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Bush’s Dangerous Liaisons

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  • mohammad imran
    NY Times Opinion Pge Op-Ed Contributor Bush’s Dangerous Liaisons By FRANÇOIS FURSTENBERG Published: October 28, 2007 Montreal MUCH as George W. Bush’s
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 29, 2007
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      NY Times Opinion Pge

      Op-Ed Contributor
      Bush’s Dangerous Liaisons

      By FRANÇOIS FURSTENBERG
      Published: October 28, 2007

      Montreal

      MUCH as George W. Bush’s presidency was ineluctably shaped by Sept. 11,
      2001, so the outbreak of the French Revolution was symbolized by the
      events of one fateful day, July 14, 1789. And though 18th-century
      France may seem impossibly distant to contemporary Americans, future
      historians examining Mr. Bush’s presidency within the longer sweep of
      political and intellectual history may find the French Revolution
      useful in understanding his curious brand of 21st- century
      conservatism.

      Soon after the storming of the Bastille, pro-Revolutionary elements
      came together to form an association that would become known as the
      Jacobin Club, an umbrella group of politicians, journalists and
      citizens dedicated to advancing the principles of the Revolution.

      The Jacobins shared a defining ideological feature. They divided the
      world between pro- and anti-Revolutionaries — the defenders of liberty
      versus its enemies. The French Revolution, as they understood it, was
      the great event that would determine whether liberty was to prevail on
      the planet or whether the world would fall back into tyranny and
      despotism.

      The stakes could not be higher, and on these matters there could be no
      nuance or hesitation. One was either for the Revolution or for tyranny.

      By 1792, France was confronting the hostility of neighboring countries,
      debating how to react. The Jacobins were divided. On one side stood the
      journalist and political leader Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, who
      argued for war.

      Brissot understood the war as preventive — “une guerre offensive,” he
      called it — to defeat the despotic powers of Europe before they could
      organize their counter-Revolutionary strike. It would not be a war of
      conquest, as Brissot saw it, but a war “between liberty and tyranny.”

      Pro-war Jacobins believed theirs was a mission not for a single nation
      or even for a single continent. It was, in Brissot’s words, “a crusade
      for universal liberty.”

      Brissot’s opponents were skeptical. “No one likes armed missionaries,”
      declared Robespierre, with words as apt then as they remain today. Not
      long after the invasion of Austria, the military tide turned quickly
      against France.

      The United States, France’s “sister republic,” refused to enter the war
      on France’s side. It was an infuriating show of ingratitude, as the
      French saw it, coming from a fledgling nation they had magnanimously
      saved from foreign occupation in a previous war.

      Confronted by a monarchical Europe united in opposition to
      revolutionary France — old Europe, they might have called it — the
      Jacobins rooted out domestic political dissent. It was the beginning of
      the period that would become infamous as the Terror.

      Among the Jacobins’ greatest triumphs was their ability to appropriate
      the rhetoric of patriotism — Le Patriote Français was the title of
      Brissot’s newspaper — and to promote their political program through a
      tightly coordinated network of newspapers, political hacks,
      pamphleteers and political clubs.

      Even the Jacobins’ dress distinguished “true patriots”: those who wore
      badges of patriotism like the liberty cap on their heads, or the
      cocarde tricolore (a red, white and blue rosette) on their hats or even
      on their lapels.

      Insisting that their partisan views were identical to the national
      will, believing that only they could save France from apocalyptic
      destruction, Jacobins could not conceive of legitimate dissent.
      Political opponents were treasonous, stabbing France and the Revolution
      in the back.

      To defend the nation from its enemies, Jacobins expanded the
      government’s police powers at the expense of civil liberties, endowing
      the state with the power to detain, interrogate and imprison suspects
      without due process. Policies like the mass warrantless searches
      undertaken in 1792 — “domicilary visits,” they were called — were
      justified, according to Georges Danton, the Jacobin leader, “when the
      homeland is in danger.”

      Robespierre — now firmly committed to the most militant brand of
      Jacobinism — condemned the “treacherous insinuations” cast by those who
      questioned “the excessive severity of measures prescribed by the public
      interest.” He warned his political opponents, “This severity is
      alarming only for the conspirators, only for the enemies of liberty.”
      Such measures, then as now, were undertaken to protect the nation —
      indeed, to protect liberty itself.

      If the French Terror had a slogan, it was that attributed to the great
      orator Louis de Saint-Just: “No liberty for the enemies of liberty.”
      Saint-Just’s pithy phrase (like President Bush’s variant, “We must not
      let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty
      itself”) could serve as the very antithesis of the Western liberal
      tradition.

      On this principle, the Terror demonized its political opponents,
      imprisoned suspected enemies without trial and eventually sent
      thousands to the guillotine. All of these actions emerged from the
      Jacobin worldview that the enemies of liberty deserved no rights.

      Though it has been a topic of much attention in recent years, the
      origin of the term “terrorist” has gone largely unnoticed by
      politicians and pundits alike. The word was an invention of the French
      Revolution, and it referred not to those who hate freedom, nor to
      non-state actors, nor of course to “Islamofascism.”

      A terroriste was, in its original meaning, a Jacobin leader who ruled
      France during la Terreur.

      François Furstenberg, a professor of history at the University of
      Montreal, is the author of "In the Name of the Father: Washington’s
      Legacy, Slavery and the Making of a Nation."
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