By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
(This is the first chapter in a new book, France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values. Please click here for the article which announces this book and explains its goals.)
It would be boring to defend the French Revolution by showing the moral and intellectual worth of its left spectrum – of Danton and Robespierre, Marat and Babeuf. What’s far more interesting is to examine the right’s assessment and criticisms of 1789. If we do so we will be exceptionally rewarded – after all, we unearth the very foundation of Western conservatism.
Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is the Bible of modern conservatism, with Burke regarded as that ideology’s indisputable philosophical founder. It is no exaggeration to call him the “Marx of conservatism”. For those who don’t believe that – simply read this first section.
It’s not only Burke’s political philosophy which has become dominant in the West, but his economic philosophy prevails today as well. Read Adam Smith’s evaluation of Burke: “…the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us.”
Additionally, just as conservatives today despise the “fake money” of Bitcoin – which is creating a new class (both a class of monied persons and a class of investment type) – so Burke railed against the French Revolution’s creation of paper “fake money”. The assignats were paper bonds created by the projected bonanza which would be reaped from the sales of the newly confiscated estates of the Roman Catholic Church in France. Burke’s condemnation of this – and his promotion of wealth only based in land, gold and commerce – has become adored by stingy conservatives who distrust going off the gold standard in 1971, Quantitative Easting, Modern Monetary Policy and cryptocurrency. Burke was a member of the Whig Party, which established the Bank of England – the first central bank – giving him even more economic relevance to our era of banker domination.
As Burke fears a newly monied class will reduce the power of the established upper class, Reflections is full of apparently tolerant concerns (Burke was a Protestant) for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. Burke’s concerns are nothing but false piety masking his class interests, but Reflections is considered by today’s conservatives to be a righteous and modern call to defend your true church. Burke defends Christian monarchy as being free from despotism, it being Christian, after all. As for the aristocracy beneath the holy autocrat, Burke simultaneously insists that aristocrats in Christendom have always practiced the true faith… but they have been converted to atheism en masse in France over the last century. This mix of multicultural tolerance (as long as that culture is Christian) and loyalty to an unchanging establishment religion (no matter how infested with nobility and disregard for the poor) is quite similar to the religious stance of modern Western conservatives.
Burke also rails against calls for subverting the aristocratic world – a world full of hard-won merit, he insists – by a new media-political-intellectual class which has become divorced from the longtime forces of traditional wealth and the church. In the 21st century technocrats and meritocracy’s allegedly-deserving victors denounce a new intelligentsia: that of the masses, which is found on Facebook, social media, blogs, etc., which dare to contradict the mainstream media of sacred Western Liberal Democracy, which is – in fact – actually being run ever so well by the establishment’s elite.
Burke writes little about 1789’s abolition of seigneurial rights, mainly because it’s such an indefensible position – in typical English fashion it was certainly bad “manners” to talk of such things openly. Or rather, it had just become bad manners. Burke insisted that a truly noble nobility justifiably rules and oppresses because of the English triumph of social “manners” over ancient, individualistic and barbarous Greek “virtue”. This idea translated into the alliance between culture and aristocracy which so dramatically moulded the art of the subsequent Victorian Era. Again, Burke’s importance resonates with Marxian reach. The Western condemnation of “deplorable” Yellow Vests, Trumpers and Brexiteers for their lack of respect and awe is above all a continuation of Victorian repugnance for the “ill-mannered” and certainly ill-bred masses.
But wait, there’s more!
