As the first bloody spasm of liberalism’s utopian convulsions, the French Revolution is rife with antecedents. Portrait of an Average Woman, Christian Zweig’s masterful biography of Marie Antoinette, brims with vivid canvasses in red and black, describing the sanguinary and nihilistic terror that claimed 40,000 souls on the guillotine.
A tweet thread today by one of my favorite writers put me in mind of Zweig’s book.
Richard Fernandez (a.k.a. Wretchard) writes: “The new respectability has continually shrinking boundaries because it’s not based on decency…. It has none of the compassion of renewal and all the pitilessness of a purge…. It will be hardest on those most clothed in virtue. Watch what you say, do, wear or are friends with or you may never work in this town again. To all those celebrities gloating over the latest fall: just remember, you’re next.”
Just so—the age-old denunciations of the zealot, disfigured and intensified by modern idealism. Zweig captures this same delirium which ruled over Paris in 1793:
[A] revolution is like a rolling ball. One who mounts it and would fain guide it must kick busily to keep his balance, must never try to arrest its motion, for there can be no safety except in unceasing advance. At the present juncture of affairs in France, every party knew this full well, and each was afraid of lagging behind the other. The Rights were afraid of the Moderates, the Moderates were afraid of the Lefts, the Lefts were afraid of their Left Wing, the Girondists were afraid of the Maratists, the leaders were afraid of the people, the generals were afraid of their own soldiers, the Convention was afraid of the Commune, the Commune of the sections: and this contagious mutual anxiety of the groups aroused a heated competition. It was the perpetual dread (shared by men of all shades of opinion) of being regarded as backward in the good cause that drove the French Revolution so far beyond its original target and gave it its torrential impetus.
There is greater madness to come for our social justice revolutionaries.