Ms. Noonan begins her essay by describing the French Revolution, based not in history, political history or its various expressions, but as a ‘a nationwide psychotic break’ ,that denies the very context of that revolution. Since the ‘Science of Psychoanalysis’ is a dead letter, call Noonan’s maladroit psychologization of that revolution a propaganda methodology: to render the political, into a trivialized modality, suited to the needs of propaganda, against the contemporary ‘American Jacobins’. That revolution marks the end of the Ancien Régime, praised by both Kant and Hegel before the ‘Terror’. That ushers in the Age of Democratic Revolution to borrow from R.R. Palmer.
We often make historical parallels here. History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme, as clever people say. And sometimes it hiccups. Here is a hiccup.
We start with the moral and political catastrophe that was the French Revolution. It was more a nationwide psychotic break than a revolt—a great nation at its own throat, swept by a spirit not only of regicide but suicide. For 10 years they simply enjoyed killing each other. They could have done what England was doing—a long nonviolent revolution, a gradual diminution of the power of king and court, an establishment of the rights of the people and their legislators so that the regent ended up a lovely person on a stamp. Instead they chose blood. Scholars like to make a distinction between the Revolution and the Terror that followed, but “the Terror was merely 1789 with a higher body count.” From the Storming of the Bastille onward, “it was apparent that violence was not just an unfortunate side effect. . . . It was the Revolution’s source of collective energy. It was what made the Revolution revolutionary.”
Any surprise here? Noonan is a political propagandist whose quoted text is and will be a touchstone for her political allies in the American Political Center, now defined as the alliance between the New Democrats and the Neo-Conservatives. The choice of Simon Schama whose ‘history’ of that revolution meets the demand for an historian who is ‘heroically nonideological’ : consider this claim to be awash in ideology!
That is from Simon Schama’s masterpiece “Citizens,” his history of the revolution published in 1989, its 200th anniversary. It is erudite, elegant and heroically nonideological.
To move ahead in Noonan’s psycholigizing polemic:
It was a revolution largely run by sociopaths. One, Robespierre, the “messianic schoolmaster,” saw it as an opportunity for the moral instruction of the nation. Everything would be politicized, no part of the citizen’s life left untouched. As man was governed by an “empire of images,” in the words of a Jacobin intellectual, the new régime would provide new images to shape new thoughts. There would be pageants, and new names for things. They would change time itself! The first year of the new Republic was no longer 1792, it was Year One. To detach farmers from their superstitions, their Gregorian calendar and its saints’ days, they would rename the months. The first month would be in the fall, named for the harvest. There would be no more weeks, just three 10-day periods each month.
For counterpoint to Noonan’s propaganda, read Hillary Mantel’s revelatory, not to speak of evocative essay on Robespierre:
The historian François Furet tells us: ‘The revolution speaks through him its most tragic and purest discourse.’ It does not matter where he lived or what he was like, or that he walked through this gate the day before his horrible death. His temperament is of no consequence, nor the will that drove his punitively controlled body through the all-night sittings. But this abstract Robespierre is not the one that interests you, as you stand inside the passage, sheltered from the street. After all, you keep his portrait on your wall; if Furet’s formulation convinced you, you would not feel so desolate, and almost panic-stricken. The passage itself is confined and dark. Your throat constricts a little, and you remember what Michelet said: ‘Robespierre strangles and stifles.’ There are closed doors on your left. You glance up to the first floor. The windows are dirty. You say: ‘it is only a metaphysical space.’ Metaphysical wild horses would not drag you into Robespierre’s room or any space that might have been occupied by it. You lean against the wall, expecting something to happen.
Now, from the French Revolution and its sociopaths, framed in her a-historical psycholigizing we come to Noonan’s idee fixe: The reader can’t escape from the Party Line, so clearly enunciated by propagandists Jordan Peterson, Andrew Sullivan among other political hysterics !
So here is our parallel, our hiccup. I thought of all this this week because I’ve been thinking about the language and behavioral directives that have been coming at us from the social and sexual justice warriors who are renaming things and attempting to control the language in America.
The ‘enemy’ as defined by Noonan, exists in a political space, that shares a commonality with her psycholigizing: ‘ social and sexual justice warriors’ and their ‘speech codes’ that does not apply to Robespierre and the Jacobins. Who were purged/executed from their own ranks in the Thermidorian Reaction. These political actors that are Noonan’s propaganda Straw-Men: sociopaths . Noonan’s public shaming of American Jacobins ,who have not engaged in politically motivated violence. But are the subject of Noonan’s invidious comparison, that has no merit on its face. Propaganda is simply about producing a politically exploitable negative emotion. Noonan’s next political target will be Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib?