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In Defense of the Guillotine

In Defense of the Guillotine

Satire, noun, the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

A common issue, it seems, placed at the feet of those who happen to be in charge, is exactly how to end the lives of those who are supposed to die. Of pharaonic despots, Roman consuls, German Kaisers, and revolutionary committees alike, this is a constantly recurring conundrum within the affairs of a state and is made the business of any sorry individuals who happen to be running it. It may sound strange to describe it so mundanely, but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t anything more significant than the rest of the scheduled, ordered bureaucratic rigmarole required to make the world work. Just as an essential mass of raw goods are harvested, combined on assembly lines that putter and spew out products, and then are lined up and delivered to consumers, so too are gavels banged, papers signed and stamped and filed, and then a poor few are lined up and… delivered to God. It is unfortunate, but it happens to be required for the sake of the continuation of civilized society. Nothing to be sad about (unless you’re one of them). Nothing to cry over, or pout, or put all of one’s energy into preventing. Such a life would be a waste and could only make things worse! We shouldn’t be so mad at those who, out of the goodness of their heart, have borne the cross of order and civilization and, in doing so, have been forced to handle that endless river of malcontents.

There are many different ways to ensure that the people who need to… disappear permanently for the sake of society do so. The medieval strategies, for instance, were quite colourful. The monarch’s power did not merely… end life but also put on a show! One particular case in 1757, popularized by Foucault, involved an account that was quite brutal. Someone “was conveyed in a cart… to the Place de Greve, where… the flesh [was] torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers.” I apologize for reading any section of this quote (and it is much longer and even more gratuitous), as I am only today speaking of the necessary nature of the… removal of particular lives and not the unnecessary intimate details of these acts.

These medieval methods ought to strike one as excessive, of course. Louis XV and his administrators, who orchestrated the act, understood a necessity of governance but most definitely went too far. And imagine how terrifying it might be if all the potential dissidents looked to their left and their right and, collectively, exercised the anger they would likely feel at seeing such a spectacle as this. We know where that got Louis XV’s son! Thankfully for all those who simply must have their life… undone for the necessities of governance, the enlightenment brought a civilized tolerance to this crucial activity. God bless them for it! It makes the act of… abrogating life so much easier without all of that barbaric torture.

Immanuel Kant, who can only be described as the most seminal intellectual of his historical period, was comparatively quite soft on this matter than those around him. He was a rational man, of course, and understood the necessity for… confiscating life, writing that “even if a civil society were to be dissolved by the consent of all its members… the last murderer remaining in the prison would first have to be executed, so that each has done to him what his deeds deserve and blood guilt does not cling to the people for not having insisted upon this punishment; for otherwise the people can be regarded as collaborators in this public violation of justice.”

Nevertheless, Kant looked at the excessive, torturous devices and methods of his historical age and understood that something was wrong. He argued that “there can be disgraceful punishments that dishonor humanity itself, such as quartering someone, having him torn by dogs, cutting off his nose and ears. Not only are such punishments more painful than loss of possessions and life to those who love honor, who claim the respect of others, as everyone must; they also make a spectator blush with shame as belonging to a species that can be treated that way.”

Thank the lord that Kant’s enlightenment sensibilities came about at the time that they did. He added such a reasonable touch to that necessary task required for civilization. And thank the stars for men like Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who had proposed to the revolutionary national assembly that the device that would soon be an eponym of his name be implemented to deal with civilization’s heaviest deed. He famously remarked in this assembly that “now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!”

What a wonderful device the guillotine is! What better evidence of the rational disposition gifted to European civilization by the enlightenment than this device’s widespread use? We must thank most significantly not Kant or Guillotin, although the end of irrational medieval barbarism still owes an unpayable debt to these two, but instead Antoine Louis, the guillotine’s inventor.

Antoine had, of course, developed this device to be used for king Louis XVI’s service and not, as history would eventually have it, on him. And it is regrettable that when Guillotin had proposed the device’s use, he had done so not to the king and his representatives but instead to those who would soon use this device to… annul these noble men’s lives. While the radical republicans had undoubtedly gone a little overboard, we can again thank the enlightenment sensibilities of Kant, Guillotin, and Antoine Louis (among others) for ensuring the implementation of the guillotine for civilization’s most essential task. In fact, a popular phrase uttered by the unruly mobs of the early revolution was “to the lamp post! string them up!” Imagine what they would’ve done without the enlightenment! We can be thankful that the insatiable bloodlust which paved the way for our modern, bourgeois republics had at least been dulled by the sharp blade of a guillotine.

