Solzhenitsyn Mourned Bastille Day. So Should All Christians.

The French Revolution invented radical nationalism and socialism, and launched the first modern genocide, aimed at Christians.

French Revolution, Execution of King Louis XVI (1754-1793) on January 21, 1793, Colored engraving.

By John Zmirak Published on July 13, 2015

Tuesday, July 14 probably passes without much fanfare in your home, but the date, Bastille Day, marks the beginning of the greatest organized persecution of Christians since the Emperor Diocletian. This day, the beginning of the French Revolution, also planted the seeds for the murderous ideologies of socialism and nationalism that would poison the next two centuries, murdering millions of believers and other innocent civilians. Between them, those two political movements racked up quite a body count: In Death By Government, scholar R. J. Rummel pointed out that

during the first 88 years of this century, almost 170,000,000 men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners.

But the first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at pious peasants in the Vendée region of France. By its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.

This story is little discussed in France. Indeed, a devout historian who teaches at a French university once told me, “We are not to mention the Vendée. Anyone who brings up what was done there has no prospect of an academic career. So we keep silent.”

It is mostly in the Vendée itself that memories linger, which may explain why that part of France to this day remains more religious and more conservative than any other region. The local government opened a museum marking these atrocities on their 200th anniversary in 1993 — with a visit by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who noted during his eloquent address that the mass murders of Christians in Russia were directly inspired by those in the Vendée. The Bolsheviks, he said, modeled themselves on the French revolutionaries, and Lenin himself pointed to the Vendée massacres as the right way to deal with Christian resistance.

It was ordinary farmers of the Vendée and Brittany regions who rose up in 1793 against the middle-class radicals in Paris who controlled the country. The ideologues of the Revolution had already

  • Executed the king and queen, and left their young son to die of disease in prison.
  • Seized the Cathedral of Notre Dame, stripped it of Christian symbols, and enshrined a prostitute as the “Goddess of Reason” on the altar;
  • Declared a revolutionary “war of liberation” against most of the other countries in Europe;
  • Suspended all Protestant services, in deference to the state’s cult of Reason;
  • Seized all church property from Catholics, expelling thousands of monks, priests and nuns to fend for themselves, then sold the property to their cronies to raise money for their wars;
  • Ordered all clergy to swear allegiance to the government instead of the church; and
  • Launched the first universal conscription in history, drafting ordinary people — most of them devout peasants bewildered by the slogans that held sway in Paris—to fight for the Revolution.

When the Parisians came to take away their sons for the army, the Vendeans finally fought back and launched a counter-revolution in the name of “God and King.” It quickly spread across the northwest of France, tying down the government’s professional armies — fighting untrained bands of devout guerillas, many of them armed only with muskets suited to hunting.

The First Modern Genocide

As Sophie Masson — herself a descendant of rebels who fought in the Vendée resistance — has written:

The atrocities multiplied, the exterminations systematic and initiated from the very top, and carried out with glee at the bottom. At least 300,000 people were massacred during that time, and those of the intruders who refused to do the job were either shot or discredited utterly. But still the people resisted. Still there were those who hid in the forests and ambushed, who fought as bravely as lions but were butchered like pigs when they were caught. No quarter was given; all the leaders were shot, beheaded or hanged. Many were not even allowed to rest in peace; the body of the last leader was cut up and distributed to scientists; his head was pickled in a jar, the brain examined to see where the seed of rebellion lay in the mind of a savage.…

“Not one is to be left alive.” “Women are reproductive furrows who must be ploughed under.” “Only wolves must be left to roam that land.” “Fire, blood, death are needed to preserve liberty.” “Their instruments of fanaticism and superstition must be smashed.” These were some of the words the Convention used in speaking of the Vendée. Their tame scientists dreamed up all kinds of new ideas – the poisoning of flour and alcohol and water supplies, the setting up of a tannery in Angers which would specialise in the treatment of human skins; the investigation of methods of burning large numbers of people in large ovens so their fat could be rendered down efficiently. One of the Republican generals, Carrier, was scornful of such research: these “modern” methods would take too long. Better to use more time-honoured methods of massacre: the mass drownings of naked men, women and children, often tied together in what he called “republican marriages,” off specially constructed boats towed out to the middle of the Loire and then sunk; the mass bayoneting of men, women and children; the smashing of babies’ heads against walls; the slaughter of prisoners using cannons; the most grisly and disgusting tortures; the burning and pillaging of villages, towns and churches.

The persecution only really ended when Napoleon came to power in 1799 — and needed peace at home so that he could launch his wars of conquest. He patched together a modus vivendi with the pope, and the Vendée quieted down.

How the Revolution Turned Satanic

Of course, it wasn’t supposed to work out this way. The Revolution had begun with a financial crisis, and promised to pare back an absolutist monarchy, perhaps along British lines. King Louis XVI was a kindly if not terribly competent king. He had lifted the lingering, disgraceful legal penalties against Protestants and Jews imposed by his ancestors during a more intolerant age. He bankrupted his kingdom bankrolling the American Revolution. (In gratitude, the U.S. Congress hung a portrait of the monarch in the Capitol, and named a southern county “Bourbon.” That’s where the whiskey was invented.) The French legislators who met in 1789 for the first time in over a century intended at first to reform their government, not replace it.

And some reforms were certainly needed: As Tocqueville would observe, the ruthless centralization imposed by Louis XIV and XV had hollowed out French political life and concentrated power over the lives of citizens almost entirely in Paris, in the hands of technocrats. Predictably, they’d made a mess of things.

Unlike its sister kingdom across the channel, France had no sitting parliament, no common law protecting its subjects from arbitrary arrest, and an economy largely driven not by free citizens but the state. The French church, while still in communion with Rome, was largely controlled by the kings – who appointed its bishops and set its policies. Indeed, the kings of France, Portugal and Spain had arranged in 1767 for the suppression of the Jesuits — whose loyalty to Rome and rejection of the Divine Right of Kings made them suspect, and whose defense of the rights of Indians got in the way of “progress.”

The educational vacuum created by the destruction of this order was quickly (and ironically) filled by Enlightenment philosophes. The first generation to rise without the Jesuits would come of age in 1789. The abuses that would mark the Revolution — including mass executions of priests and nuns — were endorsed by intellectuals schooled on the slanderous pamphlets of Diderot, full of pornographic falsehoods about the “secret lives” of monks and nuns.

Indeed, there’s a chilling similarity between the anti-clerical literature that prepared the public for the looting of monasteries and the anti-Semitic canards that were spread by the Nazis. The euphemism that was used to describe stealing monastic property for the state — “secularization” — found its echo in the 1930s in the term the German government employed for robbing the Jews: “aryanization.” Since the Jews are indeed a priestly people, it is not surprising that such satanic parallels exist. Just as fascists excused their atrocities by pointing to Jewish prominence in the financial sphere and the press, leftists still defend the persecution of the Church by pointing to her political influence. We shouldn’t let them get away with it. I wait in vain for the historian who will write a comprehensive comparison of anti-Semitism and anti-clericalism.

In 1989, I helped organize a funeral Mass for all the Revolution’s victims. We invited the French consul-general, but he pleaded a prior engagement. In the Vendée itself, a French friend told me, some people still wear black armbands on their country’s national holiday, and regard the Revolution’s tricolor as black Americans do the Confederate battle flag. As we tremble for the future of religious liberty in America, let’s remember those who died defending freedom and faith before us. God forbid that we’ll have to follow in their footsteps.


This piece originally appeared in a different form at Crisis magazine and is reprinted with permission.

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  • Barbara

    Yes, this is coming. Our poor children and grandchildren are fated to repeat this horrific time because most of them see only the golden path to the future. Our rich past, filled with experience glorious and demonic has been lost. Thank you for a terrific piece.

  • Midwester

    How are the Jews a priestly people? The temple was destroyed as predicted by Christ because of the rejection of Christ by the Jews, while Jewish Christian converts left Jerusalem for the Christian diaspora. The mantle of the priesthood was passed to the Apostles and their direct successors by the Eternal High priest, Jesus Christ. There hasn’t been a Jewish high priest since 67 AD.
    The persecution of the Jews in Germany was a result, in part, of the betrayal by German Zionists of Germany during the Great War – getting America into the war to defeat Germany in exchange for a foothold in Palestine (the Balfour Declaration). This was used by the NAZIs to foment anti-Jewish hatred so that they could be designated as scapegoats.

