The problem of income inequality is currently being touted as the biggest problem in America today, (following, of course, the problem of our “illegitimate” 45th President), by leftist leaders in this nation, and worldwide. As with all the bold, new ideas of the American, and international left, this is a much recycled idea, the solutions of which have been tried, and tried, and tried, and failed not only miserably but often catastrophically.
This is most notable in the ultimate class envy contretemps, that of the French Revolution, from 1789 – 1799 throughout the nation of France. In this decade long nightmare of cataclysmic national horror, those who did not have, (from the bourgeoisie on down), not only wanted what the haves (the aristocrats and the clergy) had, but they wanted those who had had previously to suffer for having had.
And suffer those of the Ancien Regime (the pre-Revolutionary way of doing things) did – more than 40,000 individuals died during the years of the Terror alone, just a brief part of the Revolutionary decade. Most of these murdered individuals were killed by guillotine for the crime of being, or suspected of being, artistocrats, or ‘aristos,’ as they were known at the time, or even just being associated with the doomed upper classes.
Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back.
It is admitted even by defenders of the Revolution in France that there were ‘excesses’ during this period in French history. There was a particularly astute observer of some of these ‘excesses,’ a most remarkable man of a group of remarkable men, the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Gouverneur Morris, a largely unacknowledged genius of this collection of men of this period, had been assigned as our chief diplomat to France, and turned out to be the only foreign diplomat to remain in France during the Terror. He was a quite large man (he was actually the body double for the Rodin statue of George Washington, another very large man, that stands in the museum at Mount Vernon today), and known for his bravery and equanimity, but even Gouverneur Morris wasn’t prepared for what the Terror held in store.
Striving for income equality for all was all well and good, and going to great lengths to achieve it was one thing, but some of the methods utilized by the Jacobins during the Terror was a bit over the top. Some methods used to take from the haves to give to the have nots weren’t as simple as a bullet to the brain or the fall of the blade of the guillotine – they involved a hand in the shape of a claw reaching into the chest cavity of a living human being and ripping out the heart. Then the revolutionary would munch on the heart in front of the still living ‘donor,’ at least as long as that poor individual would continue breathing.
This is exactly what Gouverneur Morris declared having witnessed during his tenure as US Ambassador in France, and that and other such images of Revolutionary activity stuck with him. Another example: on “August 10, 1792, Morris, in his legation across the river from the royal palace of the Tuileries, heard ‘the Cannon begin.’ The palace was attacked and the King’s Swiss Guard slaughtered, and Louis and his family took refuge in the Assembly; from there they went to prison and eventually, execution. The Comte de Montmorin was seized and would later die in the September Massacres; another one of Morris’s co-conspirators was beaten to death in the street, and a third would be one of the first to die on the guillotine.”
An urbane, erudite and quite sophisticated gentleman, Morris had grown to love France, (in large part due to a love interest he developed while in residence in Paris – the gentleman was known to love the ladies), and though he understood the need for change in French society, like his great friend George Washington, he did not agree with the methods being used in this movement to achieve this change. Unlike his other great friend Thomas Jefferson, he came to loathe the French Revolution and all it stood for.
As he stated at the time: “Since I have been in this Country, I have seen the Worship of many Idols and but little of the true God. I have seen many of those Idols broken, and some of them beaten to Dust. I have seen the late Constitution in one short Year admired as a stupendous Monument of human Wisdom and I wish much, very much, the Happiness of this inconstant People. I love them. I feel grateful for their Efforts in our Cause and I consider the Establishment of a good Constitution here as the principal Means, under divine Providence, of extending the blessings of Freedom to the many millions of my fellow Men who groan in Bondage on the Continent of Europe. But I do not greatly indulge the flattering Illusions of Hope, because I do not yet perceive that Reformation of Morals without which Liberty is but an empty Sound ridiculed as an egregious Production of Folly and Vice.”
During some particularly contentious discussions by the warring Revolutionary factions, Morris observed: “It is impossible to imagine a more disorderly Assembly. They neither reason, examine, nor discuss. They clap those whom they approve and hiss those whom they disapprove. Everything almost is elective, and consequently no one obeys. It is an anarchy beyond conception, and they will be obliged to take back their chains for some time to come at least. And so much for that licentious spirit which they dignify with the name of ‘Love of Liberty.’ Their Literati, whose heads are turned by romantic notions picked up in books, and who are too lofty to look down upon that kind of man which really exists, and too wise to heed the dictates of common-sense and experience, have turned the heads of their countrymen.”
Sound familiar, oh lefties of the world? Card-carrying members of the revolution, (that is, the Intifa, Black Lives Matter, George Soros one), are the last to recognize the damage that results from their use of class envy to foment hatred, chaos and havoc. Those of the French Revolution didn’t recognize it until it was too late, and it doesn’t look like we are going to get it, either, despite the reports from the field by Gouverneur Morris. A final quote about the great man speaking of a member of the French Orwellian-named Committee on Public Safety:
“He just never thinks these people have what it takes to run a country. They have no experience. They don’t know what they’re doing. All their politics is from books. It has to fail.”
Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.