It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, — glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendor, and joy. Oh! What a revolution! And what an heart I must have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream … that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. — But the age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
The poseurs who made the French Revolution charged Marie Antoinette, queen of France, with high treason. Her own child was compelled to accuse her of incest. The sentence was predetermined by Robespierre’s infamous Committee of Public Safety. Her lawyers were given less than one day to prepare her defense. After receiving a sentence of death, the guillotine was set to receive her. For the occasion she wore a white dress to represent her innocence. Her hands were painfully bound behind her and she was transported to the place of execution in an open cart. She maintained her dignity despite the jeers of the rabble. She ignored the “constitutional” priest sent to hear her confession. On mounting the scaffold she stepped on her executioner’s shoe. “Pardon, sir,” she said. “I did not do it on purpose.” Her head was struck off by the fall of the blade and dropped into a basket below. Her body was unceremoniously thrown into an unmarked grave.
“On this scheme of things,” wrote Burke, “a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order.” Yes, that’s it. “Regicide, and patricide, and sacrilege, are but functions of superstition….” The revolutionary thought of the day was — if the common people were to gain by the killing of kings and queens and bishops, then we shouldn’t second guess them. Burke disagreed, of course, decrying a “barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance.”
Thomas Macaulay once said that Edmund Burke was the greatest man of the 18th century. Perhaps we can see, despite our cold hearts and muddy understanding, why Burke was great and why so many of the “heroes” of the Revolution turned out to be poseurs. We see the likeness of such men today. They are making a revolution, even now (from the left). What was true of them in 1793 remains true today. Burke wrote, “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.”
The troublemaking of the poseur — the fraud, the pretender to greatness — is front and center in this age of revolutions and overthrows. It is the problem of the mean little man with power, the tragically misguided and miseducated, the deformed nihilist, the vengeful misfit, the ambitious nonentity and the elected or appointed blockhead.
Human frailty being what it is, our fate is made of our flaws. The greatness that might otherwise appear in our midst is stunted. When greatness appears, when a courageous person steps up, the wicked are ready to persecute him. And this comes naturally to them because, as it happens, the West is plagued by a rat’s nest of vengeful mediocrities; that is, of leaders who possess no great qualities, but nonetheless aspire to greatness. These people are sometimes thought great because they have acting ability. Sometimes, as in the case of Adam Schiff, they have no ability at all.
Poseurs have flooded in upon us. They crave applause, especially the false applause of the pink press. These persons possess one virtue only: that of continually pushing upward, of grasping for office, of grasping for money, of grasping for media attention. Their existence is a perpetual grasping.
By this simple virtue they rise above their proper place, hungry for power, crowding out better men and women who are sensible not of power but of the responsibility.
The poseur is always out of his depth, whether he is guillotining the queen of France or impeaching the president of the United States. He has excuses for everything and plausible arguments for his favored disastrous policies. In the media age, he loves television and plays to the cameras.
The poseur is not a person of substance. He is about appearances. The trick here is to avoid responsibility in spite of being responsible. This is accomplished by coloring the truth, and by favorable media coverage.
The poseur is a liar by nature, and should not be tolerated in public office. Yet there he is, replicated in hundreds of animate versions. But this week a queen’s head was not struck off. The prosecutors lost their bid for glory. Trump was exonerated by the Senate. The revolution was turned back, for the moment.