Enjolras’ End of History

 

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The situation of the whole party in this fatal hour, and at this inexorable spot, had as result and pinnacle the supreme melancholy of Enjolras. Enjolras had within him the plenitude of the revolution; he was imperfect, however, so far as the absolute can be so,—he had too much of St. Just and not enough of Anacharsis Clootz; still his mind in the society of the Friends of the A. B. C. had eventually received a certain magnetism of Combeferre’s ideas.

For some time past he had been gradually emerging from the narrow form of dogmatism and yielding to the expansion of progress, and in the end he had accepted, as the definitive and magnificent evolution, the transformation of the great French republic into the immense human republic. As for the immediate means, a violent situation being given, he was willing to be violent; in that he did not vary, and he still belonged to that epic and formidable school which is resumed in the words “’93.”

Enjolras was standing on the paving-stone steps, with one of his elbows on the muzzle of his gun. He was thinking; he trembled, as men do when a blast passes, for spots where death lurks produce this tripod effect. A sort of stifled fire issued from beneath his eyelashes, which were full of the internal glance. All at once he raised his head, his light hair fell back like that of the angel on the dark quadriga composed of stars, and he cried:—

“Citizens, do you represent the future to yourselves? The streets of towns inundated with light, green branches on the thresholds, nations sisters, men just, old men blessing children, the past loving the present, men thinking at perfect liberty, believers enjoying perfect equality, for religion the heaven, God, the direct priest, the human conscience converted into an altar, no more hatred, the fraternity of the workshop and the school, notoriety the sole punishment and reward, work for all, right for all, peace for all, no more bloodshed, no more wars, and happy mothers!

To subdue the matter is the first step, to realize the ideal is the second. Reflect on what progress has already done; formerly the first human races saw with terror the hydra that breathed upon the waters, the dragon that vomited fire, the griffin which was the monster of the air, and which flew with the wings of an eagle and the claws of a tiger, pass before their eyes,—frightful beasts which were below man. Man, however, set his snares, the sacred snares of intellect, and ended by catching the monsters in them. We have subdued the hydra, and it is called the steamer; we have tamed the dragon, and it is called the locomotive; we are on the point of taming the griffin, we hold it already, and it is called the balloon. The day on which that Promethean task is terminated and man has definitively attached to his will the triple antique chimera, the dragon, the hydra, and the griffin, he will be master of water, fire, and air, and he will be to the rest of animated creation what the ancient gods were formerly to him.

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Courage, and forward! Citizens, whither are we going? To science made government, to the strength of things converted into the sole public strength, to the natural law having its sanction and penalty in itself and promulgating itself by evidence, and to a dawn of truth corresponding with the dawn of day.

We are proceeding to a union of the peoples; we are proceeding to a unity of man. No more fictions, no more parasites. The real governed by the true is our object. Civilization will hold its assize on the summit of Europe, and eventually in the centre of the continent, in a great Parliament of intellect. Something like this has been seen already; the Amphictyons held two sessions a year, one at Delphi, the place of the gods, the other at Thermopylæ, the place of heroes. Europe will have her Amphictyons, the globe will have its Amphictyons, France bears the sublime future within her, and this is the gestation of the 19th century. What Greece sketched out is worthy of being finished by France. Hearken to me, Feuilly, valiant workman, man of the people, man of the people. I venerate thee; yes, thou seest clearly future times; yes, thou art right. Thou hast neither father nor mother, Feuilly, and thou hast adopted humanity as thy mother and right as thy father. Thou art about to die here, that is to say, to triumph.

Citizens, whatever may happen to-day, we are about to make a revolution, by our defeat as well as by our victory. In the same way as fires light up a whole city, revolutions light up the whole human race. And what a revolution shall we make? I have just told you, the revolution of the True.

From the political point of view, there is but one principle, the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of me over me is called liberty, and where two or three of these liberties are associated the State begins. But in this association there is no abdication, and each sovereignty concedes a certain amount of itself to form the common right. This quality is the same for all, and this identity of concession which each makes to all is called Equality. The common right is nought but the protection of all radiating over the right of each. This protection of all over each is termed Fraternity. The point of intersection of all aggregated societies is called Society, and this intersection being a junction, the point is a knot.