It’s said that much of Burke’s modern appeal is that he allegedly discovered the roots of modern totalitarianism: He was first intellectual to be spooked by the “spectre of 1789”, which is synonymous with the spectre of socialism, which modern conservatives falsely conflate with totalitarianism. What’s obvious to all is that the accusations against socialism as “totalitarian” from a class of hyper-privileged persons who fear losing their privileges – even if these privileges are abused and then revoked by popular, democratic revolution – are intellectually invalid barring extraordinary proofs of intellectual objectivity. Burke fails that test all over. Therefore the true base of Burke’s appeal here to modern conservatism is so hard to categorise that we can only call it psychological. It is easy to define, however: A desire to privilege illogic and inefficiency – the role of an “invisible hand” – in both economic and social affairs, something rejected by socialism’s central planning and demands for equality. Logic, science and mathematical reasoning must always appear terribly totalitarian to those, like Burke, who invariably resort to using an “invisible hand” in their equations which explain and order societal affairs. Burke does not use an “invisible hand” that is truly Godly, because it is not all-embracing and all-levelling, but instead the unplanned order found in hereditary right, unregulated markets, slavishly following an unchangeable tradition/past, and the unplanned order of the unpredictable eccentricities produced by a totally unchecked individuality/autocracy/libertarianism. Modern conservatives agree: an “invisible hand” ultimately rules, somehow, and all humans can do is work around it. Planning against the “invisible hand” is personally anathema to modern conservatives, especially rich ones.
Therefore, in economics, religion, intellectualism, culture and psychology you should see why I am starting off this book with Burke – he combines to become the absolute cornerstone of Western conservatism. Reflections on the Revolution in France distills what reasoning is used, and which is used still, to oppose every modern, progressive revolution.
Burke is the man who stood up to the Yellow Vests of 1789 and shouted them down as people who were trashing and upending the economy, who were godless demons that respected nothing, who were too stupid to be listened to much less govern, who were unmannered berserkers, who failed to comprehend that incomprehensibility in human affairs must be endured, and who must stop their critiques of monarchism on pain of being sent to the Bastille, which must be retaken.
Marx had Burke’s number: In a single word – “sycophant”.
Yellow Vest: “Our recent governments serve only the rich class, instead of serving the people – that’s the problem. France has enough money and produces many goods, but these are not distributed fairly. At the same time, our government is taking away the social rights we fought decades to win.”
(Note: this book intersperses over 100 quotations taken from actual, marching Yellow Vests which were originally published in news reports on PressTV.)
Burke hated 1789, but few realise he wrote just as poorly of nascent Western Liberal Democracy
However, it would be unfair and incorrect to say that conservatism in Western Liberal Democracy can be reduced to encouragements to become a slavish sycophant to the status quo because “conservatism” has universal values like family cohesion, respect for religion, thrift, hard work and modest pride in a modest amount of property. Such traditional concepts are easily also found in Confucianism, Hinduism, the Islamic World and even nomadic life. Therefore, to pin all the West’s faults on “conservatism” is illogical, foolish and doomed to failure.
Of course, many Western fake-leftists do exactly that – in the US, for example, the constant claim is that the Republican Party is the sole party responsible for all the evils at home and abroad. This totally ignores the failures of the Democratic Party and of Western Liberal Democracy itself. It’s easier to blame conservatism than to refine and enlighten one’s own leftism.
But read Burke’s masterwork and it’s truly impossible not to be struck by what a tremendous toady this Irishman was to English royalty! If the noble class were one-tenth as noble, blameless and competent as he repeatedly claims then nobody would have ever had the slightest notion to overthrow them. If the revolutionary class in France – which is to say, millions of people – were as vile, clueless and without merit as he claimed then they could not even have had the intelligence to tie their shoes much less envision an unprecedentedly democratic and egalitarian type of society.
Examples of his toadying are legion – his fairy-tale account of meeting Marie Antoinette produced eye-rolling even in Burke’s own day – so I will not waste time listing giving examples. Simply open Reflections on the Revolution in France to any page, stick your finger on a sentence and it will likely be describing the noble class as nothing but people who make Marcus Aurelius look unwise, every small-town cleric as improvers upon the philosophy of Jesus son of Mary, and the king as being an entity of – per the writing of one similar Hindu toady (whose name I forget) – such cosmic goodness that lighting bolts of pure enlightenment shoot out of his big toenail.
