As well as a writer and omnivorous reader, I'm an historian by trade, and I love patterns in history. Searching down and matching up cross-cultural, cross-chronological patterns is my specialty. And there are a lot more patterns than people are aware of, because (1) we always like to think that we (our generation, country, tribe, religion, etc.) are unique and (2) we often get the pattern wrong. And we generally get it wrong because we're trying to get the pattern to match a predetermined belief system.
For example: There's an illusion that revolutions are started by the poor and downtrodden masses, who have finally had enough and Rise Up! against the oppressor, and all hell breaks loose. Sorry. That's not how it works. As Leon Trotsky once said, "The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection: if it were, the masses would always be in revolt."
|Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People|
Nor do revolutions erupt when societies are at their lowest, economically/socially/morally. Actually, when things are at their worst, no one has time for revolution. Survival takes up everyone's time and energy. Instead, revolutions occur just as things are, finally, getting better. And they are launched not by the masses, but by a thin wedge - actually many thin wedges - of which the most common are intellectuals (sometimes, but not always, of the upper classes, socially and/or economically), grumbling property owners, radicals, and extremists who - SPOILER ALERT - would not be satisfied if God came down from heaven and gave them everything they claim to be their heart's desire.
|Crane Brinton (1898-1968)|
The Pre-conditions of Most Major Revolutions:
In every revolution (Britain, Colonial America, France, Mexico, Russia, and China), the economy was actually improving before the revolution. BUT as things got better, people felt more discontented than they did when they were starving to death and could only focus on food. Now they had food, and they started wanting more. They were hopeful for the future, but they felt they were forced to accept less RIGHT NOW than what they hoped for. And (sorry if this comes as a shock) they always blamed it on the government in power.
Brinton said that, in each case, the Old Regime was:
- Economically weak - the government had deficits and/or debts and had to enforce taxes, which everyone hated.
- NOTE: In most countries, taxes were paid almost entirely by the poor, even though, throughout pre-revolutionary history the 5% wealthy/middle class owning 95% of the wealth was the norm. One of the purposes, and major achievements, of revolutions was to change those statistics significantly. For one thing, today we EXPECT there to be a substantial middle class, and are worried when there isn't. Thank the American and French Revolutions for that one, folks.
- Politically weak - the government was ineffective and could not enforce policy.
- NOTE: this was especially true in governments that were based on hereditary royalty, which almost always eventually run out of steam, not to mention genetic material.
- Intellectually deserted - the intelligentsia (scholars, thinkers, some artists) gave up on the way their society operated and joined the reformers, speaking out against the government, often (especially in France and Russia) sawing off the branch they were sitting on.
- Riddled with class antagonism - there was a growing bitterness between the social/economic classes, with the classes closest to one another being the most hostile to each other. (Basically, the poor don't have the time to hate the rich, they're just trying to survive; and the rich can easily ignore the poor, because they hardly ever see them.)
|Louis XVI of France|
|Zapata in Cuernevaca|
Change to Moderates
|Charles I on trial for his life in 1649|
BUT there's always somebody who isn't happy, whether you want to call them radicals or extremists or what ever other name is popular. Two VERY important facts:
- The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes because
- the moderates want to/must maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it. (Or at least the radicals want to destroy the moderates' government.)
And in all cases, any members of the former royal house still in the country get imprisoned and/or executed.
And now the Extremists, self-righteous, self-assured, irreproachable, illimitable and insatiable, are coming...
More next time.
More next time.