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Voltaire’s Age of Enlightenment stirred up the French Revolution

(Part III of a series on “The Right Constitution”)

In the poignant film “Les Miserables”, tragic Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), exemplifies the harsh and miserable life of the French people, who for decades suffered from oppression, warfare, economic strife, famine and disease. Inspite of the French Revolution, signaled by the storming of the Bastille forty years earlier in 1786, the lower classes still had little voice in the society of 1832, the time the story of the musical takes place. The rooted injustice of the ruling class is a similar situation of injustice occurred in the Philippines during the 300 years of Spanish colonization, which lead to our own revolution against Spain.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is condemned to hard labor for 19 years, five years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s seven children and 14 years for his attempt to escape. Although he is freed and becomes a respectable businessman, he continues to be hounded by Police Inspector Javert (Russel Crowe), who is determined to prove that the redemption of men like Valjean is but a fool’s dream. To him, the law is supreme, even if it is unjust and immoral.

In the middle of the June 1832 uprising by a motley crowd of Parisian students and commoners against the French gendarmes of the reigning monarchy of King Louis Philippe d’Orléans, remains the climactic scenario of the multi-awarded film. Valjean finds himself behind a barricade at Rue de la Chanvrerie, a side street that runs into the Rue Saint-Denis. There, he comes face to face with Javert, who is spying among the students. Valjean spares his life, and subsequently, Javert commits suicide by jumping into the River Seine, unable to reconcile his fanatical adherence to the law and the mercy Valjean had shown him.

Quatorze Juillet – La Fête Nationale

Bastille Day is the French national holiday (Fête Nationale), in official parlance, or more commonly “Quatorze Juillet (14th of July). It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fêderation, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. The storming of the Bastille was seen as a symbol of uprising of the modern French “nation”, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy, which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution.

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Many cities all over France hold fireworks during the night. But in Paris the highlight is the Eiffel tower, which flares up gloriously with fireworks. The Champs-Elysées is decorated with flags for the celebration. Many dancing parties are arranged (bals du 14 Juillet) and it is customary that firefighters organize them (bals des pompiers). These celebrations take place from 13 July at night to 14 July.

Défilés Du 14 Juillet

Military parades, called Défilés du 14 Juillet, are held on the morning of 14 July, the largest of which takes place on the Champs-Élysées Avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic of France. The parade opens with cadets from schools, including École Polytechnique, Saint-Cyr and École Navale, followed by the infantry troops, then the motorized troops, while the aviation of the Patrouille de France flies above.

In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France’s close allies into the parade. For instance, in 2004, during the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, the British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, Grenadier Guards and King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) led the Bastille Day parade in Paris for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead.

The parade also involves the French Republican Guard, and occasionally non-military police units. It always ends with the much-cheered and popular Paris Fire Brigade, which, exceptionally, has military status in France.

The French version of the SONA then takes place when the president gives an interview to members of the press, discussing the situation of the country, recent events and projects for the future. He also holds a garden party at the Palais de l’Elysée.

Opera Bastille marks the site of the revolution

The confrontation between the commoners and the ancient régime ultimately led to the people of Paris storming, causing several days of disturbances. The fortress had become a symbol of royal tyranny, as the regime regularly imprisoned (embastiller) their political opponents behind its thick walls.

The Bastille prison or Bastille Saint Antoine is located at Number 232 Rue Saint-Antoine. It is known today because of the storming of the Bastille, which along with the Tennis Court Oath is considered the beginning of the French Revolution.

Bastille is a French word meaning “castle” or “stronghold”. When used with a definite article (la Bastille in French, the Bastille in English), it refers to the prison. Most people believe that the reason for storming of the Bastille by the peasants was to release the prisoners, but this was also where the French Army stored their weaponry.

The Place de la Bastille is a square in Paris where the Bastille prison stood until its subsequent physical destruction during the French Revolution. No vestige of it remains. The square straddles three arrondissements of Paris, namely the 4th, 11th and 12th.

The July Column (Colonne de Juillet), which commemorates the events of the July 1830 Revolution stands at the center of the square. It is home to the Opéra Bastille. The large ditch (fossé) behind the fort has been transformed into a marina for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l’Arsenal to the south, and a covered canal, the Canal Saint Martin, extending north from the marina beneath the vehicular roundabout (rotonda) that borders the location of the fort.

Some undemolished remains of one tower of the Bastille fort were discovered during the excavation for the Métro in 1899. These were moved to a park a few hundred meters away, where they are displayed. The original outline of the fort is also marked on the pavement of streets and sidewalks that pass over its former location, in the form of special paving stones. A café and some other business largely occupy the location of the fort, and the rue Saint Antoine passes directly over it as it opens onto the roundabout of the Bastille.

The Age 0f Enlightenment and the Napoleonic Code

The seeds of the French Revolution germinated within the elite circles of the French culture. The most prominent intellectual, Francois-Marie Arouet (better known by the pen name, Voltaire) provided the basis for the “Age of Enlightenment” with his epic poems, tragedies, historical essays, fables and philosophy.

Voltaire used his ironic humor to attack injustice and develop man’s awareness of his own uniqueness and importance. THE “ENLIGHTENED MAN” KNEW HE HAD RIGHTS, WHICH THE NATION’S LEADERS WERE OBLIGED TO PROTECT. The concept of a representative government spread throughout the Americas and Asia.

Ten years after the 1789 Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, a Corsican-born general seized power through a coup d’etat that met little opposition. The ambitious military genius declared himself during his coronation rites. Instead of following the tradition of letting the archbishop crown him emperor, he crowned himself. Tourists see this painting at the Musee D’Orsay. This event weakened the allegiance that kings and rulers used to pledge to Almighty God.

Bonaparte instituted major changes such as the centralization of power, the common law (based on the Napoleonic Code), the civil service, the university complex, and the banking system (Banque de France). His reign held sway in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. The “little corporal” met his major defeat in Russia during a winter military campaign. General Wellington of England caused his final defeat on the plains of Waterloo in Belgium.

The motto of the French Republic is “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” – God-given attributes

The French Constitution declares its nation as Republic, indivisible, secular, democratic and social. It shall ensure the quality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. The motto of the French Republic is Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Brotherhood). Equality means that the law is the same for all, either for protection or for punishment. Its principle is government of the people, by the people and for the people.

In the course of an extended discussion on liberty and the rights of men, contained in a letter to the French savant, Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I believe with you that morality, compassion and generosity are innate elements of the human constitution… Human liberties are God-given attributes, and frustration of their fullest expression would be tantamount to opposing the will of God.”

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