November 18, 2011

"In 1793, in an effort to sweep away the superstitious associations of the old method of timekeeping (you know how revolutionaries are)..."

"... the French National Convention established a new calendar with 12 months of 30 days each, followed by five (six in leap years) 'complementary days,' which belonged to no month."
Each month was divided into three 10-day "decades," and each day into two sections of 10 hours each. The hour was further divided into 100 "decimal minutes," which were in turn divided into 100 "decimal seconds."

The year began on the autumnal equinox, which happened to be the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic. Each month was given a descriptive name, e.g., Thermidor, July 19-August 17, "month of heat." Each day was also given its own name, some of which were less inspired than others, e.g., Eggplant, Manure, Shovel, Gypsum, Billy Goat, Spinach, and Tunny Fish. Even the French couldn't seriously have felt these represented a significant advance over old faves like Maundy Thursday. Also, on a more practical front, who wants to work a ten-day week?

Nontheless the French public made a valiant effort to implement the new system, going so far as to manufacture watches with concentric 10- and 12-hour dials. But ultimately the task proved to be beyond them. In 1806, after 13 baffling years of missed dentist appointments and overdue library books, they abandoned the revolutionary calendar. This was the only known defeat of Progress in the modern era prior to the establishment of the Illinois General Assembly. Gives you pause, when you think about it.

48 comments:

ndspinelli said...

And, the French clock went counterclockwise..backwards as it were. This was based on the direction French forces moved during war.

YoungHegelian said...

Isn't funny how the folks who are so dedicated to "Reason" always seem to come out with the craziest stuff?

"There is superstitioooon....."

Dan in Philly said...

Brought to you by the same folks who tried to rule by terror - remember that when goverened by reason and rationality we are all going to be freed from the brutality of the old ways!

Alas, reason is performed by people after all. There is really no escaping this fact. Fear of the state (king) lead to the creation of the first superstate (France) and the most powerful dictator in history to that date. Soviet Russia was nothing more than a copy of revolutionary France.

cassandra lite said...

So it was the Reign of Error.

Chip S. said...

Nous sommes les quatre-vingt-dix-neufs pour cent!

Reminded me of this classic take on revolution.

MadisonMan said...

I thought I was reading an Onion Article.

Those wacky french!

MikeR said...

There have been several such attempts to "fix" the calendar, most recently I think by the League of Nations. They were all a deadly peril to Jews who observe the Sabbath strictly, since many had jobs that would be unable to accommodate a roving Sabbath in a ten-day work week.

(The League of Nations proposal,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Calendar
had a seven day work week, but added one or two days "outside the week" at the end of the year. That would be almost as bad for Orthodox Jews, as the Sabbath would move around the week, a day or two per year.) I once heard that Rabbi J.H. Hertz, the Chief Rabbi of England at the time, tried to get the Pope to join him in opposing the League of Nations proposal, but that the Pope felt that the new calendar would not be a problem for Catholics.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_H._Hertz#Calendar_reform

Shouting Thomas said...

You're beginning to catch on, Althouse, that OWS is a revolutionary movement.

Have you been to Adbusters? Read Chris Hedges?

How does it feel (to quote Dylan) to be the entrenched, rich old fart opposed by the idealistic kids who want to bring down the privileged elite you represent?

Shouting Thomas said...

When you reach your 60s, Althouse, everything is a rerun.

Ficta said...

I've always found the Republican Calendar "replacement" for the liturgical calendar kind of charming. The Straight Dope picked some of the goofier sounding ones, but many of them are wildflowers or herbs. A smartphone app that switched your wallpaper, say, to a picture of the day's item would be neat. Hm, I could write one of those....
11/18/11 10:36 AM

Carol_Herman said...

Since it was done in french, it didn't really affect the Americans.

The "big change" in dates occurred when the Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian Calendar (if I had to guess.)

I also think I was taught that George Washington was actually born on February 12th. (But it was around 1723 that the new calendar (as we know it was adopted). And, two weeks in February were lost. So, his birthdate switched to the 22nd or the 23rd of February.

