I Dare Say – Bastille (7-15-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (July 15, 1941)




By Florence Fisher Parry

152 years ago yesterday at the end of the Rue Saint-Antoine in Paris, stood an ancient citadel: the Bastille. Before it spread a great open Esplanade and before its grim facade a huge arched Gateway. Behind this, there were drawbridges, dormant-bridges, rampart-bastions, and the great Eight Towers. It had stood there for 420 years, one of the great medieval fortresses, a “labyrinthic Mass, high-frowning in its last hour.”

For it WAS its last hour. Chaos had come again upon mankind, as it had always come, will always come, like a tidal wave, to engulf that which mankind builds, so that it can start building again, and thus piece out eternity…

For Paris was to be burned. Not by an invader, not by alien hordes. But from within. By her own people, seized again by the “ailment of madness.”

Thomas Carlyle described better than any known historian that madness:

Hast thou considered how each man’s heart is so tremulously responsive to the hearts of all men; hast thou noted how omnipotent is the very sound of many men? How their shriek of indignation palsies the strong soul; their howl of contumely withers with unfelt pangs?..

Great is the combined voice of men; the utterance of their instincts, which are truer than their thoughts: it is the greatest a man encounters, among the sounds and shadows which make up this World of Time. He who can resist that, has his footing somewhere beyond Time…

Maybe it would be better to read Thomas Carlyle’s great description of the Fall of the Bastille. Its words still burn and smolder and make the skies of history blood red as though it were but yesterday that revolution spread its torch through France and pillaged and killed and massacred… For liberty.

Always for liberty.


Later, in Russia, came another revolution. Read about it and you will think that you are reading again the pages of Thomas Carlyle. The tumbrilles of Paris… the beheading of the King; and the cellar killings in Leningrad and the massacre of the Czar and his family.

The Marseillaise… The Soviet Internationale… What did they sing at Lexington and Concord?

As they fought their brothers. As they dyed their own land with blood. LIBERTY. That was the word on their lips, in song, in prayer, in death. So it shall always be. Revolution. Allons enfants de la Patrie

It has been a long time since the Russian Revolution. It has been a quarter of a century since the killing of the Czar. In 20-odd years, much has happened in Russia, much that was frightful, much that was barbaric. For nothing is so lawless and unbridled as the regime that follows the destruction of any Old Order. The oppressed, once in control, become the oppressors and remain so until their new power takes root. Then they begin to put out branches and an era of benignancy follows; until they, too, become bloated and sated with power, and the “ailment of madness” takes possession of the hearts of those under their heel…

Time, time

It is only reasonable to assume, then that in the 20-odd years since the overthrow of the Czar, the Soviet Union has conformed to this pattern of history, and is today growing out of its first violences and excesses. It takes time to make a democracy, and it is just possible that democracy might be the shape of things to come, even in Russia. She has a long way to go. She is the U.S.S.R. now. But let the scales settle… they do not come to rest, in the history of mankind, for (sometimes) centuries.

Allied now with the British Empire, one of the great democracies of the world, Russia finds herself in good company at last. It is her first first-class alliance.

Across the seas, and moving closer, closer, is the other great democracy, the United States. Great Britain, the United States – and Russia. Queer bedfellows – today. But who is to know what may be the influence of this new alliance?

Far be it from me to soften the menace to America of Communism as it now functions. All we can say is, it is conceivable that we in America are likely to have seen, lately, its very worst features.

There will always be gangsters and racketeers who, for convenience, attach themselves to whatever organization seems best adapted to their nefarious practices. The United States offers a tempting opportunity; labor a still better; and just as, in Prohibition days, our racketeers made themselves rich bootlegging, so they practice their same tactics under the official name of Communism.

I think it is not only possible but factual, that in the Soviet Union the processes of Communism, as now functioning, more nearly pattern after our own concept of democracy than they do here in America; and that given time it is possible and even likely that the revolution in Russia will come to be looked upon as we now look upon the French Revolution: bloody business, but the beginning of a new and better social order.

152 years is a long time. The aristocracy of France regarded the storming of the Bastille exactly as did the Tories on our own colonies our own Declaration of Independence, and the aristocracy of Russia the seizure of the Kremlin.

For every age of mankind, there has been a Bastille…