French Revolution and Modern America

posted in: Socioeconomics | 3

A while back, Melissa and I watched the movie “Marie Antoinette“, starring Kirsten Dunst as the eponymous role.

I thought the movie was pretty good — Melissa was a bit more critical, but she disapproves of most things. ( 🙂 )

For those of you completely unaware of historical references, the movie was about the brief period of time before the French Revolution began. In a nutshell, the French Revolution occurred because the wealthy ruling class was so far divided (both financially and socially) from the servant / lower class that a Peasant uprising occurred. Other factors believed to be involved as causes were:

  • the exorbitant national debt of france (partly due to Louis XV & XVI’s warmongering / overseas military activities)
  • the “conspicuous consumption of the noble class…despite the financial burden of the populace”
  • “High unemployment and bread prices”
  • The ineptitude of the leader, Louis XVI, to deal with any of these (and many other) problems

Stop me when this is starting to sound familiar…

So in a nutshell:

The social and psychological burdens of the many wars of the 18th century, which in the era before the dawn of nationalism were exclusively the province of the monarchy. The social burdens caused by war included the huge war debt, made worse by the monarchy’s military failures and ineptitude, and the lack of social services for war veterans.

I’m sure you’re smart enough to realize I’m not talking about Russia here.

Anyways — we watched the movie a while ago (maybe a year ago?) and I wrote up a quick draft in WordPress, intending to work on it more later. I long forgot about it, until today, when my friend Jon and I were discussing the recent Wall Street crises (and their subsequent bailouts by the administration). Jon mentioned, after sending me an article from Time magazine entitled “How We Became the United States of France“. The article dealt with the more modern comparisons, back-handedly pointing out new similarities between our government that is rapidly nationalizing our economy and the French government’s homologous practice.

But Jon mentioned that the conditions our country faces right now are very similar to those that ultimately led up to the French Revolution. (Cue light bulb over my head to return to this draft and finish writing it)


Just for a moment, set aside your political views (and whatever prejudices you may now have against mine — and for the record, I’m a left-leaning pragmatist), and just compare modern America to barely-pre-Revolutionary France. History can repeat itself if we are all-too-willing to ignore it. What sort of outcome do we expect to happen if we continue on the current path we walk now? The “War on Terror” is a mere distraction, almost a paltry concern, compared to the looming beast of our National Debt, quickly vanishing Civil Liberties, and Corporation-controlled government.

Basically, we’re out in the yard hunting termites while our house slowly collapses under its own weight from disrepair.

Further dinner discussion with Jon led to the topics of whether the “McMilitia” as he calls them (a brilliant term, IMHO) will really rise up to “fight the man” and whether or not it’s even possible now that our government possesses some high-tech crowd control devices. (non-lethal, but will easily stamp down a protest rally) The actions of the police force and para-police forces at both the recent DNC (Colorado) and RNC (Minneapolis) are frightening — protestors assaulted and arrested for assembling, gross suspension of civil liberties, and even pre-emptive arrests of PLANNED protestors (they hadn’t even committed an actual crime — it would be like planning to rob a bank or shoplift, and being arrested before you even actually set out to do it)

I have this suspicion that any possible revolutions would be quickly suppressed, and our public would suddenly realize that we aren’t as “free” as we thought we were. But even in that case — even if the “peons” turn into a slave serf-class, our government is so grossly dependent on foreign products, so well in debt to other countries, it wouldn’t be able to live sustainably, even standing completely on the backs of its lower class. If things don’t change, it will cave.

What to do?

Melissa read a blog a while back that talked about “What would you do if everything you consume cost 10x as much? 100x as much?” The prompt was partly due to the rapidly skyrocketing gas prices, but partly to the realization that it’s quite possible in our life time that inflation will spin out of control and we’ll be paying $15 for 10 lbs of flour.

We began discussing what we would do. Given our current location, acreage, and resources, it’s not feasible for us to think we could live completely off-the-grid / independent of consumer goods — we don’t have the acreage to farm enough food (or a diverse enough variety) to feed we three, and our location isn’t good enough to grow all year-round reliably. The best we can hope for is subsidizing our consumption. (And to get chickens in the spring!)

