishing it while he embraced the general. Its folds framed the figures of Lafayette and the duke, brushing their faces, and the crowd erupted into a frenzy of enthusiastic applause. Orléans was the hero of the hour, and a couple of days later he had been acclaimed Louis Philippe, King of the French. It was his reward for intelligent observation. He knew the power of the tricolor and its importance for ordinary Frenchmen. When an officer serving with the French forces in Algeria gave his soldiers the news of Les Trois Glorieuses, explaining that the hated Bourbons had fallen, and that their new king was a constitutional monarch who had fought at Valmy, they were unmoved. ‘It was only when they learned that the tricolor had replaced the white standard that these good men gave vent to their joy,’ he writes.
“Joy was the prevalent emotion in France at the end of July 1830. ‘As soon as the heat of combat had died down,’ noted the legitimist Comtess de Boigne on 29 July, ‘it became a city of brothers.’ The poor were still poor, the hungry still hungry, but they had been given back their dreams…
“This joy at the new dawn was not confined to France. Just as in 1789, a shudder of excitement ran through the Western world. ‘It roused my utmost enthusiasm, and gave me, as it were, a new existence,’ wrote John Stuart Mill, then twenty-four, who hastened to Paris, where he gazed rapt on Lafayette and other heroes of the July days. Heinrich Heine, though older, reacted with lyricism to ‘the thick packet of newspapers with the warm, glowing-hot news’. ‘Each item was a sunbeam, wrapped in printed paper, and together they enkindled my soul with a wild glow… Lafayette, the tricolor, the Marseillaise – it intoxicates me. Bold, ardent hopes spring up, like trees with gold fruit and branches that shoot up wildly till their leaves touch the clouds.’
“And there was the same quasi-religious reverence surrounding what had happened. A Belgian radical who was in Germany at the end of July recorded a scene in a Karlsruhe inn. ‘We saw a group of Baden officers, sitting together at the table d’hôte, rise up suddenly in a respectful silence when one of them, opening a letter sent to him from Strasbourg let a tricolor cockade drop out of the envelope. In an attempt to stop the spread of the infection, several German governments prohibited performances of operas such as La Muette de Portici and Guilleaume Tell. They knew what they were doing: a performance of one of them was responsible for launching an insurrection that created a nation where people had least expected it – in Belgium…”
Inspired though they were by the poets, the revolutions of 1830 soon settled down into prosaic mediocrity. The difference between the revolutions of 1789 and 1830 consisted in the latter’s concentration on broadening electoral suffrage and in its more openly commercial flavour, in keeping with the new spirit of commercial enterprise. “Master of everything,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville of France in the 1840s, “as no aristocracy had ever been or perhaps will never be, the middle class, which one has to call the governing class, having entrenched itself in power and soon afterwards in its self-interest, seemed like a private industry. Each of its members scarcely gave a thought to public affairs except to make them function to profit his own private business, and had no difficulty in forgetting the lower orders in his little cocoon of affluence. Posterity… will possibly never realize how far the government of the day had in the end taken on the appearance of an industrial company, where all operations are carried out with a view to the benefit the shareholders can draw from them.”
The Polish Question
Encouraged by the Tsar’s non-intervention in the French and Belgian revolutions, the Poles rose against Tsarist authority in November, 1830. But this time the Tsar did act. As he wrote to his brother, who ruled the Polish Kingdom: “It is our duty to think of our security. When I say ours, I mean the tranquillity of Europe.” And so the rebellion was crushed. Europe was saved again – and was again uncomprehending and ungrateful.
Although it failed, the Polish rebellion gave further support to the idea of a close, symbiotic link between the revolution and art, as well as bringing to birth perhaps the most idiosyncratic, powerful and long-lasting variety of the cult of the nation. The 55,000 Polish troops and 6,000 civilians who made a great exodus to the West and Paris kept this cult alive, not in Polish hearts only, but throughout Europe. Only the Russians were not seduced by its masochistic charm.
