Tuesday, 17 November 2015

La Marseilles: Citizens not Subjects

A wheel turns full circle and the present re-appropriates the past,
Tonight the heir to the throne sings La Marseilles,
The battle hymn of the French Revolution
(And the intro to All You Need Is Love),
But if and when you sing,
Remember when Prime Minister William Pitt greeted the French Revolution
With a policy of brutal domestic repression
(And war on France),
The 1793 Aliens Act – no republican allowed into England, just French aristos;
1794 Suspension of Habeas Corpus – imprisonment without trial;
Corresponding Societies campaigning for democracy
Infiltrated by informers and agents-provocateurs;
1795 Treasonable Practices Act – the act of treason
Extended to include speaking and writing;
Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man – a democratic attack on the hereditary principle,
And an attack on monarchy,
Banned  -
It had sold a staggering 200,00 copies very quickly and
The population was only about a youthful10 million –
The book would have been read and shared and discussed widely,
Its influence would have far exceeded 200,00 people;
1795 Seditious Meetings Act –
Any meeting of more than 50 people had to be authorized by a JP;
1797 – taxes increased on the press;
1799-1800 – trade unions illegalized;
Also remember when Edmund Burke referred to ordinary British people
As ‘the swinish multitude’, in his attack on Tom Paine;
Think about the suppression of rebellion in Ireland
When far more people were killed than by Madame Guillotine in
‘The Reign of Terror’;
None of this will be mentioned tonight,
For obvious reasons,
But it’s worth mentioning: it’s a case study of how
‘Every Age rewrites History’ …

Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrive!
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’etendard sanglant est leve!

Entendez-vous dans les compagnes,
Mugir ces feroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!

Auz armes, citoyens!
Formez vos battalons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!’

And in a final act of solidarity, I reaffirm my link with French O Level:
‘Puis- je remplir mon stylo, s’il vous-plait?

And now, Tom Paine:
'We have heard the Rights of Man called a levelling system; but the only system to which the word levelling is truly applicable, is the hereditary monarchical system. It is a system of mental levelling. It indiscriminately admits every species of character to the same authority. Vice and virtue, ignorance and wisdom, in short, every quality, good or bad, is put on the same level. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies not what their mental or moral characters are. Can we then be surprised at the abject state of the human mind in monarchical countries, when the government itself is formed on such an abject levelling system?—It has no fixed character. To-day it is one thing; to-morrow it is something else. It changes with the temper of every succeeding individual, and is subject to all the varieties of each. It is government through the medium of passions and accidents. It appears under all the various characters of childhood, decrepitude, dotage, a thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in crutches. It reverses the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally puts children over men, and the conceits of non-age over wisdom and experience. In short, we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents.'

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