    • Suzanne Utts

      Paul said “The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.” or as the Holman Christian Standard Bible says “are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29 So the Jews are still a priestly people whether or not they walk in that calling, and many have and still do as they carefully passed the written Torah on and still serve in a teaching and praying capacity. You don’t need a Temple to represent G-d and teach about Him and many Jews fulfill this calling. Prayerfully consider visiting an Orthodox synagogue on the Sabbath and you will see this for yourself. And yes there HAS been a Jewish High Priest and that is Yeshua. He is the eternal High Priest. So, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, He had it covered and still does. There must be a distinct Jewish remnant in order for Zech 12:10 to be fulfilled in the future.

      As to the persecution of the Jews in Germany much of what the Germans used against the Jews such as labeled clothing, placing Jews in ghettos, forcing them to seek menial employment, was advocated by Martin Luther. There is a wonderful book by Dr. Michael Brown, a Messianic Jewish scholar “Our Hands Are Stained With Blood” which documents much material that is new and surprising to most Christians. Another good book is Fr. Edward Flannery’s “The Anguish of the Jews.”

    • UnreconstructedRebel

      “How are the Jews a priestly people?”

      Short answer is they are not. The Aaronic Priesthood under the old covenant was abolished and replaced with the Priesthood of Christ, our Great High Priest, and those who are adopted Sons (believers) share in that as a priesthood of believers. There is no way that an un-converted Jew can be legitimately considered to be a priest in any meaningful sense of the word since the old priesthood was abolished at the crucifixion (the veil of the temple was rent) and unless they profess faith in Christ, they are not members of His priesthood of believers.

  • D. Morgan

    Evil never dies, it merely changes form. The errors of the enlightenment are alive and well in progressive America. And the fruit of that poison tree will soon be quite evident. Only Christ’s second coming will end this.

  • Yankeegator

    How are you enjoying The Enlightenment now Mr. Zmirak???

  • James Morrow

    Great piece John Zmirak — we worked together briefly at Success many moons ago, great to see your byline. Cheers

  • Cynthia IA

    So let us not stand and wring our hands and bemoan the future. There is still the great commission and we are still responsible for going forth and making disciples. It is our only hope. Obey Jesus. Love your neighbor, be kind, be just, be merciful, and walk humbly before God. We are responsible for the lack of God in this country, we are not doing our jobs in teaching others and spreading the good news.

  • Theoldlady

    I do remember reading in the bible about Paul also being one who persecuted Christians and then he went on to write a lot of the New Testament books. God can and does forgive. He is the final judge.

    • ladydocent

      Paul repented.

      • jdf

        Still time for Trump too, right?

        • castelletto

          How do we know that he hasn’t already, privately? Not letting everyone in the world in on it would be known as having good boundaries.

  • Aajaxx

    It is so bad, that we now have a guy who was divorced twice and who denies the need for God’s forgiveness being nominated by the Party of God. Surely God will punish America if it elects such an anti-Christ.

    • jdf

      Right, elect the rapists couple instead… so you are the judge now? Pope Francis would be displeased with you…

      • Aajaxx

        There were like 11 other Republicans to choose from.

        • Trevor Phillips

          You should return your Trump tax cuts.

          • Aajaxx

            If you show me them, I will.

        • Richard Malcolm

          16, actually. And that was part of what made it possible for Trump to succeed, since the opposition was so fragmented (until it was too late).

          • Aajaxx

            The opposition of all the candidates was fragmented.

          • jdf

            Doesn’t matter, in the end vote for Trump or the Rapists, you preferred the crimminal couple?

          • Aajaxx

            I preferred the one who believed in the Constitution and had a track record of upholding the principles of freedom and small government. The rest were usurpers and enemies of liberty.

  • Very good piece. Thank you.

  • Jo Jjp

    This really is something you don’t hear about in the history books! It disgusts me that these atrocities have been so totally glossed over.

  • Stuart B. Jennings

    I think the author needs to revisit the treatment of Catholic Irish by English/Scottish settlers in the seventeenth century if he wants to look for early precursors of modern genocide not France

    • Alan Malcolm Dunn

      Was the genocide that you are referring to also by ‘progressive’ government ‘liberators’?

    • Spychiatrist

      But never mind the Catholic/Jesuit persecution of the protestants before that.