Protopriest Lev Lebedev writes: “The revolutions of 1830 in France and Belgium gave an impulse to the Masonic movement in Poland. It had two basic tendencies – an extreme republican one (headed by the historian Lelevel) and a more moderate aristocratic one (headed by A. Chartoysky). At the end of 1830 there began a rebellion in Warsaw. Great Prince Constantine Pavlovich with a detachment of Russian soldiers was forced to abandon Poland. In 1831 there came there the armies of General Dibich, which had no significant success, in particular by reason of a very strong outbreak of cholear, from which both Dibich and Great Prince Constantine died. Meanwhile the revolutionaries in Warsaw created first a ‘Provisional government’ with a ‘dictator’ at its head, and then convened the Sejm. The rebels demanded first the complete independence of Poland with the addition to it of Lithuania and western Rus’, and then declared the ‘deposition’ of the Romanov dynasty from the throne of the Kingdom of Poland. Count Paskevich of Erevan was sent to Poland. He took Warsaw by storm and completely destroyed the Masonic revolutionary armies, forcing their remnants abroad [where they played a significant role in the revolutionary movement in Western Europe]. Poland was divided into provinces and completely included into the composition of the Russian Empire. The language of business was declared to be Russian. Russian landowners received land in Poland. A Deputy was now placed at the head of the Kingdom of Poland. He became Paskevich with the new title of Prince of Warsaw. In connection with all this it became clear that the Polish magnates and landowners who had kept their land-holdings in Belorussia and Ukraine had already for some time been persecuting the Orthodox Russians and Little Russians and also the uniates, and had been occupied in polonizing education in general the whole cultural life in these lands. Tsar Nicholas I was forced to take severe measures to restore Russian enlightenment and education in the West Russian and Ukrainian land. In particular, a Russian university was opened in Kiev. The part of the Belorussian and Ukrainian population headed by Bishop Joseph Semashko which had been in a forcible unia with the Catholic Church since the end of the 16th century desired reunion with Orthodoxy. Nicholas I decided to satisfy this desire and in 1839 all the uniates (besides the inhabitants of Kholm diocese) were united to ‘to the ancestral Orthodox All-Russian Church’, as they put it. This was a great feast of Orthodoxy! Masses of uniates were united voluntarily, without any compulsion. All this showed that Russia had subdued and humbled Poland not because she wished to lord it over her, and resist her independence, but only because Poland wanted to lord it (both politically and spiritually) over the ages-old Russian population, depriving it of its own life and ‘ancestral’ faith! With such a Poland as she was then striving to be, there was nothing to be done but completely subdue her and force her to respect the rights of other peoples! But to the Polish Catholics Russia provided, as usual, every opportunity of living in accordance with their faith and customs.”
Unfortunately, the Poles and the West did not see it like that. The composer Frederick Chopin wrote: “The suburbs [of Warsaw] are destroyed, burned… Moscow rules the world! O God, do You exist? You’re there and You don’t avenge it. How many more Russian crimes do You want – or – are You a Russian too!!?”
Another artist who gave expression to the new Polish faith was the poet Mickiewicz. “Poland will arise,” he wrote, “and free nations of Europe from bondage. Ibi patria, ubi male; wherever in Europe liberty is suppressed and is fought for, there is the battle for your country.” Adam Zamoyski writes that Mickiewicz turned “the spiritual fantasies of a handful of soldiers and intellectuals into the articles of faith that built a modern nation.
“Mickiewicz had established his reputation as Poland’s foremost lyric poet in the 1820s, and enhanced his political credentials by his exile in Russia, where he met several prominent Decembrists and grew close to Pushkin [who, however, did not sympathize with his views on Poland]. In 1829 Mickiewicz received permission to go to Germany to take the waters. He met Mendelssohn and Hegel in Berlin, Metternich in Marienbad, and August Schlegel in Bonn, and attended Goethe’s eightieth birthday party in Weimar. Goethe kissed him on the forehead, gave him the quill with which he had worked on Faust, and commissioned a portrait of him for his collection. Mickiewicz then went to Italy where, apart from a de rigueur trip to Switzerland (Chillon and Altdorf, with Byron and Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell in his hand), he spent the next year-and-half. It was in Rome that news of the November Rising [in Warsaw] reached him. He set off for Poland, but his attempts to cross the border were foiled by Cossack patrols, and he was obliged to watch the debacle from Dresden.
