The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution. Almost all future revolutionary movements looked back to the Revolution as their predecessor. Its central phrases and cultural symbols, such as La Marseillaise and Liberté, égalité, fraternité, (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) became the clarion call for other major upheavals in modern history. The Revolution resulted in the suppression of the feudal system<, the emancipation of the individual, the greater division of landed property,the abolition of the privileges of noble birth, the establishment of equality, the simplification of life. The French Revolution differed from other revolutions in being not merely national, for it aimed at benefiting all humanity. (Palmer, R.R. & Colton, Joel A History of the Modern World)
To even the “amateur historian”, and I am one, the parallels between the present state of the United States of America and pre-revolution France are interesting if not scary. While the Professional Historians endlessly debate the causes of the French Revolution, there is “somewhat” agreement that the root causes were; the feudal system under rule of nobility, the inequality of the privileged nobility versus the peasants under the foot of the overlords employed by the nobility, the inequality of wealth tied to the resources (land) with the bulk of wealth centered in the landed few, the lack of civil liberties being recognized as belonging to all men and not just the privileged, the crushing poverty from which there was no obvious path of escape, the crushing debt of the government resulting from constant warfare and the taxes to alleviate the debt, and the reservation of Education monopolized by the nobility and the clergy. Not mentioned so much were the ties between the Christian Church(s) and the various monarchs of Europe, but clearly one of the circumstances that led to the “de-Christianization” of government during the revolution. The French Revolution took place over decades and was further complicated after the initial upheaval by the replacement of the ideals of a “Republic” with authoritarian rule of one kind or the other, particularly with regard to the Napoleonic Era, before settling back to the “egalitarian” principles of the revolution.
It is not a stretch of the imagination to ask oneself; are we headed in the direction of revolution, and are the circumstances not evident in the “discontent” and “anger” and “distrust of government”, that make America ripe for revolution?
The American people are at some all-time lows in terms of trust and confidence in their own government and even question whether it is “their” government anymore. A majority of people in the country, borne out by various polls, show single digit satisfaction in Congress, and confidence in either of the dominating political parties is in the low to middle 20% range. The Executive Branch is enjoying all-time highs in terms of the populace’s confidence but our government has three branches that must work in tandem for the “Republic” to function. The President is in his “lame duck” period with a lot of the confidence the people have being based on what he has been able to “unilaterally” accomplish by administrative fiat. Confidence in the Judiciary is extremely low with regard to minorities and liberals and does not do much better with conservatives, and is regarded as the most politicized as it ever has been. On the whole, the government is viewed as “dysfunctional” and rightly so with polarization by partisanship creating deadlock more often than not.
The discontent by both Conservatives and Liberals was signaled by the rise of two “non-establishment” Presidential Candidates in the person of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both anti-establishment candidates who defied the “unwritten rules of party ascension” and ran very successful “maverick” campaigns. The “victory” of Hillary Clinton over Sanders is looked at with suspicion and distrust by pretty much everyone except the most steadfast supporters, but even some of them acknowledge that the process may have “favored” her candidacy under the un-written rules of Democratic Party Ascension. There is widespread belief by both Democratic rank and file and Republican rank and file that this election cycle is dominated by “big money” and will be decided by “big money” in the coming months with the Koch types on the Conservative side and the Wall Street Banker Elite and their billionaire patrons on the other.
There has been across-the-board cynicism created by the stripping of wealth from the middle class by the recession, usually in the form of devaluation of the real estate holding of the middle class represented by their homes, from which they expected to finance their retirement, and the almost catastrophic loss of retirement savings invested in banks and various investment funds that tanked after the real estate bubble burst. Failure of small businesses that suffered because of the prolonged lack of disposable income by the working class upon which they depended for payment of their loans also added to the crisis. Big Box Franchises and Fast Food Franchises weathered the storm a little better because of their ability to cut operations selectively without catastrophic loss associated with individual locations.
An associated phenomena with the building of aforementioned cynicism and distrust, was the advent of “Digital News” centered in “Social Networking” that has outpaced the “traditional media” sources that were and are suffering through their own crisis of confidence. The major networks are viewed as mere “tools” of their wealthy and corporate owners with Journalistic Balance and Fairness being displaced by either conservative or liberal propaganda. While the printed news still enjoys some modicum of the perception of neutrality, television news has become suspect unless, of course, one sticks to the source they agree with and refuse to watch the one that they disagree with.
The end result of all of the above is that Americans perceive that they are drifting into a world in which they have less and less control over and which is tuned to the benefit of the wealthy minority and “rigged” to the advantage of the wealthy for whom all of us work in one fashion or the other. They perceive themselves to be in a perpetual state of debt incurred by the illusion of wealth created by the ability to borrow and live beyond their means, thus exacerbating the indebtedness to an economic system dominated by the “money lenders”. The real cynics perceive this cycle of debt replaced by other debt as virtual slavery with the poor and working class, and what’s left of a middle class, working under the corporate overseers of the new American Nobility, the few dozen families and individuals that have cornered some 85-90% of the country’s wealth, a large portion of which they have moved out of the reach of the tax system which they created to their favor. The “national culture” of America is now mostly based on “consumerism” supported by individual indebtedness that is perpetual. The “moneymakers” do not manufacture anything besides systems based on the illusion of value created by taking the hard earned wages of the poor and workers and transferring that value to the wealthy by the conduits of the economic system monopolized by the corporations of the billionaire class.
Americans have allowed the erosion of individual Civil Liberties as well as the collective liberties of what is supposed to be the “freest” society in the world, and self-justify it by the fear and insecurity created by the state of “perpetual warfare” in which the U.S. has been engaged in since the creation of the Republic. Wars require enemies, both real and perceived and in some cases manufactured. Some of the wars were internal but most were/are external based upon the justification of “national security” usually inextricably intertwined with the “economic security” of the new American Nobility. We send our troops out to secure assets under the guise of spreading Democracy. Increasingly, because of the fear and insecurity, we have watched with dispassion while certain segments of society are subjected to systems of law enforcement that have become more and more “militarized” and used to quell what is described as “domestic” threats to “our way of life”. We tolerate and even cheer the announcement of “internal wars” against drugs, against crime, against perceived sexual deviance, against threats to what is described as the Christian Nation, against immigrants, against people whose color is tied to perceptions of immorality, all the while incarcerating more people than most of the “free world” and the not-so-free (Communist and Islamic) world.
It does not escape us that the wealthy and their minions have set up a world economic system in which they can almost overnight move their wealth beyond the reach of government, be it the one they now control, or the one that may be put in place if there is revolution. They have their “extraction” of person and wealth on speed-dial.
America is at a crossroads of continuing the process of speeding towards a “Corporate National Government” and a “World Corporate Government” or it can choose to navigate towards a change in direction back to the ideals of the first American Revolution. Those ideals were fashioned by the “founding fathers” based on their experience, which was tied to the quintessential example of Revolution of their time; the French Revolution. Today’s circumstances are almost a mirror to the circumstances of that time and place.
Harold Monteau is a Chippewa Cree attorney and economic development consultant residing in New Mexico and can be reached at email@example.com.