“They made a schism with the whole universe”

The whole body of this new scheme of manners, in support of the new scheme of politics, I consider as a strong and decisive proof of determined ambition and systematic hostility.  I defy the most refining ingenuity to invent any other cause for the total departure of the Jacobin Republic from every one of the ideas and usages, religious, legal, moral, or social, of this civilized world, and for her tearing herself from its communion with such studied violence, but from a formed resolution of keeping no terms with that world.  It has not been, as has been falsely and insidiously represented, that these miscreants had only broke with their old government.  They made a schism with the whole universe, and that schism extended to almost everything, great and small.  For one, I wish, since it is gone thus far, that the breach had been so complete as to make all intercourse impracticable…

My ideas and my principles led me, in this contest, to encounter France, not as a state, but as a faction.  The vast territorial extent of that country, its immense population, its riches of production, its riches of commerce and convention, the whole aggregate mass of what in ordinary cases constitutes the force of a state, to me were but objects of secondary consideration.  They might be balanced; and they have been often more than balanced.  Great as these things are, they are not what make the faction formidable.  It is the faction that makes them truly dreadful.  That faction is the evil spirit that possesses the body of France, that informs it as a soul, that stamps upon its ambition, and upon all its pursuits, a characteristic mark, which strongly distinguishes them from the same general passions and the same general views in other men and in other communities.  It is that spirit which inspires into them a new, pernicious, a desolating activity.  Constituted as France was ten years ago, it was not in that France to shake, to shatter, and to overwhelm Europe in the manner that we behold…

As for me, I was always steadily of opinion that this disorder was not in its nature intermittent.  I conceived that the contest, once begun, could not be laid down again, to be resumed at our discretion, but that our first struggle with this evil would also be our last.  I never thought we could make peace with the system; because it was not for the sake of an object we pursued in rivalry with each other, but with the system itself that we were at war.  As I understood the matter, we were at war, not with its conduct, but with its existence–convinced that its existence and its hostility were the same.

The faction is not local or territorial.  It is a general evil.  Where it least appears in action, it is still full of life.  In its sleep it recruits its strength and prepares its exertion.  Its sprit lies deep in the corruptions of our common nature.  The social order which restrains it feeds it.  It exists in every country in Europe, and among all orders of men in every country, who look up to France as to a common head.  The center is there.  The circumference is the world of Europe, wherever the race of Europe may be settled.  Everywhere else the faction is militant; in France it is triumphant.  In France is the bank of deposit and the bank of circulation of all the pernicious principles that are forming in every state.  It will be a folly scarcely deserving of pity, and too mischievous for contempt, to think of restraining it in any other country whilst it is predominant there.  War, instead of being the cause of its force, has suspended its operation.  It has given a reprieve, at least, to the Christian world…

It is a dreadful truth, but it is a truth that cannot be concealed:  in ability, in dexterity, in the distinctness of their views, the Jacobins are our superiors.  They saw the thing right from the very beginning.  Whatever were the first motives to the war among politicians, they saw that in its spirit, and for its objects, it was a civil war; and as such they pursued it.  It is a war between the partisans of the ancient civil, moral, and political order of Europe against a sect of fanatical and ambitious atheists which means to change them all.  It is not France extending a foreign empire over other nations:  it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and beginning with the conquest of France…

— from Letters on a Regicide Peace

Edmund Burke was actually far from the contemptible “slow-and-steady path to surrender” advocate his twentieth-century admirers made him out to be.

28 thoughts on ““They made a schism with the whole universe”

  1. Pingback: “They made a schism with the whole universe” | Reaction Times

  2. Per Belloc, there is no conflict between the political theory of the French revolution and the doctrines of Catholic Church.
    Thus, in his opinion, the Church-revolution quarrel was accidental, not essential.
    And it certainly seems that the Church agrees.

    So, perhaps Burke does not approach the heart of the matter. The essential political idea,
    “that a political community pretending to sovereignty, that is, pretending to a moral right of defending its existence against all other communities, derives the civil and temporal authority of its laws not from its actual rulers, nor even from its magistracy, but from itself.”

    This idea Belloc holds to be “universal, eternal and true”.

    Now, do you argue that this idea is disagreeable to the Catholic doctrine?

    • “there is no conflict between the political theory of the French revolution and the doctrines of Catholic Church.”

      This seems so crazy, I must be misunderstanding it. The French revolution was openly anti-Christian in its essence. I’m not sure how you can disentangle any political theory from this fact.

    • The French Revolution was pure satanic evil, and all its principles contradict the truths of the Catholic faith, including the above falsehood which Belloc heretically affirms. All sovereignty comes from God.

      • “All sovereignty comes from God.”
        And nothing more can be said?
        Where do the kings come from?

      • Oh yes, God is the prototype of all tyrants, Satan the prototype for all rebels against tyranny.

        The Bible, which is a very interesting and here and there very profound book when considered as one of the oldest surviving manifestations of human wisdom and fancy, expresses this truth very naively in its myth of original sin. Jehovah, who of all the good gods adored by men was certainly the most jealous, the most vain, the most ferocious, the most unjust, the most bloodthirsty, the most despotic, and the most hostile to human dignity and liberty – Jehovah had just created Adam and Eve, to satisfy we know not what caprice; no doubt to while away his time, which must weigh heavy on his hands in his eternal egoistic solitude, or that he might have some new slaves. He generously placed at their disposal the whole earth, with all its fruits and animals, and set but a single limit to this complete enjoyment. He expressly forbade them from touching the fruit of the tree of knowledge. He wished, therefore, that man, destitute of all understanding of himself, should remain an eternal beast, ever on all-fours before the eternal God, his creator and his master. But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.