Burke’s book has become a manifesto because Western conservatives want to be affirmed in the idea that slow reformism of the status quo is the only sociopolitical solution, universally. “Keep calm and carry on”, universally, as opposed to discussing and implementing revolutionary changes which aim to improve equality immediately. He’s wrong: oligarchy disguised as ineffectual parliamentarianism (with a monarch or a prime minister or a president) is a less democratic and egalitarian system than those proposed by Socialist Democracy, and this was precisely the cry and proposed solution from the French Revolution up to the Yellow Vests.
But few read Burke for this: His book is also the ultimate takedown of modern Western Liberal Democracy at its very conception.
Therefore, we can read him and – undiscussed by modern conservatives – find some very just and salient criticisms of Western Liberal Democracy precisely when the child has first been placed in the cradle. This is the opposites of what modern conservatives usually mine Reflections on the Revolution in France for – to find criticisms of Socialist Democracy, which was also born in 1789.
What’s vital to realise is that Burke’s critique of Socialist (and Liberal) Democracy was not written after “the Terror” or after the rise of Napoleon or – shockingly – even after capital punishment was pronounced for Louis XVI. It was written at the very start of the revolution, in 1790: Burke is writing merely after the fall of the Bastille and the declaration of the end of feudalism! The king lives, but the god has been defiled by the hands of commoners, and Burke pauses in his sucking-up to write a very long letter, in a very protracted style, to a fellow aristocrat in France.
This change in the nature of medieval society is enough to shock Burke the Whig, who is a proto-Western Liberal Democrat because of his acceptance of monarchical oligarchy. He’s an aristocrat shocked at losing his privileges over the life and property of his workers. He can’t imagine that society doesn’t openly declare that his DNA is a cut above the “swinish multitude”. Burke’s shock helps explain why, as I will discuss in the next chapter, the 1688 Glorious Revolution – the birth of English parliamentarianism – is not the birth of modern democracy. It was merely the first limitation on European absolute autocracy, which is not modern.
This shock at the very start of the French Revolution form the completely counter-revolutionary basis of his passionate reflections, which are sent in letter form to a fellow aristocrat in France. The letter becomes history’s best example of intellectual opposition to the French Revolution from the point of view of both monarchy and modern Anglophone conservatism, and thus early Western Liberal Democracy. By examining the text which first criticised the actions of the obvious forebears of the Yellow Vests, we can see how the criticism of the Yellow Vests’ demands is not recent, but goes back over 230 years.
Yellow Vest: “For us it was not the ‘Great Debate’ but the ‘Great Smokescreen’. This is why many Yellow Vests quickly refused to participate. We know that nothing concrete will come from those one-way debates. It will ultimately make people even more disappointed in the government, and turn to the Yellow Vests with even more support.”
The notion of ending aristocratic rule: As shocking to the elite of yesterday as it is for today’s Western elite
The opposition to monarchy/autocracy and a demand for an equitable redistribution of wealth and political power – this is the battle of modern politics. Whether or not the autocrat is Emmanuel Macron, ruling by executive order and smashing the Yellow Vest demonstrations, or Louis XVI makes no difference in 2022: both their means and their ends are the same – political autocracy. From the time of Reflections publication to the Yellow Vests the demands have always been the same: More grassroots rights to political power and wealth for the masses than Western Liberal Democracy is willing to offer its citizens.
The great, galvanising crime for Burke was threefold, and I think only the last would be seriously debatable today, and even then only by a few: making the king finally answerable to a single parliament (no House of Lords) composed mainly of non-nobility, the abolition of feudal titles and rights and France’s nationalising of the Roman Catholic church.
Beginning with the last: It should be reminded that what we can call the “nationalisation” of the Roman Catholic church and the dissolution of the Roman Catholic monasteries occurred in England – via the creation of the Church of England – under Henry VIII, more than 250 years earlier than in France. The Whig Burke decried this for France even though the Whig Party’s early members came to economic prominence in a large part from royal land grants of former Roman Catholic Church lands in England! This book will not debate the merits of Europe’s Protestant Revolution – I will simply take that revolution as a grassroots, honest desire for greater emancipation from the Vatican in many ways, economics included. Therefore, England had already profited from their spiritual independence for centuries, yet France should be faulted for doing the same so very much later? Cui bono – not monied Whigs invested in France, but a French nouveau riche and the French peasant, and thus Burke’s opposition.
