Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Festival of Unhappiness

The Storming of the Bastille
The French Revolutionaries turned every Enlightenment value upside down. They equated truth, reason, and logic with blind obedience to the will of the revolutionary council; virtue with crime, pity, and suffering; liberty with despotism and tyranny; happiness with moral weakness.

Robespierre went to the extent of calling for a new celebration, a national Festival of Unhappiness. Here’s an excerpt from Susan Dunn’s Sister Revolutions: French Lightening, American Light (Page 119):
Rousseau had taught the revolutionary generation that pity was the super-virtue, the source of all social virtues. “What is generosity, clemency, humanity,” he asked, “if not pity applied to the weak, the guilt, the human species in general?” True patriots would know the pleasure of shedding tears for the people and communing with their suffering. Robespierre admitted that he himself delighted in “this tender, imperious, irresistibly delicious torment of magnanimous hearts, this profound horror for tyranny, this compassionate zeal for the oppressed, this sublime and holy love for humanity.” He even proposed a touching new celebration, a national Festival of Unhappiness—“La Fête à malheur”—which would honor unhappiness. The Revolution he confessed, could not entirely banish unhappiness from the earth but it could comfort and console the wretched and abject people in France. 
However, Robespierre’s vision of a community ruled by the ideals of virtue, pity, and suffering was not an inclusive one—he believed in Rousseau’s saying that “pity for the wicked is a great cruelty toward men.” So Robespierre and his fellow revolutionaries did not show any pity to their political rivals, who, they thought, were wicked and traitors to the fatherland.

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