I’ve been a little bit obsessed with revolutionaries since seeing Les Mis, and although it’s waning now, I still wanted to examine why I felt so strongly for those who give their lives for what they believe in.
The revolutionary is otherworldly. Men rarely follow mere mortals into death, but they will fight for stronger and more lasting things – ideas and the Divine.
I know that the trope of the revolutionary isn’t realistic, that revolutions today are bloody and futile and rash when there are other ways to revolt. They’re desperate. But still I think that there is something attractive in the strength of ideals, because we are drawn to those who know for what they fight.
They have to be fighting for the right things, of course, because when you’re a revolutionary, you lose yourself almost entirely. You become a man consumed, and at such a price, you’ve got to be sure that what you’re fighting for is worth the toll that it will eventually take on you, even demanding your life.
Something had unsettled me about Enjolras’ appearance in the Les Misérables movie, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I realized the last time I saw the movie that Aaron Tveit’s (marvelously acted) Enjolras was both the youngest and the oldest looking that I’d seen. His extreme youth reminded me that the Revolution of 1832 was indeed a student’s revolution where the boys who died for their beliefs were hardly older than I am now. It also contrasted so heavily with the ancientness of his spirit that it shocked me. Enjolras is a tired old man in a young man’s body, and sometimes, as the revolution consumes him, his weariness begins to show through the cracks, and I began to fear that revolution would rip him apart and burst through those seams.
In The Prelude, Wordsworth speaks of this same condition in his friend, Michel Beaupuis, the pre-Jacobin revolutionary in the French revolution of the late 18th century:
“His temper was quite mastered by the times,
And they had blighted him, had eaten away
The beauty of his person, doing wrong
Alike to body and to mind”
Wordsworth notices that the revolution has stolen his friend’s youth. And yet,
“a kind of radiant joy
Diffused around him, while he was intent
On works of love or freedom”
This is why we love them. We admire the ones that turn their words into actions, whose lives are so transparent that there is no discrepancy between their beliefs and their deeds – a life without hypocrisy that seeps from the heart to the external. When someone can live their beliefs out, as Wordsworth would say, “truth is more than truth”. As a side note, we want to love someone like that, too. Love isn’t really love when it exalts the other into an obsession; instead, we want a partner in a shared love, someone that we can love as we are both consumed by a greater passion.
The revolutionary, in his purest form, rejects himself in order to serve others and even to die for them. In order to create a better world for his people, he gives his own life to make theirs worth living.
I know that this is a common theme with me, but I don’t think there is harm in repeating it: we are all men consumed. The question is, by what? And is it worth the toll that it’s going to take on us?
If we’re truly living out our faith, we should be as radiant as the revolutionary, and the love of Christ should be ripping out of our hearts in order to touch those around us, breaking us apart in the process. We look to the most revolutionary act of history for our hope – Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8) He gave his life to redeem ours and to change the fabric of our world from that moment on.
And that’s something worth both living and dying for.
Read this: all aforementioned works.
Hear this: In a bout of revolutionary fervor, I unashamedly give you this: SING