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Happy Fourth of August

August the 4th 1789…

The day when the serfs (the few serfs there actually were in France) were freed and the day that all the old taxes and feudal restrictions were abolished.

Yes I know that what went before this day was evil and what came after this day was evil – but the day itself was good.

The one good day of the French Revolution.

Although (before the pedants start to bash me) I know the repeals did not fit into exactly this 24 hour period.

But the 4th of August has become known for the pro liberty moves.

8 comments to Happy Fourth of August

  • I don’t like the idea of Paul Marks’s historical erudition going uncommented upon, hence this comment.

    The problem is, with a posting like this, most of us have nothing to add, not that we aren’t interested.

  • John B

    Thank you for the July 4th greetings!

    The truth regarding events can seem to be so competently obscured, I do wonder about it all, what actually happened.
    How, for instance, was western civilisation persuaded into committing suicide with WW1 and then WW2. Nothing seems to get quite to the truth of it. Rather, just explores the excuses.

    And, yes, the French Revolution: How it came about and developed. Were those people high-jacked by the very forces from which they were seeking to be free?
    And then under the name of liberty used to extinguish, in large part, the hopes and dreams they were trying to liberate?
    Is Breivik Anders the norm rather than the exception, when liberty gets too close to the powers that be?

    You may think that dangerously conspiratorial. However, it has been observation that has led me to conclusions in that direction.
    I watched southern Africa being taken apart (for nobody’s real benefit that I can identify) and how it was done so from within the very forces that one might have supposed were trying to preserve the old order. (The Marxist forces were never militarily a real, serious, threat. And now. Is Tiny Rowland cross that he backed Nkomo? And why do something stupid? With hindsight it is obvious that if one removed the checks and balances and encouraged mob rule, that Mugabe would win. His tribe is bigger.)

    Also how the Shah was deposed. I had a copy of his book “My Story”, when it came out, wherein were some interesting allegations.

    I see clever, intelligent people doing stupid things for no apparent benefit, I even see them leaning over backwards to do them (Cameron and the EU?).
    Yes, people make mistakes and there is the cock up factor.
    But I think Garet Garrett has the sense of it in that piece I keep quoting:

    “Worse outwitted were those who kept trying to make sense of the New Deal from the point of view
    of all that was implicit in the American scheme, charging it therefore with contradiction, fallacy,
    economic ignorance, and general incompetence to govern.

    “But it could not be so embarrassed . . . . . regarded from the point of view of
    revolutionary technique, it made perfect sense. Its meaning was revolutionary and it had no other.

    “For what it meant to do, it was from the beginning consistent in principle, resourceful, intelligent,
    masterly in workmanship, and it made not one mistake.”

    But why, actually, do they do it?

  • Tom

    “What went before this day was evil.”

    Really? What was wrong with the foregoing events? It is now libertarian to support royal absolutism?

  • But why, actually, do they do it?

    The only motivation that repeatedly makes sense to me, John, every time I examine this issue, is the thirst for power. To me, it explains everything, every time.

  • Paul Marks

    John you are hardly being odd to think that conspiracy was involved in the French Revolution.

    Althought it is also true that nonconspriacy factors (such as the failed harvests, caused by the volcanic activity in Iceland – and just the hopelessly weak character of Louis XVI, how can one have a “Royal Absolutism” political system if the King himself is a weak man who tends to follow the line of whoever is shouting at him the loudest?).

    It is hardly a secret that the Duke of Orleans (the richest man in France) financially backed Revolutionary activity – and it is even true that Free Masonary (that obsession of people interested in conspiracies) was actively involved. I must stress that Free Masonary in France was (and is) a very different thing from Free Masonary in Britain.

    Sometimes conspiracies work, sometimes they do not.

    Sometimes they end in farce – for example the famous Bavarian Illuminatti put all their plans (from opposition to private property, to trying to encourage promiscuity in women, as a way of undermining familes and so on) down on paper – and the plans got found. “That is just what they want you to think Paul” – no they really were morons.

    Although, of course, all the plans have been taken up again in the 20th century (“new” left, “cultural” left and so on – but normally without any nod at the old plotter of Ingolstadt.

