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Di Leo: The Bastille, Mob Rule and Emptying of Prisons




By John F. Di Leo - 

Reflections on big city life on Bastille Day…

Every year on July 14, the French celebrate Bastille Day, the beginning of the end for the Bourbon monarchy, and, ostensibly, the rise of the power of the people.

Even here in the United States, an ocean away, with only the slightest connection to the French people and culture, we enjoy the day as an unofficial holiday. We drink French wine, enjoy brie and crackers, and sing Le Marseillaise (in the original French, of course).  It’s an excuse for a sale, for a party, for a festival.  As long as we don’t dig too deep.

But when we do dig deep… when we do take a moment to think about what happened to France in the 1790s… we cannot help feeling the horror of an age in which a city lost control to madness… and if we dig just a bit deeper, we may find painful similarities to our own time and place.

The Storming of the Bastille

There was a time when the story of the Storming of the Bastille was well known in the United States. A century ago, Americans grew up reading Edmund Burke’s contemporary account, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” or the later masterpiece by Thomas Carlyle, “The French Revolution, A History.”  Or at least the wonderful Charles Dickens novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

But time has passed, and history has fallen out of favor, so all that we know is the romanticized version: The people of Paris, furious at political oppression and poverty, stormed the prison that held so many innocent political prisoners, starting the movement that freed them from despotism and opened the gates to liberty and equality for all.

Sadly, the facts tell a different story.

In truth, a gradual easing of absolute monarchy had already begun under the good king Louis XVI. He wasn’t perfect, but he clearly meant well.  He had convened the Assembly of Notables in 1787, and well-intentioned, thoughtful people, including such lights of the Enlightenment as the Marquis de Lafayette, were meeting to study gradual changes to improve life in France.

But the mob rose in 1789, and destroyed such visions of a calm and peaceful change. They lay siege to the Bastille, long the most famous and imposing prison in France, until the crowd of about a thousand rioters eventually stormed the place on July 14, 1879, murdering the warden and many of his guards, and freeing all those political prisoners.

How many were there?


At the time of the Storming of the Bastille, the old prison was largely unused. Because of its lousy conditions (yes, that’s the right adjective; the old place was infested with vermin), they didn’t keep prisoners there long, usually just a few months at most.

There were seven inmates on that fateful day: four convicted forgers, a sexual predator, and two very confused old lunatics.   Think, for a moment, of what was built on the foundation of freeing these seven prisoners:

A hundred attackers and a number of the guards died in the assault on July 14, and revolutionary reputations were built. Heads were displayed on pikes, and the streets ran red with blood for years.

In the years to come, what might have been a gradual and peaceful transformation, from unlimited monarchy to a British-style government of figurehead king and elected parliament, was stillborn.

Because of Bastille Day, hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen were killed in the terrors to come, and a generation of promise was squandered. All because the rabble-rousers (among them, the Marquis de Sade, of all people!) had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, lying about the nature of the prison and its prisoners, lying about the problems France faced, lying about the intentions of the mob’s leaders, who wanted nothing more than to take power for their own benefit, to get revenge for imagined slights, and to wield the awesome powers of public opinion and the guillotine for their own warped ends.

Is this really, truly, anything for 21st Century Americans to celebrate?

21st Century America

We have similar problems in America today.

The problems of history, in fact, are almost unchanging… crime, poverty, illiteracy, disease, sadness, mental illness, starvation. Every country suffers them, and every government is tasked with finding the best way to alleviate them.

In 1780s France, the King had convened an Assembly to work on the problem, but people lost their patience. This is understandable, of course… when you’re starving in the summer or freezing in the winter, being told that men in suits in a fancy hall across town “are working on it” can’t be terribly satisfying.

But the fact remains that some problems take time to solve. Time, and thoughtful study, and, frankly, capitalism.

The only true solution for poverty is the creation of wealth, and that can only happen with economic freedom. The United States were suffering a terrible depression at the same time the French were, but we solved our problem with a Constitutional Convention and the empowerment of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury; he built an economic model from whole cloth, and America’s path to prosperity was begun.   The French didn’t have such patience; they chose violence over discussion, mass executions over economic and political freedom.

Today, we see rabble-rousers in America as well.

  • The Class Envy orators of the Bernie Sanders and John Edwards stripes, who tell the poor that they can be wealthy if only they steal from those who are wealthy already.
  • The Race-Hustlers of the NAACP and BLM crowd, who turn the victims of crime against the police who try to protect them.
  • The Free Stuff crowd of the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton brand, who give away checks and SNAP cards, cellphones and college tuition, funded by a government’s printing press, uncaring that future generations will work their entire lives to pay for today’s largesse.
  • The Tax-and-Spenders of the Illinois variety – Speaker Mike Madigan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle – who raise taxes to pay for outrageous spending, taxes that drive taxpayers out of the state at an unprecedented rate, causing a spiral requiring ever-higher taxes, in a fruitless attempt to get ahead of the problem as the people flee.

