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Les miserables

Victor Hugo on revolution & religion

This is the story of Jean Valjean, hunted nearly unto destruction by the lawman Javert. Valjean was jailed for stealing a bread-loaf for a starving child; & then for attempting escape. Upon release, he is now one of the cursed – the touch of the law is indelible. Punishment is feared by all; some fear that they will suffer it, some fear lest they not inflict it…

Valjean overcomes the hatred brought by the knowledge of the injustice he suffered at the hands of the laws by Christianity. A priest of Christ saves him at his lowest & shows that generosity can overcome the hardship of the laws. This convinces him to try to live a new life. His great strength is tamed by his conscience, which must be pure.

But a new life means running from the laws, itself a crime; another is convicted in his place – the laws must always be enforced. He cannot bear freedom bought at this price – he kneels before the terrible injustice of the laws again. He has abandoned his mayoralty & his proud new life, no matter his responsibilities. The Christian’s conscience, like the laws, is above the public good. A child’s life, the promise given its dying mother, embodies this conscience.

The Revolution has upturned France. Kings & emperors & the rulers of several republics rose & fell. Between them, they had glory, slaughters, death in age, & exile. But democracy advanced. A new revolution is coming now. Young men & mobs are coming to anger & hysteria. Paris fills up again with a sense of her greatness, the urgency of the people getting what they deserve. Up go the barricades. Soon comes the fighting, street by street.

The young who fight in the name of the people want more democracy; an end to the suffering of the people, whose misery is made more appalling by the opulence of the aristocrats. The misery debases people, but that only adds to the dignity of the people. The barricades add to the lawlessness of Paris, but that only adds to the justice of the people’s cause – equality. Javert is the man who prizes order above anything else. To defend the order is also to defend its injustice.

Religion will either add God’s wrath to the popular hysteria & judge us so harshly as to upturn the world, so that it can be made again, made right this time – or otherwise in its mode religion will tame or temper the orders: Charity shields the democrats somewhat from harsh nature & laws. Thus religion defends also the aristocratic orders. Indeed, it speaks of noble sacrifice, the superfluity of life that shows us the noble souls, like Valjean.

A must see. Experience religious terror as a musical