The 2020 Revolution and the ‘1812 Overture’
I hope you enjoyed a cheerful and blessed Independence Day. For me, it was more special than any since 1976. That’s when I watched the tall ships sail into New York harbor to mark the Bicentennial.
America was in deep trouble at the time. A stagnant economy, gas shortages, and urban blight afflicted tens of millions. The Soviet Union was on the march, seeking control of key countries in nearby Central America. Cuban proxies fought in guerrilla wars all over Africa. President Ford was stumbling on the campaign trail, and would soon give way to the feckless idealist Jimmy Carter.
New York City, where I grew up, was crime-ridden, bankrupt, covered in graffiti, and reeked of urine. Within a few years, movies like Americathon would appear, depicting a bankrupt country seeking donations ala Jerry Lewis. And Escape From New York, imagining the city abandoned and turned into a vast prison colony. I saw that in the theater with my parents. The audience wasn’t laughing. That future looked all too plausible. (As it’s starting to look again now.)
Lady Liberty in Distress
The celebrations of our 200th birthday didn’t ring hollow, though. Instead, they brought home to us the enduring value and sudden fragility of our country. Lady Liberty in the Harbor no longer seemed an untouchable icon, but a damsel in distress.
I felt the same way this year, as rioters goaded by the Marxist cult Black Lives Matter, and organized by the well-funded street militia Antifa, attacked monuments all across America. In a speech I wrote two years ago for a GOP Senate candidate (who chickened out of delivering it) I predicted 2020.
I wrote that surrendering Confederate memorials to our cultural crocodiles would only whet their appetite and make them bolder. Once you accept the principle that any figure’s flaws justify tearing him down, there will soon be nothing left. We have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.
And sadly, I was right. Abolitionists, Union soldiers, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Christopher Columbus and even black abolitionist Frederick Douglass have all been attacked. The “Star Spangled Banner” is under assault, and Mt. Rushmore suddenly stands on “land wrested from Indians,” according to CNN. No one there seems to realize that CNN’s buildings, too, stand on … “land wrested from Indians.” Will the network give all that back?
Secret Cabals of Extremists
We don’t face a reasoned call for reform, but an insatiable revolution. Not like the one begun in Lexington and Concord, but the one that happened in France. Begun as a coup by moderates who wanted to pare back the monarchy’s powers, it spun out of control. Secret cabals of wealthy, powerful radicals manipulated mobs to “cancel,” then persecute their enemies. Plans for sane reform of an overly centralized kingdom quickly went out the window. They weren’t as “sexy” as wild, science fiction fantasies of remaking human nature and starting history over again in “Year Zero” (1793).
King Louis XVI had bankrupted himself supporting the American War of Independence. By 1789, he was willing to risk calling France’s long-dormant version of parliament, the Estates-General. This raised the hopes of ordinary Frenchmen that they might get a regime more like England’s, where the executive power was balanced against a legislature. It also whetted the appetite of violent, Utopian revolutionaries. When the Estates-General delegates arrived, they were led by a procession of bishops, singing prayers as people threw flowers. But the radicals hijacked the gathering, with the connivance of naïve bishops and nobles. By 1793 the revolutionaries had:
- 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.
Genocide at Home, War with the Rest of Europe
When religious peasants in the Vendee and other regions resisted the draft, the regime launched a genocide against them, massacring them by the hundreds of thousands. One sect of revolutionaries would guillotine the “enemies of the people” (clergy, nobles, nuns, and hapless foreigners) along with their rivals. Then it would lose power to another wild-eyed faction, and end up beheaded as well.
The last of the revolutionary “wars of liberation” waged against the rest of Europe were led by the genius Napoleon. His hubris knew no bounds, as he sought to conquer the Continent, even the vastness of Russia. The anthem his troops sang marching to battle was the catchy, bloodthirsty tune “La Marseillaise.” Here’s a choice selection from its lyrics:
To arms, oh citizens!
Form up in serried ranks!
March on, march on!
And drench our fields
With their tainted blood!
Supreme devotion to our Motherland
Guides and sustains avenging hands.
That “tainted blood” was that of nobles, foreigners, and Christians who resisted the revolutionary program. And it did indeed drench the fields not just of France, but much of Europe, right up to the gates of Moscow.
Holy Russia Stops the Revolution
And that’s where the story finds its happy ending, in the snows of Russia. Every July Fourth, one of the culminating spectacles of fireworks displays is Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” It celebrates Christian Russia’s defeat of the revolutionary armies. You might know the piece best for its glorious cannon finale, accompanied by church bells, like those that rang through Russia to mark Napoleon’s ignominious retreat.
The piece was first performed in 1882 in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior — which Stalin would later demolish. (It has since been gloriously restored.) It took until 1815 for the combined forces of Europe, led by England, to subdue Napoleon and eliminate his regime. But the tide had turned in Russia. While that country’s system was far from perfect (nor is ours), it wasn’t the outcome of some Gnostic, Luciferian dream of remaking the human race from scratch.
O Lord, Save Thy People
You really should hear the piece as it was meant to be performed, complete with a choir. Along with Russian folk songs to honor the peasants who fought, it starts and ends with a signature hymn used in Russian churches. (I used to attend a Russian Catholic parish, and I’ve sung it myself.) Here’s part of it, the Troparion of the Holy Cross:
O Lord, save Thy people,
and bless Thine inheritance!
Grant victory to the true-believing Christians
over their adversaries,
and by power of Thy cross,
preserve Thy habitation.
The French Revolution: The Opposite of the American
The French Revolution was not the heir or the continuation of the American War of Independence. In fact, they were metaphysical opposites. Our founders, most of them Augustinian Christians (via Calvin), looked with grave suspicion on centralized power. The French revolutionaries craved it, and crushed any local resistance to their world-altering schemes. America’s rebels looked to the ancient liberties enshrined at the Magna Carta, and demanded for people freedom of religion and opinion. The French radicals wadded up the French past like an old newspaper and tossed it in the fire, along with the Bible. George Washington warned against foreign entanglements and wars. The French revolutionaries tried to “liberate” all of Europe, at the point of a bayonet.
So what better way to celebrate the success of the American Revolution than to remember the bloody end of the French one?
In 2020 more than in any year, “The 1812 Overture” reminds us of what went wrong in 1789, and right in 1776.