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The Commune of Paris, March 18, 1871 – May 28, 1871


robinjojo

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First, the coin, a very rare surviving example, having the trident privy mark on the reverse of Zéphyrin Camélinat, who was the treasurer of the Commune.

image.png.f04921d247281bfb5d45ea5f6122bc23.png

 

France, Paris, The Commune, 5 francs, 1871 A.   Trident privy mark.

KM823

25.00 grams

Mintage: 75,000

D-CameraFranceCommune5francs1871ATridentprivymarkKM82325.00grams3-14-23.jpg.aabda3010c741b8d3c80672e4bb54d71.jpg

And now, some historical context.

This coin was produce during the turbulence following the defeat of France by Prussia and her German allies in the France-Prussian War.  The despotic Napoleon III and the remnants of his army, defeated in the disastrous battle of Sedan (September 1, 1870 – September 2, 1870), were now prisoners.  The Second French Empire quickly ended, giving way to the Third Republic on September 4, 1870.

Following the defeat at Sedan, the Prussian-led North German Confederation forces advanced on Paris, laying a siege that lasted from September 19, 1870 to January 28, 1871, ending in the temporary occupation of parts of Paris by German army. German troops remained east of the city limits.  The Treaty of Frankfurt, signed on 10 May 1871 officially ended the war, with France ceding Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, thus sowing at least one seed that eventually culminated in World War I.

It was in the backdrop of the war that the Commune of Paris sprang forth.  The Commune was comprised of the French National Guard, comprised of mostly working class background soldiers, stationed in Paris, and civilians who, in a reaction to the repressive social structure instituted under Napoleon III, sought to establish a progressive socialist system of governance.  An added factor to what would become basically a civil war for Paris was the divide that existed in France at the time between more Catholic and conservative rural areas and the republican and radical urban centers of Paris, Marseille and Lyon.

From Wikipedia, this is an encapsulation of the Commune's policies:

"These policies included the separation of church and state, self-policing, the remission of rent, the abolition of child labor, and the right of employees to take over an enterprise deserted by its owner. All Roman Catholic churches and schools were closed. Feminist, socialist, communist, old style social democracy (which was a mix of reformism and revolutionism [sic]) and anarchist currents played important roles in the Commune."

The formation of the Third Republic's parliament, in Bordeaux, in February 1871, created a predominantly conservative  body, led by  Adolphe Thiers.  It was a confrontation between the mayor of Paris, the National Guard on one side and Thiers and Cabinet and members of the Army on the other side  over cannons located in Paris that created the start of the Commune on March 17, 1871. 

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The taking of two National Guard cannons with the help of women and children.

The Cabinet's attempts to seize the cannons resulted in confrontations between the Army and the National guardsmen, including the killing of General Clément-Thomas by National Guardsmen.  Outnumbered, Thiers and his government ultimately decided to withdraw from Paris to Versailles on March 18, 1871 and wait until sufficient forces arrived to retake the city.

Thus began the Commune and the siege.  

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A barricade thrown up by national guards on 18 March 1871.

Under the leadership of the National Guard of the Commune, guardsmen occupied vacated government ministries. Adopting the French Republican Calendar and adopting the red flag of revolution, the  Commune Council issued decrees, including, from Wikipedia:

"Separation of church and state;
Remission of rents owed for the entire period of the siege (during which payment had been suspended);
Abolition of child labour and night work in bakeries;
Granting of pensions to the unmarried companions and children of national guardsmen killed in active service;Free return by pawnshops of all workmen's tools and household items, valued up to 20 francs, pledged during the siege;
Postponement of commercial debt obligations, and the abolition of interest on the debts;
Right of employees to take over and run an enterprise if it were deserted by its owner; the Commune, nonetheless, recognised the previous owner's right to compensation;
Prohibition of fines imposed by employers on their workmen."

Following a failed attempt to take Versailles by the National Guard, a war in which prisoners and hostages were routinely executed by both sides ensued. Mass execution became the norm. By May 21, 1871 the French National Army entered Paris.  What followed is known as the "Bloody Week".

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The massacre of hostages.

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Fighting at a barricade.

 

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Aftermath of the siege and street battles.

