In 1793, the Jacobins, surfing the wave of Parisian mob violence, intimidated their less resolute colleagues into eliminating both the principle of monarchy and the existence of its politically superfluous incarnation, Louis XVI.  Not content with killing a living king and pronouncing a death sentence in absentia on all the princes of the blood who had escaped with their lives, the revolutionaries were determined to rewrite the past by abolishing the enduring symbols of the French nation.  Walter Scott, in his Life of Napoleon Bonaparte observes:

The name of king being pronounced detestable, all the remembrances of royalty were to be destroyed. . . . The royal sepulchers at St.-Denis, near Paris, the ancient cemetery of the Bourbons, the Valois, and all the long line of French monarchs, were not only defaced on the outside, but utterly broken down, the bodies exposed, the bones dispersed, and the poor remains, even of Henry IV of Navarre, so long the idol of the French nation, exposed to the rude gaze, and irreverent grasp, of the banditti who committed the sacrilege.

Guidebooks casually allude to some of the devastation: the tombs of the Merovingian Franks at St-Denis destroyed; the remains of Bourbon royalty buried at Val-de-Grace dug up and scattered; the most ancient church in Paris, St-Germain-de-Près, turned into a saltpeter mill for making gunpowder (15 tons stored in the abbey blew up in 1794, destroying much of the church’s library and works of art); Notre Dame’s “gallery of Judean kings” destroyed (the mob supposedly mistook the 28 statues for portraits of French kings).

The revolutionaries wanted to make the past, even more than the future, a tabula rasa on which they could scrawl their puerile obscenities.  Even the calendar had to be reinvented.  It was over 500 years after the birth of Christ when Dionysius Exiguus, calculating the date for Easter, decided to use the Savior’s birth instead of the founding of Rome or the reign of Diocletian as the starting point.  Dionysius’ method of dating was not adopted until the time of Charlemagne, and, even then, it took centuries for the Christian system to become universal in the West.  The Jacobins, by contrast, took only a few months before adopting (in October 1793) a system that was as “rational” (i.e., inhuman) as it was stupid: twelve 30-day months, each divided into three decades, with five or six additional days at the end of the year.  Gone are the weeks—and the Lord’s Day (dimanche, domenica dies) that began them—but also gone are the names of days and months that preserved the links with the ancient world.  

The calendar was a bourgeois triumph, giving only one day of rest at the end of each of the three decades.  Workers were less enthusiastic.  The last five or six days of the year were devoted to new “holidays” commemorating such bourgeois principles as “Virtue,” “Genius,” “Work,” and “Reason.”  The greatest accomplishment, however, was severing the French nation from her Christian past.

The revolutionary revision of religion reached its absurd apotheosis in the substitution of deism for the Catholic Faith.  The first step was the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which, as François Furet recalls, alienated many Catholics who had grudgingly accepted the political revolution.  Father Emery, Superior of the Society of St-Sulpice, had counseled obedience to the government, but, when he failed to preach the prescribed sermon in support of the new Civil Constitution, the priest was arrested and menaced more than once with death, while his grand church, only recently completed, was taken over by the revolutionaries.

All over Paris and throughout France, the churches’ precious art treasures were vandalized, and gold and silver communion vessels were stolen and used in mock-ceremonies that travestied the Mass.  The high point was reached in the Festival of Reason, in which the goddess was played (in Scott’s words) by “a dancing girl of the Opera, with whose charms most of the persons present were acquainted from her appearance on the stage, while the experience of individuals was further extended.”

Even Jacobin atheists were offended by such mummeries, and Robespierre, who had been secretly encouraging a group of cultists, decided to kill two birds with one stone.  By representing himself as the supporter of a reasonable religion, he could appeal to the more sober republicans and arrange for the murder of his blasphemous rivals.  Unfortunately, Robes-pierre’s new religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being, offered neither the comforts of religion nor the dignity of skepticism, and the heathen processions of girls carrying flowers, women bearing vegetables, and men wielding sticks and swords—all singing hastily composed “hymns”—could not have inspired much confidence in Robespierre’s political genius.

As Jules Michelet observed, there were no great men in the French Revolution, only mediocrities.  Robespierre, for all his vaunted “virtue,” was petty, cowardly, vindictive, and—above all—vain.  Spoiled by his sisters and later by the women who vied for his strictly fraternal favor, young Maximilien was interested in members of the opposite sex only as worshipers of his genius.  Visitors to his elegantly appointed apartment soon noticed that the drawing room was dominated by portraits, which, upon closer examination, proved to be all of one man.  When their host entered the room, they realized who was really the “supreme being” of the natty little Jacobin’s universe.

Few of the revolutionaries were either as “virtuous” as Robespierre and St-Just or as ferocious as the butcher of Lyons.  A more typical case was the former barber Joseph Villetard, whom the mob sprung from Chatelet prison, where he was doing time for theft.  By adroitness, he climbed his way up to the heights of the National Convention, and, in 1797, he was sent to Loreto to steal the famous Madonna.  An English correspondent, who met him as a respectable member of Napoleon’s government a few years later, describes his shenanigans:

In the execution of this commission he displayed a conduct worthy of the littleness of his genius and the criminality of his mind.  The wooden image of the Holy Virgin, a black gown said to have appertained to her, together with three broken china plates, which the Roman Catholic faithful have for ages believed to have been used by her, were presented by him to the Directory, with a cruelly scandalous show, accompanied by a horribly blasphemous letter.  He passed the next night, after he had perpetrated this sacrilege, with two prostitutes, in the chapel of the Holy Virgin; and, on the next morning, placed one of them, naked, on the pedestal where the statue of the Virgin had formerly stood, and ordered all the devotees at Loretto, and two leagues round, to prostrate themselves before her.

