The Commune and the destruction of culture

Posted May 1, 2022


It is an episode of history, and even of history, which is commemorated for its 150th anniversary, with controversy over whether this event should be celebrated or forgotten.

This is, of course, The Commune.

Let us remember the facts, for those who have forgotten them, or for those who have not even heard of them (there are), despite the abundant literature.

1870 is the defeat of France against Prussia. Napoleon III capitulated on September 2 and was taken prisoner by the Prussians. On September 4, a crowd of Parisians invaded the Palais Bourbon (the building that houses the National Assembly), shouting “The decline! Long live the REPUBLIC!”. And it was Léon Gambetta who proclaimed the Republic from the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville. A Government of National Defense is constituted “to save the homeland in danger.”

On January 28, 1871, an armistice was signed and France agreed to elect an Assembly to ratify the peace. It was then that many Parisians felt “betrayed” for him “rural”. In February 1871, the elections to the National Assembly gave the majority to the monarchists. Adolphe Thiers is appointed head of the executive power and demonstrations hostile to the government will take place in Paris. This marks the beginning of a conflict between the “Versailles” of Thiers and the “insurgents”. The Central Committee created in Paris organized municipal elections in March 1871, where of 230,000 voters, 190,000 went for the candidates of the Commune, the latter being proclaimed from the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville in March on March 28, 1871. It will be be a form of direct democracy, as opposed to a formula of representative representation.

Street fights will happen, until we call the “bloody week”, from May 22 to 28, 1871, the day the insurrection was crushed and its members shot en masse. The number of victims is controversial, between 6,000 and 30,000.

And it was during this week that the insurgents vowed to burn down Paris and topple Vendôme’s column. Nicolas Chaudin recounts these sad events in great detail in his book The fire: the Louvre set on fire by the Commune.

The Commune and the destruction of the Imperial Library

Among the burned Louvre buildings is the Imperial Library. This building, which is part of the Louvre complex, contains a study fund initially created in 1798 for the use of the Council of State, and successively enriched by successive sovereigns. Since Napoleon I, it was customary to leave there bibliophile gifts made by foreign Heads of State. Poetry, history, geography, natural history, as well as a collection of emblazoned bindings from the Renaissance and the Gran Siècle have been added to the legacies repositories.

In total about 100,000 volumes, for example the manuscript of Botany by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or five watercolor plates of Audubon’s “Birds of America”, or Claude Perrault’s drawings for the Palace of Versailles. This library is accessed by what is called “The Minister’s Staircase” which Nicolas Chaudin describes as “an act of bravery in keeping with the somewhat loquacious idea that we then had of Majesty”. It is this staircase that remains today. The rest have disappeared.

How is it possible ?

Nicolas Chaudin evokes a famous poem by Victor Hugo, in the collection the terrible year written in 1872, just after these events. The poem titled Whose fault is it? help to think about the answer:

“Did you just burn down the library?”
– Yes. I set fire there.
“But it is an unheard of crime!”
Crime committed by you against yourself, infamous!
But you just killed your soul ray!
It’s your own torch you just put out!
What your wicked mad rage dares to burn,
It is your property, your treasure, your dowry, your inheritance!
The book, hostile to the teacher, is in your favor.
The book has always taken up your cause.
A library is an act of faith
dark generations again
Who bear witness in the night at dawn.
Than ! In this venerable heap of truths,
In these masterpieces full of lightning and clarity,
In this tomb of times that has become a repertoire,
In the centuries, in ancient man, in history,
In the past, lesson spelled for the future,
In what began to never end,
In the poets! what, in this abyss of bibles,
In the divine heap of the terrible Aeschylus,
Homers, Jobs, standing on the horizon,
In Molière, Voltaire and Kant, in reason,
You throw down, wretch, a burning torch!
From all the human spirit you make smoke!
Have you forgotten that your deliverer,
is the book? The book is there on the height;
That shines; because it shines and illuminates them,
Destroy the scaffold, war, famine.
He speaks, no more slaves and no more outcasts.
Open a book. Plato, Milton, Beccaria.
Read those prophets, Dante, or Shakespeare, or Corneille
The immense soul that they have in them awakens in you;
Dazzled, you feel the same man as all of them;
As you read, you become serious, thoughtful, and gentle;
You feel in your mind all these great men growing up,
They teach you how dawn lights up a cloister
As it sinks deeper into your heart,
Its warm ray soothes you and gives you more life;
Your interrogated soul is ready to answer them;
You recognize yourself good, then better; you feel melting,
Like snow on fire, your pride, your fury,
Evil, prejudice, kings, emperors!
Because science in man comes first.
Then comes freedom. all this light
It’s yours, understand it, and it’s you who turns it off!
The goals you dreamed of are achieved with the book.
The book in your thought enters, it dissolves in it
The ties that mix error and truth,
Because all consciousness is a Gordian knot.
He is your doctor, your guide, your guardian.
Your hate, he cures it; your madness, it takes it away from you.
This is what you lose, alas, and because of you!
The book is your wealth! is knowledge,
Right, truth, virtue, duty,
Progress, reason dispelling all delirium.
And you destroy that, you!

– I do not know how to read.

In this France at the end of the 19th century where many French people were illiterate or illiterate, Victor Hugo indirectly brought the accusation to the State that organized a kind of social and cultural exclusion of an entire part of the population that does not have access to these books that he loves so much. .

We could compare these events with those of the yellow vests episode, which also sometimes thirsted for fire. But this time it is Fouquet’s that is the object. Can Le Fouquet’s library and the Tuileries library be compared? It is the same symbolic value, and the same use by the media to discredit “insurgents.” But can we imagine what Victor Hugo would write today?

Did you just burn down Fouquet’s?
– Yes. I set fire there.
“But it is an unheard of crime!”
Crime committed by you against yourself, infamous!

I’m not sure it would have the same effect. Each era has the symbols it deserves.

The power of culture

This power of education and books is still a topical issue. But to read it is not enough to decipher words and phrases (practically everyone knows how to do it nowadays, or almost). But it also means understanding, assimilating, knowing how to interpret and draw lessons and reflections. And there we lose people, even among the employees of our companies, or among our students. And when we do not have the pleasure of understanding, it is the fake newsand the ideologies that take control.

This morning Tom Peters dedicated his Weekly Quote just reading.

“Out-READ the Competition!!! Take note! Resume! Share with others what you read! »

We can still meditate. Would we have thus prevented the burning of the Louvre?

We can take ourselves for Tom Peters or Victor Hugo to try to believe it.

Long live books and especially reading!

In the net

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