I first remember hearing the word Jacobin long ago in the classic British costume drama Poldark. “Jacobins?” I thought, “what are they? something to do with the inspirationally romantic Jacobites?” I soon learned that they couldn’t have been philosophocally further from their namealikes. So who were they?
Quite simply Jacobins are radically anti-traditional, anti-religious, centralizing, power hungry modernists whose “solutions” have always created more problems than they solved. They were and are the people who wanted to wipe away all traditions and to build the world anew.
They were the murderous radicals behind the bloody secular-fundamentalist French Revolution, but their work has not stopped there. When the French Republic gradually took at turn towards a type of conservatism the Marxists became the new Jacobin flag bearers. Taking their turn they inflicted Jacobin madness on half of the world, killed the traditionalist rulers and robbed the people of the ways of life that had long served their ancestors well. When the Marxists got into power they replaced smoothly functioning ways life which had developed over many millennia with superficial policies that had been thought up by self inflated “problem solvers” – people who cared not a jot for the people they claimed to be saving.
Not surprisingly the arrival of Marxism in countries such as Russia lead to chaos and mass starvation. The survivors had many decades of political oppression and the ever present threat of the gulag to look forwards too.
Nor should it be forgotten that Mussolini and Hitler were quite clearly Jacobins in their radical “making the world afresh philosophy”. They may have held some ‘reactionary’ views and an admiration for some parts of the past, but they could not have been further from being ‘reactionaries’ or ‘traditionalists’ – what they brought was something new and horrible. Like all Jacobin their goals were futuristic, utopian and quite detached from actual human realities.
The Jacobins have never gone away. In fact there are more of them alive today than every before. They have infiltrated ever country, they influence every major organization and their number includes the hordes anti-religious, anti-monarchical, anti-traditionalist “people” who dominate the media and political classes in nearly every society on the face of the earth.
Indeed the irreligious half of the modern left often reaches into Jacobinism. Calling themselves “progressives”, hostility to tradition and religion is often their trademark, as is a streak of authoritarian intolerance (the highly illiberal fascism of the people who consider themselves to be liberals). Their religion of “rationalism” springs forth from the European “Enlightenment” and like all Jacobins they see wiping away the old as the key to building a perfected new world.
Thankfully in Britain the left did not have their main roots with the Jacobins. From the Chartists, Owenites and early Trades Unions onwards the British Labour Movement avoided the Jacobin extremism of Continental Socialism. The mainstream British left which developed into the Labour party was established by non-conformist Christians and Anglicans with traditional morality. Indeed it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that the Jacobins within the Labour party managed to sow their anti-traditional seeds effectively (sadly all three major British political parties are home to a fair – more accurately foul – percentage of Jacobins, Europe is dominated by them and they are a growing force in America).
Some modern Jacobins are reconstructed and somewhat civilized to the point of liberality, but many are not. Indeed many Jacobins are alive today who would mix happily and comfortably with Robespierre and Pol Pot given half a chance (only God knows what we will see from this type of person in the future). Indeed at one time to call someone a Jacobin was an insult, but today we see American Marxists proudly publishing Jacobin Magazine.
So who are the Jacobins of today? Their group is so prolific and diverse that they have many leaders in many lands. Indeed they are a quite divided group (united only in their anti-traditionalism) but if someone says that they believe in a French style Republic, that they are a Marxist, or if someone tells you that someone is a Cultural Marxist or a Neo-Conservative then the person so described is very likely to be a Jacobin (or a semi-Jacobin), whether they know it or not.