Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the greatest political thinkers of the Western tradition, wondering in the 19th century why “in [the 18th century] France irreligion had become a passion, general, ardent, intolerant, oppressive (...)”, noticed that the anti-Catholic propaganda, which has been cultivated by the elites of the Enlightenment for decades, was the key to understanding the issue. The very same propaganda, which created a fertile ground for the proliferation of ungodliness, prepared thus the coming of the Revolution.
In his famous work, The Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville described the situation in the following words: “Ardent efforts were made to eradicate from men’s souls the faith that was in them, and leave them empty. A multitude of men engaged warmly in this ungrateful work. Absolute infidelity, than which nothing is more repugnant to man’s natural instincts, or produces more discomfort of soul, appeared attractive to the masses. It had formerly given rise to a sickly languor: it now engendered fanaticism and propagandism.”
The main objective of this propaganda was to target the clergy, which has been viciously associated with "backwardness" and "fanaticism", where the revolutionaries were considering each person confessing its faith in God as a "fanatic", and religion as a "superstition".
While earlier, during the 18th century Enlightenment, atheism was limited essentially to the elites, after the 1789 it has been promoted to a much larger scale. During the Revolution, it was oozing not only from the revolutionary press, but also by covering the French fiction (i.e. D. Diderot, D. La Religieuse; La Harpe, J.F. Melanie ou la Religieuse). Religion at that time became the subject of constant criticism and sarcastic comments made by philosophers and the encyclopédistes.
It is also apparent that after the 1789 anti-Catholic propaganda argued that atheism had become the main characteristic not only of erudition, but also patriotism.
As we know, the revolutionary propaganda sanctified the slogan: Liberté, égalité, fraternité (“Liberty, equality, fraternity"). But in fact, the more emphasis was put on "progress". If the revolutionaries had to choose between progress and freedom, they always choose progress. Nonetheless, the progress had its specific meaning in the Revolution’s dictionary. It meant not so much a desire to modernize France, removing obsolete institutions or administrative practices. It literally meant to create a "new France", and a "new Frenchman" from the scratch. The “progress” was synonymous with religious hatred as the „new France” could not hold the title of "the eldest daughter of the Church" simultaneously....
Click below to download the discussion paper and continue reading.