Me Myself and Ty, Politics

Political Commentary: The American Revolution?

Editor’s Note: I’m no political scientist and I’m hardly a historian. I don’t pretend to have any answers. What I present here is simply something to consider as you scan the headlines of today’s news-aggregating media…or newspapers for a few of my friends out there. It is an embarrassingly brief synopsis of the French Revolution juxtaposed with today’s governmental crises. I only argue that the connections are clear from a historical perspective and seem to present a nice literary narrative.
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Read this for starters: There Will Be Blood

Mmm…more academic talk.

So in my nine semesters at N.C. State, I’ve been in and out of a lot of history courses.

Some of them I passed with no problems, while others (like the one on modern Russia) have been struggles leaving me wondering whether or not I’ve even learned anything.

Generally I come away with a broader understanding of a culture and historical perspective for the sake of understanding other history topics that I’m already well-versed in. For instance, I didn’t glean much of an understanding about all of the revolutions that befell the Russian state in my class on the U.S.S.R., but I did gather a new perspective on World War II.

There we go. Now that you understand that I learn without really learning, I can move to a juicy little nugget that came up in my France in the Ancient Regime class over the past few weeks.

(For my less-than-avid followers, the following will look a lot like a history lecture/analysis. Please skip down to my conclusion, marked roughly with an *).

France had no representative government in the centuries before the French Revolution, and instead held what was known as an Estates General in which the three Estates (the classes of the population) gathered to discuss taxes and such.

The first estate was the clergy, the second was the knights/nobles and the third was, well everyone else.

It worked out okay (according to the top two estates) because each estate only got one vote, meaning when the nobles and clergy wanted tax exemptions for the nobles and clergy, they steamrolled the third estate’s vote 2 to 1 every time.

The Estates General was something the king called…if he wanted to. Because of this, France went from 1614 to 1788 without ever calling one – that’s 174* years. (Not 114 as originally reported. Thanks Farrell). Imagine two generations of third estaters living and dying without ever having a voice in the government that was taxing them.

Now take into account the numerous wars France underwent in that time (Yeah, the American Revolution as well, if you can call it that…which I’ll get to in a minute) and you find yourself with quite a government deficit.

You’re taxing the poor and fighting wars on more than one continent…then comes a famine and you’re looking down the barrel of a revolution the likes of which the world had never seen.

So because of all the negatives, King Louis XVI calls another Estates General to be run the same way as before, i.e. with a powerless third estate. They get pissed and ask for more power, but by the time XVI gives it to them, they’re irate.

The rest you probably know from history classes (assuming you didn’t go to Rosewood):

The "Tennis Court Oath" in France, 1789

Finally, something almost as badass as me on a tennis court.

National Assembly, Tennis Court Oath, Revolution, Reigh of Terror, First Republic, First Empire, Second Republic, Second Empire, Third, Fourth and Fifth Republics.

*I understand summing up the history of modern France in two lines of Wikipedia liks is a foolish way to make this point, but that Revolution in which French citizens beheaded their own king left a power vacuum that led to more terror, Napoleon and several more revolutions before stability was ever reached. (Arguably at the end of the 19th century or beginning of 20th century, though we all remember what happened to France in the 1940s…)

The wisdom from this revolution dictates that if the rulers of a country ignore the governed, revolution can come, and I’m not talking about a glorious “kick out the British” revolution…I mean a French-style revolution where the entire nation implodes and chaos reigns for decades…Think like a long-term Argentinean economy with some dictatorship thrown in for good measure.

Our political compass in the U.S. is so skewed…we think we’re a superpower and we always will be, but guess what? That’s how people felt in France and England and Germany in the early part of the 20th century and a war nearly bankrupt them all, leaving an upstart power (the U.S.) and a country that ignored human rights (U.S.S.R) to emerge as the powers in the world. Where is the U.S.S.R now?

The connections between our country’s current state and France’s are many, and I won’t make them all for you, but the tax cuts one just drives me up the wall.

The Bush tax cuts are exactly the type of tax agenda the clergy and nobles had for themselves in the 18th century and with people like Former Senator Alan Simpson running things, it seems like we’re bound for a scary revolution just like France.

Now, to clarify my thoughts on the matter: France’s revolution is today heralded as one of the greatest moments in Western civilization. It typically marks the beginning of the modern era for history and it’s one of the most badass moments in history as far as I’m concerned. Any country that would rather rip itself to shreds than be ruled by an oblivious monarch is truly a martyr nation that should be commended.

What I’m saying is, 221 years from now, someone may look back at whatever is transpiring within the United States as a milestone, but I’m just not sure if the American populace knows what could await on the other side of this “revolution.”

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4 thoughts on “Political Commentary: The American Revolution?

  1. Jessica says:

    Disturbing, intriguing, compelling. I completely agree, though I had not thought of the parallel with the French Revolution. Thanks for the commentary and the link to the article!

  2. Excellent correlation between the French Revolution and the Rep. Ron Paul endorsed reLOVEution. (It looks better with the graphic design aspect.)

    Here is my two cents, adjusted for inflation:

    We, as a country, must be run by a bunch of procrastinators. We elect leaders who seem to hold it down to the wire. The pressure causes cracks and cracks are where that blood Mr. Krugman talks about seeps through.

    Our agenda for national security was existent, but hardly dynamic. Enter Sept. 11, 2001 and now, we’re all safe. Ask anyone.

    This bit about the debt ceiling, we raise it all the time. It’s practically a tradition and we always run the risk of shutting down government for a few days in order to get some extra cement dollars for Kentucky and some research grants for Wyoming.

    We seem to function better in the presence of an enemy. Batman needed the Joker and we need liberals or conservatives – always a counterbalance in the universe for progress because we work best when we are toppling something.

    It’s cliche, but I have to believe that we can and should work as a country that lifts people up, not one that forces their defeat. Leadership is a power granted and the use of that power to do battle rather than do good is representative of cement to build an expressway to disaster and research a stronger disease; not a better cure.

    I think there will be blood. And I think there will be more problems and issues and long-term failure set in motion.

    I think it’s our job to work to change that outside the battlefield, in whatever way we can.

  3. Two more things I forgot, because that beer was 7.4% ABV:

    NYT linked from ‘there will be blood’ text is very much worth the read, if anyone skipped it.

    I was a big-time Ron Paul fanboy in ’08, but his emphasis has changed so much recently, he is really not the same politician I supported. The Austrian school of economics he has been ranting about for 30 years is just about the only thing I have never agreed with him on, and it is now just about the only thing he talks about. The rise of the Tea Parties brought those ideas, in a stupified form, to the mainstream for the first time in his life. This has made him something akin to the philosopher, or the brain-trust, of the Tea Parties. However, laissez faire economics is just silly, it is a nice dream, but has never worked in practice. If we are to allow corporations to have economic power, they will by default have larger amounts of power than individuals, as they will virtually always have more capital, the source of power in capitalist systems. Without government regulation, and especially keeping in mind the Supreme Court’s January ruling, corporations will then by default have more power than individuals. Power and money, in capitalist systems, beget more power and money. It is obvious how this recursive equation ends, in the absence of government regulation. Adam Smith ranted about exactly this concept and how to avoid it in the entire second half of the Wealth of Nations, and spent the rest of his life regulating corporations as a government official – he thought it was that critical.

    To recap, Ron Paul’s only issue at the moment, laissez faire capitalism, can not work, because as Adam Smith pointed out, capitalist systems are most threatened by unregulated corporations.

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