The Lights Go Out on the Eiffel Tower

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The Paris city council, on the encouragement of the government of Emmanuel Macron, has made the shocking decision to turn off the lights to the Eiffel Tower at 11:45pm and leaving them off all night, thus robbing the whole city of its most iconic and beautiful symbol of peace, prosperity, and industrial civilization.

The idea of leaving them on at night is a way of saying, it might be dark but hope still lives in this great city. Shutting them off only saves 4 percent in power expense per year, and what’s the point of electricity except to light things up? And of all things to light up, it seems like the Eiffel Tower would rank up at the top. “Conservation” is only meritorious if it serves the cause of a flourishing human life.

This is not just a management error. This is a grotesque omen for the future. It’s no secret that some very powerful people in what was once known as the developed world have turned against modernity, industry, and all that they represent, including freedom, peace, and prosperity. They have in mind a different system best described as technocratic primitivism in which the masses of people live in depressed dependency on political and intellectual elites.

That was not the idea that gave birth to the glories of the Belle Époque during which time the Eiffel Tower was completed. It came to France only a few years after it gave the United States the magnificent Statue of Liberty that remains the best symbol of this country. The United States and France had a good relationship that traced back to the American Revolution which France helped support, and inspired the fruitful journeys of both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to the great country.

After the Civil War in America, both the United States and France embarked on the great mission to spread peace and prosperity to all their citizens and to the world. This was a period in the U.S. that came to be known as the Gilded Age but there was much more to it than that. In both France and the U.S., we saw the unveiling of so many magnificent technologies and life improvements.

Notably, the Eiffel Tower was built from iron, likely because it was conceived of just before the mass availability of commercial steel that enabled cities to stretch to the heavens and bridges completed to transverse huge bodies of water. Because it was made of iron, it has to be repainted regularly, of course. Even with the limitations of iron, it was the tallest building in the world (81 stories) from its unveiling in 1889 through 1930, when the Chrysler Building in New York City surpassed it.

The point is that it was a mighty symbol of hope, technology, and progress not only for France but for the whole world. It was originally lit by gas but was unveiled during times when electricity was gradually coming to replace gas lighting in American homes of the rich and eventually everyone. Fourteen years after the Eiffel Tower came what is called the first flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk but France also had made great progress in flight.

The consumer was gradually becoming the king the world over and the commercial marketplace gave rise to the democratization of indoor heating, photography, book production and distribution, a massive variety of clothing choices, better medical technology and sanitation, along with longer and richer lives for everyone.

In arts and literature, optimism abounded as the intellectual classes came to embrace a belief in progress, peace, and prosperity provided we let go of the remnants of the feudal past and celebrate and instantiate universal human rights in law and literature. A generation of writers came to believe that all of this was somehow baked into the fabric of history, now that we had discovered the tools we need to build bigger, richer, better societies.

The core idea of course was human freedom. In those days, there seemed to be nothing left to stop it from advancing step by step in a bright future.

Another building featured at the magnificent 1889 World’s Fair was the Galerie des machines, by the architect Ferdinand Dutert, which highlighted the glory of the practical arts and was then the longest interior-spaced building in the world. Two machines riveted the public: Thomas Edison’s new and improved phonograph and the super-cool elevators then being unveiled to the world to show how people could get up and down high buildings quickly.

It was not just about technology but art too. The new Palaces of Liberal and Fine Arts displayed great art and hosted musical performances to reveal the beauty of the future to all visitors. The Barnum and Bailey Circus was also there! And also Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show, with the sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

In those days, every nation competed to host the World’s Fair as tremendous and expensive exhibits of the beautiful future in store for humanity.

Of course we know how this story ends, at least this chapter of it. The four-plus years of the “Great War” that lasted from July of 1914 to November of 1918 pulled back the curtain on the ghastly brutality of which humanity was also capable. The Belle Époque and the Gilded Age (and the Victorian period of the UK) all came to an end, along with the optimism that fueled it. States turned into killing machines unlike anything in the Middle Ages because democracy also universalized the carnage of war. It was the first “total war” in the sense that it wrecked the totality of societies and the hope of those years.

Art and music darkened and so did the expectations of a beautiful future in the public mind.

A century later, and after another world war worse than the last one, civilization got on track again in the late 20th century with a renewed hope that human hands could again work to emancipate the human family from despotism and poverty. Totalitarianism fell apart in many countries in the world and freedom once again seemed like a real hope for the future.

Epoch Times Photo
A fly boat navigates the Seine river in front of the Eiffel Tower at sunset in Paris on Oct. 8, 2022. (Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s hard to say precisely when that hope came to be dashed again, but certainly the lockdowns of 2020 codified that we once again live in times of tremendous danger to human freedom. Every terrible event in the previous 20 years might have been written off as episodic but lockdowns were universal and truly unthinkable.

Now we look around and wonder: where is the hope? Where is the light? Where is the genuine progress that ennobles the human family once again?

And at this very moment, the lights of the Eiffel Tower—that mighty symbol of achievement and hope for all—go dark. The French people cannot allow this to happen. Those lights need to come on right away and stay that way. We will not go back to premodern times.

They simply cannot be allowed to do this to us, not in Paris, not in New York, not in London, not anywhere. Now is the time. If this dreary ideology of suffering and privation at the hands of a powerful elite is allowed to perpetuate itself, the lights of the whole of civilization will go out.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Jeffrey A. Tucker


Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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