[Second piece on Thermidor, available here. My shortest so far, but also more succinct and to the point. Covers some of the subjects that I’ll be elaborating on further throughout this blog.]
Honore de Balzac writes:
When it beheaded Louis XVI, the Revolution beheaded in his person all fathers of families. The family no longer exists today; there are only individuals. When they wanted to become a nation, Frenchmen gave up the idea of being an empire. By proclaiming the equal division of the father’s property, they killed the family spirit and created the tax-gatherer mentality! On the other hand, they paved the way for the weakening of the better elements, and the blind impulses of the masses, the extinction of the arts, the reign of self-interest, and opened up the path to conquest.
The family! I repudiate the family in a society which, on the death of the father or mother, divides up the property and tells each member to go his own way. The family is a temporary and fortuitous association, which is dissolved immediately by death. Our laws have broken up our homes, our inheritance, and the perennial value of example and tradition. I see only ruins around us.
There was once a wretched taxman, Giuseppe Prina, a man of liberal principles who worked as a servant to Napoleon Bonaparte, the self-styled Napoleon I, King of Italy. Lombardy had fallen, and in 1797 a constitution was proclaimed for the newly declared Cisalpine Republic. Napoleon said of it:
Many years have passed away since the existence of a republic in Italy. The sacred fire of liberty was extinguished, and the finest part of Europe was subject to a foreign yoke. It belongs to the Cisalpine Republic to show to the world, by its wisdom, its energy, and the good organization of its armies, that modern Italy is not degenerated, that it is still worthy of liberty.
Eight years later, it was to become the “Kingdom of Italy,” and liberty did indeed follow.
War must pay for war. Accordingly, half of the state budget was devoted to maintaining Napoleon’s Crusaders on Italian soil. In the name of “just equality among taxpayers,” Prina had uniform land assessments imposed for the levying of a property tax, which he placed under direct ministerial control. Church estates were expropriated, and clergy were forcefully turned into mouthpieces for conscription. The Napoleonic Code was imposed, along with an administrative system based on departements, wiping out customary law. Civil marriage was introduced and ecclesiastical marriage made legally void. Tax collection authority was removed from local communes and given to the Finance Ministry. Repressive personal income taxation (originally imposed in much lighter form during Austrian rule of Lombardy) was forced on the rural population. A wide variety of duties were imposed on consumer goods (most notably salt), leading to price hikes on staple foods that burdened the peasantry further. License fees imposed on millers sparked an insurrection in July 1809 that left approx. 2000 dead.
The madness ended on April 20, 1814, shortly before the dissolution of the Napoleonic client state. Prina was hounded by a mob who dragged, beat, mutilated and ultimately killed him as he was subjected to a protracted lynching. The afrancesado had met a similar fate to those that Jacobinism had slaughtered before and that made his career possible in the first place.