Happy Bastille Day

July 14, 2005

Happy Bastille Day to all Frenchies out there. Anyone doing anything to celebrate?

Today two minutes of silence in many countries around Europe to commemorate the victims of the recent terror in London might put somewhat of a damper on things.

I always think about the French Revolution in comparison to the American Revolution. Sorry if that is politically incorrect or somehow culturally egocentric. The two revolutions do seem to provide an interesting case study in opposites.

Goethe and Schiller were both appalled at the terror and insanity of the French Revolution. The wholesale slaughter of people by virtue alone of the circumstances into which they were born was something that even the Storm-and-Stress genius Schiller couldn’t stomach, despite his frequent calls for freedom from tyranny and corruption in his earlier literature. Goethe disdained the French Revolution, not so much because of his aristocratic ties as because its method was truly repugnant to him. He firmly believed in the improvement and education of humanity through a harmonious evolutionary–and aesthetic–process, and not through a bloodlust-inspired reign of terror that replaces a tyranny of birth with a tyranny of ideology.

The murderous totalitarianism of the early years of the French Revolution fortunately do not live on in the latest French Republic. Life is very pleasant, and liberty reigns in many aspects of life in modern-day France. But some vestiges of the French Revolution’s paranoia remain, such as the misguided concept of laïcité, or the secular humanism that directs France’s policy toward religious freedom and the separation of Church and State, a policy that is openly hostile against rather than neutral toward religion and which disparately impacts religions other than Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism.

France, like Belgium, proclaims constitutional doctrines of religious freedom and state neutrality toward religion while at the same time maintaining official state-run lists of “dangerous cults” on which perfectly benign religions such as Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Hare Krishnas, and literally hundreds of others, find themselves. Religious freedom in France is similar to religious freedom in the Ukraine where that doctrine means you are free to belong to the Orthodox religion, otherwise you are guaranteed state persecution. In France, you are free to be atheist, Catholic, or perhaps Protestant, but if you belong to virtually any other religion, you will have to resign yourself to perpetual official religious persecution perpetrated by the state, any neutrality rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

So Happy Bastille Day, everyone.