        — Bakunin, God and the State

      • Correct. Revolution = Satan/impiety/nihilism/anti-social individualism/amorality. Now if only I could get the people on my side to understand this, as everyone in the 18th and 19th centuries did.

  3. “It is a war between the partisans of the ancient civil, moral, and political order of Europe against a sect of fanatical and ambitious atheists which means to change them all. ”
    True, but we must distinguish between the French Revolution with its sect, and the Political Theory of the French revolution. Republicanism is perfectly consistent with religion, even Catholicism. Witness thousand year of the Venetian republic.

    • I agree though I would have to rate republicanism as the least “good” of the good forms of government. i would rather have democracy (on a small scale) over a republic.

  4. Jacobin France might have called itself a republic, but if the term meant anything, and if it applied to Venice, then la Revolution must have been something else, a proposition I take to be self-evident. Hence Burke’s carefully thought-through verbal distinctions.

  5. It is not apparent to me that Belloc’s quote is self-evidently heretical. Everything, including sovereignty, including authority, unity, and being, derive from God. I don’t read this as a pre-Sillon sympathy statement from Belloc. I understand his point to be that law and legitimacy derive from Natural Law and not from the will of persons. It is a subtle point, like distinguishing between pre-Christian and Christian pater familias. Ironically, one might fault Belloc for missing that the Revolution did not actually conform to this description.

    The Revolution’s perniciousness is a function of its transformation of the ends of the state, and transformation of the essences of both the state, and Man and men in general. This is the way I read Burke’s hostility anyway. A final problem, rather than a formal or material one.

    • You’re right that there is a sense in which authority resides in nations intrinsically, and that if Belloc imagined the French Revolution coincided with any valid principle of natural law then he had grossly misunderstood it. However, this level of historical incompetence in an amateur historian itself cries out for explanation. Chesterton also said a number of idiotic positive things about the French Revolution, but I’ve tended to ignore this because Chesterton was quite given to shooting his mouth off about things he knew nothing about. But this can’t be the explanation in Belloc’s case.

      A claim that the nation is the ultimate locus of sovereignty is not only a rejection of divine sovereignty, of governments holding authority delegated by God and constrained to respect His laws, it was also understood as such by everyone in the eighteenth century. After all, what was then considered the alternative to government empowered by the Sovereign People? Was it not the divine right of princes?

      I can only imagine that Chesterton and Belloc were corrupted by their affection for democracy, going so far as to actually start making excuses for priest-killing tyrants.

      • divine right of princes?
        Wasn’t it a Protestant doctrine?
        The 18C quarrel was not with God but with self-appointed Princes and Kings.

      • When left and right originated in the latter 18th century, they were divided, everywhere in Europe, by their attitude to the established Church. Not rich against poor, not state against people or individual. The fall of throne and nobility was only a side effect of the overturning of the altar.

        This is clear to historians now, the question is how the Chesterbelloc could have forgotten it.

        There is a close analogy with the way that, by the end of the 17th century, everyone in England thought the Civil War had been about liberty, when it had actually been about religion.

      • Belloc’s point specifically refers to the Political Theory of the revolution, and not to the revolution itself.

        I wonder if Belloc’s critics have actually read him.

      • It’s the Lockean/Roussean political doctrine that I have been saying is flatly incompatible with Christianity, not just the murderous practice of the Revolution it inspired.

      • Why do you think that de Maistre initially had some purported enthusiasm for the Revolution? That is, what aspect of it (its seeming, I mean) did he have sympathy?

      • Rob,

        My understanding was that in the initial stages of the revolution there was no uniform revolutionary ideology in contrast to say some of the communist revolutions in the 20th century. I believe it was Robert Nisbet who pointed out that Rousseau’s and many of the other Enlightenment radicals works and philosophy were simply not widely proliferated even among the elites and intelligentsia at least during the early period. Some observers saw the initial outbreak as just anger at a corrupt and ineffectual government. Perhaps the nobles like De Maistre saw a chance for a reversal of the general trend of monarchical centralization in favor of the provinces and local nobility? After all didn’t the monarchy practically bankrupt the country supporting the American liberal revolution? They reaped what they sowed.

    • The 18C quarrel was not with God but with self-appointed Princes and Kings.

      What does this mean? Louis XVI was the rightful successor of Louis XV, no? He didn’t appoint himself.

  6. Reading this reminded me of Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. Substitute Vikings/Danes for modern atheistic men with their gods of science and progress.

    Smoke like rebellious heavens rolled
    Curled over coloured flames,
    Mirrored in monstrous purple dreams
    In the mighty pools of Thames.

    Loud was the war on London wall,
    And loud in London gates,
    And loud the sea-kings in the cloud
    Broke through their dreaming gods, and loud
    Cried on their dreadful Fates.

    And all the while on White Horse Hill
    The horse lay long and wan,
    The turf crawled and the fungus crept,
    And the little sorrel, while all men slept,
    Unwrought the work of man.

  7. Perhaps a useful rule-of-thumb for distinguishing the conservative position from the liberal would be that the conservative tends to understand the evils of modern history as aftershocks of the French Revolution, whereas for the liberal all modern history — correction, all history, period — must ultimately be interpreted in relation to the Holocaust.

    How many “conservatives” today even mention the Revolution when talking about policy or principles?

    • How many “conservatives” today even mention the Revolution when talking about policy or principles

      Many modern conservatives like Ludwig Von Mises openly support the principles of 1789. Jefferson who rendered actual assistance to the revolutionaries is seen as modern conservative’s guiding light- be it neo-cons, libertarians or even porchers.

  8. Pingback: New stuff by me | Throne and Altar


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