Our time is supposed to be the natural development of the Age of Reason. Yet upon even a cursory examination this Reason strikes one as rather, well, unreasonable.
The US president talking about the virtue of robbing the rich… the French president actually robbing the rich… men becoming women… women turning into men or alternatively bishops… the human rights of the rain forest and seals… women who outnumber men treated as a minority… neither individuals nor families nor states paying their way… millions of babies aborted not to cramp the parents’ style… non-stop wars… mass murder as an expression of diversity… multiculturalist mayhem killing off any real culture… men marrying men, women marrying women… Western countries ruled by transparent and not very bright spivs… pickled animals as art… a Nuremberg rally combined with an orgy as ‘popular’ music… reversion to windmills preached by the same people who equate technology with progress… six-year-olds taught about condoms…
If this is Reason, one wonders what Madness would look like. But then one stops wondering and takes the old quotation marks off the mothballs. This ‘reason’ is indeed madness, and God only knows where it will end.
On second thoughts, it’s not just the deity to whom the future is as clear as the past. Granted, no man can equal God’s omniscient foresight. Some, however, can almost do so.
Such men are called prophets, and one of them saw right through the euphoria universally felt just as the Age of Reason was unfolding – and long before thousands of heads rolled.
His name was Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792), and he had enjoyed some modest renown since the 1772 publication of his fantastic tale Le Diable amoureux.
The French still respect writers (thank goodness), and at that time writers were knocking God off his perch. A century before Nietzsche everyone who was anyone already knew that God had died, to be replaced by Messrs Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, d’Alembert… well, anyone who put pen to paper in defence of Reason.
Cazotte wasn’t quite divine, but he was at least angelic. Hence he was welcome at the Olympus where the new Gods consumed their ambrosia chased with Burgundian nectars.
At one such gathering, in 1788, Cazotte was blessed by proximity to true divinity. CONDORCET HIMSELF! Chamfort! La Harpe! The Duchess de Gramont! De Malesherbes! Bailly! Out with God! Come the revolution! Up with Reason and Philosophy! Down with fanaticism and superstition (the diners’ term for Christianity)!
Toasts to that overdue development were drunk, scabrous stories were told, wit sparkled, then back to the revolution against God, soon may it come.
“Don’t worry, Messieurs,” said Cazotte, who until then had kept silent. “The revolution you so desire will come, soon. Very soon. Trust me, I’m a prophet.”
Another outburst of exhilaration, another toast to the revolution, all including Cazotte drained their glasses. Then he spoke again: “But do you know what will happen to each of you when it does come?”
The diners braced themselves for more toast-inspiring fun, but they were in for a letdown.
“You, Monsieur de Condorcet, will always carry poison on your person, which you’ll take in prison just before your execution… you, Monsieur, will die on the scaffold… so will you… so will you… you, Madame, will be taken to the scaffold with your hands tied behind your back and then beheaded… you, Monsieur, will cut your own veins only for the executioner to finish the job that very day…
“And all that will be done in the name of Reason, Philosophy, Liberty and Equality. These will be the new gods at whose altar you’ll be sacrificed.”
“And what about me?” asked the playwright Jean-François de La Harpe, struggling not to laugh.
“Yes, I forgot,” said Cazotte. “All this will happen within the next six years, when you, Monsieur, will become a Christian and miraculously survive.”
“Oh well,” laughed the others. “If we die when La Harpe becomes a Christian, then we’ll all live forever.”
“No you won’t,” insisted Cazotte. “And neither will Their Majesties. They’ll die on the scaffold too.”
Thereby everybody present instantly became an accessory to a capital crime. Laughing about the death of God was one thing, nice clean fun. But predicting the execution of the monarch was sheer sedition, which was no joke. Some people simply didn’t know where to stop.
Cazotte was asked to leave and he headed for the door. By way of a parting shot, one of the guests asked what he predicted would happen to Cazotte himself. Out of curiosity.
“Why, I’ll die on the scaffold too,” said Cazotte and walked out.
So he did die, four years later. And so did everyone else present, more or less exactly the way Cazotte had prophesied. La Harpe did undergo a spiritual crisis in prison, surviving and emerging as a Catholic and conservative. It’s thanks to him that the story became known.
Now I believe in prophets and prophesies, but this belief isn’t wholly mystical. It stands to reason, no quotation marks, that even this side of the Bible some people may be blessed with extraordinary foresight, just as others are blessed with genius for music.
If Bach could elucidate eternity with his Passions, then why couldn’t someone else, Jacques Cazotte in this case, see just a few years ahead? No reason at all.
Or perhaps his wasn’t a prophecy in any mystical sort of way. It’s just possible that Cazotte was an intelligent man whose thought wouldn’t be clouded by Voltairian effluvia and the general enthusiasm for it.
Some people are like that, you know. They, in Kipling’s words, can keep their heads when all around them are losing theirs, an act of anatomic self-preservation, if you will.
This wouldn’t enable them to second-guess God, but second-guessing people is much easier, if seldom altogether easy. Such seers may come across as prophets, whereas in fact they are only endowed with the power of thinking clearly and dispassionately.
That’s where real reason starts. And that’s where ‘Reason’ gets its quotation marks.
Suddenly we realise that it’s nothing but semantic larceny – like ‘liberalism’ which is anything but, like ‘democracy’ under which demos is more powerless than under the most absolute of monarchies, like ‘equality’ of all being equally ruled by a spivocratic elite.
Jacques Cazotte, where are you when we need you so badly? Please come back – and feel free to bring some likeminded friends along.