    Sometimes criminal enterises are just the same – a vast network of crime in Spain (many, many years ago) was uncovered by a policeman who took the wrong turn in a bar (he was looking for the toilet) and came upon their detailed files.

    I seem to remember something similar happening in France.


    Is it libertarian to support Royal Absolutism – well not in France it would not be (Louis XV had decided not to get rid of the statist system imposed by Louis XIV – and as for Louis XVI, well see above about him).

    However, there was plenty of evil before August the 4th.

    For example, plundering is evil – and so is murder.

    And such things had already happened.

    As for a social economic explination – for those of you who like that sort of thing.

    Most of the leading American Revolutionaries were farmers (identified by Aristotle and Cicero as tending to be conservative).

    Most of the leading French Revolutionaries were lawyers (although not leading lawyers – more officials of courts) and admistrators.

    However, as the last farmer to be President do the United States was James Earl Carter, I have my doubts about this sort socioeconomic explination.

    Actually the truth is not that difficult.

    Take the most pro liberty documents of the French Revolution – the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

    Now compare it to the American Bill of Rights.

    They look like the products of the same sort of thinking – till when reads closely, then it becomes clear that the Declaration of the Rights of Man is from a very different school of thought.


    Has this comment not gone on long enough?

  • Paul Marks

    Seriously the comparison would go on a bit.

    However, I will make another point (although I am surprised that no one has made it already).

    In the modern world August the 4th is overshadowed by the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 – the start of the war in the West.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    with the French Revolution, they tried to change everything at the same time. The Americans had long traditions of Democracy to draw on- what traditions did the French have?
    I would rather celebrate August the First, because in the year 1833, slaves were freed throughout the British Empire- and that law has never been repealed.
    All we need to do now is get the Anti-Slavery League to take up the case of the Wage-slave. No more Taxes!

  • Paul Marks

    I would say that the Americans had long traditions of civil society and self governing insitutions – rather than “democracy”.

    In France civil society had been undermined.

    One need not go back to the adoption of peacetime taxation (in the middle ages) and the big government it created. Or even to the antics of such centralizing and power obsessed Kings as Philip “the fair” and Louis “the spider” (both in the Middle Ages), let us just look at the position in the 18th century.

    In every town there was a compulsory guild system (the problem was not guilds – it was the fact they were compulsory). This had been true since the degree of Henry IV.

    Also in almost every provice (with the exception of Brittany and a couple of others) the collection of taxation was in the hands of “tax farmers” who were both ruthless and corrupt.

    Even under Louis XIV (a century before the Revolution) the complex, corrupt and brutal tax and tax collection system of France had been examined (and exposed) by such men as General Vauban – his book “The Royal Tithe” showed that even a tax of ten percent would both gather more revenue and reduce the burden on the ordinary taxpayers. All other taxes (and how they were collected) being abolished.

    Yet nothing was done – indeed the book was ordered to be burned by the public hangman (it offended to many special interests).

    Louis XIV was wrong headed and statist.

    Louis XV was conservative with a small “c”. He did nothing really bad – but it was not in his nature to really replace a system that just did not work.

    And Louis XVI was hopelessly weak – he could not even keep hold of his own position.

    This is the story of France in the 18th century.

    Power IN THEORY centralized in the hands of one man (the King) – with even the selection of Bishops being in his hands (not those of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome – the reforms of the 1500s Council of Trent were not really in place in France even in 1789) and the Kings being no subsitute for a strong civil society.

    Corruption was not universal (there were many honest people – even in the highest positions). But it was in every institution.

    For example, in the Church – such things as Bishops plotting the destruction of what was left of civil society were considered not wildly unusal.

    After all even Rousseau learned his collectivism from the Abbe de Mably (in whose household he worked as a tutor).

    Indeed Louis XVI caused shock when (in a rare moment of energy) he opposed the appointment of a new Bishop of Paris on the grounds that the man was a athiest.

    See how “the Crown” did not mean the person of the King (the Crown picked Bishops, not the Church, but when the King tried to get personally involved in what his “servants” were doing…..) and look at the reaction…

    “What a silly King – why should a Bishop have to believe in God….”

    A society this corrupt is a “dead man walking”.