Street battles followed throughout the city.  When Paris was retaken, casualties totaled 877 killed, 6,454 wounded, and 183 missing for the Republic and an estimated 6,667 confirmed killed and buried for the Commune.  Estimates for the Commune range between 10,000 to 15,000 to as high as 20,000 dead according to Wikipedia.

The significance of the Commune continues to the present.  Its impact on history in the realm of political thought can be seen from the writings of Marx and Engles, through to the Bolshevik Revolution and beyond, in all manifestations.

image.png.8ebf7d7cfc7cc24b5350340a85de0b75.png

For those interested in more information on the complexities of the Paris Commune, here's the link to Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Commune

 

Edited by robinjojo
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Here's one more numismatic item, one that I've posted in the past, related to the Franco-Prussian war, a silver medal issued by the French Communications Ministry of War for aerial communications.  commemorating communications during the war through courier pigeons and hot air balloon.   Balloons were also used for military purposes to observe enemy positions.  During the long a brutal siege of Paris by the North German Confederation, when the city was cut off, these methods of communications were the only means to maintain contact with the world beyond the lines.

 116.6 grams.  Marked "Argent" on the edge.

D-CameraFrancesilvermedal116.6g1871communicationsministryofwarSal4-5-22.jpg.b001510c0f8d5cf4a32a8d0eb856c48a.jpg

 

 

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What an interesting story, thanks for this detailed writeup! I had heard of the Commune before but had no idea about its interesting social policies.

Here is a 20 Francs of mine struck just the year before the end of the Franco-Prussian war, as well as one struck way before during the II. Republic (and a Belgian 20 Francs, since I can't find the individual images)

20230831_221647.jpg.f643870c1e815dc13753e242021664a8.jpg

 

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2 hours ago, Helvius Pertinax said:

What an interesting story, thanks for this detailed writeup! I had heard of the Commune before but had no idea about its interesting social policies.

Here is a 20 Francs of mine struck just the year before the end of the Franco-Prussian war, as well as one struck way before during the II. Republic (and a Belgian 20 Francs, since I can't find the individual images)

20230831_221647.jpg.f643870c1e815dc13753e242021664a8.jpg

 

I like the 1848-A AV 20 Francs! I have the common 1851-A (Ceres Head) and the AV 20 Francs/1852-A Louis Napoleon. President

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This was a time when the coinage was defaced at an unprecedented rate. They really hated losing to the Germans.

Napoléon III Ten centimes, 1857
image.png.ae82b0349ab9a8ae87d739aa058e3d1f.png
Paris (mintmark A). Bronze, 30mm, 9.87g. Bare head of Napoléon III left wearing a re-engraved cuirassier helmet, below BARRE; all in a beaded edge; re-engraved collar; NAPOLEON III EMPEREUR. Eagle head right, re-engraved as a bat's head, resting on a thunderbolt; below the mint letter, all in a beaded edge; EMPIRE FRANÇAIS; DIX CENTIMES (F.133/40 var). Defaced after the defeat at Sedan. Coins were even made pre-defaced.

Napoléon III Five Francs, 1870
image.png.67633a40a5d278cd0d7cb75a1cfabe48.png
Paris (mintmark A). Silver, 36mm, 24.84g. Laureate head left; NAPOLEON III EMPEREUR; SEDAN stamped on neck. Crowned and mantled coat-of-arms within collar; behind, sceptre and Hand of Justice crossed in saltire; EMPIRE FRANCAIS; 5F (VG 739. Alteration: cf. Collignon, Guerre p. 56 note).

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Great coin and write-up about the Paris Commune, @robinjojo.  That "trident" type five francs is something I'd like to luck into someday. 

Until then, I do have an array of the 5-francs types issued in 1870 - first the best of the lot, a Hercules type issued by the Government of National Defense:

France-1870AHercules5francs(0).jpg.146babccca52fbb1de457009c4ee76ba.jpg

"FRANCE, Gouvernement de Défense Nationale (1870-1871), AR 5 francs, 1870 A, Paris. Type Hercule. Beau à Très Beau. (France, government of National Defense (1870-71), silver five francs of 1870, Paris mint, Hercules type. Fine to very fine.)"  From the old CoinFactsWiki site (unfortunately defunct nowadays)

Here is that one with three others from 1870 (but no trident, alas):

_France-18705francs(0x).jpg.646a1de83c3583a84d8b267f4d58be51.jpg

"The Paris mint issued four types of five francs in 1870, reflecting the political chaos; first the Napoleon III "laureate head," then the Cérès head, without reverse legend, then Cérès head, with the reverse legend and finally the Hercules type, which was used until the five francs was terminated in 1878.
Recorded mintage: 1,185,100 (with and without legend) plus 335,609 (Hercules) plus 6,246,264 (Napoleon III)"  (Again, CoinFactsWiki, broken link)

You might've noticed I cheated a little - the Cérès head without legend has a K mintmark, not A for Paris.  

Off the numismatic track, another obtainable relic from that era is the huge French Model 1866 "Chassepot" Yataghan Sword Bayonet which was used by the French during the Franco-Prussian War.  These are terrifyingly long, and marked with the arsenal and date of manufacture (just like a coin, sorta).  Here's mine from 1866 - maybe it was "repurposed" by the Commune?  Or by a Prussian hussar?  Where ever it's been, it is a real pig-sticker!   

France-ChassepotBayonetJan2024(0aaa).jpg.9c86813b74fb40b3893dcf1979687fde.jpg

"This is the most widely copied of all the sword bayonets. Many countries - including the United States, Egypt, Belgium, and Argentina - have manufactured or used very similar bayonets. The French model was designed to fit on the French Model 1866 Chassepot Rifled Infantry Musket (the musket was revolutionary in itself). It was manufactured from 1866 to about 1874 and was replaced by the French Model 1874 "Gras" Bayonet.

This bayonet is brass-hilted with a spring steel latching arrangement on the right side. The crossguard is iron (steel) and has a screw-type tightening arrangement on the muzzle-ring. The lower quillon is a hooked "blade-breaker" type.

The blade is steel, single-edged, fullered (both sides), with a re-curved or "yataghan-shape." The blades are usually marked on the back-edge (opposite the cutting edge) with the arsenal, month, and year of manufacture; this is done in engraved cursive fashion and will appear something like, "Mre d' Armes de Chatellerault Janvier 1866" or perhaps "Mre d' Armes de St. Etienne 8bre [October] 1868". Contrary to novice speculation, these inscriptions are not the name of a lieutenant or major, nor is it a presentation date.

Additionally, these were not used during the American Civil War.  Arsenals encountered may be such as Chatellerault, Mutzig, St. Etienne, Paris-Oudry, Tulle, and perhaps Steyr (not confirmed on the 1866).

There are numerous variations of this bayonet and they were produced in the many-many thousands. The scabbards are usually blued sheet-rolled steel with a ball finial."

http://arms2armor.com/Bayonets/fren1866.htm

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Thank you, everyone!  

The 20 francs of Napoleon III is a wonderful coin, as are the satirical medals, both the engraved German helmet on the portrait of Napoleon III and the medal stamped "Sedan".  The 5 francs group cons are also very nice examples. The sword/bayonet is very impressive, and I would not hesitate in the least running for the hills if confronted with such a pointy object.

Thanks for posting.

One of the major developments that emerged from the Franco-Prussian War was the modern unified German state, under Kaiser Wilhelm. Are there any German coins out there from this period, including the years following this conflict?

 

 

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My only gold coin of Napoleon III, minted in 1860 in Strasbourg in Bas-Rhin, Alsace -- part of France since 1648, but soon to be lost for nearly 50 years as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. Some of you may not be aware that after that war, residents of Alsace were given a choice as to whether they wanted to remain in Alsace and become German subjects, or to opt to move elsewhere in France, retaining their French citizenships. Alphabetical lists of such "optants" are available in French archives and online.

I had relatives who chose both options, and others who moved to Strasbourg from across the Rhine in Baden. 

France, Second Empire, Napoleon III, AV (.900 fineness), 10 Francs, 1860 BB (Strasbourg Mint). Obv. Bare head of Napoleon III right, NAPOLEON III – EMPEREUR around, BARRE beneath [engraver Jean Jacques Barre], flanked by privy marks of bee to left [mark of Alfred Renouard de Bussière, Mint Master, Strasbourg (1834-1860)] and anchor to right [mark of Désiré-Albert Barre, General coin engraver, Paris (1855-1878), son of Jean Jacques Barre] / Rev. 10 | FRANCS |1860 in three lines, within a wreath made of two laurel branches linked at their base by a ribbon, EMPIRE FRANÇAIS around, BB [mint mark for Strasbourg] beneath wreath. KM (Krause-Mishler) 784.4 [see George S. Cuhaj & Thomas Michael, Standard Catalog of World Gold Coins (6th ed. 2009), at p. 408]; F. 506/11 [Le Franc Poche, Guide des Prix des Monnaies Françaises (13th ed. 2022)]; Gadoury, Monnaies Françaises 1789-2023/2024  1014 (p. 426) (26th ed. 2023). 19 mm., 3.2 g.  Purchased from Ingemar Wallin Mynthandel, Uppsala, Sweden, 18 Sep 2023.

image.png.a659ffdc8e8203a99f616373bb54c36f.png

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33 minutes ago, DonnaML said:

My only gold coin of Napoleon III, minted in 1860 in Strasbourg in Bas-Rhin, Alsace -- part of France since 1648, but soon to be lost for nearly 50 years as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. Some of you may not be aware that after that war, residents of Alsace were given a choice as to whether they wanted to remain in Alsace and become German subjects, or to opt to move elsewhere in France, retaining their French citizenships. Alphabetical lists of such "optants" are available in French archives and online.

I had relatives who chose both options, and others who moved to Strasbourg from across the Rhine in Baden. 

France, Second Empire, Napoleon III, AV (.900 fineness), 10 Francs, 1860 BB (Strasbourg Mint). Obv. Bare head of Napoleon III right, NAPOLEON III – EMPEREUR around, BARRE beneath [engraver Jean Jacques Barre], flanked by privy marks of bee to left [mark of Alfred Renouard de Bussière, Mint Master, Strasbourg (1834-1860)] and anchor to right [mark of Désiré-Albert Barre, General coin engraver, Paris (1855-1878), son of Jean Jacques Barre] / Rev. 10 | FRANCS |1860 in three lines, within a wreath made of two laurel branches linked at their base by a ribbon, EMPIRE FRANÇAIS around, BB [mint mark for Strasbourg] beneath wreath. KM (Krause-Mishler) 784.4 [see George S. Cuhaj & Thomas Michael, Standard Catalog of World Gold Coins (6th ed. 2009), at p. 408]; F. 506/11 [Le Franc Poche, Guide des Prix des Monnaies Françaises (13th ed. 2022)]; Gadoury, Monnaies Françaises 1789-2023/2024  1014 (p. 426) (26th ed. 2023). 19 mm., 3.2 g.  Purchased from Ingemar Wallin Mynthandel, Uppsala, Sweden, 18 Sep 2023.

image.png.a659ffdc8e8203a99f616373bb54c36f.png

That's very interesting and one aspect of the war that I was not aware of.  So families split apart as a result.  

I visited Strasbourg briefly in 1994.  It is a very historic city and one that I hope to return to for further exploration.

BTW, that's a beautiful 10 francs!

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The only German coin that have was issued well after the Franco-Prussian War.  This was from the time when Germany was establishing colonial possessions in competition with principally the UK and France, but also Belgium.  Like Italy, Germany was a "Johnny come lately" in the colonial sphere, Germany established colonies in German East Africa (Cameroon, Namibia, and Tanzania.),the Kiautschou Bay lease in China, following the murder of two German missionaries in 1897, and German New Guinea (Papua New Guinea).  

German New Guinea, 1894 A (Berlin), 5 marks, "Bird of Paradise'"

KM 7

27.8 grams

D-CameraGermanyNewGuinea18945marksBirdofParadise27.8g9-7-20.jpg.6a8c82ce49dfebf748c58e6b8b83f91f.jpg

   

Edited by robinjojo
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Prussia issued a Franco-Prussian War commemorative thaler in 1871.  Called a "Siegestaler" it has a mintage of 800,000 (sieges is German for "victory.")  The lady on the reverse is "Borussia (female personification of Prussia)" according to Numista.  https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces15907.html

The mintage isn't as huge as some Prussian thalers of the era, but they are still very common - like Columbian and Kennedy half dollers, etc., people probably hoarded them, vaguely thinking they might be valuable. A few years later (1875-1918) the German Reich went to a Marks denomination - the 3 marks silver coin being the equivalent of the old verinsthaler (I read somewhere once that Germans referred to the new 3 mark coins as "thalers" for years).  These "siegestalers" also circulated, as you can see from my worn example - I'm sure somebody out there has a better one.  

GermanyPrussia-ThalerWilliamI1871SiegestalerKM500MINEpic(0).jpg.a181f0336297aa0efa9a48a436917bcb.jpg

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This German medal commemorating the unification is not mine, but it's currently up for sale by Künker in an auction on 5-6 February:

image.png.e69b5f89fb63759b76219b152fa402b1.png

Here's the lot description, translated into English:

Estimate: 200 EUR
Current bid: 320 EUR
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Watch List notes:
 
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GERMAN COINS AND MEDALS
BRANDENBURG-PRUSSIA
PRUSSIA, KINGDOM
Wilhelm I, 1861-1888. Silver medal 1871, from FW Kullrich and H. Weckwerth, for the proclamation of the emperor and the founding of the empire. Kaiser Wilhelm I stands vv[?] in uniform, surrounded by twelve German princes//Crowned year 1871 between tied palm and oak branches. 56.00mm; 72.21g. Marienb. 5820; Sommer K 71. R Dark patina, slightly rubbed, extremely fine
Edited by DonnaML
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The Commune also issued crude bronze medals, actually token size.

France, Paris, Commune bronze token, Committee of Public Safety, Dictatorship of Five, 1871.

28mm, 9.25 grams

D-CameraFranceParisCommunebronzetokenCommitteeofPublicSafetyDictatorshipofFive187128mm9.25grams1-22-24.jpg.218c00093a0050910cc820978d89bf9e.jpg

 

Edited by robinjojo
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On 1/21/2024 at 3:32 PM, robinjojo said:

That's very interesting and one aspect of the war that I was not aware of.  So families split apart as a result.  

I visited Strasbourg briefly in 1994.  It is a very historic city and one that I hope to return to for further exploration.

BTW, that's a beautiful 10 francs!

Thanks for the encapsulation, @robinjojo.  ...Not unlike any number of other civil wars, past and possibly future.

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Huge thanks for all of this, only most empatically beginning with @robinjojo's brilliant OP.

Regarding the historical context, going back to the (thank you, French) Revolutionary precedent that the Commune was so evidently drawing from, here's a problem I have. 

In light of the 'separation of church and state' (a concept that goes back to the more demonstrably elitist American constitution; this is pasting from your citation of the Wiki article):

"These policies included the separation of church and state, self-policing, the remission of rent, the abolition of child labor, and the right of employees to take over an enterprise deserted by its owner. All Roman Catholic churches and schools were closed. Feminist, socialist, communist, old style social democracy (which was a mix of reformism and revolutionism [sic]) and anarchist currents played important roles in the Commune."

...why did the Commune, along with the First Republic, find it So Necessary to close Catholic churches and schools?  

That's starting to smell a lot like, Separate, Not Equal.

Granted, merely as an American, living in real time --never mind the aggregate, nose-holdingly toxic precedent-- I have to acknowledge the propensity for organized religion, not least of the Christian kind, to morph into its own toxic set of detestable political agendas.  ...But this has to strike me as something along the lines of blaming Musiims, or Jews, for what their own most vocal, ostensible, and correspondingly least favorite representatives are getting up to.

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41 minutes ago, JeandAcre said:

Huge thanks for all of this, only most empatically beginning with @robinjojo's brilliant OP.

Regarding the historical context, going back to the (thank you, French) Revolutionary precedent that the Commune was so evidently drawing from, here's a problem I have. 

In light of the 'separation of church and state' (a concept that goes back to the more demonstrably elitist American constitution; this is pasting from your citation of the Wiki article):

"These policies included the separation of church and state, self-policing, the remission of rent, the abolition of child labor, and the right of employees to take over an enterprise deserted by its owner. All Roman Catholic churches and schools were closed. Feminist, socialist, communist, old style social democracy (which was a mix of reformism and revolutionism [sic]) and anarchist currents played important roles in the Commune."

...why did the Commune, along with the First Republic, find it So Necessary to close Catholic churches and schools?  

That's starting to smell a lot like, Separate, Not Equal.

Granted, merely as an American, living in real time --never mind the aggregate, nose-holdingly toxic precedent-- I have to acknowledge the propensity for organized religion, not least of the Christian kind, to morph into its own toxic set of detestable political agendas.  ...But this has to strike me as something along the lines of blaming Musiims, or Jews, for what their own most vocal, ostensible, and correspondingly least favorite representatives are getting up to.

You know what happened to many churches and other religious buildings during the French Revolution, right? Anti-clericalism has a long history in France. I'm sure you've heard Diderot's famous saying -- and he died before the Revolution! -- that "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

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An example of the index card for one of the Optants who elected French citizenship in 1872, a man named Jacques Felsenberg from the village of Niedernai in Bas-Rhin (where part of my family lived as long ago as the late 1600s); he was a first cousin of one of my great-great-grandmothers, and a grandson of my 4th great-grandfather Nathan Jacob Felsenberg:

JacquesFelsenbergNiedernaiOptant1872.jpg.f09009362bbc2ed64dd93c168b33826e.jpg

There are 452,540 index cards available online, representing 84% of the total number of Alsace residents who elected French citizenship. The total population of Alsace at the time was nearly 1.6 million.

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Yes, @DonnaML, that's sounding very familiar.  (Especially bouncing off of this: 

I'm sure you've heard Diderot's famous saying -- and he died before the Revolution! -- that "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.")

...Beyond the relentlessly sordid history of organized religion, I'm needing to be about this Jew who was murdered by Roman soldiers, at the behest of, thank you, effectively more of the same kind of politico-religious elites

(edit, days later; Friday --just to emphasize the point, which was implicit in my own mind --likely too much so:)

independently of ethnic or religious  background or context,

as we're looking at only most recently right (expletive of choice) now.

(Ensuing edit: Mixing religion and politics, at least in any context involving established institutions, and whatever attendant level of power ensues, is inexorably toxic.  ...From here, it feels as if I'm already paraphrasing Burke.  --May the record show that, among contemporaries, I'm more a fan of Samuel Johnson than of him.  But, as Johnson said, 'even a stopped clock is right twice a day.')

Edited by JeandAcre
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16 minutes ago, JeandAcre said:

Yes, @DonnaML, that's sounding very familiar.  (Especially bouncing off of this: 

I'm sure you've heard Diderot's famous saying -- and he died before the Revolution! -- that "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

...Beyond the relentlessly sordid history of organized religion, I'm needing to be about this Jew who was murdered by Roman soldiers, at the behest of, thank you, effectively more of the same kind of politico-religious elites as we're looking at right (expletive of choice) now.

Can we please stay away from the subject of who it was, "elite" or otherwise, who allegedly inspired, requested, directed, persuaded, or "behested" (to coin a word) the Romans to execute the person you're talking about? It's way off topic and involves two subjects I beg you to stay away from here -- politics and religion. I only brought up Diderot's famous quotation because you seemed so shocked at the existence of anti-clericalism among the Communards. Of all people!

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Well, just for one, regarding my ostensible shock (your word) at the communards' ancticlericism, you summarilly get my word and bond that nothing of the kind was involved..  

...And do we now have to move away from discussion of elites?  That's going to limit the discussion for a Lot of us.  Thank you, they're generally the ones who issue coins.

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8 minutes ago, JeandAcre said:

...And do we now have to move away from discussion of elites?  That's going to limit the discussion for a Lot of us.  Thank you, they're generally the ones who issue coins.

That's not what I said. You weren't discussing numismatics or minting authorities. You were trying to draw political parallels to today, and raising the issue of "politico-religious elites" who supposedly inspired the Romans to crucify Jesus. I know you didn't have the usual meaning of that kind of rhetoric in mind, but the subject just doesn't belong here.

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