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Volume 13, Issue 6: Thema

Unnatural Politics

Douglas Jones

We can't correctly read the modern political scene without understanding Francois the Baker. In Paris on October 21, 1789, during outbreaks of violence that would shortly merge to become the French Revolution, it seems that Francois ran out of bread to sell. Many folks were hungry, and a Parisian mob read Francois' lack of flour as a treasonous act. In exasperation, they dragged him from his bakery and lynched him from La Lanterne. Liberté, egalité, fraternité.

The Jacobin party used the lynching as a tool for their own ends. They denounced the conditions of the city—food shortages, inflation, etc. Their prime spokesman, Robespierre, lashed out against "hoarders, speculators, and aristocrats." General unrest increased, and the Parisian deputies finally played right into Jacobin hands by declaring martial law. Jacobinism loves a crisis.
Within a few years, Jacobinism would take the lead in the French Revolution's reign of blood, with holy Robespierre at the helm. At the height of the Jacobin crusade, Robespierre spoke the famous words:
If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, amid revolution it is at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice.
Though now rightly sullied, the connotations of the guillotine were then bright and progressive and scientific. Instead of ancient tortures, the Jacobins offered painless head reassignments. Yet for all the blood and pikes, the driving rhetoric of the French Revolution was not the sledgehammer talk of a tribal despot; it was the heavenly talk of intellectual tolerance and peace. Talk of tolerance has always proceeded butchery. Robespierre explains:
What is the goal toward which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them and in that of the tyrant who denies them.
The Jacobins were not egotistical relativists. They believed in eternal equality and liberty. And yet in the same speech, Robespierre elaborates:
To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to pardon them is barbarity. The rigor of tyrants has only rigor for a principle; the rigor of the republican government comes from charity.
Robespierre, like so many, invokes the sacred pagan code words: "the oppressorsof humanity." This has long meant Christians (especially in Canada and California). It is the perennial accusation against Christians made by those who deify humanity. The Romans were obsessed by the accusation, even more so than recent hate-speech laws. Tacitus reports that Nero had Christians convicted "not so much on the account of arson as for hatred of the human race."
Subtexts of Jacobinism
Despite the wild influence of Jacobinism on subsequent history, and despite the fact that the Jacobins were devout rationalists who turned the Notre Dame Cathedral into a Temple of Reason, Jacobinism builds its vision upon an explicit contradiction. Liberty and Equality forever wrestle to be king of the hill. If you let people live in genuine freedom, equality dies. If you insist on equality, you have to throw out freedom. It's like trying to mix fire and water; one won't make it.
More classical conservatives have complained about this since Robespierre's time, but they miss a key point. Jacobinism needs the contradiction. The contradiction nurtures Jacobinism and all of modern politics. The contradiction forces Jacobinism into a guilt-salvation cycle like a perfectionistic coal-miner endlessly blackening and washing. When liberty grows too strong, it punishes itself with equality; when equality becomes too oppressive, it breaks its bonds with liberty. The contradiction perpetuates itself through the centuries, always in tension, always guilty for its failings, always self-righteous in its "new" political cure.
This continuing cycle stems from Jacobinism's attempt to substitute its own trinity for the real one. Abstract liberty is supposed to provide for multiplicity and difference, while abstract equality is supposed to provide oneness and unanimity. Fraternity often tries to serve as the comforter between the estrangement of liberty and equality. But because it's a pseudo trinity, a fake harmony of unity and diversity, all it gets is eternal frustration and death camps.
And yet Jacobinism quietly delights in this perpetual tension because it wasn't designed for this world anyway. It hates this world. It hates the divinely imposed edges it has. It hates the whole created order in which it finds itself. Rationalism always wants to reshape reality. Jacobinism's rationalistic ideals clash with this world's categories, and so it must fight and resent life as it is. It strives to get away from Christ's earth; it strives to live in a pagan cosmos where its contradiction can rest peacefully. But that is not this world. And so Jacobinism and its children have to be escapist and unnatural. Jacobinism sees itself as too lofty to fit here, and so guillotines help things fit more smoothly into its abstractions.