“In this tranquil Saxon city he was gripped by inspiration and wrote frantically in fits lasting up to three days, without pausing to eat or sleep. The fruit was the third part of a long poetic drama entitled Forefathers’ Eve, which can only be described as a national passion play. Mickiewicz had also seen the significance of the holy night [of November 29, 1830], and he likened all monarchs, and Nicholas in particular, to Herod – their sense of guilty foreboding led them to massacre the youth of nations. The drama describes the transformation through suffering of the young poet and lover, Konrad, into a warrior-poet. He is a parable for Poland as a whole, but he is also something more. ‘My soul has now entered the motherland, and with my body I have taken her soul: I and the motherland are one,’ he declares after having endured torture. ‘My name is Million, because I love and suffer for millions… I feel the sufferings of the whole nation as a mother feels the pain of the fruit within her womb.’
“In Paris in 1832 Mickiewicz published a short work entitled Books of the Polish Nation and of the Pilgrimage of Poland. It was quickly translated into several languages and caused a sensation. It is a bizarre work, couched in biblical prose, giving a moral account of Polish history. After an Edenic period, lovingly described, comes the eighteenth century, a time when ‘nations were spoiled, so much so that among them there was left only one man, both citizen and soldier’ – a reference to Lafayetter. The ‘Satanic Trinity’ of Catherine of Russia, Frederick of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria decided to murder Poland, because Poland was Liberty. They crucified the innocent nation while degenerate France played the role of Pilate. But that was not to be the end of it. ‘For the Polish nation did not die; its body lies in the tomb, while its soul has left the earth, that is public life, and visited the abyss, that is the private life of peoples suffering slavery at home and in exile, in order to witness their suffering. And on the third day the soul will re-enter the body, and the nation will rise from the dead and will liberate all the peoples of Europe from slavery.’ In a paraphrase of the Christian Creed, Liberty will then ascend the throne in the capital of the world, and judge the nations, ushering in the age of peace.
“So the Polish nation was now in Limbo, and all it had to do in order to bring about its own resurrection and that of all grieving peoples was to cleanse and redeem itself through a process of expiation which Mickiewicz saw as its ‘pilgrimage’. This was to be a kind of forty days in the wilderness. The pilgrims must fast and pray on the anniversaries of the battles of Wawer and Grochow, reciting litanies to the 30,000 dead of the Confederation of Bar and the 20,000 martyrs of Praga; they must observe their ancient customs and wear national dress. One is reminded of Rousseau’s admonitions in his Considérations sur le Gouvernement de Pologne.
“Rousseau would have been proud of this generation. As one freedom fighter writes in his memoirs: ‘Only he loves Poland with his heart and his soul, only he is a true son of his Motherland who has cast aside all lures and desires, all bad habits, prejudice and passions, and been reborn in the pure faith, he who, having recognized the reasons for our defeats and failures through his own judgement and conviction, brings his whole love, his whole – not just partial, but whole – conviction, his courage and his endurance, and lays them on the altar of the purely national future. He had taken part in the November Rising and a conspiratorial fiasco in 1833, for which he was rewarded with fifteen years in the Spielberg and Küfstein prisons. Yet decades later he still believed that the November Rising had ‘called Poland to a new life’ and brought her ‘salvation’ closer by a hundred years. Such feelings were shared by tens of thousands, given expression by countless poets and artists, and understood by all the literate classes.
“Most of Mickiewicz’s countrymen read his works and wept over them. They identified with them and learned them by heart. They did not follow the precepts laid down in them, nor did they really believe in this gospel in any literal sense. These works were a let-out, an excuse even, rather than a guiding rule. But they did provide an underlying ethical explanation of a state of affairs that was otherwise intolerable to the defeated patriots. It was an explanation that made moral sense and was accepted at the subconscious level. It was a spiritual and psychological lifeline that kept them from sinking into a Slough of Despond. It made misfortune not only bearable, but desirable.
“And it was by no means an expression of uniquely Polish sensibility. The cast of mind that underlay it was common to most of Europe…”
When Alexander II became Tsar and was crowned King of Poland, he granted a general amnesty to Polish prisoners in Russia, and about 9000 exiles returned to their homes from Siberia between 1857 and 1860. However, they brought back with them the virus of nationalism. Thus on the day after the Tsar’s brother, Grand Duke Constantine, was made viceroy of Poland, he was shot in the shoulder.
