October 13, 2014

"LIVE FREE OR DIE" By Camille Desmoulins February 1788



One difference between the monarchy and the republic, which alone should suffice to make the people reject with horror all the monarchical rule and make them prefer the republic regardless of the cost of its establishment, is that in a democracy, though the people may be deceived, yet, at least, they love virtue.  It is merit that they believe they put in power in place of the rascals who are the very essence of monarchies.  The vices, the concealments, and the crimes which are the diseases of republics are the very health and existence of monarchies.  Cardinal Richelieu avowed openly in his political principles, that "the king should always avoid using the talents of thoroughly honest men."  Long before him Sallust said: "Kings cannot get along without rascals.  On the contrary, they should fear to trust the honest and the upright."

Camille Desmoulins
It is therefore, only under a democracy that the good citizen can reasonably hope to see a cessation of the triumphs of intrigue and crime; and to this end the people need only to be enlightened.
There is yet this difference between a monarchy and the republic; the reigns of Tiberius, of Claudius, of Nero, of Caligula, of Domitian, had happy beginnings.  In face, all reigns make a joyous entry, but only as a delusion.  Therefore the Royalists laugh at the present state of France as if its violent and terrible entry under the republic must always last.


Everything gives umbrage to a tyrant.  If a citizen have popularity, he is becoming a rival to the prince.  Consequently, he is stirring up civil strife, and is a suspect.  If, on the contrary, he flee popularity and seclude himself in the corner of his own fireside, this retired life makes him remarked, and he is a suspect.  If he is a rich man, there is an imminent peril that he corrupt the people with his largesses, and he is a suspect.  Are you poor?  How then! Invincible emperors, this man must be closely watched; no one so enterprising as he who has nothing.  He is a suspect!  Are you in character somber, melancholy, or neglectful?  You are afflicted by the condition of public affairs, and are a suspect.

If, on the contrary, the citizen enjoy himself and have resultant indigestion, he is only seeking diversion because his ruler has had an attack of gout, which made his Majesty realize his age.  Therefore he is a suspect.  Is he virtuous and austere in his habits? Ah! he is a new Brutus with his Jacobin severity, censuring the amiable and well-groomed court.  He is a suspect.  If he be a philosopher, an orator, or a poet, it will serve him ill to be of greater renown than those who govern, for can it be permitted to pay more attention to the author living on a fourth floor than to the emperor in his gilded palace?  He is a suspect.

Has one made a reputation as a warrior--he is but the more dangerous by reason of his talent.  There are many resources with an inefficient general.  If he is a traitor he cannot so quickly deliver his army to the enemy.  But an officer of merit like an Agricola--if he be disloyal, not one can be saved.  Therefore, all such had better be removed and promptly placed at a distance from the army.  Yes, he is a suspect.

Tacitus tells us that there was anciently in Rome a law specifying the crimes of "lese-majeste."  That crime carried with it the punishment of death.  under the Roman republic treasons were reduced to but four kinds, viz., abandoning an army in the country of an enemy; exciting sedition; the maladministration of the public treasury; and the impairment by inefficiency of the majesty of the Roman people.  But the Roman emperors needed more clauses, that they could place cities and citizens under proscription.

Augustus was the first to extend the list of offences that were "lese-majeste" or revolutionary, and under his successors the extensions were made until none was exempt.  The slightest action was a state offence.  A simple look, sadness, compassion, a sigh, even silence was "lese-majeste" and disloyalty to the monarch.  One must needs show joy at the execution of their parent or friend lest they would perish themselves.  Citizens, liberty must be a great benefit, since Cato disemboweled himself rather than have a king.  And what king can we compare in greatness and heroism to the Caesar whose rule Cato would not endure?  Rousseau truly says: "There is in liberty as in innocence and virtue a satisfaction one only feels in their enjoyment and a pleasure which can cease only when they are lost."

1 comment:

  1. Do you believe that Individuality is a threat to established power structures?

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