Aristocratic Values

This 1789 article from the Révolutions de Paris, a leading radical newspaper, argues that the Revolution has not been achieved, because all of the changes to date could still be reversed. Moreover, it warns that "anti–patriots"—"nobles" in the National Assembly and "aristocrats" in the royal ministry—would like to do just that by starting a "civil war." To prevent this, it calls on civic–minded readers of the newspaper to follow vigilantly the doings of the assembly.


There are few patriots who today would say that the right cause was triumphant, and that the aristocracy is forever beaten. Where there was a king devoted to the happiness of his people and was a faithful executor of the decrees of the legislative body; where there was a legislative body fully committed to both monarchal principles and to the king; where the National Assembly and the royal family were the focus of patriotism and enlightenment . . . now there are fugitive courtiers, hunted conspirators, cabals uncovered and disgraced, and working-class ministers (or they are forced to appear as such). There have been two great and terrible lessons delivered by the Parisians to the aristocrats, and every community in the kingdom demonstrated an equal amount of effort in unraveling political and individual freedoms. Are these reasons sufficient enough to believe that the Revolution has been carried out? That a counterrevolution is impossible? That would be a fatal error, a dangerous belief! The aristocracy again rises with a superb disguise. The barbarous gaiety that comes from being sure of a quick revenge has been replaced by the tears that we had attributed to a belated repentant, and from us spilled a then-powerless rage.

Citizens! Let us count our enemies, gauge their resources and see if that does not give us several reasons to keep on our guard. The nobles have to recover all of the benefits of an abusive regime where their name alone swept away merit, virtue, talent, and even justice. The clerics are forced to sell off their immense assets that had provided them with much credit and many pleasures. The magistrates are stripped of their titles as legislators, defenders of the people, and advisers of kings. The judges see the end to this judicial tyranny that, down to the smallest village, was so beneficial to their wealth and so flattering to their vanity. The money lenders can no longer hope to continue their atrocious business. Financiers have no doubt that their businesses will be suppressed. The infinite number of the breed known as clerks does not mean that there remains the resources for them to take on a useful profession. Add to this so impressive a group of anti-patriots, those that never do anything but what pleases them, those who have no homeland, and who cannot have one, and you will have an idea of the army of enemies that the state holds within its breast. But this is merely the body of the army, it has leaders. Where are they? Does it need saying? In part they are in the National Assembly, for which, through treacherous tactics, they fetter or corrupt the deliberations.

If we are not in agreement on the way to do right, at least they are not any more in agreement on how to do wrong. But if some scheming, persuasive, deceptive mind came and unified them, or at least made them act in a uniform manner (although for a different goal), the least misfortune that we have to fear is a war . . . a civil war.

Bankruptcy would be the inevitable conclusion to a civil war. Commerce and agriculture, both of which are already stagnant, would be destroyed. For the next century authority would be in convulsion and the people in agony before the complicated wheels of government of the old regime would once again be in working order. Liberty, that spark that glinted in our eyes, would, from time to time, light fires that we would only be able to extinguish by the spilling of blood. The aristocrats would not enjoy any of the advantages that established norms assured them they possessed. They would have to fight endlessly for them with brandished swords. Finally, in the place of a popular anarchy, which by its nature would be short since the majority are interested in order, we would have an aristocratic anarchy. This would be a hundred times worse than the autocratic regime, and would last until the current generation would be able to forget everything it had learned in the past three months, or had given way to another generation.

Source: Révolutions de Paris, no. 19 (21 November 1789), 2–3.