Revolution Essay

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François-René Chateaubriand, Historical, Political, and Moral Essay on Revolutions, Ancient and Modern (English translation, 1815; original French Essai historique, politique et moral, sur les révolutions anciennes et modernes, considérées dans leurs rapports avec la Révolution française, 1815), 46–54.

These infuriated men alone could have devised the means, and what is still more incredible, partly have succeeded in the execution of their project. Hence they displayed, at the same time, a degree of energy which was completely without example, and an extent of crimes, which all those of history, put together, can scarcely equal.

Although Chateaubriand detested the revolutionaries and their principles, he recognized that the French Revolution required extended commentary.

Here he analyzes the Jacobins whom he clearly despises.

Here then were the rudiment of a military force, but it was necessary that this force should be organized.

A committee, of which it has been said that its talents could not have been surpassed except by its crimes, employed itself in connecting these disjointed corps.

On arriving soon afterwards at the frontiers, the necessity of defending his life, the courage natural to the French, the inconstancy and the enthusiasm of which they are characteristically susceptible, considerable pay, abundant food, the tumult and dangers of a military life, the women, the wine, and his native gaiety of disposition, made him forget that he had been brought thither by force, and he became a hero.

Thus persecution on the one hand, and rewards on the other, created armies by enchantment; for when once the first example had been set, and the requisition obeyed, men by a natural imitative impulse, were eager, whatever might be their opinions, to walk in the steps of others.

This principle consisted in the system of perfection, towards which the first step to be made was the restoration of the Spartan laws.

We have ascribed too much to passions and circumstances.


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