Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Exercise in Futility: Freedom, Equality without God

On this day, July 14, 1786, the frustration of the French people towards their government culminated in the storming of the Bastille. This kicked off the French Revolution.

The revolution was run under the banner of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." This reflected the ideals of the enlightenment to treat their fellow man as equal, and of worth because they were all human. The goal was to create a society which saw all others as equal, but without the oppressive restrictions of a Deity.

Although the French Revolution occurred quickly after the American Revolution, and it seemed to be built on similar philosophies of value, France did not have nearly the stability of government as the United States after their revolution. Quickly after the end of the revolution, the Reign of Terror began. Among other things, the Reign of Terror is noted for sending thousands of people to their death at the guillotine, which was considered humanitarian compared with other methods. Those who were taken to the guillotine were taken because they had different political ideas than the new regime.

This is wholly unlike anything which occurred after the American Revolution. How do two revolutions with such like ideals produce two completely separate results?

The answer comes from each revolutions grounding or basis for the equality they sought and fought for. In the United States, equality of persons was something "endowed by their creator," but this is not true of the ideals of the French.

The French tried to base their equality in their own humanity. They had fully bought into the enlightenment ideals of the epitome of man. Unfortunately, morals have no true basis in this worldview. Morality becomes a he said, she said proposition. This culminated in the French not actually believing in the equality they had initially fought for. Instead, there was only equality for those who held the same political views as those in power.

The French Revolution seems to be something we would all cheer for, but instead it is really about how life would truly be without God. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared, "Without God, everything is permissible."

Equality, and all other moral precepts, need God as a basis, or it really doesn't mean anything.

1 comment:

kristen said...

We have so much to learn from history and yet it seems that the current trend is to repeat past mistakes and stubbornly proclaim "We'll get it right this time!"