Memorial for Chevalier de la Barre
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
As the historical personalities are introduced throughout the chapter RAW often lists their birthdate and contemporary positions in society. (John Hancock’s is incomplete- aside from being a smuggler he was also a famous lush before signing the Declaration of Independence.) To your humble guide (b. 1990, sun in Gemini, moon is Aries, Capricorn rising), this somewhat reductionary approach serves a purpose as we watch their actions and their opposite and opposing actions throughout the chapter.
Through Seamus’ speeches to his men we see how Thomas Jefferson (33 year old planter, attorney, architect) and Thomas Paine (39 year old teacher, sailor, customs agent) became the Great Architects of the American Experiment. Colonel Muadhen’s Irish flavoring speaks to how we all have our own ideas of how America was shaped, usually in favor of our ancestors. Muadhen’s experiences also ground the romanticism of the Revolution and the high ideals of the Founders in the lived experience of the men who somehow won the war. I recently read a Bertolt Brecht poem that asked variations of the question “Did Caesar conquer Gaul alone?” These “great men” direct the course of history, which as Muadhen’s “Sinister Italian” noted, is not usually very merciful to those who make it. This point is hammered home in Muadhen’s final scene where he tries to rouse his men after victory at Monmouth- despite the patriotic fervor and winning the day, his speech is drowned out by the screams of wounded and dying soldiers.
Across the Atlantic we observe John Adams crusading around the Continent to secure funds for the Colonist’s cause and Benjamin Franklin having a grand time in Gay Paris. Adams seems to be a model of Wilson’s “right man” who is able to bend the world to his will by sheer virtue of believing that his model of the world is the only legitimate model. It seems like a missed opportunity, especially considering the highlights of the mutual career of the Batty Babcocks, that Wilson didn’t include any of Adams’ correspondence with his wife Abigail- a woman who wielded a great amount of influence for her time. Franklin meanwhile entertains many different ladies while waiting for King Louis XVI’s decision. During his time in Paris he is brought face to face with the most famous heretic of the age.
Voltaire, as Wilson notes, was nowhere near as controversial when he returned from his Swiss exile. Rather than imagining that this change is because of acceptance of his ideas, the reader should be aware that this is because most people didn’t particularly care about his ideas anymore. Once the most potent thinker in the world, Voltaire would be cast aside as a curiosity by most of the world. Regrettably, most of the world would also abandon Voltaire to textbooks and literature surveys and, as noted in the beginning of the chapter, most of the Enlightenment ideals that influenced America did not come from the French philosophes but rather the milquetoast philosophy of John Locke. If the United States had been more influenced by Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau I believe our country would look a lot better right now. But we didn’t and to our disadvantage most of what the world took from the Enlightenment was a sense of being better off than we were without the rigorous skepticism and humanism that grounded the philosophy of the time.
As Voltaire makes his way into Paris we are reminded of the case of Chevalier Francois-Jean de la Barre, whose execution was observed by Sigismundo, his father, and Herr Zoessor in The Earth Will Shake. Because his writings were used as evidence of La Barre’s atheism (he was accused of desecrating a cross) Voltaire did take a great interest in the case and did as much as he could to fan outrage over the incident. This account points out that Voltaire’s letters on the subject of La Barre are not great historical documents as they were written as polemics. Today the date of La Barre’s execution, July 1st, is celebrated in France as “Chevalier La Barre Day,” a holiday for those who oppose religious tyranny. In light of Reichsfuhrer Barr’s insidious integralism I think we’ll be celebrating this year. Honestly, I just can’t believe we’re still dealing with the Roman shtik in 2020.
But Voltaire’s dinner conversation after his initiation as an Entered Apprentice would indicate that I shouldn’t be in disbelief. It is fascinating to read Franklin, Voltaire, and Condorcet’s speculative conversation and predictions in light of the past 250 years of history; one of my favorite parts of The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles is how RAW delivers this type of historical voyeurism throughout the three books. Voltaire, despite the pageantry of being initiated as an Entered Apprentice, is still on his way out the door and doesn’t appreciate what he sees in the room, Franklin has an insouciant but generally hopeful attitude, while it is left for the Marquis de Condorcet to rhapsodize about the world of tomorrow.
Condorcet was as optimistic, good, and talented as Wilson portrays him; he was beloved of the French people and considered an embodiment of the Enlightenment. He wrote an early treatise against slavery and was later an early member of the Revolutionary movement which he hoped would lead to a rational society. Like many other philosophes he was gravely disappointed in the results and later had a warrant issued for his arrest by one of the shifting governing councils. The sentiments and ideas that Condorcet relates in this chapter are taken from his work Sketch for the Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit which was published posthumously. Condorcet truly believed that scientific progress would lead to equality, liberty, and fraternity; what makes this vision of Utopia especially poignant is that he wrote it while in hiding from the authorities. He was captured and jailed- two days later he was found dead in his cell. He either committed suicide with smuggled poison or was murdered extrajudicially as the people would not have stood for him to have been executed.
His proposed future was drastically altered by a force he might have been unaware of but Wilson makes sure to note: Adam Smith’s problem child capitalism shows up to make sure progress will follow wealth instead of knowledge. Weishaupt's machinations could be seen as a furthering of concentration of power muddled in conspiracy and guesswork. There are always snakes in the garden. For invisible hands and heads these forces leave magnificently obvious signs of their sweeping scythes and strangling. As MacGregor’s simp Brodie-Innes said, “it doesn’t matter if the Secret Chiefs exist, merely that the world operates as if they do.” Too bad the Secret Chiefs ended up emulating Dennis Hooper’s Frank Booth instead of Trismegistus.
One gardener who goes through extraordinarily elaborate pains to prove the existence of the snakes is another Marquis, this one Divine and imprisoned. As I have noted before, de Sade is often still misunderstood as a madman, devil, or pervert, while he may have been all of these he was also privy to a sanity that would break most people entirely. De Sade’s screed against the Powers That Be is just as relevant and damning today as it was when he was stuffing the manuscript in a crack in the Bastille’s wall. Paolini’s excellent Salo is a prime example of the material’s ability to shock and condemn- unsurprisingly, de Sade’s life isn’t going to get any easier and his masterpiece won’t be published until after his death.
And we have one more snake in the guise of Dr. Fritz Cyprus who proposes that the Dark Ages were just lovely and that the Church really should be in charge of society. (Cyprus, a malignant German, might be an ancestor of Professor Hanfkopf from The Widow’s Son.) Wilson points out the dark side of Romanticism, to elaborate; while the works of the pre-Raphaelite artists were astounding they did introduce a strain of Catholicism and regressivism into English Decadence that would lead to it being quite a bit more fatal than the French version. The connection between antirationalism and fascism is incredibly relevant to today as we watch a large part of the country cheer a wanna-be dictator on to further insanity. The chapter closes with another antirational figure who just thirty years ago, despite lacking a penis, did all she could to set back progress and equity.
Away from all of this a Neapolitan musician is sitting under a tree meditating in Ohio. We’ll sample the fruits of making one’s mind into a mirror next week as we begin Book Two of Nature’s God with “The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine.”
From Eric: “ I thought this would make a nice soundtrack for this chapter. https://youtu.be/j1EI4kwr1kw”
My own musical offering this week, for Lady Maria Babcock/Sarah Beckersniff, the world would have been better would you have lived, dove sta memoria: https://youtu.be/vZtkVj3JPaw