Monday, November 15, 2010

Le Roi -- il se est vivant!

[I've never been very good with reflexives... sigh.]

Over the years, those of us of a more rebellious bent have often alluded to the tumbrils and guillotines, the French Revolution, and the end of the Ancien Régime in our many unsuccessful attempts to rouse the rabble to La Révolution Maintenant! And of course Americans continue to sit on their hands, stare blankly at their flat screens and munch contentedly on their take and bakes or their bowls of hot butter-flavor microwavable popcorn.

The movement to Revolt seems to get nowhere.

Blaming it on the People is standard practice. They are Too Lazy and Too Ignorant to get off their ample duffs and DO anything about the Monstrous OUTRAGE!!!!™ that is our daily lot.

Meanwhile, life for ordinary Americans continues to deteriorate at an alarming clip, the seas continue to rise, and Our Rulers continue to ignore the People while serving their corporate masters slavishly.

Of course there are signs of incipient revolt everywhere, from the rabid rightists sucked into the TeaBagger movement to the impending revolt of air travelers over the invasions of personal space and privacy now standard with the TSA.

We can see that even The Powers That Be are engaged in a revolt of sorts in their refusal to have their taxes raised to fund the Government, indeed their refusal to pay taxes at all.

That last, of course, is the key to the parallels between the econo-political situation in America today and that of France during the reign of Louis XV, not Louis XVI. Of course the parallel isn't exact; these things never are.

But we shouldn't be blind to the similarities.

France's empire had reached a zenith during the previous reign. Louis XV -- great grandson of his predecessor Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil -- ascended the throne in 1715 at the age of five and he reigned for the nearly the next 60 years. He ruled for almost 50 of those years and for at least 30 of them, he was fully in charge of the government of France and its Empire, although it would be wrong to say he was an absolute monarch.

Louis XV's reign seemed full of hope and promise, but it ended as a huge disappointment. Louis is said to have been irresolute, dissipated, and irresponsible, and yet from some points of view he was anything but.

What you can say about him is that he tried and largely failed to reverse the slide of la Belle France into the economic and political turmoil and chaos that would lead to the French Revolution some 15 years after his death.

His reign was the predicate.

He did what he thought he could. It wasn't enough. He couldn't do more, at least in some respects, because France's political and governmental institutions were too rotten and too corrupt to cope with the needs of the nation and its people. There was no way to go forward without overturning the whole system, a Revolution that would come in due time, but one that could not be pressed before its time.

When the institutions of the State don't work, there's not a lot you can do to correct matters that have gone awry. That was the case with France under Louis XV. Yet life could go on, apparently as usual. Active rebellion from Below was all but inconceivable; such rebellion as there was during the reign of Louis XV was at the top, not at the bottom of French society, and it was a rebellion of the Church and the Aristocracy against paying taxes to fund the Government.

To me, it's obvious how that relates to our situation today and for long years since. Our own Corporotocracy refuses to pay taxes sufficient to keep the Government from gross insolvency, and has essentially declared that any enhanced government revenues must come solely from the Little People, those of Lesser Means.

Wars must continue unabated, fully funded. Subsidies for the rich and well-connected must be maintained. Programs for the benefit of the poor and middle classes must be eliminated or "scaled back."

This is the American equivalent of France's Rebellion of the Rich under Louis XV. The People's complaints were being "heard" in the Parlement of France, a very fractious and polarized body, but the upshot was that the economic burden on the People was increased rather than mitigated.

All the time, Louis was trying to find some way through all the aristocratic bullshit, but he could not imagine doing anything outside the Institutional Norms of his day, and as the institutions could not encompass anything outside those norms, his efforts failed.

The People of France knew full well what was going on, but they didn't know what to do about it. Nothing they tried seemed to work, but then there was little imagination in their efforts to remedy their deteriorating situation. This lack of imagination was mirrored by their Betters who simply used the economic and financial crises of Louis' reign to enhance their own position while the People starved.

After years of rhetorical animosity toward the King in the Parlement, in 1757 a man named Damiens decided to take matters into his own hands one evening at Versailles* and stabbed the King as he was about to enter his carriage and canter off to his petit palais, Le Trianon, in the Gardens.

Of course this act of lèse-majesté was shocking (!!) to the People of France, and Damiens paid with his life in a very grotesque -- but apparently highly entertaining -- public torture and execution in Paris anon.

The King, it is said, was disconsolate at the whole affair and resolved to change his ways forthwith. Good luck with that. In fact despite Louis' reform objectives, nothing got better. And despite the entertainment value of brutal public executions, the People were not amused with the course of events.

They simply did not know what to do, and they would not come to the understanding that they could do something about their plight until they witnessed the example of the American Revolution across the seas.

THAT was the catalyst for the French Revolution -- and many other revolutions to come.

Ordinary Americans will not be able to remedy their own plight without a catalyzing event that shows them the way. I used to think that would be the uprisings in Eastern Europe, the Philippines, and eventually the Soviet Union itself. But as those events fade into the mists of time, I'm not so sure Americans even remember them, let alone see them as catalysts.

At the moment, then, perhaps there isn't a contemporary example of "what to do." But one will come in time. No doubt...

[NB: Isn't it astonishing that literally anyone and everyone had access to the Palace at Versailles during the reigns of the Bourbons? It was quite possible for individuals of any -- or no -- estate to approach and petition the King or his ministers as they perambulated around the chateau, and the idea of preventing the People from doing so was inconceivable. The absurd levels of Security -- and the Security Theater -- behind which our own government operates would be considered unmanly and insane by the monarchs of yore.]


  1. This is very interesting. I've been operating under the assumption that when the system can no longer respond to crises, as the current American system can't, some kind of revolution must eventually occur.

    However, I wonder if a more relevant crises would be the rise of the Nazis, who the Junkers hoped to use and ended up being consumed by.

    All the energy seems to be on the Right.

    On the other hand, perhaps France will end up leading America as America once led France. I still have hope.

  2. vortexgods,

    What we're experiencing right now is, I think, akin to what was going on in France during the reign of Louis XV -- which is to say a Revolt of the Rich. They are refusing to be taxed to fund the government; any increase in revenue to staunch the red ink must come from the masses.

    This isn't just in the United States -- or France, for that matter -- this is global. The rich are in many cases literally walling themselves off from the masses and demanding tribute from them. To a surprising degree they're getting it, too.

    Living standards for the majority are being forced down in all the developed world in order that the well-upholstered plutocrats will suffer no inconvenience or reduction in wealth and privilege whatsoever. In fact, as others are reduced in circumstances, many of the well off see their situation improve, in some cases dramatically.

    As I see it, based on history and human nature, it's not a stable or sustainable situation. There will come a breaking point, but when and how is difficult to say.

    The consequences, however, are not all that hard to figure out. As you say, the energy is on the right, and this leads inevitably to rightist populism, most clearly expressed in the Fascist and Nazi movements back in the day. But they in turn were at least partially influenced by the Napoleonic era. Which, of course, was a consequence of the French Revolution. Which was catalyzed by the American Revolution, which in turn...

    We can trace this thread back a long way!

    The pity is that once this pattern gets going, there's no way to stop it.

    Cheers... well...