Jews still follow a calendar based on the moon's rotation. Not the sun's. Every 19 years there's a repeat in one of the month's. The month of Nissan, I think? Full moon's always set the stage for the "new month." And, for those further away from Jeruslem, it was understood the moon's "accuracy" was in doubt to the calendar being kept. Jewish holidays often get "two" first starting times. For instance. TWO passover First Nights. (Except if you live in Israel.) This is a very ancient time keeping method.

madAsHell said...

Didn't Indiana legislate pi = 22/7??

...or was it Illinois?

traditionalguy said...

I for one am waiting to see the Napoleon figure emerge to get the idiot mobs back under authority again.

themightypuck said...

To be fair all calendars are imposed, this one is just stupid.

Chip S. said...

Does anyone know if there's a historical record of the debate over this calendar? I'd love to read the argument over which month should come first: the shovel or the manure.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ whole lotta numbers

1.) Don't get married
2.) Or, become a celibate monk ....lead the way!
3.) Or, Marry a mail order bride from the Philippines (be sure to lock up all the big knives however)
4.) LOL


vw: boinck. I swear google has a sense of humor


Re: the calender. Change is hard. I curse daylight savings time change for at least 2 weeks, twice a year.

Roger Sweeny said...

It is the Babylonians to whom we also owe 360 degrees in a circle.

Three hundred and sixty days make almost one circle of the year.

In addition, the number is evenly divisible by 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,12,15,18,20,24,30,3640,45,60,72,90,120, and 180.

Thus, it was a special number. I suspect that this ease of dividing it into non-fractional parts is why we continue to use it even today.

(Math and science people will tell you that radians are a better measure, based on properties of a circle rather than human convenience.)

Renee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
edutcher said...

The Indians just used 13 months of 28 days each or, as they told The Duke, 13 moons of 28 suns.

Chip S. said...

@RSweeny--But that's precisely the point. It takes a particular combination of knowledge and cluelessness to generate the kind of arrogance and stupidity behind a calendar like this. The intellectual feels superior to the masses by virtue of his knowledge of trigonometry, heedless of the fact that the orbital and rotational cycles of the earth can't quite be represented by a simple frequency decomposition.

It's pretty much the story of all social engineering.

William said...

Anyway you slice it, it's still baloney. February sucks. It's a good idea to make it as brief as possible.

knox said...

Makes me think of the crazy "systems" Macon Leary comes up with in The Accidental Tourist to increase order and efficiency.

William said...

Perhaps, they could make Monday morning come two hours later. That would be a big improvement.sh

MikeR said...

"Every 19 years there's a repeat in one of the month's. The month of Nissan, I think?" Close, Carol. The Jewish calendar needs an extra month seven times in nineteen years, to bring it back into synch with the solar year, which is about 11 days longer than twelve lunar months. And the extra month added is always Adar, the month before Nisan.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coketown said...

"Sweep away superstition" makes it sound rational and Progressive, when it wasn't; it was just a screw-you to the Catholic church. In fact, it seems a form of superstition to abandon a certain calendar because of its religious source. It's funny that all the Progressive and Revolutionary calendars (the Soviet Union tried a similar experiment) failed, and they had to revert back to the antiquated, un-progressive system.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nora said...

YoungHegelian said...
Isn't funny how the folks who are so dedicated to "Reason" always seem to come out with the craziest stuff?

Indeed. Their priorities are sensible too.

BTW, bolsheviks also changed callendar when they came to power. I think this is something to do with social revolutionaries image of themselves as somebody who is openning new era/new horizon/new dawm for the masses.

You can see this theme coming clearly from Jon Stuart video, that Ann posted today, too.

J said...

Ah no profile, no blog, Nora nothing. Like...young hegelian!

It's Byro the cop-hater talking to itself again. Lets link to your comments on OWS for the Ahouse, today. You know nothing about history, T-shirt boy

J said...

28 Brumaire 220.

What is Brumaire? Save you the googling Miss A--misty.