Gasoline is another biggie – As you may recall, I recently purchased a bicycle. While I haven’t been able to bike every day, I bike as much as I can (I biked today, in fact). With gas at $4 / gallon, I save $2 per day by biking. We make fewer trips into town now, as well. We’re still spending 60-80 per month in gas, for two cars, but if I get a bike lock and a bike seat / trailer for Sullivan, I think we can reduce that even more.

The really scary stuff to consider is when you start thinking about how an economic pressure like that would cause people in populated areas to act. I expect you would see more theft, looting, break-ins, etc. People do desperate things in desperate circumstances. I’m not sure where exactly that point is, but there’s a point where the survival instinct kicks in and people do whatever is necessary to get by, even if that means violating our unspoken social contracts. If we assume that inflation spirals upwards without bound, then it is an inevitability that we would reach that point, wherever it may be.

The Future

Thinking in a more positive vein — this may simply the growing pains our young nation is going through. I suppose other countries have gone through worse — heck France was occupied by Dictatorships more than once, right?

If we want things to get better, then the first thing we need to do is deal with the Corporate leeches that are slowly draining the lifeblood out of our country. Right-wingers won’t hear any of this nonsense, of course, and are probably cursing me as a “liberal” if they’re reading this at all. But the “liberal” side isn’t any better, they just serve different corporations.

So corporations, gone.

Warmongering has to end. The Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex that Ike warned us about needs to be arrested (as in “stopped”) and dissolved. It does nothing except line the pockets of a very small portion of greedy Americans and sacrifice the lives of countries generally populated by Brown People. It would be one thing if we were paying for this stuff in cash, but we’re writing Red Ink the whole way down. We just keep inventing new enemies to fight so that we can stay indefinitely in a state conducive to weapons-production.

Bush Doctrine — gone.

And lastly that I can think of are two things: Restoration of Civil Liberties, and greater Transparency in our Government. Habeas Corpus needs to be reinstated, GTMO disbanded (at least for the purposes of unlawful detention), and First amendment rights respected once again. Larry Lessig has some excellent ideas with his “Change Congress” movement. Change Congress is a project that presents four platforms that congresspersons can pledge to, which are:

  1. I will accept contributions only from private persons that are not also lobbyists
  2. I will support the fundamental reform of earmarks
  3. I will support reform to increase transparency in Congress
  4. I will support the public financing of elections

Congresspersons willing to participate publicly declare which of the four pledges they are willing to abide by. Citizens can then make decisions based on these pledges. (“I will only donate to candidates that support all four pledges,” or “I will only support candidates that advocate at least pledges 1 and 2”, etc.)

It’s a really terrific idea, and will help to shine some light into the  cockroach-infested corners of our government.

I believe America can pull through this, but we all, as citizens, need to become more civilly active if we don’t want to end up like the French (or the Russians for that matter). Our democracy is like a marriage, it only works if you work at it. So let’s work at it.

3 Responses

  1. Robert English

    Oh thank the Gods there is someone else out there that “gets it”.
    I loved the metaphor of the house falling down. Brilliant.
    One very good point you brought up is that we are still in actuallity a “young” nation and we have to grow. But…..why should we have suffer in the way others have. I can’t say because I was not there but I am pretty certain our fore fathers were trying to avoid this type of situation. I have a feeling they would be pretty apalled by the state of their beloved republic.

    • Aaron

      Thanks for the thoughts, Robert!

      It would be nice if we could learn from the mistakes of others — but, as a country, we can barely remember what happened in the past year, let alone the past century or millenium. Remembering history does not seem to be something we excel at.

      I liken it to when you’re young and your parents advise you to avoid something, but then you do it anyways and suffer the consequences. Later on, when you have kids yourself, you advise your kids the same thing and they still repeat the mistake.

      I think some things can only be learned through experience, but perhaps the fact that someone else already made the mistake full-blown can allow us to be quick on the uptake when we begin to suffer the same. Time will tell, I suppose – we’re already showing creaking bones like historically large empires, and there’s no sign of relenting.

  2. ellisea

    Thanks helped me better understand it and I enjoyed the movie as well