They don’t look like the rabble-rousers we envision, of course. But that’s because the mob and its spokesmen have never dressed the same.  Robespierre, Danton, Babeuf and Barere all wore suits, dressing every bit as well as the honorable leaders they supplanted at the head of state.  The Paris Mob may have been a shabby bunch of thieves and thugs, but their representatives, haranguing away at the podium of the Assembly, sending innocents off to the guillotines by the thousands, were dashing and professional.  Nobody would ever look at a Robespierre or Barere and think “thug”… but then, looks have always been deceiving.

Today, we see Madigan, Preckwinkle and Madigan – or their national colleagues, Sharpton, Schumer and Pelosi – wearing their business suits, speaking at podiums and facing questions on television, and we don’t think of a bloody revolution.

But what are the policies they advocate? And who backs them in their efforts?

It’s the George Soros funded groups – Organizing for America, MoveOn.org, Black Lives Matter, and the Occupy crowd. They march in the streets and make demands, while their representatives  on the political scene enact their policies. 

Who are the leaders, and who are the followers? Hard to say.  Does Occupy drive Pelosi’s policies, or does Pelosi drive Occupy’s choice of chants?  Worth noting, though, that George Soros funds them both.

The Policies of 2016

In the 2016 political campaigns, we saw an amazing array of political positions, many of which were printed in plain sight on candidate websites, but never even covered by the media.

The Clinton/Kaine campaign promised massive tax increases… it promised to reduce prison sentences and even turn the wheels of government against the criminal justice system, limiting the way that police can help a community terrorized by robbers, rapists and killers. The Clinton/Kaine campaign promised to legalize the entry of criminal illegal aliens, to reward sanctuary cities for flouting federal immigration law, to partner with gang leaders in our inner cities instead of incarcerating them. 

This is the modern Democratic Party – a voice for mob rule, for turning the prisons inside-out and flooding the nation with known criminals. What does that do, in the end?  It drives employment out of our cities, making the residents ever more dependent on welfare, on government housing, government healthcare, government checks.  Because that’s how they like their subjects: dependent and afraid.

This country is on a precipice. The President supports the necessary reforms to our criminal justice system, our business system, our schools and agencies, to bring back the days of free market economics to America.  The President’s policies are the policies of Reagan, of Coolidge, of McKinley, of Washington and Hamilton.  With those policies, we could again have safe streets, career opportunities, a chance for prosperity for everyone, even those at the most dependent level in our inner cities.

But the Mob rules in our cities, and – thanks to vote fraud, gerrymandering, and their allies in the mass media – bears a disproportionate influence in our state and national legislatures.

The Mob is opposed to the gradual positive change afforded by free market economics. The Mob parades on bridges and at city parks, at Daley Plaza and Lafayette Square, cheering the demagogues of the modern American Left, calling for food stamps and the emptying of prisons, even dancing perilously close to calls for assassination.  The French Revolution lives on in the wicked hearts of Organizing for Action and its allies in nonprofits and capitol hill cocktail parties alike.

Look at Chicago, Cook County, and the state of Illinois. Bankrupted by welfare obligations, they advocate policies that will drive more people into poverty, increasing the need for such help. Terrorized by muggers, shooters, drug dealers, and rapists, they insist on a revolving door in our jails so that the criminals return to commit ever more crimes, again and again. 

And these leaders of our troubled cities insist on welcoming in even more competitors for scarce jobs, more dependents and more criminals, by declaring Sanctuary City status, inviting so-called refugees and foreign gang members from all over the world for the easy pickings of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and dozens of other cities across the land.

Celebrate Bastille Day, on July 14, you say?

There’s no need. In the cities of modern America, every day is Bastille Day.

Copyright 2017 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based writer, actor, and international trade lecturer. Being Irish, Italian, Austrian, and Scots-Irish, he has no French blood at all, to the best of his knowledge. 

Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included.


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  1. In some neighborhoods, every day is Father’s Day…if you can find who is your “father.”
    The French Revolution was triggered by government bankruptcy, largely caused by French financing of OUR revolution, and the need to raise taxes to recover the expense.
    The Estates General (a type of French Parliament) was called to convene to rubber-stamp this tax increase.
    The Estates General had not been convened in over 100 years, as Louis XIV and Louis XV ruled France as absolute monarchs, and never felt it “necessary” to call it into session.
    The Age of Enlightenment had arrived by 1789, plus what had been learned by French nobles who served with us in our revolution, a new attitude had arisen in France.
    France had also developed an increasing middle class in those years, which viewed itself as the victim of any increases in taxation. Convening the Estates General produced the opportunity for these men to meet and discuss what improvements were needed to govern France.
    Needless to say, the meeting got out of control, and it took the dictatorship of Napoleon to return order to France. But the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon
    heralded the end of authoritarian kings in Europe, and began creation of the Europe we know today.

  2. Another excellent article by John Di Leo that should be read by all residents across the country. I only wish that it was receiving national media exposure. Thank you again John. You put forth an excellent summarization of where we are and where we “might” be going if we continue down the same path in the country.