We conservatives should not be so hard on the guillotine. We should not let those “radicals” claim it too quickly! Its use ensures nothing less than an efficient and merciful method of fulfilling that most crucial task given to civilized societies: the neutralization of malcontents. I certainly wish it had not debuted its wonderful capacity at the time which it had, but nevertheless, we must not look at the spectacle of its origins but instead its general use.

Was it not the guillotine that helped introduce Francaphrique to civilization? Idealists may call it “colonization,” and we all certainly wish this process could’ve been more peaceful, but the introduction of civilization to these regions required that the lives of certain people had to be… concluded early.  And thank God for the guillotine, for it was the primary method of bringing about the early end of those who had to… perish in this “colonial” situation. The “special powers” of French Algeria could only have been exerted alongside the sharpened edge of this device. And to think, the anarchic idealists who celebrated Francaphrique’s independence had cheered on the imagery that had been an essential tool in binding these two continent’s destinies together for so long.

Surely the remaining royals and aristocrats of the world would naturally cringe at the thought of celebrating the guillotine’s widespread use. And it was quite a shame that their ancestors had to be… withdrawn from this earth by the necessities of governance in the late 18th century. But I must emphasize that if an aristocrat, even a French one, could somehow look through their ancestral memories, they would far more often than not find this device being used for the benefit of their social class and not, as is typically imagined, to its detriment. What a shock it may be for many that a majority of those in history who had shuddered upon hearing the phrase “bring out the guillotine!” had not been, as one might imagine, kings and royal collaborators but instead petty criminals and enemies of the state.

The guillotine is an incredible tool for governance, really, especially after the bourgeois class had come to their senses and allied with the aristocracy. These upstarts had initially been a little… over-enthusiastic about this device’s use (although even within the French Revolution, a majority of those who had the guillotine used on them had themselves been proles), but we can thank the stars that they would later come to their senses and use this device more reasonably.

Was it not those anarchic proletarians in the Paris Commune who seized the Parisian guillotine and smashed it to pieces? Oh, that proletariat! How much better they were under the guidance of the early bourgeois class, who had managed to subdue their worst qualities. Like a father guiding his newly born son, the bourgeois had entered into an alliance with the crude proletarian mobs of the early 19th century that had only desired anarchy and the abolition of class and instead moulded them into a useful tool for the early development of bourgeois politics. But in the Paris Commune, this early honeymoon of the two classes was no more. And how awful the proletariat had become after they started acting autonomously! Destroying that incredible device that had most efficiently… revoked life in the French revolution and beyond. All because these revolutionaries had viewed the guillotine to be a symbol of “bourgeois despotism.” Surely the obviously stated intention of this act was to do away with that most essential task of civilization, which had at this point become excellently aided by the guillotine.

The main difference, I believe, between the French Revolution and the Paris Commune was that the former were willing to bear the responsibilities of civilization, and the latter merely turned away from them, unable to do that solemn deed which had been necessary since the invention of society. For it was the proletariat who had, due to their own failings, I’m sure, grown resentful of civilization and of being the primary demographic that had been subject to… liquidation by that great device.

God bless our holy and complicated division of labour! Especially around the crucial task of… concluding on another’s life. For only a scorned few have to see the realities of what it is like to ensure that another man has his life… set aside permanently. And even these few have had their jobs made far more efficient, far less… messy because of the guillotine.

You may think of me as a cynic, but I retort that I am only a realist. Some respond that it is, in fact, no one who has to have their life… cancelled out early for the sake of society. But could one possibly imagine such a society even beginning to function? I agree that this deed is regrettable, but there is nothing one can do about it. This is what the bourgeois class had learned, being responsible businessmen, upon taking power in the French Revolution, and it is clearly something that those useless proles could never come to understand on their own.

I am writing today to advise all my fellow-minded conservatives. Celebrate the guillotine! For it is on your side. And only the naïve revolutionary, who somehow conjures up the absurd assertion that hierarchy and order are not essential parts of society, that could possibly denounce this device’s incredible capabilities.