We must always remind ourselves that the entirely sordid activities of the French Republicans were the fulfillment of the Enlightenment project, whose objects were freedom of thought (that is, the freedom to be a servile follower of the Encyclopedists), social and political equality (the destruction of all authority), and a society based purely on reason (the destruction of Christian civilization).  Of course, the Enlightenment was not a uniform movement; some of the leaders (such as Voltaire) toadied to the rich and powerful, and, while some were atheists, most were anticlerical Catholics and deistic Protestants.  But the vulgar dream—as old as Descartes and the invisible Rosicrucians he dreamed of meeting—was the abolition of human history (along with the Christian religion) and the creation of a new Adam, as perfect and fresh as an homunculus brewed in an alchemist’s flask.

Such a work of instauration required a corresponding elimination of the signs of the old Adam: the days commemorating saints and feast days, the effigies of the ancient kings, the actual body and person of the living king and queen and their nearest relatives.  Even Philippe Egalité, Masonic grandmaster and satanic whoremaster (murdered by the Terror in 1793), could not, by a life of treachery and dishonor, overcome the taint of his direct descent from Louis XIII.  

Voltaire, Diderot, and their Jacobin disciples knew who their true enemy was.  It was not the king per se (who might be a philosophe like Frederick II of Prussia) or the principle of monarchy.  It was not even the abstract idea of deity, which might be necessary to the social order.  The infame they wanted to wipe out was Christ, “le consubstantiel” (as Voltaire constantly refers to Him), Who shares our humanity.  Many Muslims, pagans, and deists approach Christianity’s sublime conception of God; it is in their degrading conception of man that the danger of their religion is revealed.  Christians believe that man was made in God’s image and redeemed by the God-Who-Became-Man.  Different churches may disagree over the propriety of sculpture in the round or the permissibility of cremation, but respect for the full human person, body and soul, is universal among Trinitarian Christians, and the images of man—of kings and saints—made in the image of God are the targets of the iconoclasts’ rage.  It is no accident that the enlightened Jacobins were mass murderers who attached more emphasis to divorce than to marriage (Sophie Arnoult called divorce “the republican sacrament”) or that their spiritual and political descendants have fixed upon “abortion rights” as a defining issue.

Napoleon, who saved the Revolution from itself, restored the Christian calendar in 1806.  (He also, while persecuting Pius VII, restored the French Church.)  The revolutionaries of 1848 reintroduced the republican calendar, which Louis Napoleon, appealing both to Catholics and to the cautious bourgeoisie, again eliminated.  But the swings of the pendulum, from revolutionary iconoclasm to revolutionary consolidation, do not obscure the fact that the French Revolution lasted (by Furet’s reckoning) nearly 100 years, and that every true revolution since 1789 has embarked upon a similar course of iconoclasm, against both Christian symbols and the living presence of the past.

Iconoclasm, both literal and metaphor-ical, was the signature tune of the Bolsheviks, who brutally murdered the royal family, destroyed churches, converted the greatest Russian monastery into a museum of atheism, and rewrote the history not just of Russia but of the human race.  Other Marxist-atheists in Mexico, China, Vietnam, and Cuba followed suit, persecuting the Church, destroying monuments of the past, replacing the traditional calendar with an endless series of nu-mer-ical dates commemorating this uprising or that hero of the revolution.  

Even in Italy, where the postwar government represented a coalition of Cath-olics and communists, you cannot walk through a town without seeing a Viale A. Gramsci or a boulevard named after some inflated triumph of Italy’s own Jacobin revolution, the Risorgimento.  Italian fascists were almost equally fond of celebrating the dates of their revolution, and it is a sign of the Jacobin origins of fascism and Nazism that both Mussolini and Hitler adopted the methods and style of the French terrorists.

And what of Americans, so eager to escape the shackles of their history that they, too, have rewritten both calendar and curriculum?  America, where Martin Luther King, Jr., and his civil-rights “revolution” takes precedence in the calendar over Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and even Lincoln; where Christian symbols are removed from schools and public squares and “Happy Holidays” has replaced “Merry Christmas”; where a school in Louisiana repudiated the name of George Washington; where some state legislatures have removed the fine old flag under which brave Americans from the South fought in what they and many non-Southern Americans regarded as the noble cause of constitutional liberty and where the citizens eagerly accepted the lie that Thomas Jefferson had sexually abused a slave woman; where Labor Day, Veterans Day, and Teachers’ Work Day and the Monday closest to Columbus’s birthday have usurped the place of religious holidays and where Independence Day has been given the Jacobin title “Fourth of July”; where self-described conservatives (such as William J. Bennett) call for an new “patriotic” calendar that will express the nation’s “democratic values.”

What can be said of this America, if not that, over the course of 150 years, we have gradually achieved the revolution which Rousseau imagined and for which Jacobins and Marxists fought and slaughtered?  The way back—if there is to be a way back—will not begin with a counterrevolution that will commemorate its own set of uprisings, heroes, and martyrs but with a quiet determination to restore the Christian calendar in our own lives; to display Christian symbols in our homes, shops, and offices; and to teach our children and friends the stories and traditions that the Jacobins have done their best to destroy.