What 1789 demanded was not a complete separation between republic and church, but a pledge of allegiance of the Roman Catholic Church to the new republic in order to create a better, more progressive and more locally-devoted clergy. Fifty-five percent of French clergy would accept to take this new Constitutional Oath, which (again, I am not entering into religious discussions here) can be fairly viewed as a modern and progressive demand to serve your local laypeople well and firstly. Contrarily, the Church of England in 1789 was precisely the same as their aristocratic parliament: a hierarchy headed by sycophants, largely limited to fellow nobles, who were engaged in maintaining the deeply embedded socioeconomic class disparities created by English feudalism. Napoleon’s Concordat of 1801 will make peace with the Vatican regarding these changes, and also cement a new and more progressive clergy for France. A complete separation between church and state would not occur until the passage of the “1905 French Law on the Separation of the Churches and State”. This pledge from a clergy towards a national democratic revolution was frightening to Burke because it exposed the alleged progressivism of England – which in 1788 had a claim to be perhaps the most progressive country in Europe – for what the nation remains today: an unmodern oligarchy with a rich, landowning church that refuses to engage in a serious questions of redistribution of wealth or political power.
Nationalising the church, attacking the social and economic privilege of the nobility via ending feudalism and constraining the king’s power with a parliament which doesn’t aim to collude in preserving an aristocratic oligarchy – these three crimes alone joined together to galvanise Burke into warning how the French Revolution heralded the slow death of the autocratic order of the oligarchy.
So the French Revolution has just begun and barely a drop of royal blood has been shed but Burke simply can’t believe his eyes – he thought that the era of aristocratic autocracy, supported by a clergy which looked the other way and an intelligentsia restricted to sanctioning the first two estates (as Burke did) would go on for ever.
Yellow Vest: ”France has turned into a system of oligarchy which is run by high finance, and we cannot take it anymore. This is why the Yellow Vests are demanding citizen referendums, especially regarding France’s banks and our economic policy. That’s the only way we can create jobs, schools, hospitals and peace in our country.”
The Western Liberal Democrats who oppose the Yellow Vests are precisely the same: they are modern day aristocrats who support the autocracy of the French executive, the elite-only justice of the judicial branch, care not that the legislative branch is just for show, who are unhindered by any appeals from a politically-active clergy, and who either decide to join or bow down to the dictates of the 21st media mainstream media intelligentsia.
Why do you think like this, Burke?!
This is why reading Reflections is so important – to find the initial but enduring justifications for autocracy, faux-meritocracy, technocracy of the inept, spiritual guidance from the unrighteous righteous and minds bent on subservience, i.e. a modern Western conservative whose conservatism exceeds just limits.
Natural law: We can do nothing about that which justifies every inequality
Burke’s ultimate rejoinder to attack the ideals of 1789 is that – and here we see the same justifications of Western Liberal Democratic leaders from the slave-trading time, to the start of imperialism in the Western hemisphere, to the eugenics movement, to today’s false “the rich deserve to stay rich because of ‘meritocracy’”: caste is “natural”.
Indeed, it’s that simple to Burke.
Don’t kill the messenger – I can’t be faulted for relating the faults of modern conservatism: logic, nor a study of history which aims to be as scientific as the subject will allow, nor humanity’s finest emotions and desires are a basis for society, but only an invisible hand of “natural” laws which dictate that a high and a low must be created and perpetually preserved.
This “natural” law is the basis of “conservatism” from England, to the caste of India, to the very rigid hierarchical view of Confucius, to the frightened and xenophobic worldview of tribes and nomads, etc. It’s a “bad” conservatism, as it refuses to be compatible with equality and modern, not medieval, justice.
Over and over in Reflections Burke justifies the privileges of the aristocracy based on some sort of “natural” superiority and the “natural” need for a subservient class in society in order to prevent proto-socialist “anarchy”, which a modern reader sees Burke confusing with the barest “equality”.
Absolutely crucially, he backs their theocratic right to rule – divinity is God-given via birth and bloodline. Burke believes that the highness is real and natural of “His and Her Royal Highness”. It’s so astoundingly forgotten that until the bloodletting of World War I nearly all of Europe was not just feudal police states but also theocracies: kings were kings by “divine right” and were often the heads of churches. England still is this way!
This is something which appears staggeringly obvious to Muslim readers of modern European history, but this incredibly awful theocratic rule in Europe seems to be totally unrecognised in Western descriptions of their political history and situation? It is totally unrecognised how this legacy affects Europeans of today? Europeans act as if they are as many millennia removed from caveman-ism as they are from being ardent supporters of the most irreligious type of theocracy?
Burke is not from the final era of total scoffers at the French Revolution’s Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but the very first. Again, it is glossed over in the West how even Liberal Democratic rights are so very new in Europe – the upcoming chapters will remind how the entire 19th century was a victory of Anglo-Germanic monarchical repression 1789. The wilful historical blindness of the Western mainstream – in order to promote ideas of Western exceptionalism and superiority – has lead to total ignorance regarding how monarchy is the cardinal sin of domestic culture.
Beyond this “natural law”, it’s clear that to Burke and conservatives that money matters, and it matters so much because the presence of money, to conservatives, bestows merit; papers over hypocrisies; make criticism easy to luxuriously ignore. Beyond the ending of harvest taxes, church tithes and other redistributions of wealth from the bottom upwards, the confiscations of the church estates in France began the rise of a revolutionary new “paper” assignat money, and as Burke scholar J.G.A. Peacock wrote: “This is the key to all his analyses of the Revolution, and is bound to remind us of earlier Tories who, in the reign of Queen Anne (reign: 1665-1714) had attacked the Whig ‘monied interest’ and declared that ‘the Church was in danger’.” I see his point, but beyond just the arrival of a paper money which went beyond the crux of the English economy at this time – an unparalleled extension of credit (also the crux of the United States in our time), the key to Burke’s analyses of the Revolution is more accurately: that of a typical modern conservative to any socialist redistribution of wealth or political influence.
Yellow Vest: “We will be marching every Saturday to demand our human rights and our human dignity. We are here because there is no economic justice in France. France is an oligarchy composed of political elite, union leaders and high finance. They suck the life and riches out of the real producers of our nation’s wealth – the workers.”
The Whigs were modern conservatives in their view that all money – whether landed, trade gained from imperialism or industrial wealth – were in harmony, unity and striving towards progress. As Marx would put it decades later – all wealth to the rich eventually “becomes bourgeois”. Burke opposed the paper assignat – his class would soon relent and profit from this type of financial instrument. Modern conservatism will, eventually, accept Bitcoin wealth because they eventually sanction any and all wealth. This is why Burke is a proto-Western Liberal Democrat despite his opposition to the end of absolute monarchy. Both Burke and the modern conservative believe the class war is wrong – the only just war is to fight your way up in class.
Conclusion: A Whiggish clerisy to sanction monied nobility until Judgment Day, which doesn’t exist
Many Whigs of the 21st century are attached to their own religion, but there, too, has been a reconciliation; an accommodation just as significant as between monarch and president/prime minister in Western Liberal Democracy – that of secularism, the new Western state religion, which is also a new religion founded on the state itself. In France it is called laïcité, and it has been employed as a major cultural distraction since the start of the Great Recession. The spate of terror attacks – in which France’s foreign policy in Syria, Mali, Afghanistan and elsewhere was seemingly always cited – gave laïcité even more media space.
In modern conservatism secularism is the iron law. Secularism necessarily promotes the production of a spiritually-indifferent, neutered, class-unconscious clerisy; secularism doesn’t make every citizen this way, but it necessarily produces a class dedicated to preserving secularism. This new clerisy can be attached to an established religion, or public agnosticism, or outright atheism, or even a bizarre new polytheism – as long as said new cleric does not promote mixing religion and politics/economics.