Nor did a programme of “re-Polonization” – more liberal state administration and local government, regulations governing the use of the Polish language, and Polish educational institutions – appease the nationalists. Even when all the other nations of Europe had settled down after the abortive revolutions of 1848, the Poles rose again.
“In January 1863,” writes John van de Kiste, “they slaughtered Russian soldiers asleep in their Warsaw barracks, and national resistance turned to general uprising. This spread through the kingdom into the nine formerly Polish provinces known as Russia’s Western region, where powerful landlords and Catholic clergy were ready to give vent to their hatred of Russian domination. For a while it looked as if England, France and Austria might join in on the side of Warsaw after giving their tacit blessing to the rebels, but Russia put down the unrest at no little cost to the Poles…. While the Poles butchered scores of Russian peasants including women and children, the Russians erected gibbets in the streets where rebels and civilians were hanged in their hundreds, with thousands more sent to Siberia. The insurrection was finally quelled in May 1864, when the more conservative Count Theodore Berg was sent to replace Constantine as viceroy.”
The French revolution was essentially liberal in character; the Polish revolution – nationalist. Both directions were latent in the original revolutionary project, in the logic of the struggle for “freedom”. Which direction triumphed depended largely on the circumstances in which the struggle for freedom took place – that of oppressed individuals or classes within a sovereign nation or oppressed nations within a multi-ethnic empire. As yet the potential conflicts between the two – the fact that the liberation of the nation might mean putting off the liberation of the individual for the time being, and vice-versa – were only dimly perceived.
Still less clearly perceived was the fact that the revolution could not be used to make limited reforms, and then stopped in its tracks before it became “dangerous”. The path that the first French revolution took after 1792 should have made that obvious. But many conservative liberals who took part in the revolution of 1830 deluded themselves into thinking that the further development of the revolutionary idea and passions could now be arrested. They thought they could sow the wind without reaping the whirlwind, as if the genie could be let out of the bottle to do some necessary “cleaning”, and then put back again before the cleaning breeze became a hurricane. They failed to see that the revolution was not a rational human desire for limited, reasonable reform but an irrational, elemental, satanic force whose ultimate aim, whether those who purported to lead and manipulate it understood this or not, was simply total destruction.
One of the most typical of these conservative liberals was François Guizot, Prime Minister of France in the 1840s. In 1820, when Louis XVIII’s Charter conceded legal equality, religious toleration and the necessity for parliamentary consent to new laws on taxation, he declared: “I consider the revolution of 1789 to be over. All its interests and legitimate wishes are guaranteed by the Charter…. What France needs now is to do away with the revolutionary spirit which still torments her.” Guizot wanted to believe that the “freedom” aimed at by the revolutionaries of 1789 and 1830 was quite different from the “freedom” aimed at by the revolutionaries of 1793, and therefore that the revolution could conveniently stop in 1830, when the middle classes were put back in the saddle after the period of reaction under Charles X, and not go on to anything really radical and unpleasant. But is there really such a radical opposition between the “freedom from” of the liberals and the “freedom to” of the sans-culottes? How can one and not the other be called “the spirit of insurrection” when both attained their ends by means of bloody insurrection against the established order?
But Guizot’s real ideal was not the French revolution, but the “Glorious” English one of 1688, a relatively bloodless affair which put the men of property firmly in power. Guizot thought that “moderate” revolutions such as 1688 and 1789 could somehow avert “radical” ones such as 1793. That is why he supported the overthrow of Charles X in 1830, hoping that Louis Philippe could play the role of William of Orange to Charles X’s James II: “We did not choose the king but negotiated with a prince [Orléans] we found next to the throne and who alone could by mounting it guarantee our public law and save us from revolutions… Our minds were guided by the English Revolution of 1688, by the fine and free government it founded, and the wonderful prosperity it brought to the British nation.” And since the English Revolution had put the middle classes into power (although only after the Reform Act of 1832 did they really begin to acquire power at the ballot box), he wanted the same for France. “I want,” he said, “to secure the political preponderance of the middle classes in France, the final and complete organization of the great victory that the middle classes have won over privilege and absolute power from 1789 to 1830.”