The Fr.Rev calendar was a bit more accurate--at least for Euros--than the roman/julian calendar. For one the jacobins however f-ed up didn't call the 11th month ..the ninth (ie November), or 10th the eighth (October). And so on. Jefferson and his friend Paine (at times supportive of the jacobins) toyed with a similar idea.

The french-bashers here (Byro the LDS sockpuppet with a dozen+ names,etc) don't give a F. about the catholic saints days either (anyway, not so catholic when the days of the week...are Wotan-day, Thor-day, etc).

Re Roman solaric calendar vs jewish/muslim lunar
"calendar".

Definite Win in the Pax Romana column there, even with its awkward names and the later add-ons of saint alphonzos, etc.

Bender said...

Coketown has it right. Nothing more than anti-Catholic bigotry.

And, as CH notes, the British world (including the American colonies) had refused to adopt Pope Gregory's calendar until the mid-1700s, when their use of the prior calendar resulted in the beginning of spring, fall, etc. being off by too many days.

Jose_K said...

For one the jacobins however f-ed up didn't call the 11th month ..the ninth (ie November), or 10th the eighth (October
because they were 7th, 8th,9th, 10th, until Caesar corrected the calendar and moved February from last to second.
The years was once of 460 days because the priests changed it to avoid elections.

not so catholic when the days of the week...are Wotan-day, Thor-day, etc that is in english but in roman languages are : day of Moon.Day of Mars(In english is Wotan or Odin day, ). Day of Mercury. Day of Jove(In english is god of Thunder day, that is Thor ). Day of Venus,Sabbath, Day of God.
The julian calendar is still in use , it is more accurate. The gregorian is artificial and was not fully reverted to the moment of the mistaken dates. The calendar corrected the dates until the fourth century when the dates of fest to keep were established.
The Passover is the first sunday after the first new moon following the spring equinox.By the time the calendar was changed there was a 15 days difference.


February sucks. It's a good idea to make it as brief as .. it is so because August took one day day from it to made his month equal to Caesar´s month

Bender said...

This was the only known defeat of Progress in the modern era prior to the establishment of the Illinois General Assembly.
______________

How soon we forget the many tyrannies of "progress."

Pol Pot's attempt at establishing a Year Zero, while quite successful at killing millions, ultimately was defeated.

And, of course, American progressivism's own attempt at restarting history at a year zero with the election of The One, has crashed and burned from the heights of "hope and change."

J said...

Each day was also given its own name, some of which were less inspired than others, e.g., Eggplant, Manure, Shovel, Gypsum, Billy Goat, Spinach, and Tunny Fish. Even the French couldn't seriously have felt these represented a significant advance over old faves like Maundy Thursday.

Had you read a page of Rousseau or the Encyclopedists you and the Klanhouse might understand it , though even then unlikely.

J said...

No shit Jose Google. AS spanish indicates--miercoles for Mercury--wednesday in anglo.

The point is the anglo calendar itself has superstitious elements (based on nordic paganism, rather than roman/greek). But the basis of roman/julian calendar is solaric, unlike the lunar semitic (and wasn't catholic per se, originally--thats ...post-Constantine)

Peter said...

Well, the revolutionaries obviously won, since most of the world (and all of the world of science) uses metric (aka Système international) units.

Although it's a shame they didn't get the length of the meter just right (as in, 10,000 km from equator to pole at the longitude of Paris).

Perhaps they would have done better if they'd defined a meter as the length of a pendulum that would have a period of exactly on second (in Paris, of course).

J said...

The metric system (ie decimal system per Condorcet) is superior to the old royalist systems and used everywhere (even UK) except the USA, where they prefer the rather arbitrary measurements--a "foot" based on the length of, say a King's....arm.

ricpic said...

The glory of the anglosphere is precisely that it rejects la logique of the frogs. There is something insane about perfect reason. The muddle through English and their American cousins have always understood this and, so far at least, distrust has saved us from total submission to diktats from le centre.

Jess said...

My great-great-great-grandfather's date of birth is recorded, in the records of his Department, as 30 fructid, which I believe puts it somewhere in September.

wv: fisgre, as in the month before fructid.

Fr Martin Fox said...