Jacobinism's hatred of life on Earth doesn't just show up in its most blatant contradiction. Each part of liberté egalité fraternité does this as well. In the French Revolution, as now, these virtues never just meant what they appeared to say on the surface.
In Jacobin traditions, the plea for liberty is really a cover for licentiousness. For them, liberty means the right to a Mardi Gras life, a life of public perversity in your face. In turn, the plea for licentiousness is a plea for immaturity, the right to pee anywhere without constraint. In the end, though, childishness is a death wish. Childish freedom burns its hands on reality, and licentiousness tries to thumb its nose at divine curses. Licentiousness gets so upset with reality that it has to demand a right to suicide as well.
The elite Jacobins love to encourage licentiousness because of the crippling guilt it carries. It's impossible to boss around a bold and free people. They would too quickly stand you down. But guilt and immaturity is essential to strengthening Jacobin power. A people enslaved by guilt aren't about to challenge your outrageous decrees concerning equality.
Equality never meant just a fair standing before the courts. Ancients and medievals could accomplish that in principle. Jacobin equality means total conformity, a lack of any distinctions. If the god of licentiousness is unending uniqueness, the god of equality is the perfectly bland generic-wrapping. Abstract simplicity or oneness can broach no distinctions within itself or anywhere else. Everything must be made in the image of faceless simplicity. All must be one and the same.
On the one hand, then, drawing attention to racial and sexual differences is blasphemy to the god of equality, yet simultaneously they emphasize cultural differences. The high must be torn down, and the low exalted. Humans must be denigrated, and the environment exalted. Make the youth feel guilty enough to recycle, and you will have Jacobins for life. The pseudo trinity wants them all, as well as the guilt that comes from being unable to satisfy either taskmaster.
The greatest sign of immaturity is an overflow of law and rules. Mature people have wisdom and know that virtue begets life. Combining a childish licentiousness with a condescending equality guarantees an ever-burgeoning law-code. A maze of lawyers and law codes is a sure sign that Jacobinism is having its way with a culture.
Fraternity, the final Jacobin virtue, also never meant its simple Christian origin. Brotherly love was pushed out in favor of sentimentalism. Jacobins always love abstractions not people. They use people, especially people on the margins, for strengthening political power. They hide their condescension behind sentimentality. Rich Jacobins at the French Revolution dressed like the poor and revealed their own resentment and self-righteousness; today we do it through corporate designers. Sentimentality is that Gnostic love that never gets its hands dirty touching real people. Sentimentality is necessary to the Jacobin vision because it helps fuzz over the contradiction between liberty and equality. The nature-hating fights between liberty and equality get draped in appeals to brotherhood. On the right, the call for fraternity has often been the call to nationalism, the veiled demand to sacrifice our children for the sake of some state's agenda.
The old Jacobin slogan "liberty, equality, fraternity" should really be read as licentiousness, conformity, sentimentality. It lacks the poetry, but it highlights the ugliness. Ugliness is always the result of views that hate life on Earth.
We Are All Jacobins Now
Guillotines don't dot the land now, but they're not needed. Jacobinism has gone mainstream. Jacobin values and rhetoric have become the breath of our culture. It's so common it's invisible. Every major political party assumes a Jacobin framework to differing degrees. Democrats and leftists keep pushing the borders, but Republicans and most conservatives act within a Jacobin paradigm. They all agree that some mix of licentiousness, conformity, and sentimentality will perpetuate the need for more law.
The news and entertainment media pick almost every story as a means of buttressing a Jacobin vision. They don't do this as some dark conspiracy, but because they assume Jacobinism is the simple truth. From the morning news shows to daytime talk shows to prime time news magazines Jacobinism's unnatural contradiction is pushed and missed simultaneously.
It's all there in Francois the Baker. A baker is a wonderful picture of life and nurture. He civilizes wheat—taming wilderness, and makes it more beautiful—intoxicating aromas, and his bread gives us sustenance. The Jacobin spirit scowls at such things. It resents the created order and wants to fashion another in the image of its own suicidal tantrum. It wants free bread by magical decree, and when it doesn't get it, it lynches the baker and falls down feigning pain like a momma's boy. Thus the Rights of Man. Thus the unnaturalism that is contemporary politics.

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