Happy Bastille Day

Le 14 Juillet, or the Fête Nationaleis what we call Bastille Day. It marks the day in 1789 when angry crowds in France stormed the Bastille prison, freeing the political prisoners being held there (all seven of them). It was a pivotal event that traditionally is seen as the start of the French Revolution.

In her book The Roads to Modernity, Gertrude Himmelfarb makes an incredibly powerful statement. She says that the difference between the European Enlightenment and the English and American Enlightenments was really one word. For the French philosophes, reasoning was supreme. For the English and the Americans, moral reasoning was supreme. One word makes a world of difference.

The American Revolution emphasized the liberty of man, restrained by moral rights and duties. The French Revolution emphasized equality, and sought to reshape the role of government in providing for that equality. The pursuit of equality, rather than liberty, led directly to the Reign of Terror, when tens of thousands of people were executed by the revolutionary government.

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