Recent events in Ferguson, other American cities, not to mention Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine, all host to rampage and destruction, have affirmed the enduring nature of the French Revolution.
“The pagan religions of antiquity were always more or less linked up with the political institutions and the social order of their environment, and their dogmas were conditioned to some extent by the interests of the nations, or even the cities, where they flourished. A pagan religion functioned within the limits of a given country and rarely spread beyond its frontiers. It sometimes sponsored intolerance and persecutions, but very seldom embarked on missionary enterprises. This is why there were no great religious revolutions in the Western World before the Christian era. Christianity, however, made light of all the barriers which had prevented the pagan religions from spreading, and very soon won to itself a large part of the human race. I trust I shall not be regarded as lacking in respect for this inspired religion if I say it partly owed its triumph to the fact that, far more than any other religion, it was catholic in the exact sense, having no links with any specific form of government, social order, period, or nation.
The French Revolution’s approach to the problems of man’s existence here on earth was exactly similar to that of the religious revolutions as regards his afterlife. It viewed the “citizen” from an abstract angle, that is to say as an entity independent of any particular social order, just as religions view the individual, without regard to nationality or the age he lives in. It did not aim merely at defining the rights of the French citizen, but sought also to determine the rights and duties of men in general towards each other and as members of a body politic.
It was because the Revolution always harked back to universal, not particular, values and to what was the most “natural” form of government and the most “natural” social system that it had so wide an appeal and could be imitated in so many places simultaneously.
No previous political upheaval, however violent, had aroused such passionate enthusiasm, for the ideal the French Revolution set before it was not merely a change in the French social system but nothing short of a regeneration of the whole human race. It created an atmosphere of missionary fervor and, indeed, assumed all the aspects of a religious revival–much to the consternation of contemporary observers. It would perhaps be truer to say that it developed into a species of religion, if a singularly imperfect one, since it was without a God, without a ritual or promise of a future life. Nevertheless, this strange religion has, like Islam, overrun the whole world with its apostles, militants, and martyrs.”