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The Gods Will Have Blood
(Les dieux ont soif)

Anatole France (1912)


(Much of this might—and should—strike observers as eerily contemporary...)

The symbols of religion had been smashed with hammers and above the door was inscribed in black letters the slogan of the Republic: 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity--or Death.'

For them the alternatives were victory or death. Hence their serene fanaticism.

'What's it matter if we suffer hardships for a short while? The Revolution is going to make the whole human race happy for ever and ever!'

All in all, I've no regrets for the old régime, though I did have some good times in those days. But don't you ever tell me the Revolution will bring equality, because men'll never be equal. It's just not possible. They can turn the country upside down and inside out, there'll always be the big people and the little people, the fat ones and the thin ones.'

'Our playing-cards are a disgraceful contrast to the new order. The very names of king and knave offend patriots' ears. I've planned and designed a pack of new Revolutionary playing-cards in which kings, queens and knaves are replaced by Liberties, Equalities and Fraternities. The aces are called Laws. When a player makes his call he says Liberty of clubs, Equality of spades, Fraternity of diamonds, Law of hearts.'

The glazier's wife offered him a chair. She was in a bad temper and grumbled about the poor state of business despite everybody saying that the Revolution, by breaking windows, was making the fortune of glaziers.

...both looking so like the ladies and gentlemen of the old régime it made one think, like the Citizen Blaise, that there must be something in mankind which Revolutions will never change.

In ignorance, we find our bliss; in illusions, our happiness.'

'It's not enough, just one Revolutionary Tribunal', said Gamelin. 'There should be one in each town... no, even more, one in every village, in every hamlet. Every father of a family, every citizen, should constitute themselves judges. It's nothing less than parricide to show mercy...'

'Only the guillotine can save our country!'

'I love reason, but my love does not make me a fanatic,' Brotteaux answered. 'Reason is our guide, a light to show us our way; but if you make a divinity of it, it will blind you and lead you into crime.'

'Jean-Jacques Rousseau,' he continued, 'who was not without talent, especially in music, was a young rascal who professed to derive his morality from Nature while all the time he had got it from the dogmas of Calvin."

[T]hese poor people, trained to obey both by their former oppressors and by their new liberators...

In order that he might revenge outraged justice, he had repudiated Nature, made himself into a monster, torn from his heart all mercy and pity.

They racked their brains to think of fresh tortures.

Federalism was being rejected; the Republic, one and indivisible, would now inevitably conquer all its enemies.

[T]he Convention intended to have one remedy for everything: Terror. Blood would have blood.

Gamelin could not help noticing, not without some displeasure, how greatly these magistrates of the new order resembled those of the old régime. And that, in fact, was what they were: Herman had held office as Advocate-General to the Council of Artois; Fouquier was a former procureur at the Châtelet. They had retained their previous characteristics. But Gamelin believed in Revolutionary regeneration.

At the opening meeting of the reorganized Section, the new magistrate was complimented by President Olivier who made him swear on the old High Altar of the Barnabites, now the Altar of the Nation, to wipe from his heart, in the sacred name of humanity, every human weakness.

Élodie herself -- who without realizing it detested everything revolutionary and dreaded official duties as the most dangerous of rivals -- even the tender Élodie was impressed by the glamour attached to a magistrate whose word could mean life or death.

He has a lively conscience; he will be implacable.

The determination of the Revolutionary Tribunal to make everybody equal will quickly make it hateful and ridiculous.

On the one side were the unemotional men of reason whom no feelings could move; on the other were those who let their feelings sway them, who could not be approached by argument, only by appeals to their hearts. These always voted guilty. They were the true, pure, unadulterated metal of the Revolution; their only thought was for the safety of the Republic and they cared less than nothing for anything else.

A roar of approval arose from the crowd and caressed his youthful zeal. The sentence was read by the light of torches which shed a wavering pallid light on the accused's bony forehead which could be seen to be wet with sweat.

There, without pomp or ceremony, sat the most powerful men in the country: men who ruled by the power of the spoken word. They ruled the city of Paris and dictated to the Convention itself the laws it made. These builders of the new order ...

