The French pandemonium 4

Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin) the next essay in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part Two).

The title of the new essay is The French Pandemonium (One).

It continues a discussion of the Romantic movement which – the series argues – arises from the same need in the human psyche that requires religion. In France, the most influential poets, novelists, essayists and philosophers have been those who have cultivated rebellion against what they call “bourgeois society”. Some of the most eminent of them bluntly declare that their rebellion is a choice of Evil.

Of course not all the French writers of the post-Enlightenment centuries have been Romantics or conscious advocates of Evil. But those who “chose Evil” stoked the fires of destructive rebellion in generations of European intellectuals and have had by far the greater effect on history. In the twentieth century they became so popular and powerful that they helped create the New Left; incited seasons of violent protest demonstrations on city streets throughout Europe and even on other continents; inspired the formation of European terrorist gangs; and implanted their anti-civilization ideology as a new dogma in schools and academies throughout the Western world, including America. As the series continues it will explain how the anti-Americanism of the Left, even in America itself, springs from the European intellectual movement against our civilization.

Here is the first part of the essay:

A pandemonium is a gathering of all the demons or devils. Devils are expected to be noisy, so the word has come to mean a deafening cacophony of shrieking voices.

What the voices of this pandemonium clamor for, is “Evil”. It is not an insult to call them demons; it is an acknowledgment of their choice. They choose Evil, they call for Evil, they acclaim Evil, they are for Evil.

And what are they against? They are against What Is. They are against our civilization. They are against the bourgeois, whom they hold responsible for everything that’s wrong with our civilization: free enterprise industrialization; liberal democracy; parliamentarianism; conservatism.

It was in France that the clamor was loudest among certain poets and novelists and philosophers to épater le bourgeois – shock the bourgeoisin the nineteenth century, reaching a crescendo between the world wars of the twentieth century, rising again after the end of the second. A racket of foaming hate; a literary hue and cry after the middle-class citizen.

As you may have noticed, the bourgeoisie is, in fact, the all-achieving class. Almost everything of value since the Enlightenment, including the Enlightenment itself, has issued from the middle-class; every invention, every discovery, every advance, with so few exceptions they can be counted on a few of your fingers. But to the demons of poetry and philosophy and revolution, the bourgeois was everything that was wrong with Life: the bourgeois with his politesse, his prudence, his order and cleanliness, his comfortable house, his good-quality clothes, his well-stocked larder, his prosperity, his faithfulness to duty, his thrifty habits … “No, no,” the scornful voices yell, interrupting me. “Its not just that, it’s … it’s … it’s his complacency, his bad taste, his narrow-mindedness, his privilege, his exploitation of underdogs, his obsession with material things – and his stupid sexual inhibition. Those, don’t you see, are the unbearable traits that make him a worthy target of our artistic fury. He does not, cannot feel as we do. Down with him! Grind him into the dust! ”

But it is the againstness itself that characterizes the demons. If every one of those despicable things about the bourgeois were overcome or destroyed (as every one of them was in Communist Russia), and civilization wholly laid to waste, the urge would rage on, its hunger unappeased, hunting its everlasting prey: What Is. To them, as to the Gnostics of old, everything that is here is bad; the good lies beyond.

Whatever words have been used to describe the Paris fashions in scorn – modernism, post-modernism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction – they are all expressions of rebellion. To be a rebel is to be heroic. Despised and rejected by the bourgeois herd, the rebel is a martyr to his deep passion for art, his higher vision of a better world.

To protest against the bourgeois idea of what is good, the demons advocated doing whatever the bourgeois considered evil. They placed themselves in a French counter-tradition, a line that runs from Rousseau with his belief in the primacy of feeling and sentiment, through Robespierre with his Terror, the Marquis de Sade with his penchant for sexual torture, the nineteenth century poets Charles Baudelaire with his Flowers of Evil and Arthur Rimbaud with his Season in Hell, and on through the intellectual trend-setters – whom we will come to – of twentieth century French literature and their continuing effects. There are still reigning French demons in the twenty-first century. It is a dynasty of the defiant. …

You can find all of it here.

