The French Revolution in Myth and Reality- Edited by Janusz Adamowski- Translated by Alex Shannon
The moral existence of the individual We can begin with regeneration of the individual. Our heroes were convinced that, if they were to build a new society, they needed to forge a new man. And Rousseau showed the way. “If there is some reform to attempt in public morals,” he wrote in the preface to New Heloise, “it must begin with domestic morals.” This opinion was common in the revolutionary years. Only a good person, fa- ther, husband or son could become a good citizen, a brave soldier, a trustworthy public servant. And conversely, no one with private vices could be a defender of Liberty. Sometimes an accusation of moral turpitude could mean a death sen- tence. Robespierre used such a tactic against Georges Danton in March 1794, and around the same time a young follower of Robespierre, Marc-Antoine Jul- lien, declared to the Convention: “True Jacobins are those whose private virtues give reliable guarantees of public virtue.” However, as Rousseau claimed, there are no bad peoples, just peoples under bad governments. Thus, the fall of despotism would offer tremendous opportuni- ties for the rebirth of private morality. He wrote in Emile that “those who desire to treat politics and morals apart from one another will never understand either.” The good person is the main component of a good social system, but a bad sys- tem does not favor the development of good people. On the eve of revolution, in his famous pamphlet What is the Third Estate?, Abbé Siey...
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