AH! AH! WHAT TWITS AND DUPES WE ARE!

That is the title of a little satirical French dialogue published in 1791, when Revolutionary France was still technically a constitutional monarchy. For those who read French, it is a delightful excursion into the absurdity of the Revolution, which may stand in for the absurdity of all human history. For those who do not read French, Dr. Boli’s translation of the title above may be all you need.

The two characters of the dialogue are Pistouret, a traveler just returned from China who finds France all in an uproar for reasons he knows nothing about, and Boniface, an ordinary citizen who tries to explain how everyone became free while Pistouret was away. To every one of Boniface’s explanations, Pistouret replies, “Ah! ah!”—and then asks whether things are as an obviously sane person would assume they are, only to be told that they are otherwise. Here is a short section taken more or less at random and translated for Frenchless readers:

Pistouret. Ah! ah! Another tax?

Boniface. Yes, you might say that, but it has to cost something not to be slaves.

Pistouret. Ah! ah! So you don’t obey anyone anymore?

Boniface. We obey the nation, the law, and the king.

Pistouret. Ah! ah! But wasn’t it the same before?

Boniface. Oh, no! There was that Bastille thing that we captured and destroyed.

Pistouret. Ah! ah! Did they capture and destroy all the other prisons, too?

Boniface. No, there have to be prisons.

Pistouret. Ah! ah! And why did they hate that one more than the others?

Boniface. Because… I couldn’t really say. It was to make the aristocrats mad.

Pistouret. Ah! ah! What are aristocrats?

Boniface. Now, where do you come from, that you ask me that question? They’re the enemies of the nation, the ones who caused the…uh… Someone can tell you that. As for me, I don’t understand anything.