  • liz

    Jillian, thanks for sharing your in-depth knowledge and fascinating insights of this history. As I read it I become aware of the many ways these irrational, destructive ideas have influenced thought and politics throughout history.
    It renews my appreciation of the value of life, liberty, and the “bourgeois” pursuit of happiness!

  • consvltvs

    There was a PBS interview of Jacques Barzun, in which he disputed with Charlie Rose the influence of the French philosophes on the American revolutionaries. Barzun insisted that the American founding owed more (intellectually–the French fleet was another matter) to Locke and the traditional rights of Englishmen than to continental ideas. From what I have read, I’d have to agree with Barzun. Nonetheless, though we may not be as far along the road to Pandaemonium, we certainly have our own, similar, dominant cacophony against which to contend. Somehow the virus infected us as well.

    My own developing idea about all this is incomplete. It does seem to me that the Left has largely conquered our culture by starting in the universities. All lawyers, all judges, all reporters, all teachers, all ministers, and all filmmakers have passed through the indoctrination of the university. It’s easy to ascribe this process to a conspiracy–to cultural marxism, or international Jewry, or what have you. In my view, there is a simpler explanation: the logic of egalitarianism. Once we accept the rhetoric of our Declaration (everyone is equal), we cannot mount a logical defense against the special claims of every group. Why should gay people not be able to marry each other? Why should women not serve in combat? Why should anyone be allowed to have more money than anyone else? Add to this a tendency toward universalism, and the average university scholar will have little immunity to the radical egalitarian germ. So, we have a perfection of the anti-bourgeois political correctness without the need for conspiracy theories. There may be demons, but there need not be a Master Devil.

    I look forward to reading the rest of the essay.

    • Thank you for your thoughts on this, consvltvs.

      Would it have been better if the Founders had left out the word “equal”? They were plainly thinking of the citizens of a republic having no person above them, unlike the subjects in a kingdom. In their time, they could have meant equality only in the eyes of the law (though slaves were excepted then, and there must always be the exceptions of children and lunatics). Perhaps they should have made it clearer that that was what they meant. (So every free man has the same right to marry a woman as every other man, and every free woman the same right as every other woman to marry a man. They surely could not have visualized a time when persons of the same gender would want to marry.) They certainly could not have meant economic equality, because the idea simply makes no sense at all among free men. It’s an impossibility without government compulsion to the point of absolute subjection amounting to slavery. To desire economic equality is to desire a Master Devil.

      I agree with you that the poison entered America’s veins through the universities. The poison is slowly reversing the success of the American revolution. The American revolutionaries chose Reason, the French chose Romanticism – as earlier essays in the first part of “The Darkness of This World” explains. Barzun, as you have reported him, was broadly right. (Only, not all the philosophes were Romantics.)

      • consvltvs

        Jillian, I can’t really say things would have been better or worse if Jefferson had omitted “equal” from the Declaration. Your point that the Founders were thinking of the citizens of a republic with no person above them makes sense to me. I’m just thinking of an analogy to the “reductio ad absurdum,” something like “extensio ad absurdum” if that conveys anything. The idea is that the international liberal rhetoric has taken the principle of equality under the law and extended it absurdly to equality in all respects. Such a goal, for all its superficial logical consistency, necessarily implies tyranny. But our academics seem to have believed all along in this kind of consistency, as well as the universal application of all moral and political principles. Lately, I’ve begun to lose my conviction that western political ideals are applicable worldwide. This makes me sound like a cultural relativist, I know, but perhaps in some ways relativism is more realistic than universalism. Or maybe it’s just a matter of patience.

        In the meantime, the universities continue spewing these poisonous memes. And now that I think of it, perhaps they aren’t as consistent as I was giving them credit for. At least, not any longer. Consider: There is no less liberal system of values on Earth today than Islam, and yet the most Leftist of so-called liberals cannot bring themselves to denounce it. How can the same people who denounce, say, a pioneering scientist’s tacky shirt as sexist, fail to denounce ISIS/ISIL for actually selling women as slaves? It’s breathtaking.