FINAL REMARKS
On the
OriginandFunctionofa
HistoricalSymbol
F
OR CONTEMPORARY FRANCE, THE STORMING OF THE BAS-
tille represents "l'evenement no.
I"
of the Revolution-the
most important eventof the French Revolution, according to
the results of a poll taken by the French weekly Nouvel Observateurin
January
1989.1
At the same time, the Bastille, the former state prison
taken on
14
July
1789,
is one of the four great symbolsof the French
Revolution to the French-together with the Declaration of Rights,
the slogan "Liberte - Egalite - Fratcrnite," and the French national
anthem, the Marseillaise) which was composed in
1792.
And finally,
the attack on the Bastille constitutes the only prominent event of the
French Revolution that is notassociated with one of the great namesof
the Revolution. Neither Robespierre nor Danton, neither Mirabeau
nor Marat nor La Fayette participated in the storming of the Bastille
or was connected with it. In the consciousness of the French-and
this idea prevailed quite early outside France as well, especially in Ger-
rnanv-s-ra julv 1789
is a genuinely national,collective event. Its authors
are the people, "le peuple," "la Nation" as a whole.
How can the unparalleled "career" of the collective symbol "storm-
ing of the Bastille" be explained? On the one hand, it can certainly
be explained by the historical fact that the fall and destruction of the
infamous state prison was a prophesied, "expected" event. Philoso-
phers and writers such as Linguet and Mercier had predicted it and
viewed it as a precondition for a new era of freedom. The Bastille
was thus almost ideally suited as a
symbolofthe
breakbetween the an-
cien regime and the Revolution, between despotism and freedom. As
a two-dimensional, bipolar symbol it embodied on the one hand the
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