[T]hese builders of the new order cherished in their dark and powerful souls a love of their country which had made them bring forth fourteen armies to defend it and to use the guillotine as the instrument of their reign of terror. Évariste sat lost in admiration of their singleness of mind, their vigilance, their reasoned dogmatism, their unsleeping suspicion, their meticulous administration, their supreme gifts in the art of governing, their remorseless sanity.

Now, through the voice of this wise man, he was discovering lighter and purer truths; he was comprehending a philosophy, a metaphysic, of revolution which raised his thoughts far above gross material happenings into a world of absolute certainties safe from all the subjective errors of the senses. In themselves things are involved and confused; facts are so complex it is difficult not to lose one's way amongst them. Robespierre simplified everything for him, revealing the good and the evil to him in simple, clear terms. Either Federalism or Centralization; Centralization meant unity and safety; Federalism meant chaos and damnation. Gamelin tasted the mystical joy of a believer who has come to know the word that saves and the word that destroys. Henceforth the Revolutionary Tribunal, like the ecclesiastical tribunals of former times, would recognize crime as an absolute, definable in one word. And because he was by nature religious, Évariste received these revelations with an awed enthusiasm, his heart expanded and rejoiced at the thought that henceforth he possessed a symbolic means to discern between guilt and innocence. Oh, treasures of faith! Those who have faith, have need of nothing else!

The wise Robespierre enlightened him further regarding the perfidious intentions of those who favoured equality of property and partition of land, who were demanding the abolition of wealth and poverty and the establishment of a happy mediocrity for all.

Évariste was consistent in his decision: death. And all the accused, with the exception of an old gardener, were sent to the guillotine. The following week, Évariste and his Section mowed off the heads of forty-five men and eighteen women.
The judges of the Revolutionary Tribunal followed the principle as old as justice itself of drawing no distinction between men and women.

They condemned or acquitted as their conscience and their zeal dictated.

And so many others, still prouder and more impatient, begrudging their death to the judges and the executioner, take their lives themselves! The fury to kill inspires a fury to die.

[H]e was coming to see conspirators and traitors everywhere he looked. And his thought became continually: 'Oh, Republic! Against so many secret or declared enemies, only one thing can help you! Saint Guillotine, save my country!'

At the same time he would repudiate any wish to attack religion, considering it necessary for people; he only desired that its ministers were philosophers instead of controversialists. He deplored the fact that the Jacobins were for replacing it with a newer and more malignant religion, the cult of Liberty and Equality, of the Republic and the State. He had noticed that religions are fiercest and most cruel in the vigour of their youth and that they grow milder as they grow older. He was anxious, therefore, to see Catholicism preserved, since though it had devoured many victims in its youth, it was now, burdened by the weight of years and an enfeebled appetite, content with roasting four or five heretics every hundred years.

Seated against the tapestried walls with their fasces and their red caps of liberty, the judges maintained the same gravity, the same awesome calm, as their Royal predecessors.

[A]ll were poised ready for atrocities primed by conscience or fear, and thus they formed one living organism, one single, unthinking, irritable mind, one single apocalyptic, bestial soul which could, by the mere exercise of its natural functions, produce a teeming progeny of death. By turn capriciously cruel or kind-hearted, they would, when momentarily overcome by a sudden pang of pity, acquit with tears in their eyes a prisoner whom only an hour before they would have mocked as they condemned him to the guillotine. As day followed day, the more impetuously they followed their impulses.

Trubert foresaw the outcome of the policy of terror. Where voluntary recruitment had failed, compulsion had succeeded in producing a strong disciplined army; in their terror the generals had realized the best thing for them was to be victorious. One final effort, and the Republic would be saved.

... the daily sacrifice to the State of victims ...

'Jesus! They want to change everything -- days, months, seasons, the sun and the moon!

[T]he more he seemed to her terrible, cruel and atrocious, the more he seemed to her covered with the blood of his victims, the more she hungered and thirsted for him.

'Denunciations are flowing into the Committee of Vigilance of our Section. Some are made out of patriotism, some as a result of the bait of a hundred sols' reward. Lots of children denounce their own parents, just to get their inheritance the sooner.'

[O]ne never knew nowadays what attitude to adopt towards the old religion so as to be in accord with the views of the government, nor whether it was best to allow everything or forbid everything.

