July 15, 2008
When Chinese Communist Chou En-lai was asked his opinion of the French Revolution, he replied: "It is too soon to tell." Edmund Burke had no such hesitation, as my colleague Michael Fragoso shared with us. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was another Briton with few doubts.
In 1989, Mrs. Thatcher went to Paris for the G-7 conference. President Francois Mitterrand had decided to use the summit to showcase the bicentenaire of the French Revolution. Reporters flocked to Mrs. Thatcher to get her impressions of the event. What did she think of the French Revolution, they probed. "It resulted in a lot of headless corpses and a tyrant," the Iron Lady replied. But surely Madame would agree that the French Revolution began the long march toward human rights, non? "Certainly not! That began with Magna Carta," Mrs. Thatcher replied firmly. For this act of resistance, Mrs. Thatcher was consigned to the second row of dignitaries at the Notre Dame festivities. Still, she may have had the last word. As Britain's gift to France on the two hundredth anniversary of their revolution, Mrs. Thatcher presented a leather-bound first edition of Charles Dickens' immortal Tale of Two Cities.