Hence comes what is called the social tie; some say the social contract, which is the same thing, as the word contract is etymologically formed with the idea of a tie. Let us come to an understanding about equality; for if liberty be the summit, equality is the base. Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on a level, a society of tall blades of grass and small oaks, or a neighborhood of entangled jealousies; it is, civilly, every aptitude having the same opening, politically, all votes having the same weight, and religiously, all consciences having the same right. Equality has an organ in gratuitous and compulsory education, and it should begin with the right to the alphabet. The primary school imposed on all, the secondary school offered to all, such is the law, and from the identical school issues equal instruction. Yes, instruction! Light, light! Everything comes from light and everything returns to it.

Citizens, the 19th century is great, but the 20th century will be happy. Then there will be nothing left resembling ancient history, there will be no cause to fear, as at the present day, a conquest, an invasion, usurpation, an armed rivalry of nations, an interruption of civilization depending on a marriage of kings, a birth in hereditary tyrannies, a division of peoples by Congress, a dismemberment by the collapse of dynasties, a combat of two religions, clashing, like two goats of the darkness, on the bridge of infinity; there will be no cause longer to fear famine, exhaustion, prostitution through destiny, misery through stoppage of work, and the scaffold, and the sword, and battles, and all the brigandage of accident in the forest of events; we might almost say there will be no more events, we shall be happy; the human race will accomplish its law as the terrestrial globe does its law; harmony will be restored between the soul and the planet, and the soul will gravitate round the truth as the planet does round light.

Friends, the hour we are now standing in is a gloomy hour, but there are such terrible purchases of the future. Oh, the human race will be delivered, relieved, and consoled! We affirm it on this barricade, and where should the cry of love be raised if not on the summit of the sacrifice? Oh, my brothers, this is the point of junction between those who think and those who suffer.

This barricade is not made of paving-stones, beams, and iron bars; it is made of two masses,—a mass of ideas and a mass of sorrows. Misery meets then the ideal; day embraces the night there, and says to it, ‘I am about to die with thee, and thou wilt be born again with me.’ Faith springs from the embrace of all the desolations; sufferings bring hither their agony, and ideas their immortality. This agony and this immortality are about to be mingled and compose one death. Brothers, the man who dies here dies in the radiance of the future, and we shall enter a tomb all filled with dawn.”

Enjolras interrupted himself rather than was silent; his lips moved silently as if he were talking to himself, which attracted attention, and in order still to try to hear him they held their tongues. There was no applause, but they whispered together for a long time. Language being breath, the rustling of intellects resembles the rustling of leaves.

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This is one of the clearest and most complete statements of the 19th century version of what would become modern progressivist liberalism, and there is so much that is good in it, as well as so much from which one draws back in horror; you can see, in this, liberalism’s root in Plato; you can see the rage for order; you can see the desire to destroy what is in favor of what should be, and to destroy anything “strange” or different or perverse or peculiar; the Tyranny of the Good. You can see the mechanization of human nature and the vision of perfection that would grind all imperfection under its heel and then spit on it in contempt.  You can see the cartoonish vision of what “good” means and what reality is about.

But you can see too the desire for good, the vision of real and non-nihilistic justice, the desire of friendship among men and the simple good vision of children having enough to eat… Almost everything he describes is in fact good, or touches on it, although many of those things are more complicated, and to think that one can get to all these goods through a purely naturalistic process and within, oh, 50-75 years by smashing things and repudiating history is fearsome. Not to mention that he leaves out the central good in the world; his ideal society is missing its heart, and is far too modest; he’s 60% wrong about the nature of politics; etc.

But you can’t be horrified at the mathematical society which is laid out, the inhumanity of “we might almost say there will be no more events,” without taking on the burden of trying to do tikkun ‘olam. In rejecting Enjolras’ vision, don’t at the same time reject the good that he is seeing, which is a distorted version of the Kingdom; and don’t become an apologist for actually exiting injustice or poverty. Be willing to be humane in pursuit of the good, and don’t stop pursuing it; see that the line between good and evil runs through each human heart. And yeah, maybe there can be such a thing as progress. But maybe it looks different than you think it looks, and is less… tidy.

As a matter of fact, threading this needle is something that someone else has done far better than I am trying to do:

Gudge is now a corrupt and apoplectic old Tory in the Carlton Club; if you mention poverty to him he roars at you in a thick, hoarse voice something that is conjectured to be “Do ’em good!” Nor is Hudge more happy; for he is a lean vegetarian with a gray, pointed beard and an unnaturally easy smile, who goes about telling everybody that at last we shall all sleep in one universal bedroom; and he lives in a Garden City, like one forgotten of God.

 

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One response to “Enjolras’ End of History

  1. Through means such as these, such beautiful and holy ends shall we achieve.

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