But Louis Philippe, though more liberal than his predecessor, was not liberal enough for the Zeitgeist. As one who was both of royal blood and had been a Jacobin himself, he sought to establish a “golden mean” between absolutism and Jacobinism. But such a “golden mean” was attained only by the English in the nineteenth century for any long period of time; and his reign was cut off by a more radical revolution, that of 1848, which was succeeded by the still more radical revolution of the Paris Commune in 1870. For why should the spirit of liberty favour only the men of property and not also the proletariat, the Third Estate and not also the Fourth Estate? Guizot and Louis Philippe are clear examples of the inconsistency and ultimate ineffectiveness of those who oppose revolution, not root and branch, but only in its more obviously unpleasant and radical manifestations.
The vanity of the liberal hope of “limited revolution” was demonstrated by Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose): “In the Christian order, “politics… was founded upon absolute truth… The principal providential form government took in union with Christian Truth was the Orthodox Christian Empire, wherein sovereignty was vested in a Monarch, and authority proceeded from him downwards through a hierarchical social structure… On the other hand… a politics that rejects Christian Truth must acknowledge ‘the people’ as sovereign and understand authority as proceeding from below upwards, in a formally ‘egalitarian’ society. It is clear that one is the perfect inversion of the other; for they are opposed in their conceptions both of the source and of the end of government. Orthodox Christian Monarchy is government divinely established, and directed, ultimately, to the other world, government with the teaching of Christian Truth and the salvation of souls as its profoundest purpose; Nihilist rule - whose most fitting name… is Anarchy – is government established by men, and directed solely to this world, government which has no higher aim than earthly happiness.
“The Liberal view of government, as one might suspect, is an attempt at compromise between these two irreconcilable ideas. In the 19th century this compromise took the form of ‘constitutional monarchies’, an attempt – again – to wed an old form to a new content; today the chief representatives of the Liberal idea are the ‘republics’ and ‘democracies’ of Western Europe and America, most of which preserve a rather precarious balance between the forces of authority and Revolution, while professing to believe in both.
“It is of course impossible to believe in both with equal sincerity and fervor, and in fact no one has ever done so. Constitutional monarchs like Louis Philippe thought to do so by professing to rule ‘by the Grace of God and the will of the people’ – a formula whose two terms annul each other, a fact as evident to the Anarchist [Bakunin] as to the Monarchist.
“Now a government is secure insofar as it has God for its foundation and His Will for its guide; but this, surely, is not a description of Liberal government. It is, in the Liberal view, the people who rule, and not God; God Himself is a ‘constitutional monarch’ Whose authority has been totally delegated to the people, and Whose function is entirely ceremonial. The Liberal believes in God with the same rhetorical fervor with which he believes in Heaven. The government erected upon such a faith is very little different, in principle, from a government erected upon total disbelief; and whatever its present residue of stability, it is clearly pointed in the direction of Anarchy.
“A government must rule by the Grace of God or by the will of the people, it must believe in authority or in the Revolution; on these issues compromise is possible only in semblance, and only for a time. The Revolution, like the disbelief which has always accompanied it, cannot be stopped halfway; it is a force that, once awakened, will not rest until it ends in a totalitarian Kingdom of this world. The history of the last two centuries has proved nothing if not this. To appease the Revolution and offer it concessions, as Liberals have always done, thereby showing that they have no truth with which to oppose it, is perhaps to postpone, but not to prevent, the attainment of its end. And to oppose the radical Revolution with a Revolution of one’s own, whether it be ‘conservative’, ‘non-violent’, or ‘spiritual’, is not merely to reveal ignorance of the full scope and nature of the Revolution of our time, but to concede as well the first principle of the Revolution: that the old truth is no longer true, and a new truth must take its place.”
