Past Parallels To Ponder:  France

Past Parallels To Ponder: France

The Roman Empire

#2:  Royalist France

They saw it coming for at least 150 years, they brought in bright and capable people who recommended workable solutions, but in the end the royals and nobles and landed gentry of pre-revolutionary France refused to give up power or pay taxes to address the problems of the poor, and then they lost their heads.

Generations of French aristocrats knew trouble was brewing, but very, very few of them were willing to take the necessary steps to protect their families.

They always fobbed it off onto the next generation until finally, “Apres moi, les deluge.”

But what actually set those dominoes tumbling and those tumbrels rumblin’?

Well, it was a bunch of pissed off Scots-Irish immigrants in the English colonies in North America…

The French were new world colonialists of a far different stripe than the English and Spanish.  Indeed, with the exception of the Dutch, they were probably the least intentionally destructive European power to deal with Native American tribes.

Even if they accidentally killed most of them.

(It wasn’t intentional, they like other European colonists, introduced diseases the Native Americans had no natural immunity to.)

The French had laid claim to the interior of North America (not that they consulted with the people living there prior to doing so).  In 1752, when English and Scots-Irish immigrants began expanding into their territory along what is now Ohio, French colonial forces pushed back…gently.

While they dealt harshly with native Americans whom they felt had broken trade treaties with France, the French forces did not initiate attacks on the English colonials.

The English colonials, fearing a loss of profitable lands if French claims could be maintained, disobeyed orders from the crown and attacked the French and their Native American allies (a.k.a. “Indians”) which triggered a long running series of battles known (when it’s mentioned at all) in U.S. history books as The French And Indian War.

The rest of the world knows it as The Seven Years War because the fight didn’t remain on the American frontier but ignited a conflict that included the Caribbean, South America, Africa, the Philippines, and -- oh, yeah -- Europe itself.

England came out on top at the end of all this, and the French were not happy.

So when the British crown tried to impose new taxes on the colonists in North America (under the logic that, hey, if they started it, they could pay for it) and hot headed political theorists used that to stir up resentment against an absentee landlord, the French court was more than happy to dish out some payback to England in the form of financial, material, and military support for the American revolutionaries.

This was not a wise move for the French aristocracy in the long run, as radical American political ideas found fertile soil among French iconoclasts and disgruntled peasants.

The Seven Years War ran from 1756 to 1763, the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783, and the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 (with special attention drawn to the year between June 1793 and July 1794, more commonly known as The Reign Of Terror).

And note that unlike the American revolution -- which was actually more of a secession as the English colonists in North America did not substantially alter their culture or laws other than to eliminate a hereditary crown and official state church -- the French revolution was exactly that:  A complete and total upheaval at every level of French society, with the aristocracy quite literally getting it in the neck.

The French revolution, while having an impact to this day on French government and culture, was not an irreversible success, however, and the aristocracy returned in the form of a new emperor (Napoleon) and renewed class struggles.

But it has been arguably more successful in changing its culture than the American revolution.

Lessons to learn:
Once again, give rich people a chance not to pay their fair share and they’ll jump at it, bringing ruin on those around them.  This is especially true if their wealth and power is inherited; the bastards think they’re entitled to it.  Once the blood starts flowing, it’s hard to stop, and it usually does so when there is a coup within the revolutionary structure itself.  Finally, it’s never ever too early to start negotiating with a disgruntled citizenry, and sooner is always far, far cheaper than later.

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© Buzz Dixon

Past Parallels To Ponder:  Mussolini

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