Back when I was a student -- don't ask how long ago -- the French Revolution was one of my chief interests, perhaps in part because my mother claimed some kind of relationship with Napoleon and with Marie Antoinette. I haven't found any French connection at all, so I can only believe that she came up with this silly notion for reasons of her own, reasons I never knew.
My interest in the French Revolution derived from the simple question, "Why?" I asked the same question about the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and so on. Why? Why go to all that bother, why deliberately induce chaos, when alternatives exist? What's so important that makes a Revolution necessary?
What it often seems to boil down to is the bovine indifference to the plaints of the Rabble by an out of touch ruling class; the Bourbons, if you will. Hanovers in the case of Britain. Romanovs in Russia.
It happens over and over again. The reigning monarchs and their families and the aristocrats who serve them have so little in common with the rough and dirty Lesser People, they barely consider them human. On the other hand -- and this is what generally triggers revolution in the end -- it's not the Rabble rising up that brings down the Old Order and sends the Bourbons to the guillotine. No, it's the excluded faction of the bourgeoisie, the lesser aristos, who actually do the deed.
In other words, piss off the wrong people at or close enough to the top of the heap, and you're done, especially if the Rabble have unaddressed grievances too.
Yes, well. It doesn't happen often in the grand scheme, but it happens often enough that one has to wonder just how bone stupid Our Rulers must be to let these sorts of things happen over and over again. How greedy. How indifferent to the plight of others. How desperately unaware.
And too, Revolutions tend to be anti- rather than pro- "progress" (whatever that may mean at any given time). In other words, they tend to be conservative at the outset. The targeted Bourbons are too progressive in some ways, and they think of their authority and power in terms of what God tells them is good for their people. So they do things that they think are positive and productive for their subjects -- or that they think will be in the long term, no matter the suffering in the interim -- and they can't understand why anyone would object to these forward movements toward the Future.
In the 18th and 19th centuries that might have meant power plays of surpassing stupidity, but for the most part, the rulers were able to get away with them because no one seemed to know what to do about it. The example of Britain's overthrow and execution of King Charles I somehow didn't sink in.
Charles was a "progressive" in his own time and the context of Britain. As was Louis XVI, George III, and to a lesser degree (well, maybe not at all) Nicolas I.
They tried to jigger things enough to enable a better future for themselves and (some of) their subjects, but not everyone in their inner and outer circles saw it that way. They didn't because it meant changed power relationships among the upper crust; some of the aristos would lose power and influence, others would gain. If all of this wasn't worked out well in advance and agreed to by the right people, chaos would most certainly ensue.
And so it did.
The proximate cause of the overthrow of the Bourbons in France was the Crown's inability to further finance the operations of the government without adjusting the relationship between the taxed and the tax collectors, ie: the Rabble and the rulers. The Crown needed more money, and the only way to get it was to squeeze more out of the lower orders, and the only 'legal' way to do that was with their agreement. The Rabble would ultimately be forced to pay, but they weren't asked. Only their Betters were called to assemble at the Estates General to give their assent to changing the ineffective taxation system then in place.
Well, all hell shortly broke loose.
This was partly driven by long held and unaddressed resentments of Paris, the non-capital of France. The poor people of Paris were on starvation rations, if that, because they didn't have enough money -- and couldn't get enough money -- to buy bread, if bread was even available. The economy of France, never all that robust, had broken down, and scarcity had become the rule. This was blamed on the King and his adventurism abroad, ironically including heavy support for the American Revolution to stick it to the British out of revenge. I won't go into that, but yes, the pettiness of the ruling classes is often a matter of well-deserved mockery.
The Estates General was called to begin dealing with some of these delicate matters, and wound up blowing the whole Ancien Regime to bits.
The Bourbons played dumb -- they were dumb -- through the whole episode, much as the Romanovs would do and be a century or so later.
They couldn't imagine that they weren't beloved by their own people, especially not by members of their own aristocracy. It just didn't occur to them.
Well here we are once again. Our own Bourbons are once again facing an uprising-revolt of the Common People -- including parts of their own selected worthies -- but it doesn't/can't occur to them that they've done anything wrong or that they can't still persuade the masses to return to the fold.
They see that a charlatan named Trump is leading them directly over the cliff, and they're torn about whether to try to stop it or just let it happen. After all, from a strategic perspective, letting Trump fail, as he must and will, is perfectly fine. The Bourbons can then pick up the shattered pieces and reign on as the rightful chosen rulers of La Belle France, aussi L'Amerique Perdue. Cf. Louis XVIII, Charles X, etc.
What happens is that once Chaos is injected into the System, there's no going back, no restoration is possible. Nothing will ever be as it was again.
Chaos is our fate at the moment. The Trumpists are flailing wildly and many of their initial efforts at rule are turning against them. Resistance and opposition is growing, not shrinking, and elements of the government they are trying to subdue are openly defiant.
Those defiant elements appear to have broad-based support among the public, including a significant faction of the upper classes.
The Trumpists are pretend Revolutionaries. They are in fact a dissatisfied coalition of the gentry who are determined to rule directly rather than through their bought and paid for agents who stood between them and the ravening Rabble.
Their personal wealth and the power it confers shall be the simplified Ruling Paradigm in place of the ever more complicated neoLibCon structure of power and rule that was the operating system of the previous generation of autocrats, technocrats, bureaucrats, and kleptocrats.
It doesn't actually do away with the tenets of the neoLibCon paradigm -- tenets that have vastly enhanced the wealth and power of the very people and interests that now (sort of) denounce them. What it does is simplify it. Instead of obscure and complex and justified by ever-more ridiculous arguments about lifting all boats, and responsibility and other sorts of bullshit, just make it plain: play along and you'll get along. There ain't no free lunch.
And most of all: There is no alternative.
This is not -- at all -- Revolutionary. It's merely a change in the language and in who among the ruling clique wields the whip against whom.
Trump's personal popularity, never high, is cratering. The congress, itself a loathed institution, with the controlling Republicans even more loathed, is paralyzed with fear of the consequences of achieving their long - sought objectives.
The consequences are stark and are staring them in the face. "You do this, and it's to the tumbrels with you!" The Revolution is Nigh.
Meanwhile, Trump issues a flurry of diktats and ukases from The Oval, then retreats to his Winter Palace or wherever, and his #2, Mr. Pence, steps in to perform the rituals of rule... while elements of the government are in open revolt, and the streets are filling with masses of people appalled at the spectacle.
No, this can't go on. The situation is unstable, chaotic.
The more the Trumpists try to bully their way and abuse their power, the more open and widespread the defiance. The People appear to understand the weakness of the current ruling clique, ironically given their constant threat displays.
On the other hand, the Bourbons, the former ruling clique, are essentially sitting back and watching events unfold. They are convinced they will be restored.
Well, no. I don't think so.
As I've said, once Chaos is injected into the system, there's no going back. That's where we are now.
What comes next? A real revolution? Perhaps. Or something else?