The guillotine is the symbol of class warfare for the traditionalist, it seems. The raised fist, the burning flag, and the inversion of oppressive symbols are all popular, but the timbers of justice seem to have stood the test of time. It represents a finality that you only get when dragging a member of the ruling class to the town square for the vicious cartharsis of jeering citizens.
That’s over $51 million a day
The mechanics of a guillotine are elegantly simple. A blade is mounted to the mouton, the weight that also holds the rope. The rope itself is mounted to the top crossbar, and the blade fitted to move freely downward through grooves in the structure. The lunette at the base holds the intended in place, with their head suspended over the bascule. The déclic is what makes it all go, though. The rope is secured to it, and the handle would also open up the grooves in the frame, letting the blade descend.
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It was originally presented as a humane form of capital punishment in the mid-18th century, as an alternative to hanging or the breaking wheel. Since then, the blade of the guillotine is often represented as the stark division between life and death. It severs the cord that binds one to this mortal coil, and shone in the French Revolution, where the executions of the wealthy became a source of public entertainment.
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There’s a temptation to compare the public executions of the early revolution to the bread and circuses of the Roman Colosseum, bloodsports to feed a hungry public. An angry public. But the victims of the Colosseum were largely slaves, often captives taken in war or members of persecuted religions. Existing at the bottom of Roman social strata, they died for the entertainment of the public, but moreover as a display of imperial power. There are countless tales of emperors deciding life and death at the Colosseum, an act which cemented their legitimacy as the public roared for it.
In contrast, the revolutionary guillotine was used to execute people in power, placed in the bonds of the lunette by the citizenry themselves. That citizenry marched under the banner of freedom, and in 1794 would resolve to abolish slavery in France and all French colonies. Its spectacle fed a citizenry hungry for liberty, one eager to abolish the mythical power of monarchy along with the temporal power of the wealth and arms afforded to the aristocracy.
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Of course, both guillotine and revolution are romanticized. The French Revolution ended badly in the long run, and the guillotine was eventually put to work executing criminals, poor people, and innocents. Even the Nazis got some use out of it in the forties, I’m afraid. Reality is ever duller than burnished fantasy. But the symbol remains, a pair of timbers and a shining blade in the the Place de la Revolution, an edifice that strikes fear in the hearts of kings.
Now you can’t buy guillotine on Amazon, but you can order a bespoke museum quality one from boisdejustice.com.
Giving up $10 billion/year he’d still be the richest man in the world
just filed a new patent pic.twitter.com/JTheWxsa3T
— leon (@leyawn) May 4, 2017
- Business Insider – 7 mind-blowing facts about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ $105 billion fortune
- NYT – Price of Safe Water for All: $10 Billion and the Will to Provide It