      Tit for tat?

      • Chris C.

        The genocide directed against the Irish was wholesale butchery and including starvation and enslavement. There is no parallel to anything that happened in England against its Protestant population.

        • Spychiatrist

          Maybe not in England, but the trail of tears from the Jesuitical order and it’s invention of communism worldwide is well documented.

          Yes-they are-the progenitors of communism.

          • Chris C.

            I am aware of no serious historian who can demonstrate that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, etc. learned their diabolical craft at the feet of Jesuits or that the advocates of the radical French enlightenment theory which informed Communist thinking did either. To the contrary every philosopher who had any meaningful influence on the development of Communism despised the Catholic Faith and all within its ambit, including religious orders, monasteries etc.

            If on the other hand you are referring to the influence of many Jesuits on revolutionary movements in the mid 20th century onward regrettably their record is not good.

          • Deacon Raymond Moon Sr.

            The observation about the Jesuits in Central America would depend on whose version you read and believe.

  • Jack McNally

    Total historical cherry-picking. The Île de France has always tried to consolidate its hold over the South/Periphery. The only thing different about this versus the Albigensian Crusade laying the groundwork for Philip II taking over the Languedoc is that The Church is victim in one and agent in another. Spare us the ideological whining.

    • David Marshall

      Because two wrongs make a . . . what?

  • mike

    What’s the common denominator in all this mass murder and theft, who else. The next time everyone will know who to shoot.

  • Georgiaboy61

    Re: “But the first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at pious peasants in the Vendée region of France. By its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.”

    The veracity of this claim lies in how one defines the word “modern.” While there can be no denying the bloodshed of the Vendée, some historians would dispute that 1793 is – in any sense – “modern.”

    A far-better candidate for the dubious title of the first modern genocide would be the slaughter of over one million Armenian Christians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire roughly a century ago, from 1917-1922. It was the Armenian genocide which was witnessed by a young Adolf Hitler, who noted that few cared or even knew of the plight of the victims – an observation which had much to do with his later decision to exterminate Europe’s Jews and other so-called undesirables.

    Of course, since the French were products of western civilization, criticizing them comes much easier to the modern academy, which despises western civilization and never misses an opportunity to criticize it or otherwise make it look bad. Islamic civilization, on the other hand, the left virtually never criticizes – since these various academics have seen what happens to those who anger Muslims, vis-a-vis keeping one’s head attached to one’s body.

    • alfred5

      your comments are right on ..Bravo !

    • Zmirak

      In intellectual history, “modern” is typically dated from Rene Descartes.

      • Georgiaboy61

        It depends upon which historian or political scientist you ask….

      • Richard Malcolm

        Not indefensible as a marker.

        The academic history journal I used to edit divvied up articles and reviews as follows: “Early Modern” as circa 1492-1789; and “Late Modern” as 1789 onward.

        Either way, I think the 1790’s counts as modernity under most any reasonable rubric.

  • brucestratford

    As I read, one thing comes to mind. Some “Old Guy” that I see in the mirror each morning has said: Homo sapiens is not nice, Homo sapiens is an opportunist. He has suggested that “Anything for free has no value”. This understanding and the issue of Freedom suggests that the “struggle” is continuous and we are obligated to look back at the most accurate history we can so as to remember to not repeat the problems of the past, fully understanding that we are likely going to do so because we continue to struggle.

  • Aajaxx

    The Enlightenment followed the Thirty Years’ War. Look it up. Some fun the good Christians had going at each other then.

    • Richard Malcolm

      The most intense – and most destructive – phases of the Thirty Years War were actually dynastic in motivation, as the Swedish and French crowns (the latter of which had a cardinal for its chief minister of state) successively intervened to counter Habsburg dominance purely for reasons of state.

  • Bruce

    In regard to the many comments in this thread that cite previous examples of genocide, I hardly think that anyone needs precedent to dream up new ways to destroy their fellow man. Cain certainly didn’t have any.

  • David MacKenzie

    The decline of France always seems very linear to me, progressing somewhat ironically from the abhorrent treatment of its Protestants (and Jews), to its Catholics to (finally) anyone and everyone who would look sideways at the regime. It was a descent into utter madness, and it began with the abuse of the people of God.

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