Jean-Paul Marat 1792

“What Men Are More Vain than the French?”

Source: L’Ami du Peuple, No 671, July 12, 1792;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

Of all the people in the world, the Frenchman is the one least made to be free. The practice of the obligations of a citizen are difficult, and they aren’t followed by great elegies, a powerful motive that excites vain men to praiseworthy actions and that supports them in their undertakings. But what men are more vain than the French? Each of them neglects to work together for the common good with the most enlightened and upright men in order to seek a private role in public affairs. And since it’s possible to put oneself on display every day at the tribune, while one must always work for a long time in silence in pursuit of an affair, it is obvious that in a nation of talkers each gives himself over less to action than to vain discourse, a malady of the spirit that in no small measure has contributed to isolating citizens and ruining the cause of liberty.

To the vanity of the French add their frivolity. When a people maintains itself strictly on the defensive, in order to foil its plans and parry its blows all that has to be done is to seek out its weak point. And are they able to find it? No sooner have they done so than they gain the upper hand and never lose it.

But above all it’s our frivolity, our inconstancy, which led us to lose all the superiority over the despot and his henchmen that chance granted us, and that also prevents us from re-taking it. We aren’t capable of any kind of follow-up in our projects, any discipline in our revolutions. All fire for a few instants, one minute later we are all ice. In order to ensure their triumph our enemies, artfully profiting by this defect, only had to put up a little resistance, assured that what we didn’t take immediately we would never take. They can conspire against us and mount the most heinous attacks, and no matter how strong our resentment, no matter what projects of vengeance we have devised, if we sleep on it a few hours we will barely think about it upon awakening, and the matter is completely gone by day’s end. This is the Frenchman, and yet he wants to be free!

And so while they quietly carry out machinations against the fatherland, and silently carry their plots to success, their entire policy for parrying our blows consists in gaining time, persuaded that this alone will suffice to bring things to the point they desire, and that with men of our character it’s enough to make the first move. So in moments of crisis they take care to calm the people and promise them satisfaction. They can be seen spreading out in the streets and public places, preaching peace, confidence, and respect for the laws, in order to prevent the explosion. This point won, they wear out the people by slowing things down, and they push the people to discouragement though difficulties, obstacles and disgust.

Alas, why speak of their artifices? We ourselves have omitted nothing to assure the triumph of despotism, to increase our servitude, to tighten our chains. After having allowed our currency to be taken from us, and allowed ourselves to be reduced to poverty by monopolies, speculation, and taxes, we now pay dues to pay off the stooges who would put us back in irons and, as if we feared being able to one day smash our yoke, we have sworn to maintain their tyrannical laws, we have loaned them our arms to force obedience on those who refuse to submit; we have tightened our reins, lengthened the whip of our oppressors, sharpened the sword of justice of our tyrants, and voluntarily delivered ourselves to their blows.