By Fred E. Foldvary (essay). Ah, ça ira!: Words by Ladré, Music by Bécourt
The Progress Report
Wednesday, Jul 14, 2010
The Storming of the Bastille and the Arrest
of Governor de Launay. Source: Anonymous
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The Progress Report
July 14 is celebrated as Bastille Day in France. The Bastille was a prison in Paris, which the people stormed and seized in 1789, starting the French Revolution that toppled King Louis XVI and the aristocracy.
As a historical symbol of revolt against injustice, Bastille Day is being commemorated world-wide. In Philadelphia, people dressed as French revolutionaries marked the day at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary on Sunday, July 12, singing the revolutionary French national anthem, "La Marseillaise" and storming the prison. This is the fourth year of that celebration.
"La Marseillaise" was composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792. It became the song of the revolution. The first stanza is:
Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé.
Arise, children of the nation!
Our day of glory is here.
For against us we see raised
Tyranny's bloody banner!
The French composer Hector Berlioz later arranged the song for a chorus and orchestra. Where the composer normally instructs "tenors and basses," Berlioz wrote "everyone with a voice, soul, and blood in his veins." After another revolt in 1830, there was new interest in La Marseillaise. De Lisle wrote Berlioz a letter of appreciation for his arrangement, and invited Berlioz to discuss a libretto that de Lisle had written, but de Lisle died before they could meet. Hearing the rousing arrangement by Berlioz makes one want to jump up and storm the Bastille all over again. The Bastille Day holiday in France symbolizes the overthrow of the old monarchy and the beginning of the French republic. The monarchy was not just undemocratic. The king and aristocracy also owned the land and extracted not only the rent but imposed taxes and restrictions on the people.
The French economists of the time recognized that the core of the economic problem was land. They formed the first school of economic thought, which they called "physiocracy," meaning the rule of natural law. Land, they said, has a "net product," meaning productivity apart from that of labor, which can serve as public revenue without hurting the economy, unlike taxes on labor and commerce which do stifle enterprise.
The physiocrats proposed an "impot unique" or single tax on land rent, otherwise leaving the economy to natural law, letting it run itself. Their motto was "laissez faire, laissez passer" meaning let it be made and let it pass, without interventions. One of the physiocrats, Turgot, became the controller general of finance in 1774. He eliminated some taxes and attempted to reduce barriers to trade, but was then removed from office due to the opposition of the aristocracy to the impot unique. The French revolution followed fifteen years later.
The Bastille symbolized the absolute power of the ancient regime. But while many countries are now democracies, we have not obtained the economic justice that the American, French, Russian and other revolutionaries fought for. The Bastille symbolizes liberty and democracy, but we have a flawed democracy and only a half-liberty. The American economist Henry George, who promoted the same single tax idea 100 years later, wrote in Progress and Poverty, that we honor Liberty in name and in form, but we have not fully trusted her. "She will have no half service!"
As George wrote, it is not enough that we can vote. It is not enough to be equal before the law. We must also "stand on equal terms with respect to the bounty of nature." Economic injustice caused the French revolutionaries to storm the Bastille. Economic injustice remains today's Bastille. Arise, children of the nation! Against us stands this tyranny. Liberty calls to us again. Let us storm and crush this tyranny once and for all!
Ah, ça ira !
The author of the original words "Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira", Ladré, was a former soldier who made a living as street singer. The words became popular on the street prior to the revolution. The music is a popular contredanse air called le Carillon national, and was composed by Bécourt, a violinist of the théâtre Beaujolais.
This is an especially by vindictive verse that gained notoriety, later added by an anonymous hand:
the aristocrats, we'll hang them!
If we don't hang them
We'll break them
If we don't break them
We'll burn them
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