Today, July 14, is Bastille Day: the date when the French people celebrate their Revolution.
Or should I say, the date when some French people celebrate the Revolution, while others mourn the orgy of mob violence that it unleashed. At first, leaders in the newly independent United States welcomed the ouster of another king; later they recoiled at the senseless bloodshed, the headlong rush into another form of tyranny, the relentless use of the guillotine to eliminate political opposition. (In Paris the guillotine was set up at a site called the Place de la Concorde: an early indication of how totalitarians justify killing as a means of securing peace.)
But this year Bastille Day comes as Americans are living through a paroxysm of mob violence. And as in France in 1789, the mobs can look to intellectuals for justification. The Washington Post, for instance, today carries a column by Zara Anishanslin, a history professor who is anxious to tell us: “The American Revolution was violent and the destruction of property was critical to both American protest and military campaigns during the Revolution.” In case you miss the point, she later adds:
Whitewashing revolutionary history has long made it easier for those who wish to maintain the status quo to police protests as appropriate only if they are “peaceful.” But since the founding of the United States, political protest has never been entirely peaceful.
Thus the standard-bearers of fashionable liberal opinion blur the distinction between revolution and riot, between symbolic action and malicious destruction. Yes, it’s true that American patriots ruined private property in the Revolutionary era—as, for instance, when the “dumped the tea into the sea in seventeen-hundred and seventy-three.” But they did not demolish whole city blocks; they did not loot stores and burn out neighborhood shopkeepers. That sort of thuggery is the mark of brownshirt bullies, not honest rebels.
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