The French Revolution was bad…or was it?

In the blog post I wrote yesterday on the evolution of tolerance, I mentioned the terrible intolerance that occurred during the French Revolution’s reign of terror. I describe this in more detail in the chapter on Edmund Burke in my forthcoming book Saints and Scoundrels. Looking back I don’t think anyone can deny that the French Revolution was bad.

Or can they?

Common sense would seem to suggest that any movement that led to the criminalization of Christianity, sent tens of thousands of citizens to their death, consciously made the guillotine the de facto icon of their regime in order to scare potential dissenters, and instituted a regime of totalitarianism and thought control unseen throughout the annals of human history – common sense would seem to suggest that such a movement was, well, bad. Very bad. Very, very, bad. Very, very, very, very bad.

This is precisely why I was shocked earlier in the month to see David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation, praising the French Revolution as something good. In his talk, which can be accessed through the links here, Pollock spoke about the slow progress Europeans have been making towards human rights and individual liberty. “That slow progress”, he said, “marked by significant events such as the English civil war, the American declaration of independence and the French revolution, led by stages, via finally the collective determination to allow no repeat of Nazism, to the European Convention on Human Rights and religious freedom. But no state has fully followed through the implications of individual freedom of religion or belief.”

When I first read that, I thought that perhaps the “slow progress” he is after occurred as a result of Europeans trying to avoid the errors of the French Revolution. Alas, no, that is not what he meant if you read his words in context. In the article I wrote for Christian Voice interacting with Pollock and challenging him to a debate, I noted

Maybe Mr Pollock’s appeal to the French revolution wasn’t a mistake. Maybe that’s precisely the point. Perhaps Pollock would like to see some measure of de-Christianization policies occurring within contemporary Europe. Reading a bit further in his speech it seems that this is exactly what he wants. For example, he pointed out that a particular threat to European secularism was the fact that the Roman Catholic church enjoys a 88% hold in Croatia or the Eastern Orthodox church to which 76% of Bulgarians belong. The thrust of his argument was breathtakingly simple: secularism is good, but if churches are too strong then this represents a threat to secularism; therefore, it is bad for churches to be too strong.

To read more about this, visit article on the Christian Voice website, “EHF President Praises French Revolution.

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