There's an important gulf between the form of measurements that came from the French Revolution--both the failed time-measurements, and the more successful "metric system"--and the traditional systems that they were to displace.

And it is this: the old, "messy," "illogical" systems have this charm: they tend to fit human experience better, because that's where they come from.

The revolutionary systems were the product of superior intellects who sought to "fix" the problems of society, top-down.

Now, I admit the fahrenheit (sp?) system is hard to defend as more intuitive or human, but certainly the measurements for quantities and distances are defensible. They arose from human-scaled measurements, such as the length of one's thumb, the distance from nose to fingertip, etc.

The way cups/pints/quarts work makes perfect sense from a "bottom-up" perspective. If you have a whole pizza, are you more likely to cut it into 10 pieces, or into 8? Does anyone here find it easier to do 10, as opposed to doing two, four, eight?

The time business is interesting, especially insofar as the various units arising from natural cycles make it impossible to arrive at a perfectly neat solution. It's almost as if God is sending a message to all OCD people.

As it is, the insight that a month should be about the length of a moon phase (yet it can't match it exactly without leftover) feels right: it again works from human experience. The sun and the moon belong to everyone.

Finally, while we don't live in that world, we once lived in a world where it mattered a whole lot less. It was possible for folks to live good lives, simply waiting for each sunrise, each new moon, and for the solstices. They always come on time.

Go on retreat or vacation sometime and live without the clock, and just follow the natural rhythm. See what you experience.

Unknown said...

Actually, an idea I rather like is 13 months of 28 days each (plus New Year's Day, which will not belong to any month.) The advantage: each day of the week would have it's own set of numbers. If January 1st is a Monday, so too will be the first day of the other months. No more problems figuring out what day of the week the 5th of six months from now will fall on!

What should we call the 13th month? Any ideas?

Unknown said...

Actually, an idea I rather like is 13 months of 28 days each (plus New Year's Day, which will not belong to any month.)

The advantage: each day of the week would have it's own set of numbers. If January 1st is a Monday, so too will be the first day of the other months. No more problems figuring out what day of the week the 5th of six months from now will fall on!

What should we call the 13th month? Any ideas?

Chip S. said...

Bakerstember?

Fr Martin Fox said...

Unknown:

Problem is, it's boring. It reminds me of what the modern age did to architecture.

Roger Sweeny said...

The calendar change was part of a larger change which also brought in what most of us now call "the metric system": meters and centimeters and grams and kilograms. That particular change had a lot more staying power. In fact, partly due to Napoleon's conquests and European colonization, it is now the standard for most of the world.

The French were partly following the American example of getting rid of the English system of money--4 farthings = 1 penny, 12 pence = 1 shilling, 20 shillings = 1 pound--and establishing a decimal currency: 100 cents = 1 dollar.

The Crack Emcee said...

Fr Martin Fox,

Go on retreat or vacation sometime and live without the clock, and just follow the natural rhythm. See what you experience.

I am tied to the clock more than most, I think, because my body's system doesn't give a damn what else is happening in the world. I sleep when it tells me to - 5PM? 4AM? Whatever. I got three hours last night.

When I was wealthier it wasn't a problem (Get up to start working on music at 3AM? O.K.,...just wear headphones so I don't wake the wife) but now, time management is high on my list because I have as little control over it as my insides decide. I'd forget to be at my job at 8AM, if I didn't have an alarm set for 6AM, because I've been up and working feverishly on something since 4AM. My take:

I was made to be a rich artist - or a wild animal.

Roger Sweeny said...

Fr Martin Fox,

I find Fahrenheit very human. Where I live, it very occasionally gets above 100 or below zero. They are the usual limits.

Most of the world uses some variant of the 1793 metric system but its scientific history is somewhat complicated. It quickly split into two systems, neither of them pure. Biologists and chemists used a system of small units, centimeters, grams, and seconds (CGS). Physicists and engineers used a system of larger units, meters, kilograms, and seconds (MKS).

In 1956, a large international conference called for wholesale adoption of MKS, which was soon renamed the International System of Units (Système International d'Unités). Most scientific communication is now done in the SI.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Roger:

Good points!