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11.29.2008

reflections on a tome


Reading Les Miserables (very slowly), I am fascinated by the Bishop's encounter with the dying revolutionary in the first book. The revolutionary, named only G--, debates the justification of the French Revolution with the uncharacteristically indignant priest:

'Monsieur, forget not this; the French revolution had its reasons. Its wrath will be pardoned by the future; its result is a better world. From its most terrible blows comes a caress for the human race.... Yes, the brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over, this is recognised: that the human race has been harshly treated, but that it has advanced.'

Strange words, looking back. The wrath of the revolution has never been pardoned. We have only condemned it more and more ardently as time has passed - even though we would have condemned the persistence of the monarchy just as vehemently had it not been cut short. The French revolution had its reasons; so did the gulags; so does the Sudanese government. Cruelty often has its reasons. It doesn't matter if the cat is rude; you don't go round burning its tail. It is worse by far when madness takes compassion for its mantra. How do you argue against that? I am glad it is God who must distinguish between the compassion of the individual and the terror of that individual's army - who must distinguish and then mete out justice. I am baffled by it all.

1 comment:

  1. this post reminded me of flannery, which is always a good thing:

    "In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber."

    merry christmas.

    b.

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