Friday, July 16, 2004

Bastille Day and Chaos Manor

From Jerry Pournelle and Chaos Manor come a pair of good things.

First is his description of the storming of the Bastille. Wednesday was Bastille Day, a very important date for France, analagous to Independence Day for America:
On July 14, 1789, the Paris mob aided by units of the National Guard stormed the Bastille Fortress which stood in what had been the Royal area of France before the Louvre and Tuilleries took over that function. The Bastille was a bit like the Tower of London, a fortress prison under direct control of the Monarchy. It was used to house unusual prisoners, all aristocrats, in rather comfortable durance. The garrison consisted of soldiers invalided out of service and some older soldiers who didn't want to retire; it was considered an honor to be posted there, and the garrison took turns acting as valets to the aristocratic prisoners kept there by Royal order (not convicted by any court).

On July 14, 1789, the prisoner population consisted of four forgers, three madmen, and another. The forgers were aristocrats and were locked away in the Bastille rather than be sentenced by the regular courts. The madmen were kept in the Bastille in preference to the asylums: they were unmanageable at home, and needed to be locked away. The servants/warders were bribed to treat them well. The Bastille was stormed; the garrison was slaughtered to a man, some being stamped to death; their heads were displayed on pikes; and the prisoners were freed. The forgers vanished into the general population. The madmen were sent to the general madhouse. The last person freed was a young man who had challenged the best swordsman in Paris to a duel, and who had been locked up at his father's insistence lest he be killed. This worthy joined the mob and took on the name of Citizen Egalite. He was active in revolutionary politics until Robespierre had him beheaded in The Terror.

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events...
I'll also leave you with this link to his thoughts on "Nature vs. nurture" as it relates to imperialism, the Iraq War and our Republic:
Humans are flawed, whether by Original Sin or by imperfect evolution. Good societies do not just happen, and they are seldom if ever built by design. They grow. They have roots, they are maintained by customs and traditions, some of which we do not even understand. One approaches such a society with awe, and tends to its flaws as one would the wounds of a father, tenderly and with care, with a scalpel not an axe.

Edmund Burke expressed this in political terms, and is the intellectual father of modern political conservatism, but the view has its roots in the ancients including Cicero and Aristotle. Plato wrote of his ideal Republic in which the philosophers would be kings and guardians, and build the perfect state in which there was the theory of freedom, but not much in practice: his Republic looks more like Sparta than Athens. Aristotle by contrast studied the constitutions of hundreds of states, and had what conservatives believe is a more realistic view: man has a nature; it is malleable but not infinitely so; and the affairs of men follow patterns.
He points to a writer I wasn't aware of, and about whom I'll have a post later, Vilfredo Pareto.

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