Front Page Titles (by Subject) 131.: Before and After the Dissolution of the Convention - Judgments on History and Historians
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131.: Before and After the Dissolution of the Convention - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Before and After the Dissolution of the Convention
[January 3, 1868.—January 4, 1870.—January 4, 1876.] With the current unprecedented increase in militarism and industrial crises another look back to the origins of the Revolution is indicated, especially in view of the uncertainty of all rights and existences in face of the power of threatening governments from above and mass ferment from below. Our task is not to prophesy, but to show the harmonies from the beginning of the Revolution on. We want to know on which wave of the great storm-tossed sea we are drifting.
The Revolution was prepared by an enormous literary movement which, optimistic about the future, questioned everything, and by a situation of property and power in France which was in more or less conscious disharmony with this movement. Besides this was the premise of the goodness of the human heart and people as such.
The financial distress of the moment exerted pressure for the Estates General, and the cahiers acted as a great sheaf for the fire. Instead of constitutional ideas, for which they had relied on the Estates General, they demanded the rights of man and substituted the concept of “man” for that of “Frenchman.” The magnitude of the idea caught on, and thus we make the acquaintance of the “political” man of Europe as of 1868. Then, too, many abolitions and equalizations were demanded.
Since the Estates General could not become an assembly of humanity as yet, they became, for the time being, a National Assembly. Their great moment was the 20th of June, on which day the Third Estate took an oath on the Tennis Court to give the country a constitution. But in those days tumultuous Paris took the helm of the Revolution, and the National Assembly was in a royalist mood as early as the 23rd of June. Upon the coup d’état on the 11th of June there followed the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, the first major action of the Parisians. In the provinces the old state came crashing down; the cities suffered from a shortage of wheat; in the country the castles were burned. The 4th of August put the seal on it, when the nobles renounced all feudal rights and the clergy gave up the tithe. While Paris and the provinces were preparing the realm of violence for decades to come, the National Assembly occupied itself with the rights of man; even Mirabeau’s requests had not been able to prevent this. Then the constitution was deliberated in a spirit of mistrust of the legal power to be set up and with a limited right of veto for the king. This took place while illegal force merrily throve in Paris and elsewhere, the National Guard barely maintained external order, and artificial bread-prices and jobs were supposed to help the situation.
Finally, on the 5th and 6th of October, the king and the Assembly were taken to Paris as prisoners. People wanted to take revenge on the current representatives of everything past, far beyond its mere abolition. The new départements were now introduced and the elections from below were carried through. Actually the impotence of the government was replaced by the superior power of a homogeneous club mentality. Next the church properties were gobbled up, which is customary in all modern crises, and soon the new ecclesiastical constitution came into force. This brought about a collision of the Revolution with the age-old sacramental foundations of existence which had been riveted fast in the Middle Ages. The nobility was abolished; the army disintegrated because aristocratic officers became an impossibility, while a general hostility to foreign countries became increasingly apparent. The new France made constant threats and in the main tried to spread the Revolution. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy revealed the decided incompatibility of the king with the Revolution; hence his attempted flight and his subsequent treatment as a hostage while they openly sought to overthrow royalty.
The other countries, which had become reactionary but were most disinclined to go to war, were wantonly provoked. The émigrés had to serve as bogy men. A universal rage against them sprang up, stimulated by their foolish acts. Like the Assemblies generally, the Legislative Assembly and the Gironde were used up quickly and purposely. The Gironde wanted to eliminate the crown by war, while Narbonne wanted to save it by war and military dictatorship. In those days Dumouriez was the first to represent the view of the natural boundaries of France.
Meanwhile, internal conditions grew worse. There were rumblings in the South; Avignon fell prey to a reign of terror; there was strife because of the continued decline of the assignats; the problem of the clergy kept unrest alive; club rule expanded. On April 20, 1792, war was declared on Austria, and fighting began in Belgium and Savoy. In the interior the battle increased in fierceness. Louis protested against the banishment of the réfractaires [intractables] and the summoning of the fédérés [federates]. Danton, who wanted only loot out of the Revolution, and the Cordeliers destroyed the Girondists’ support through the test day of June 20th. This meant that Paris once more took control of things. It won over the arriving fédérés who were completely wrested away from the Girondists; and thus in this witches’ caldron France was made Parisian over and over again. In the Assembly there began, in connection with the war situation, those debates which finally declared the country to be in danger. In the midst of this fearsome ferment there came the Duke of Brunswick’s manifestoes with their calamitous effect. The demand for a third assembly was raised.
During the night of the 9th of August the new Paris Commune was formed out of the Paris sections. A corollary of this is the storming of the Tuileries and the imprisoning of Louis. All this the Legislative Assembly watched inactively and decreed a new Assembly, the National Convention. It had been intended to serve merely as a drop curtain.
Would the National Convention now fare much better? It never did govern as a true national representation, but only as an organ of forces outside it.
After it had judged the king, Paris wrested its real political component, the Girondists, away from it; the remainder degenerates into mutual execration of the extreme parties.
The Revolution as a whole kept sacred none of the legal forms it created. This is its worst legacy: the authority to improve things by constantly changing the forms—indeed, by the mere desire to get different individuals to the top.
Its driving force for the time being was still volcanic, determined by the mob of Paris, by lust for loot, and other passions of leaders and parties for the enormous properties that had become liquid, and also by the peasants, who were afraid that the real owners might return.
Meanwhile, in the fight against the European Coalition, there rose anew from the bottom those armies and generals who soon had to pass over from defense to rule of the country. Because in the meantime the political minds had guillotined one another.
A frightful exhaustion had come over the nation which nevertheless was still there and grew into a strange new condition: without respect, but without will power, the way modern nations often are now.
Militarism was pushed to the highest point by Napoleon, and an artificial will was put into the nation’s soul.
And when, after his overthrow, the economic-industrial forces which had become available only through the Revolution were unfettered and Europe, following England, turned into the general industrial mill, there arose the fourth estate, whose inner ferment has had a hand in determining everything since the 1840’s. It and militarism from above are now the two clamps of the vise. There is a profound distrust of all forms and, along with it, a readiness for any change, while industries chase one another from country to country to the point of dead exhaustion for the sake of minimal differences in production prices and tariffs. (And things have certainly not improved since 1868.)