marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Reflections on the Revolution in France

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

Primary source on the era of the French Revolution, and how it looked across the English Channel.

An interesting look at what it looked like, in part inspired by those Englishmen who thought that throwing out James II and installing William and Mary put them on the same principles.  Burke argues at length with this -- a monarch is a sovereign, a servant only metaphorically, because he is unaccountable, which they had preserved.  Throwing out a monarch is a matter not of law but of war.  (He disapproved of anniversary sermons, which treated the medicine of society as its regular diet.

The sentiments with which they viewed the way the royal family was treated.  The uproar they made of their country by throwing away everything to start anew -- Burke compared their constitution to a ruined castle with a solid foundation and one good wall, but considered that if they had built on it, they might have had more self-respect.  Arguments against the horrors that were claimed, pointing out that France had had a growing population and a good economy, neither of which were true by the time he wrote.  (People even took off to the frozen wastes of Canada to escape.)  The nonsense of their confiscation of church lands.  The insanity of their paper money, when the Bank of England paper was solid because it had no force in law and anyone could demand payment in cash.  And much more.

What really struck me was what he said about the dissension in the army:

In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands 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. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master,—the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.

Dear me. Far too soon for him to have seen Napoleon rising. He made an actual prediction there.
Tags: history reviews: 15th-18th centuries, primary source review

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