Lurking just beneath the surface of every revolutionary movement is the same deceitful dream.  Once upon a time, long, long ago, men and women lived in peace and justice and unity, until into this garden entered the snake: the capitalist, the patriarch, the man of war, the bishop.  Come the Revolution, we shall all “get ourselves back to the garden,” whether that garden is ancient Sparta, the Church of the Apostles, or the State of Nature.  Along the way we shall probably have to eliminate aristocrats and businessmen, unaltered males, and clergymen who speak with authority—not just the “Nazi in the Vatican,” but every Lutheran Herr Pastor and Baptist preacher whose voice has changed.  No price is too high for others to pay in the pursuit of human solidarity.

In Europe one of the more persistent revolutionary aspirations has been the reintegration of Europe.  Once upon a time, Europe was unified in the Roman Empire.  For some revolutionaries, the fall of the Western Empire could be seen as basically a good thing, because it meant our hardy ancestors reinvigorated Europe with their good red blood and quaint folkways that made the early Dark Age a Hobbesian nightmare.  For some of the French Jacobins, however, the Frankish conquest of Gaul did not so much bring down a failing empire as it subjugated the native Celtic population.

Mythical quibbles aside, the unification of Roman Europe had brought a peace and stability that the ever-fighting Franks, Germans, and Lombards, Vikings, Poles, and Anglo-Saxons were never able to recreate.  The religious wars inspired by the Reformation were the last straw.  First 16th-century France and then 17th-century Germany were devastated by wars between Protestants and Catholics whose leaders were often cynical opportunists who used religion as a pretext for their own pursuit of power at any cost.  In the English Civil War, the Protestants themselves were divided among the more conservative Anglicans, the more radical Presbyterians, and a lunatic fringe of dissenters who made up their religion as they went along—Congregationalist, Anabaptist, Levelers, and Diggers.

Two obvious answers offered themselves as the solution to the civil and religious strife from which Europe has suffered since the collapse of the empire: the nationalist answer and the internationalist answer.  Confronted with the ethnic and linguistic and religious diversity of l’Hexagone, a series of French rulers attempted to Frenchify and nationalize the Bretons and Normans in the north and the more Latin peoples of Languedoc, but they also had to suppress first the Albigenses and then the Huguenots.  But once some degree of national unity had been achieved, any Frenchman who loved peace had to face the violence of the English and the Germans.  In the earlier Middle Ages, some might have dreamed of invoking the Church or even the revived “Roman” empire in Germany, but by the 17th century, those two solutions were no longer on the table.  In a political sense, then, nationalism, which suppresses all lesser loyalties, is only a stage toward internationalism.

Since the Renaissance, there is much more to internationalism than a longing for peace.  The internationalist ideology is part of a more general tendency toward Western self-loathing.  When a French intellectual looked in the mirror in 1600, he saw a Frenchman and a Christian where he would have liked to see a Greek pagan.  Since the Church was still powerful, few intellectuals were as mad as Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for his pagan notions.  Instead, the intellectuals became sly and ironic.  From Montaigne on, intellectuals began subjecting Catholic France to imaginary visitors from Latin America, Persia, and China, all of whom expressed astonishment at the silly religion, false reverence to the king, and loyalty to the nation.

Voltaire was among the most subversive.  Outwardly proclaiming his rational allegiance to king, Church, and nation, he was forever egging on his followers to find ways of undermining faith in the Church and loyalty to the crown.  In the Philosophical Dictionary ( “Patrie”) he tells the story of a young pastry cook who “boasted one day of loving his fatherland.”  A neighbor ridicules him for loving a country where he is discriminated against because of his class.  “A thinker who was listening to this conversation, concluded that in a fatherland of some extent there were often many thousand men who had no fatherland,” because in France the exploiting classes treat the people of the fatherland as enemies to exploit and ruin.  Your true fatherland, he argues, is wherever you are comfortable, no matter what country you are in.  Voltaire, who followed his own advice and went to live first in Prussia, then in Switzerland, concludes by saying, “He who should wish his fatherland might never be greater, smaller, richer, poorer, would be the citizen of the world.”

Enlightenment intellectuals like Voltaire and Adam Smith picked up the phrase “citizens of the world” from the ancient Stoics, who for entirely different reasons despised natural attachments.  Since national (and religious) rivalries led to destructive wars, what was needed was some federal union of states.  The Abbé de Saint-Pierre, author of Projet de paix perpétulle, was a typical Enlightenment intellectual with an unbounded faith in the goodness of human nature and the blessings of progress.  His concern for bienfaisance (benevolence) led him to propose graduated taxation to benefit the French lower classes and, ultimately, to outline a plan for a world confederation that would eliminate war.  Rousseau, who commented on and popularized Saint-Pierre’s essay, concluded that it might take a revolution to bring this project to fruition.

When the Revolution did come to France, shortly after Rousseau’s death, it initiated one of the bloodiest periods of European history.  The French Revolution was the seminal event of modern times, the period when Enlightenment theories of liberty and equality, natural rights and the social contract, assumed a concrete form.  All subsequent history in the West has been a series of attempts to extend (or resist) the principles of the Revolution, and since World War II, there has been no practical opposition to the ideology of 1789.  Most forms of American conservatism represent one or another attempt to preserve, or at least compromise with, the Revolution.  The neoconservatives, with their babble about human rights and “imperium,” are only the most obvious example.

The French Revolution is not a simple phenomenon dominated by one ideology.  Influenced by Rousseau, the leaders of revolutionary France proclaimed their devotion to the nation.  Indeed, the Declaration of the Rights of Man states that “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation.  No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.”  Yet they also declared their support for other revolutionary movements that would rise up to throw off the chains of monarchy, feudalism, and Christianity.  In the Proclamation of the Convention to the Nations (1792), they had “conquered our liberty” and offered “to bring this inestimable blessing to you . . . We have driven out your tyrants.  Show yourselves free men, and we will protect you from their vengeance, their machinations, or their return.”  In other words, the universal rights of men justify the French conquest of Europe.

In the 19th century, the revolutionary ideal would separate, temporarily, into nationalist and internationalist channels, the one leading to the formation of ever more centralized nation-states in France, Germany, Italy, and the United States; the other inspiring Marxists with their project of establishing economic justice in an international order.  Marx and Engels viewed the nation-state (along with the family and private property) as an institution that had been created by patriarchal men solely for the purpose of oppressing women and the poor.  In the Communist Manifesto, they wrote the blueprint for a new world order that would ultimately end the exploitation of poor nations and replace nation-states themselves.

Marxist theory, however, has done little to alleviate ethnic and national hostilities.  Marx’s own ethnic prejudices were confirmed by his progressive view of history.  Primitive and retrograde peoples, such as Highland Scots, Africans, and his own people (his grandfather had been a rabbi), were viewed as so many obstacles to progress that had to be eliminated.  Marx’s repulsive bigotry, combined with the record of communist states in persecuting ethnic groups and in engaging in aggressive wars even with other communist states, does little to strengthen the Marxist case for an international order.

American democratists are only a short step behind the Marxists.  The devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan is not a good argument for the peaceful methods of the world’s only remaining superpower, and recently Hillary Clinton informed us that the United States could not leave Afghanistan until equal rights for women had been secured.

The foundation of revolutionary internationalism is a hatred of distinction and, among the idealists at least, a terrifying dream of human solidarity in which all differences of race and nation, religion and philosophy, tradition, culture, and class are replaced by a free-flowing snake dance of nondiscriminating “individuals.”  It is the dream celebrated in their anthem, the “Internationale.”  Making a clean slate and acknowledging neither god nor Caesar, the toiling masses of the world will rise up, and the Internationale (that is, their universal union) will be the human race.  For this to happen, everyone clinging to one or another petty distinction—Catholics and Protestants and Buddhists, scientists and skilled dressmakers, patriotic Frenchmen and Poles—will have to be eliminated.

As a child, I read a science-fiction novel in which a derelict ate a raisin that gave him a strange obsession with reunifying the human race.  To anyone who would listen, he explained that we had all been together once and would be again.  In the end, the raisin proved to be an alien life form that would absorb all human consciousness.  That alien life form is the Revolution.