The Holy Family Chapter VI 3)

c) Critical Battle Against the French Revolution

The narrow-mindedness of the Mass forced the “Spirit”, Criticism, Herr Bauer, to consider the French Revolution not as the time of the revolutionary efforts of the French in the “prosaic sense” but “only” as the “symbol and fantastic expression” of the Critical figments of his own brain. Criticism does penance for its “oversight” by submitting the Revolution to a fresh examination. At the same time it punishes the seducer of its innocence — “the Mass” — by communicating to it the results of this “fresh examination”.

“The French Revolution was an experiment which still belonged entirely to the eighteenth century.”

The chronological truth that an experiment of the eighteenth century like the French Revolution is still entirely an experiment of the eighteenth century, and not, for example, an experiment of the nineteenth, seems “still entirely” to be one of those truths which “are self-evident from the start”. But in the terminology of criticism, which is very prejudiced against “crystal-clear” truths, a truth like that is called an “examination” and therefore naturally has its place in a “fresh examination of the Revolution”.

“The ideas to which the French Revolution gave rise did not, however, lead beyond the order of things that it wanted to abolish by force.”

Ideas can never lead beyond an old world order but only beyond the ideas of the old world order. Ideas cannot carry out anything at all. In order to carry out ideas men are needed who can exert practical force. In its literal sense the Critical sentence is therefore another truth that is self-evident, and therefore another “examination”.

Undeterred by this examination, the French Revolution gave rise to ideas which led beyond the ideas of the entire old world order. The revolutionary movement which began in 1789 in the Cercle Social, [41] which in the middle of its course had as its chief representatives Leclerc and Roux, and which finally with Babeuf’s conspiracy was temporarily defeated, gave rise to the communist idea which Babeuf’s friend Buonarroti re-introduced in France after the Revolution of 1830. This idea, consistently developed, is the idea of the new world order.

“After the Revolution had therefore” (!) “abolished the feudal barriers in the fife of the people, it was compelled to satisfy and even to inflame the pure egoism of the nation and, on the other hand, to curb it by its necessary complement, the recognition of a supreme being, by this higher confirmation of the general state System, which has to hold together the individual self-seeking atoms.”

The egoism of the nation is the natural egoism of the general state system, as opposed to the egoism of the feudal classes. The supreme being is the higher confirmation of the general state system, and hence also of the nation. Nevertheless, the supreme being is supposed to curb the egoism of the nation, that is, of the general state system! A really Critical task, to curb egoism by means of its confirmation and even of its religious confirmation, i.e., by recognising that it is of a superhuman nature and therefore free of human restraint! The creators of the supreme being were not aware of this, their Critical intention.

Monsieur Buchez, who bases national fanaticism on religious fanaticism, understands his hero Robespierre better .[42]

Nationalism [Nationalität] led to the downfall of Rome and Greece. Criticism therefore says nothing specific about the French Revolution when it maintains that nationalism caused its downfall, and it says just as little about the nation when it defines its egoism as pure. This pure egoism appears rather to be a very dark, spontaneous egoism, combined with flesh and blood, when compared, for example, with the pure egoism of Fichte’sego”. But if, in contrast to the egoism of the feudal classes, its purity is only relative, no “fresh examination of the revolution” was needed to see that the egoism which has a nation as its content is more general or purer than that which has as its content a particular social class or a particular corporation.

Criticism’s explanations about the general state system are no less instructive. They are confined to saying that the general state system must hold together the individual self-seeking atoms.

Speaking exactly and in the prosaic sense, the members of civil society are not atoms. The specific property of the atom is that it has no properties and is therefore not connected with beings outside it by any relationship determined by its own natural necessity. The atom has no needs, it is self-sufficient., the world outside it is an absolute vacuum, i.e., is contentless, senseless, meaningless, just because the atom has all fullness in itself. The egoistic individual in civil society may in his non-sensuous imagination and lifeless abstraction inflate himself into an atom, i.e., into an unrelated, self-sufficient, wantless, absolutely full, blessed being. Unblessed sensuous reality does not bother about his imagination, each of his senses compels him to believe in the existence of the world and of individuals outside him, and even his profane stomach reminds him every day that the world outside him is not empty, but is what really fills. Every activity and property of his being, every one of his vital urges, becomes a need, a necessity, which his self-seeking transforms into seeking for other things and human beings outside him. But since the need of one individual has no self-evident meaning for another egoistic individual capable of satisfying that need, and therefore no direct connection with its satisfaction, each individual has to create this connection; it thus becomes the intermediary between the need of another and the objects of this need. Therefore, it is natural necessity, the essential human properties however estranged they may seem to be, and interest that hold the members of civil society together; civil, not political life is their real tie. It is therefore not the state that holds the atoms of civil society together, but the fact that they are atoms only in imagination in the heaven of their fancy, but in reality beings tremendously different from atoms, in other words, not divine egoists, but egoistic human beings. Only political superstition still imagines today that civil life must be held together by the state, whereas in reality, on the contrary, the state is held together by civil life.

Robespierre’s and Saint-Just’s tremendous idea of making a ‘free people’ which would live only according to the rules of justice and virtue — see, for example, Saint-Just’s report on Danton’s crimes and his other report on the general police — could be maintained for a certain time only by terror and was a contradiction against which the vulgar, self-seeking elements of the popular community reacted in the cowardly and insidious way that was only to he expected from them..,

This phrase of Absolute Criticism, which describes a “free people” as a “contradictionagainst which the elements of the “popular community” are bound to react, is absolutely hollow, for according to Robespierre and Saint-just liberty, justice and virtue could, on the contrary, be only manifestations of the life of the “people” and only properties of the “popular community”. Robespierre and Saint-just spoke explicitly of “liberty, justice and virtue” of ancient times, belonging only to the “popular community”. Spartans, Athenians and Romans at the time of their greatness were “free, just and virtuous peoples”.

“What,” asks Robespierre in his speech on the principles of public morals (sitting of the Convention on February 5, 1794), “is the fundamental principle of democratic or popular government? It is virtue, I mean public virtue, which worked such miracles in Greece and Rome and which will work still greater ones in Republican France; virtue which is nothing but love of one’s country and its laws.” [43]

Robespierre then explicitly calls the Athenians and Spartanspeuples libres”. He continually recalls the ancient popular commune and quotes its heroes as well as its corrupters — Lycurgus, Demosthenes, Miltiades, Aristides, Brutus and Catilina, Caesar, Clodius and Piso.

In his report on Danton’s arrest (referred to by Criticism) Saint-Just says explicitly:

“The world has been empty since the Romans, and only their memory fills it and still prophesies liberty.” [44]

His accusation is composed in the ancient style and directed against Danton as against Catilina.

In Saint-Just’s other report, the one on the general police, [45] the republican is described exactly in the ancient sense, as inflexible, modest, simple and so on. The police should be an institution of the same nature as the Roman censorship. — He does not fail to mention Codrus, Lycurgus, Caesar, Cato, Catilina, Brutus, Antonius, and Cassius. Finally, Saint-Just describes the “liberty, justice and virtue” that he demands in a single word when he says:

“Que les hommes révolutionnaires soient des Romains."
["Let revolutionary men he Romans."]

Robespierre, Saint-just and their party fell because they confused the ancient, realistic-democratic commonweal based on real slavery with the modern spiritualistic-democratic representative state, which is based on emancipated slavery, bourgeois society. What a terrible illusion it is to have to recognise and sanction in the rights of man modern bourgeois society, the society of industry, of universal competition, of private interest freely pursuing its aims, of anarchy, of self-estranged natural and spiritual individuality, and at the same time to want afterwards to annul the manifestations of the life of this society in particular individuals and simultaneously to want to model the political head of that society in the manner of antiquity!

