A salute to Anacharsis Cloots

So what if imagining that there were no borders got the 18th century "Orator of the Human Race" a date with the guillotine? His heart was in the right place.

By Andrew Leonard
May 8, 2008 10:03PM (UTC)
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While I slog my way through a World Bank report on the carbon trading market, I thought readers might be diverted by a passage from historian Simon Schama's "Patriots & Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813."

The context is the French Revolution, and whether or not the brotherhood of equality spawned by revolution could transcend national borders.


...For a few, the initial promise of fraternity remained an imperishable article of faith. The most passionate and certainly the most extraordinary of such figures was "Anacharsis" Cloots, the self-styled "Orator of the Human Race." His education -- committed successively to a Jesuit seminary, the Berlin Military Academy and the Sorbonne -- and his half-Dutch, half-German parentage perhaps gave him a vested interest in statelessness. The Revolution was, for Cloots, an event of messianic significance, the heralding of the Last Days of the tyrants; and a titanic battle between peoples and despots in which the victory of the former would be crowned by the establishment of political paradise on earth -- the Universal Republic. There the abominations of bureaucracy would be redundant; the postal service would run from Bordeaux to Peking; "there, there will be neither barrier nor walls; neither official nor guard; there will be no more desert and the entire earth will become a garden." In the end, Cloots' eschatological frothings provided him not with a passport to universal citizenship but a pathetic death at the guillotine. But to the last he refused to believe that the interests of France could ever be separated from those of humanity at large...

Since it is a founding proposition of How the World Works that the interests of any country cannot be separated from those of "humanity at large" (not to mention the interests of honeybees, polar bears and rain forests, for that matter), I now dub "Anarcharsis" Cloots the patron saint of this blog. May his martyrdom be not in vain, and let utopian hopes of a Universal Republic flutter on.

Also: If I am ever forced to choose a new name for my blogging efforts -- "Eschatological Frothings" will be at the top of the list.

If you are wondering why I am reading a history of 18th century revolution in the Netherlands, it is because a reader thought that some of Schama's insights intersected with the concerns of How the World Works, and he kindly mailed me his copy. Such reader behavior is to be highly applauded, but be warned: A steady flow into my home of exquisitely written 800-page tomes printed in itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikini fonts may slow overall blogging productivity.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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