Friday, May 27, 2011

Robespierre, quite remarkable. Zizek's book, the Romantic revolution, and an excerpt

I'm reading with great interest Slavoj Zizek's selection of French Revolutionary Robespierre's works in English translation. The plot is thickening quite a bit in that it's become apparent that Robespierre's ideas had quite a lot in common with the Romanticism of the 19th century, much more so than I suspected, meaning that the Jacobin revolution and the radical ideals of the French Revolution may possibly be an example of the first flourishing of Romantic and Socialist ideas in Europe. I'll reproduce some texts later, particularly from Robespierre's proposed "Rights of Man" and from his writing "On the Principles of Political Morality", but here's an interesting piece from the writing "The Silver Mark", which takes as it's jumping off point opposition to a proposed poll tax in France, criticizing the English Enlightenment:

"England! ha! What good are they to you, England, England and its depraved constitution, which may have looked free to you when you had sunk to the lowest degree of servitude, but which it is high time to stop praising out of ignorance or habit! Free peoples! Where are they? What does the history of those you honour with this name show you? Other than aggregations of men more or less remote from the paths of reason and nature, more or less enslaved, under governments established by change, ambition or force? So was it to copy slavishly the errors or injustices that have long degraded the human species that eternal providence called on you, on you alone since the world began, to re-establish on earth the empire of justice and liberty, in the heart of the brightest enlightenment ever to have illuminated public reason, amid the almost miraculous circumstances providence has been pleased to assemble, to supply you with the power to restore to mankind its original happiness, virtue and dignity? "

Rousing words.

Perhaps there was a reason why Fichte, before he became a reactionary, was a firm supporter of the Jacobins, something that goes beyond simple preference for one section or another to deeper ideological affinity. An affinity that can be put forward to other progressive sections of 19th century Romantic thought.

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