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On Progress: Remember the Vendee

John on April 4, 2009 at 10:42 pm

A few days ago, archaeologists in France discovered a pair of mass graves beneath a park in the city of LeMans:

[T]he graves contain the bodies of about 30 people, including several women, two male teenagers and a child…All bore the signs of an extremely violent attack, with broken leg, jaw and shoulder bones…

The bodies were identified as victims of a little known (in this country) conflict known as the War in the Vendee. All of the victims perished in mid December of 1793. Their story is an interesting one, particularly in light of some of the outspoken anti-religious crusaders of our own day.

The Vendee was a rural area of France to the south and west of Paris. In our vernacular, it might be called the heartland. Residents of the area were Catholic peasants, many of whom were not pleased with the succession of anti-clerical laws passed by the Jacobins:

  • On August 4, 1789, tithes were abolished.
  • On November 2, 1789, Catholic Church property that was held for purposes of church revenue was nationalized, and was used as the backing for the assignats.
  • On February 13, 1790, monastic vows were forbidden and all ecclesiastical orders and congregations were dissolved, excepting those devoted to teaching children and nursing the sick.
  • On April 19, 1790, administration of all remaining church property was transferred to the State.

Then on July 12, 1790 a law known as the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was passed. This was the act which finally legislated all monasteries in France out of existence. The revolutionaries were essentially legislating the final blow in a culture war. But, unconvinced the enlightened rulers in Paris knew what was best for them, the stubborn people of Vendee refused to go along:

All but seven of the 160 bishops refused the oath, as did about half of the parish priests...Nonjuring priests were exiled or imprisoned. Women on their way to Mass were beaten in the streets. Religious orders were suppressed and Church property confiscated. On March 3, 1793, virtually all the churches were ordered closed. Sacramental vessels were confiscated by soldiers and the people were forbidden to place a cross on their graves.

The final straw came when the cash strapped government passed a massive tax increase on all of France. Already agitated by the anti-clerical measures, the people in Vendee revolted. Theirs was a revolution to undo the French Revolution. Known as the Royal and Catholic Army, they were successful in overtaking several towns over the next six months despite a large contingent of troops dispatched against them.

Finally, in August of 1793 the government ordered a “pacification” of the area. By December, the Royal and Catholic Army was in full retreat. Outnumbered and outgunned, they were slaughtered. This was followed by a scorched earth policy of the entire Vendee. When it was over, the General in charge wrote a letter reporting his success to his superiors:

There is no more Vendee. It died with its wives and its children by our free sabres. I have just buried it in the woods and the swamps of Savenay. According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all. The roads are sown with corpses. At Savenay, brigands are arriving all the time claiming to surrender, and we are shooting them non-stop… Mercy is not a revolutionary sentiment.

Indeed it was not. Estimates are that between 100-450K people (about half the population of the region) perished during the conflicts, the vast majority of them peasants on the Royalist side. These are the people whose mass grave was discovered in LeMans last week.

So what does this have to do with us today?

A look at the bestsellers list over the last couple years demonstrates that there are still many Jacobins among us. Men like Richard Dawkins brutalize Christians for devoting themselves to a book which contains a God-ordered genocide (known as the ban in the Old Testament). Yet these same men never seem to recall genocides carried out (far more recently) by their own, enlightened co-religionists.

Like their predecessors in France, Dawkins and his ilk are fully prepared to legislate religion out of existence if possible. It wasn’t long ago that he floated the idea of taking children away from believing parents — for their own good of course.

We saw another example of this kind of for-their-own-good thinking just this week when seven members of a State Supreme Court announced that gay marriage was required by the State’s Constitution. No doubt this would have been a shock to the men who crafted the text, but never mind that. The law is whatever the lawyers say it is. The pastors and priests must simply welcome it or face consequences still to be determined.

On the other hand, we’ve seen people from the heartland take to the streets to protest our rapid slide toward European socialism. The Tea Parties aren’t violent, but they do speak to a growing irritation with our leaders. In London this week, there was violence as thousands of people took to the streets to protest what they see as the global elite running the world at the expense of the poor and poorly connected.

Perhaps civilization has advanced to the point where all of these protesters can speak their minds without fear of reprisal. It certainly seems that way at the moment. But once the revolutionaries achieve a tipping point of power, the situation can change quickly.

The Jacobins of this world have always cared more for their big ideas than the real world consequences that are the result. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. More to the point, progress sometimes requires the filling of a few mass graves. And so it’s fitting that this is how the article ends:

The graves were discovered during a dig to make way for a new cultural centre.

This is the lesson of the Vendee: Dead or alive, nothing stands in the way of progress or of progressives.

Related: Right on cue, Professor Dawkins is wondering aloud today whether the Nazi’s Final Solution has permanently tainted the concept of eugenics or whether, just maybe, it’s time to reconsider human breeding experiments. [HT: Joe Lee]

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Category: Politics, Religion & Faith |

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