I am a huge Victor Hugo fan. There are few things I love more than the French novelist Victor Hugo and the state of Israel.
You can imagine my delight then when I heard none other than conservative radio host Glenn Beck dramatically tell the story of Victor Hugo on his new segment “Courage Boys.”
At a time when Glenn Beck is being criticized for using decent language about Ted Cruz, I wanted to send some love to his corner.
You see, when I was a senior at Vassar, I wrote an editorial in the student newspaper that defended Israel in a way that only Victor Hugo could appreciate. I used his ideas.
Contrary to the orthodoxy of modern liberalism (today in place of Hugo’s foe Classicism), what Victor Hugo referred to as “the sublime and the grotesque” in his literary call to arms, A Preface to Cromwell, is a dramatic flair that goes to the heart of the nature of reality.
It’s why France’s greatest “Romanticist” preferred to disavow the word “Romanticism,” which seemed to suggest a blindness to truth.
There are surely both sublime and grotesque elements of Israel, Washington DC, or even Wall Street.
When a movement tries to demonize an entire class of people or entities, they are surely missing this demonstrable truth. What is romantic is to tell the truth as human beings see it.
Here is the segment from Courage Boys:
A young poet sat by a Paris window, watching the people below, and asking himself the dangerous questions for the time in which he lived. And then he wrote them.
He was a French celebrity at a time when wealth determined freedom. He had a bright future as one of France’s greatest writers. The political landscape of France was changing, and the young man was put to use by the then-president Napoleon Bonaparte. One day, he was sent out among the people to plead the king’s case to an angry group of poor protesters. He reasoned that France’s president should instead be a king. But the people shouted him down.
The poet found he had no sway with the common man, and it affected his work. Around this time, he quit working on his novel. It seemed that he couldn’t answer the question that he himself posed on page one, now a decade earlier.
The famous poet couldn’t conjure enough passion for the oppressed. Napoleon Bonaparte continued to gain strength, and our poet, the now official state poet, became a celebrity endorser of sorts. One day he made his request of his powerful friend. He asked for a free press.
The request was rejected, and the poet realized something was wrong. That to speak would condemn him, but to remain silent would damn him.
He split from Napoleon Bonaparte and joined the people against the monarchy. Shortly after, Bonaparte led a coup d’etat and became the all-powerful king of France, known as Napolean III.
Overnight, the poet became an enemy of France and fled for his life. During his exile, his family fell apart, his daughter drowned, another ran away, his son was losing his sanity, and his wife left him.
Now, two decades had past since he started his novel, and the poet returned to that old manuscript. He returned to the question on page one that he had written as a bourgeoisie, looking down at the people.
Is that which is said of a man as important as the man’s actual deeds? This time, the answers flowed. His empathy for both the rich and the poor, sinner and the saint, poured itself into the page.
A year later, the huge manuscript was finished, the poet, Victor Hugo, called it “Les Miserables.”
The critics hated it, but it stirred the people. It was officially banned in France, yet everyone fought for their own secret copy. Publishers were scared of it. But Hugo urged them on, writing, “Certain men, certain castes rise in revolt against this book. I understand that. Mirrors, those revealers of truth are hated. That does not prevent them from being of use.”
Napolean III died, and after nearly 20 years in exile, Victor Hugo returned to France. There he lived the rest of his days as a national icon. Hugo’s funeral was one of the largest in French history. Over 2 million people lined the streets. He asked in his will to be buried in a pauper’s coffin. And he was, in a little wooden box in the pantheon.
And so, courage, boys. For the wretched of this earth, there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.
To Glenn Beck: Thank you.
To Fairness of Israel: Thank you.
To my alma mater Vassar College, where a grotesque BDS resolution was recently passed:
Thank you. Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.
I hope that the next chapter is sublime.