Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

The old adage “history repeats itself” refers to striking similarities between past events and contemporary events. Consequently, historical accounts of past events not only help us understand what has happened but also better understand what is happening. This insight is badly needed at this time. Unfortunately, knowing the public has a weak grasp of history, some portrayals of past events involve propagandized history. This kind of history is currently besmirching our country’s heroes and history.

The vandalism of memorials to Confederates and former U.S. presidents taking place in the United States is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history there have been militants who wanted the social structure overturned even if it meant bypassing existing laws to do so. The usual argument was that the existing structure was oppressing certain groups. Efforts by zealots to expeditiously implement their version of “improvements” rarely succeeded and often made things worse before being phased out.

The classic, and extreme, example is the French Revolution. This event has been excessively covered in histories, novels, and films but interest in it continues because it not only fascinates us but we recognize similarities with contemporary events. We should look at correlations between that disastrous French experiment and our contemporary cultural cleansing, so bear with me as I highlight aspects of the French Revolution.

To alleviate the enmity between the two countries, Austrian princess Marie Antoinette was betrothed to the future King of France, Louis XVI while both were still in their teens. Some would always regard Marie as that foreign-born queen but she was enthusiastically received by the French and had been a popular sovereign until Jacobins began circulating their propaganda stories against her. Although somewhat frivolous and fond of clothing, jewelry, and the revelry at the Palace of Versailles, Marie Antoinette was no more profligate than other royalty of her time. Also, she frequently engaged in charitable works, helping poor families, unwed mothers, and homeless orphans, even adopting some herself. Edmund Burke, the famous chronicler of the French Revolution, expressed esteem for Marie Antoinette.

French insurgents claimed that Louis XVI’s queen belittled the poverty of peasants with the impertinent “Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette never said that, but the story, along with other unproven accusations, helped turned the public against her and the monarchy. Uncomplicated explanations of events, especially when they involve a villain, are easier for the public to grasp than complex economic and social factors.

So Marie Antoinette was made the scapegoat of an extravagant monarchy that was blamed for the nation’s financial problems. Even Thomas Jefferson, who, as America’s Minister to France, spent time in Paris during her reign, felt that her improvidence was a factor in the nation’s decline. Jefferson also originally supported the French Revolution until the violence and bloodshed disillusioned him.

Although long years of luxury enjoyed by previous monarchies as well as nobility and clergy had impaired France’s economy, its current financial predicament was largely caused by its support of the American fight for independence. Marie Antoinette was an unwavering supporter of France’s monetary and military assistance to the colonies, even encouraging Austria and Russia to assist the Americans. French troops fought alongside George Washington’s forces, and after the war, a group of Revolutionary War veterans named an Ohio city “Marietta” in Marie’s honor.

France’s dire conditions failed to improve, even worsened, so the Revolution couldn’t be sustained beyond its original decade. But while it lasted, thousands were put to death including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Their bodies were unceremoniously deposited in unmarked plots in a local graveyard along with others killed during the Revolution. When the monarchy was later restored, their graves were discovered, corpses exhumed and given a proper Christian burial among the kings and queens in the Basilica of St Denis. France erected a small chapel at their original grave site which contains a funerary monument for Louis and Marie.

Although the cultural cleansing in America doesn’t involve the extremes of the French Revolution, similarities exist. French insurgents used the phrase “liberty, equality, fraternity” to describe their implementation of a new order and the populace originally believed conditions would be improved. Actually, the only accomplishment was a destruction of the old order with nothing substantial to replace it. Liberty was nowhere to be found, and equality, which the public always interprets as a leveling of the standard of living, was never achieved. Making everyone equal is one of those Utopian fantasies that have hoodwinked the masses throughout history.

Our social structure is now under attack by the Left in order to achieve “social justice”, today’s version of liberty,equality,fraternity. Like 18th century France, many Americans are temporarily hoodwinked by the Left’s indoctrination. But although the elimination of tributes to famous Americans is proliferating, those promoting the eliminations don’t appear to feel any satisfaction. This generation’s social justice vandalism is only a few years old, and hopefully, will not last as long as the French Revolution.

Today’s revolutionists don’t have a monarchy to make the fall-guy for their contrived social problems. And our economy is not as bad as France’s at the time of the Revolution. So the Left’s cultural cleansing campaign is based on this generation’s favorite culprit – slavery. Clever semantics are attributing 21st century problems with those involved with slavery 150 years ago, primarily the antebellum South and our early presidents. During the French Revolution, sculptures of royalty were destroyed, tombs of kings and queens plundered, and Catholic cathedrals defaced. Today’s wreckage involves monuments to Confederate heroes and presidents who either owned slaves or didn’t resist slavery strongly enough.

As the Left doesn’t have a queen like Marie Antoinette to scapegoat, they’ll have to be content with ascribing heinousness to Robert E. Lee. As cable TV coverage reaches a much larger audience than newspapers in 18th century Paris, you would think Lee could be made into a worse villain than Marie Antoinette. But during the Revolution, Parisians only got one side of the story, whereas today we have alternative news sites confuting the Left’s spin.

When Marie Antoinette was tried for treason, the outcome of the trial was never in doubt: she would be convicted and executed. In reality, it wasn’t a trial but a theater production to convince the public that deposing the monarchy had been necessary. The trumped-up charges against Marie were simply the exaggerated, derogatory stories about her that Revolutionists had long circulated in pamphlets.

Treason was also the charge brought against Robert E. Lee – levying war against the United States. He was never tried because the terms of his surrender assured that there would be no reprisals against former Confederates. During Lee’s time, and even today, there is no consensus whether states can secede from a Union or are perpetually bound to it. But those who demand the destruction of Lee’s memorials accept today’s popular version of history that secession is not legal, so Robert E. Lee was a “traitor to his country.”

Entitlements enjoyed by the monarchy, nobility and church were blamed for France’s economic problems. Similarly, “white privilege” is designated as preventing the inclusivity and equality being pushed by today’s Left. Although France’s old order was essentially crushed, and land and property of the Catholic church confiscated and redistributed, the country’s economic conditions didn’t improve.

Likewise, today’s proposal for wealth redistribution – reparations – will create a deluge of claims that not only lack justification but cannot be satisfied. And it will create havoc with our economy without appeasing the grievance industry. It is simply a political ploy designed to appeal to a specific bloc of voters.

It is said “Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” We are witnessing that in America, as our history and heritage are being eradicated. During the French Revolution there was considerable wreckage and carnage but no liberty, equality or fraternity. We need to learn from history that overturning the country envisioned by our Founding Fathers will not bring about the ambiguous concept “social justice.”

About Gail Jarvis

Gail Jarvis is a Georgia-based free-lance writer. He attended the University of Alabama and has a degree from Birmingham Southern College. As a CPA/financial consultant, he helped his clients cope with the detrimental effects of misguided governmental intrusiveness. This influenced his writing as did years of witnessing how versions of news and history were distorted for political reasons. Mr. Jarvis is a member of the Society of Independent Southern Historians and his articles have appeared on various websites, magazines, and publications for several organizations. He lives in Coastal Georgia with his wife. More from Gail Jarvis

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