12 The Fallacies of Hope


"We are still the offspring of the Romantic movement, and still victims of the Fallacies of Hope " p 293

David, The Tennis Court Oath, (Serment du Jeu de Paume) was a pivotal event during the first days of the French Revolution. The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate who were locked out of a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789. The only person who did not sign is pictured at the lower right.

Once more the process began with Rousseau. He appealed to the heart rather than the  head, extending it from love and education to politics. "Man was born free and is everywhere in chains". To the barricades! Romantic revolutions need music and it was supplied by a contingent for Marseilles. And they needed a new religion, one based on Nature (think Rousseau), so many cathedrals and monasteries were destroyed. Of course all of the romantic idealism  came to grief. The revolution had no leaders until 1798, then they got one with a vengeance :  Napoleon Bonaparte.

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps


"By 1810 all of the optimistic hopes of the eighteenth century had been proved false : the Rights of  Man, the discoveries of science, the benefits of industry, all a delusion. The freedoms won by revolution had been immediately lost either by counter-revolution or by the revolutionary government falling into the hands of the military.  In Goya's  picture of a firing squad, called 3 May 1808, the repeated gesture of those who had raised their arms in heroic affirmation becomes the repeated line of soldiers' rifles as they liquidate a small group of inconvenient citizens.  Well we are use to all this now."  p 307

Francisco de Goya,  The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, 1814,  Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain


Then the rediscovery of nature : not the truth giving nature of Goethe, or the bucolic country side of Constable but the savage incomprehensible power outside ourselves, that makes us aware of the futility of human arrangements.

wreck of hope
                        Caspar David Friedrich, The Wreck of  the 'Hope', 1824, Kunsthalle Hamburg

"The early nineteenth century created a chasm in the European mind as great as that which had split up Christendom in the sixteenth century, and even more dangerous. On one side of the chasm was the new middle class nourished by the Industrial Revolution. It was hopeful and energetic, but without a scale of values. Sandwiched between a corrupt aristocracy and a brutalized poor, it had produced a  defensive  morality, conventional, complacent, hypocritical. On the other side of the chasm were the finer spirits - poets, painters, novelists, who were still heirs of the Romantic movement, still haunted by disaster. The artist mocked the middle class, but what could they put in place of middle class morality. They themselves were still in search of a soul."  p 319

14 Heroic Materialism         Contents