The illusion appears tragic when Saint-Just, on the day of his execution, pointed to the large table of the Rights of Man hanging in the hall of the Conciergerie and said with proud dignity: “C'est pourtant moi qui ai fait cela[Yet it was I who made that] It was just this table that proclaimed the right of a man who cannot be the man of the ancient commonweal any more than his economic and industrial conditions are those of ancient times.

This is not the place to vindicate the illusion of the Terrorists historically.

“After the fall of Robespierre the political enlightenment and movement hastened to the point where they became the prey of Napoleon who, shortly after 18 Brumaire, could say: ‘With my prefects, gendarmes and priests I can do what I like with France.'”

Profane history, on the other hand, reports: After the fall of Robespierre, the political enlightenment, which formerly had been overreaching itself and had been extravagant, began for the first time to develop prosaically. Under the government of the Directory,[46] bourgeois society, freed by the Revolution itself from the trammels of feudalism and officially recognised in spite of the Terror’s wish to sacrifice it to an ancient form of political life, broke out in powerful streams of life. A storm and stress of commercial enterprise, a passion for enrichment, the exuberance of the new bourgeois life, whose first self-enjoyment is pert, light-hearted, frivolous and intoxicating; a real enlightenment of the land of France, the feudal structure of which had been smashed by the hammer of the Revolution and which, by the first feverish efforts of the numerous new owners, had become the object of all-round cultivation; the first moves of industry that had now become free — these were some of the signs of life of the newly emerged bourgeois society. Bourgeois society is positively represented by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, therefore, begins its rule. The rights of man cease to exist merely in theory.

It was not the revolutionary movement as a whole that became the prey of Napoleon on 18 Brumaire, as Criticism in its faith in a Herr von Rotteck or Welcker believes [47]; it was the liberal bourgeoisie. One only needs to read the speeches of the legislators of the time to be convinced of this. One has the impression of coming from the National Convention into a modern Chamber of Deputies.

Napoleon represented the last battle of revolutionary terror against the bourgeois society which had been proclaimed by this same Revolution, and against its policy. Napoleon, of course, already discerned the essence of the modern state; he understood that it is based on the unhampered development of bourgeois society, on the free movement of private interest, etc. He decided to recognise and protect this basis. He was no terrorist with his head in the clouds. Yet at the same time he still regarded the state as an end in itself and civil life only as a treasurer and his subordinate which must have no will of its own. He perfected the Terror by substituting permanent war for permanent revolution. He fed the egoism of the French nation to complete satiety but demanded also the sacrifice of bourgeois business, enjoyments, wealth, etc., whenever this was required by the political aim of conquest. If he despotically suppressed the liberalism of bourgeois society — the political idealism of its daily practice — he showed no more consideration for its essential material interests, trade and industry, whenever they conflicted with his political interests. His scorn of industrial hommes d'affaires was the complement to his scorn of ideologists. In his home policy, too, he combated bourgeois society as the opponent of the state which in his own person he still held to be an absolute aim in itself. Thus he declared in the State Council that he would not suffer the owner of extensive estates to cultivate them or not as he pleased. Thus, too, he conceived the plan of subordinating trade to the state by appropriation of roulage [road haulage]. French businessmen took steps to anticipate the event that first shook Napoleon’s power. Paris exchange- brokers forced him by means of an artificially created famine to delay the opening of the Russian campaign by nearly two months and thus to launch it too late in the year.

Just as the liberal bourgeoisie was opposed once more by revolutionary terror in the person of Napoleon, so it was opposed once more by counter-revolution in the Restoration in the person of the Bourbons. Finally, in 1830 the bourgeoisie put into effect its wishes of the year 1789, with the only difference that its political enlightenment was now completed, that it no longer considered the constitutional representative state as a means for achieving the ideal of the state, the welfare of the world and universal human aims but, on the contrary, had acknowledged it as the official expression of its own exclusive power and the political recognition of its own special interests.

The history of the French Revolution, which dates from 1789, did not come to an end in 1830 with the victory of one of its components enriched by the consciousness of its own social importance.