14 The French People TriumphAnd here's the reading:
(The Bastille surrendered, July 14, 1789.)
What the Fourth of July is to Americans, the Fourteenth of July is to Frenchmen. It commemorates an oppressive tyranny overthrown by a freedom-loving people.
Nobility is a graceful ornament to the civil order. It is the Corinthian capital of polished society. Omnes boni nobilitati semper favemus, was the saying of a wise and good man....It was therefore with no disappointment or dissatisfaction that my inquiries and observations did not present to me any incorrigible vices in the noblesse of France, or any abuse which could not be removed by a reform very short of abolition. Your noblesse did not deserve punishment: but to degrade is to punish.Yes, the anonymous, high-collared functionary who I imagine compiled these readings has decided to commemorate Bastille Day with Edmund Burke, the man made his reputation for all time by regretting that it ever happened.
Burke is hard to resist. Part of it is his willingness to beat you to the punch with his to-be-sure argument against his own position:
I am ready to admit that they [the nobility] were not without considerable faults and errors... Habitual dissoluteness of manners continued beyond the pardonable period of life, was more common amongst them than it is with us; and it reigned with the less hope of remedy, though possibly with something of less mischief by being covered with more exterior decorum...There was another error amongst them more fatal. Those of the commons, who approached to or exceeded many of the nobility in point of wealth, were not fully admitted to the rank and estimation which wealth, in reason and good policy, ought to bestow in every country...I like this last point, too, saluting the English genius for discovering that, when someone is filthy rich, then they are fitly noble.
He's also a little brazen, confessing frankly that he doesn't really know much about the French nobility and then, a few paragraphs later, when maybe you've forgotten that he doesn't know much about it, saying he is "well warranted" to dispose of the nobility as a cause of the French unpleasantness. You can see why he's a good debater; he is a wonderful writer, for those like myself who have a taste for that 18th-century stuff:
In the meantime the leaders of the legislative clubs and coffee houses are intoxicated with admiration at their own wisdom and ability. They speak with the most sovereign contempt of the rest of the world. They tell the people, to comfort them in the rags with which they have clothed them, that they are a nation of philosophers; and sometimes, by all the arts of quackish parade, by show, tumult, and bustle, sometimes by the alarms of plots and invasions, they attempt to drown the cries of indigence, and to divert the eyes of the observer from the ruin and wretchedness of the state.These days, of course, Burke is the property of the conservatives, and rightly so, since he's such a champion of the good old ways of doing things. Me, I feel the present conservative love of a New American Century sounds less like Burke and more like the French Revolutionaries Year Zero, but that's just my opinion. What I wonder about even more is whether it's seemly to fight in a partisan way over these dead guys. As Mr. B himself says:
[History] may, in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving, dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury.Of course, when civil fury is hot enough, anything will do for fuel.