Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Bon anniversaire

Today is the anniversary of the adoption of the French Revolutionary calendar in 1792 - 1er Vendemiaire. Sweeping away the hodge-podge of old Roman emperor's names and pagan gods the revolutionaries kept to twelve months - each of thirty days - and a decimal ten day week. The names of the months and days were  innocuously based on nature and agriculture to mark the changing seasons. Nowadays only three seem to be remembered: 

Thermidor by foodies because it's a lobster dish
Germinal by literary types because it's a novel by Zola
Brumaire by Marxists - because of Marx's classic study of Louis-Napoleon's seizure of power in 1852.

I'm not sure whether the idea of changing the calendar to mark a new order is  just bonkers or admirable.

It's easy to ridicule the Jacobin's cult of reason and their turning of old churches into 'temples of the supreme being'. But the significance of the break with every whiff  of the old regime went on to inspire later revolutionaries  when the republican calendar was re-adopted by the Communards of 1871. It's a whimsical idea nowadays - and probably has too many dodgy associations with the Khymer Rouge and their own 'year zero'  to ever be taken up seriously again. 

But in an age when medieval religions of various varieties  pose such  a threat to the world, the thought of a little bit less superstition and a little more enlightenment is still an attractive one.

No comments: