Thursday, July 29, 2010

TERROR - July 29, 2010

This weekend, I went to see Danton’s Death by Georg Buechner. It was a scorching play by a contemporary and supporter of the French revolution who was highly critical of the Reign of Terror, like Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson before him. It lasted 3 years and claimed the lives of 2500 people. Mark Twain, in A Connecticut Yankee, called it the little terror, comparing it with the Great Terror which lasted over 1000years, taking the lives of many hundreds of thousands and consuming those of many millions more. Still, many compare its excesses to the beastliness of a dog that has been turned wild by prolonged extreme mistreatment and whose behaviour is the result of its suffering , possibly not in its deep nature. Buechner obviously felt deeply for the agonies of the revolutionaries and even more for the suffering of the moderates for whom he spoke. It was hard not to see comparisons for our own time, as we move ever closer to the possibility of devastating war with Pakistan, with claims of virtue on both sides. The American and French revolutions were testing grounds for the theory of the Enlightenment, with the American managing to keep it alive and the French going overboard in what must have appeared to their ideologists as an excess of zeal. It never made sense to me, but in a speech from the play about Marat and Sade, Peter Weiss gives us some understanding of why it failed under the rubric of “Everybody wants to bring something with him through a revolution, a souvenir of the time before.” It has appeared to me for a long while that a society in which the ruling caste feels itself secure against revolution becomes steadily worse to those who are thought to have no option, while an actual revolution consumes all civility in its path. I fear I am about to live through such a time. Again!!

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