François Furstenberg: Bush’s Dangerous Liaisons





[François Furstenberg, a professor of history at the University of Montreal, is the author of "In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery and the Making of a Nation."]

MUCH as George W. Bush’s presidency was ineluctably shaped by Sept. 11, 2001, so the outbreak of the French Revolution was symbolized by the events of one fateful day, July 14, 1789. And though 18th-century France may seem impossibly distant to contemporary Americans, future historians examining Mr. Bush’s presidency within the longer sweep of political and intellectual history may find the French Revolution useful in understanding his curious brand of 21st- century conservatism.

Soon after the storming of the Bastille, pro-Revolutionary elements came together to form an association that would become known as the Jacobin Club, an umbrella group of politicians, journalists and citizens dedicated to advancing the principles of the Revolution.

The Jacobins shared a defining ideological feature. They divided the world between pro- and anti-Revolutionaries — the defenders of liberty versus its enemies. The French Revolution, as they understood it, was the great event that would determine whether liberty was to prevail on the planet or whether the world would fall back into tyranny and despotism.

The stakes could not be higher, and on these matters there could be no nuance or hesitation. One was either for the Revolution or for tyranny.

By 1792, France was confronting the hostility of neighboring countries, debating how to react. The Jacobins were divided. On one side stood the journalist and political leader Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, who argued for war.

Brissot understood the war as preventive — “une guerre offensive,” he called it — to defeat the despotic powers of Europe before they could organize their counter-Revolutionary strike. It would not be a war of conquest, as Brissot saw it, but a war “between liberty and tyranny.”

Pro-war Jacobins believed theirs was a mission not for a single nation or even for a single continent. It was, in Brissot’s words, “a crusade for universal liberty.”...

Though it has been a topic of much attention in recent years, the origin of the term “terrorist” has gone largely unnoticed by politicians and pundits alike. The word was an invention of the French Revolution, and it referred not to those who hate freedom, nor to non-state actors, nor of course to “Islamofascism.”

A terroriste was, in its original meaning, a Jacobin leader who ruled France during la Terreur.



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list