But, maman, he couldn't be such a monster as to do that!'
'My child, your brother is an honest man and a good son ... but he is a magistrate: he has principles; he does as his conscience tells him.

Brotteaux found nothing to surprise him in this: he knew that men willingly boast of their cruelty, their anger, their greed even, but never of their cowardice, because to admit such a thing would put them, whether in a primitive or a civilized society, in mortal peril. 'That is why,' he reflected, 'all nations are nations of heroes and all armies consist only of brave men.'

Glass in hand, they would celebrate the victories of the Republic. Amongst them were several poets, as there always are in any group of people who have nothing to do.

Just wait! Some day one of these warriors you make a god of, may swallow you all up, like the stork in the fable who gobbles up the frogs. Ah, then he would be truly a god! For you can always tell the gods by their appetite.'

But what if Robespierre's cold blue eyes discover more traitors, even among those very patriots who sent the traitor Danton and the traitor Chaumette to the guillotine? Where will it stop, this hideous procession of betrayed traitors and this piercing, all-revealing insight of Robespierre the Incorruptible?'

He sees opening before him a future of universal joy.
He sighs:
'At last we shall be happy, pure and innocent, if the traitorous scoundrels permit it.'
Alas! The traitorous scoundrels have not permitted it. There must be still more executions; still more torrents of tainted blood must flow.

[T]hese cuts in procedure were indeed inherent in this new and terrible, yet salutary, form of justice, which would no longer be administered by gowned pedants weighing pros and cons at their leisure in their gothic balances, but by sans-culottes judging by patriotic inspiration and seeing the truth in a flash of illumination. Where deliberations and precautions would have lost everything, the impulses of an upright soul would save all.

They confined themselves to inquiring into the opinions of the accused, not conceiving it possible that anyone, except from pure perversity, could think differently from themselves. Believing themselves to possess a monopoly of truth, wisdom and goodness, they attributed to their opponents all error, stupidity and evil.

This representative of the people was honoured with being the author of every incident, happy or unhappy, that happened in the Republic, with every eventuality connected with laws, morals, manners, weather, harvests or epidemics.

I have acted like a pious son in shedding the impure blood of the enemies of my fatherland.'

'The guilt of the accused is self-evident: their punishment is necessary for the safety of the nation and they themselves ought to desire to be punished as the only means of expiating their crimes.'

He exclaimed to himself:
'Beneficent Terror! Oh, blessed Terror! At this very moment last year, our heroic armies were defeated, the soil of the fatherland invaded, two-thirds of the country in revolt. Today, our armies, well-equipped, well-trained, commanded by able generals, are on the offensive, ready to spread Liberty throughout the whole world. Peace reigns over all the Republic... Oh, beneficent Terror! Saintly Terror! Holy Guillotine! At this very moment last year, the Republic was torn by opposing factions, the hydra of Federalism threatened to devour her. Today, a united Jacobinism spreads its might and wisdom throughout the Republic.'

'Let us shed rivers of blood and save the fatherland.'

'I have nothing to reproach myself with. What I've done, I'd do again. For the sake of my country, I've put myself beyond the pale of humanity: I can never belong again.'

[Cp. The Operative's speech in Serenity with regard to that excerpt and those following.]

At that moment, a child of eight or nine, playing with its hoop, bumped against Gamelin's legs.
He lifted the boy roughly in his arms:
'Child! You will grow up to be free and happy, and you will owe it to the infamous Gamelin. I am steeped in blood so that you may be happy. I am cruel, that you may be kind. I am pitiless so that tomorrow all Frenchmen will embrace one another with tears of joy.'
He pressed the child to his chest.
'Little one, when you are a man, you will owe to me your happiness and your innocence; and, if ever you hear my name mentioned, you will curse it.' And he put the child down, who ran off in terror to cling to the skirts of his mother, who was hurrying up to rescue him.

'What a weight of weariness and grief has left its imprint on that forehead! How painful a thing it is to work for the happiness of mankind!'

With my colleagues of the Tribunal, by exterminating all conspirators and traitors, I will pave the way to clemency. We will redouble out vigilance and severity. No culprit will escape us. And when the head of the last enemy of the Republic has fallen under the knife, then it will be possible for you to be merciful without committing a crime, then you will be able to inaugurate the reign of Virtue and Innocence throughout the land...!'

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