Yellow Vest: “The fire at Notre Dame touched everybody, but there is a big controversy over how we could raise a billion euros for a church so quickly, and why we can’t raise such an amount for poor people. There is a lot of anger, and a fire at Notre Dame is not going to change this mental reality.”
Western society considers itself to be the apex of progress because it has deposed the clergy but not nobility. The basis of this society is shaky: while it declares humans radically equal irrespective of religion it also declares humans radically unequal as regards to class.
Modern conservatism is Whiggish in that it conflates not just love of the nobility, or the neo-nobility, with patriotism, but religion with mere property: property is sacred, even though it is merely property, and to attack property is heresy in Western Liberal Democracy. (Except, of course, when that property is of those who choose a path different from Western Liberal Democracy, like Iranians, Cubans, Russians, etc. To such persons and nations religious feeling is not extended.)
Burkean conservatism is not modern but ancient. As applicable to modern society as Marx is Burke is as inapplicable, despite Burke’s present-day proponents. He is not modern because he writes not to defend the average person’s home, goods and religion but only those of a hereditary aristocracy, which any modern person must disavow. I am speaking of the vital difference between the right to personal conservatism and a political, social and economic conservatism which combats society’s efforts to introduce modern, humane equality.
Therefore it is vital that the modern leftist wrests justified conservatism from the elitists like Burke in favor of a conservatism which also supports revolutionary political ideals – and egalitarianism has always been revolutionary in Europe.
Conservative types of values are what help anchor society, and that includes revolutionary societies – the difference is in the political-economic bedrock on which your society is founded.
The next chapter, Glorious Revolution of 1688: England declares ‘death to all other revolutions’, examines Burke’s primary thesis: That one is not permitted to remake society into something new because to wipe out the historical context which shaped that society would be immoral. It’s a nice, stable, conservative point of view – but only if you are currently on the top of the pyramid!
Upcoming chapter list of the brand-new content in France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values. The book will also include previous writings from 2018 through the 2022 election in order to provide the most complete historical record of the Yellow Vests anywhere. What value! Publication date: June 1, 2022.
Pre-orders of the paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the Kindle version may be made here.
Pre-orders of the French paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the French Kindle version may be made here.
Chapter List of the new content
- New book announcement – ‘France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s best values’ – March 15, 2022
- Introduction: A Yellow Vests’ history must rewrite both recent & past French history – May 20, 2022
- The UK’s endless reaction: 1789 & feudalism’s end creates modern conservatism
- Glorious Revolution of 1688: England declares ‘death to all other revolutions’
- Modern political history makes no sense if Napoleon is not a leftist revolutionary
- The Revolutions of 1848: Because Liberalism can’t say the ‘Counter-Revolutions of 1848’
- Louis-Napoleon: The revolutionary differences between Bonapartism & Western Liberal Democracy
- The Paris Commune: The true birth of neoliberalism and EU neo-imperialism
- Where the West is stuck: The fascism of the 1930s and the ‘fascism’ of the 2020s
- On ‘Leon Trotsky on France’ in order to reclaim Trotsky from Trotskyists
- The Yellow Vests’ childhood: Seeing French elites, only, swayed by neoliberalism
- No one here is actually in charge: How the EU empire forced the Yellow Vests
- The radicalisation by Europe’s ongoing Lost Decade: the Great Recession changes France
- To Yellow Vests he’s the radical: Macron and ‘Neither Right nor Left but the Bourgeois Bloc’
- Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for a century
- Who are they, really? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces
- Yellow Vest Win: Ending the West’s slandering of all popular movements as far-right xenophobes
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western anarcho-syndicalism & unions as leftism’s hereditary kings
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western parliamentarianism as the most progressive government
- Yellow Vest Win: Reminding us of the link between fascist violence & Western democracy
- What the Yellow Vests can be: a group which can protect liberalism’s rights, at least
- The 2022 vote: The approach needed for ‘Before’- what came ‘After’ polls closed
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.