How the Woke monster originated
‘The darkness of the middle ages exhibits some scenes not unworthy of our notice.’ Condescension of this order, an amused acknowledgement that even amid the murk of the medieval past the odd flickering of light might on occasion be observed, was not unknown among the philosophes. To committed revolutionaries, however, compromise with barbarism was out of the question. The Middle Ages had been a breeding ground of superstition, and that was that. Unsurprisingly, then, there was much enthusiasm among Jacobins for the customs and manners that had existed prior to the triumph of Christianity. The role played by the early Church in the imaginings of the Reformation was played in the imaginings of the French Revolution by classical Greece and Rome. Festivals designed to celebrate the dawning of the new age drew their inspiration from antique temples and statuary; the names of saints vanished from streets in Paris, to be replaced by those of Athenian philosophers; revolutionary leaders modelled themselves obsessively on Cicero. Even when the French Republic, mimicking the sombre course of Roman history, succumbed to military dictatorship, the new regime continued to plunder the dressing-up box of classical antiquity. Its armies followed eagles to victories across Europe. Its victories were commemorated in Paris on a colossal triumphal arch. Its leader, a general of luminescent genius named Napoleon, affected the laurel wreath of a Caesar. The Church meanwhile—grudgingly tolerated by an emperor who had invited the pope to his coronation, but then refused to be crowned by him—functioned effectively as a department of state. Salt was rubbed into the wound when a saint named Napoleon was manufactured in honour of the emperor, and given his own public fête. Augustus would no doubt have approved.
Nevertheless, the notion that antiquity offered the present nothing save for models of virtue, nothing save for exemplars appropriate to an enlightened and progressive age, had limitations. In 1797, a book was published in Paris that provided a very different perspective. Emphasis on the ‘toleration and gentleness’ of the ancients there was not. The Persians, ‘the world’s most ingenious race for the invention of tortures’, had devised the scaphe. The Greeks, when they captured a city, had licensed rape as a reward for valour. The Romans had stocked their households with young boys and girls, and used them as they pleased. Everyone in antiquity had taken for granted that infanticide was perfectly legitimate; that to turn the other cheek was folly; that ‘Nature has given the weak to be slaves’. Over many hundreds of pages, the claim that empires in the remote past had regarded as perfectly legitimate customs that under the influence of Christianity had come to be regarded as crimes was rehearsed in painstaking detail. Provocatively, it was even suggested that a relish for displays of suffering—such as in ancient Rome had been staged as public entertainments in the very heart of the city—had been a civic good. ‘Rome was mistress of the world all the while she had these cruel spectacles; she sank into decline and from there into slavery as soon as Christian morals managed to persuade her that there was more wrong in watching men slaughtered than beasts.’ [pages 405-406]
Here we see an error of omission ubiquitous in virtually all normie historians. Tom Holland refers to Imperial Rome while omitting that Republican Rome, when the patricians had not polluted their blood, wasn’t degenerate (cf. William Pierce’s history book). Holland then devotes a couple of pages to Marquez de Sade, whom he quotes:
‘The doctrine of loving one’s neighbour is a fantasy that we owe to Christianity and not to Nature.’ Yet even once Sade, set free by the Revolution, had found himself living under ‘the reign of philosophy’, in a republic committed to casting off the clammy hold of superstition, he had found that the pusillanimous doctrines of Jesus retained their grip. Specious talk of brotherhood was as common in revolutionary committee rooms as it had been in churches. In 1793—following his improbable election as president of a local committee in Paris—Sade had issued instructions to his fellow citizens that they should all paint slogans on their houses: ‘Unity, Indivisibility of the Republic, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’. Sade himself, though, was no more a Jacobin than he was a priest. The true division in society lay not between friends and enemies of the people, but between those who were naturally masters and those who were naturally slaves. Only when this was appreciated and acted upon would the taint of Christianity finally be eradicated, and humanity live as Nature prescribed. The inferior class of man, so a philosophe in The New Justine coolly observed, ‘is simply the species that stands next above the chimpanzee on the ladder; and the distance separating them is, if anything, less than that between him and the individual belonging to the superior caste.’
Yet if this was the kind of talk that would see Sade spend his final years consigned to a lunatic asylum, the icy pitilessness of his gaze was not insanity. More clearly than many enthusiasts for enlightenment cared to recognise, he could see that the existence of human rights was no more provable than the existence of God. In 1794, prompted by rebellion in Saint-Domingue, a French-ruled island in the West Indies, and by the necessary logic of the Declaration of Rights, the revolutionary government had proclaimed slavery abolished throughout France’s colonies; eight years later, in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to prevent the blacks of Saint-Domingue from establishing their own republic, Napoleon reinstated it…
Yet even amid the concert of the great powers there was evidence that it lived on as an ideal. That June, on his return from preparatory negotiations in Paris, the British Foreign Secretary had been greeted by his fellow parliamentarians with a standing ovation. Among the terms of the treaty agreed by Lord Castlereagh had been one particularly startling stipulation: that Britain and France would join in a campaign to abolish the slave trade. This, to Benjamin Lay, would have been fantastical, an impossible dream…
Both in the United States and in Britain, dread that slavery ranked as a monstrous sin, for which not just individuals but entire nations were certain to be chastised by God, had come to grip vast swathes of the population. ‘Can it be expected that He will suffer this great iniquity to go unpunished?’ Such a question would, of course, have bewildered earlier generations of Christians. The passages in the Bible that appeared to sanction slavery remained. Plantation owners—both in the West Indies and in the southern United States—did not hesitate to quote them. But this had failed to stem the rising swell of protest. Indeed, it had left slave owners open to a new and discomfiting charge: that they were the enemies of progress. Already, by the time of the American Revolution, to be a Quaker was to be an abolitionist. The gifts of the Spirit, though, were not confined to Friends. They had come to be liberally dispensed wherever English-speaking Protestants were gathered. Large numbers of them, ranging from Baptists to Anglicans, had been graced with good news: euangelion. To be an Evangelical was to understand that the law of God was the law not only of justice, but of love. No one who had felt the chains of sin fall away could possibly doubt ‘that slavery was ever detestable in the sight of God’. There was no time to lose. And so it was, in 1807, in the midst of a deadly struggle for survival against Napoleon, that the British parliament had passed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade; and so it was, in 1814, that Lord Castlereagh, faced across the negotiating table by uncomprehending foreign princes, had found himself obliged to negotiate for the eradication of a business that other nations still took for granted. Amazing Grace indeed.
To Sade, of course, it all had been folly. There was no brotherhood of man; there was no duty owed the weak by the strong. Evangelicals, like Jacobins, were the dupes of their shared inheritance: their belief in progress; their conviction in the potential of reform; their faith that humanity might be brought to light….
On 8 February 1815, eight powers in Europe signed up to a momentous declaration. Slavery, it stated, was ‘repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality’. The language of evangelical Protestantism was fused with that of the French Revolution. Napoleon, slipping his place of exile three weeks after the declaration had been signed, and looking to rally international support for his return, had no hesitation in proclaiming his support for the declaration. That June, in the great battle outside Brussels that terminally ended his ambitions, both sides were agreed that slavery, as an institution, was an abomination. The twin traditions of Britain and France, of Benjamin Lay and Voltaire, of enthusiasts for the Spirit and enthusiasts for reason, had joined in amity even before the first cannon was fired at Waterloo. The irony was one that neither Protestants nor atheists cared to dwell upon: that an age of enlightenment and revolution had served to establish as international law a principle that derived from the depths of the Catholic past. Increasingly, it was in the language of human rights that Europe would proclaim its values to the world. [pages 407-412]
My bold type.