Liberalism and Free Trade
“Liberalism,” writes Norman Davies, “developed along two parallel tracks, the political and the economic. Political liberalism focused on the essential concept of government by consent. It took its name from the liberales of Spain, who drew up their Constitution of 1812 in opposition to the arbitrary powers of the Spanish monarchy; but it had its roots much further back, in the political theories of the Enlightenment and beyond. Indeed, for much of its early history it was indistinguishable from the growth of limited government. Its first lasting success may be seen in the American Revolution, though it drew heavily on the experiences of British parliamentarianism and on the first, constitutional phase of the Revolution in France. In its most thoroughgoing form it embraced republicanism, though most liberals welcomed a popular, limited, and fair-minded monarch as a factor encouraging stability. Its advocates stressed above all the rule of law, individual liberty, constitutional procedures, religious toleration and the universal rights of man. They opposed the inbuilt prerogatives, wherever they survived, of Crown, Church, or aristocracy. Nineteenth-century liberals also gave great weight to property, which they saw as the principal source of responsible judgement and solid citizenship. As a result, whilst taking the lead in clipping the wings of absolutism and in laying the foundations of modern democracy, they were not prepared to envisage radical schemes for universal suffrage or for egalitarianism.
“Economic liberalism focused on the concept of free trade, and on the associated doctrine of laissez-faire, which opposed the habit of governments to regular economic life through protectionist tariffs. It stressed the right of men of property to engage in commercial and industrial activities without undue restraint. Its energies were directed on the one hand to dismantling the economic barriers which had proliferated both within and between countries and on the other to battling against all forms of collectivist organization, from the ancient guild to the new trade unions.”
Liberalism was an individualist creed in that its aim, in line with the main stream of intellectual development since the Renaissance, was the maximum development and happiness of individual men. It was concerned to protect individual freedoms from the encroachment of all collectives, including the State. However, trends towards individualism have always gone hand in hand historically with trends in the opposite, collectivist direction; and the horrors caused by liberal individualism elicited the growth of socialist collectivism...
Economic liberalism was based on egoism in theory and practice. Thus in Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations (1776) we read: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love… [The individual] is in this as in any other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention… I have neve known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need to be employed in dissuading them from it.”
It is a paradoxical theory, to say the least: that the public interest is best served by everyone pursuing his self-interest as freely as possible! Nor did the theory find much immediate confirmation in practice, at least before the second half of the nineteenth century. Certainly, there were some who got rich quick – mainly those with initial capital and entrepreneurial skills. But for the great majority of Englishmen economic liberalism meant the horror and squalor of William Blake’s “satanic mills”. If “freedom” in liberal theory means “freedom from”, it certainly did not mean freedom from poverty, disease or death for the workers crowded together in filthy slums in Manchester, where there could be very little “freedom to” do anything at all except work oneself to the bone. It is hardly surprising that not only the poor, but also many of the better-off who pitied them, came to see look upon these liberal “freedoms” with jaundiced eyes… Later, of course, largely under the pressure of humanitarian ideas and the labour movement, capitalism did begin to restrain itself, thereby disproving Marx’s prophecy of its imminent collapse. But the rise of collectivism was not checked by these concessions, but was rather strengthened, as we see throughout Europe as the nineteenth century progresses.
Free trade, the main principle of economic liberalism, was a very important concept, first in England, and then in other countries that followed the English way.
“True,” writes J.M. Roberts, “it is almost impossible to find economic theorists and publicists of the early industrial period who advocated absolute non-interference with the economy. Yet there was a broad, sustaining current which favoured the view that much good would result if the market economy was left to operate without the help or hindrance of politicians and civil servants. One force working this way was the teaching often summed up in a phrase made famous by a group of Frenchmen: laissez-faire. Broadly speaking, economists after Adam Smith had said with growing consensus that the production of wealth would be accelerated, and therefore the general well-being would increase, if the use of economic resources followed the ‘natural’ demands of the market. Another reinforcing trend was individualism, embodied in both the assumption that individuals knew their own business best and the increasing organization of society around the rights and interests of the individual.
“These were the sources of the long-enduring association between industrialism and liberalism; they were deplored by conservatives who regretted a hierarchical, agricultural order of mutual obligations and duties, settled ideas, and religious values. Yet liberals who welcomed the new age were by no means taking their stand on a simply negative and selfish base. The creed of ‘Manchester’, as it was called because of the symbolic importance of that city in English industrial and commercial development, was for its leaders much more than a matter of mere self-enrichment. A great political battle which for years preoccupied Englishmen in the early nineteenth century made this clear. Its focus was a campaign for the repeal of what were called the ‘Corn Laws’, a tariff system originally imposed to provide protection for the British farmer from imports of cheaper foreign grain. The ‘repealers’, whose ideological and political leader was a none-too-successful businessman, Richard