Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Harvard on Today's French Revolution
"'Eat the wealthy.' The ferocity of the words used by some demonstrators on the eve of the Group of 20 summit evokes the worst excesses of the French revolution. Anti-capitalist anger in the west is not confined to Europe. Alexis de Tocqueville's The Ancien Regime and the Revolution is as relevant to understanding today's America as his deep and eye-opening thoughts on the young American republic in his Democracy in America. ... Yet as a European living in America--watching news on television every night, talking to friends, colleagues or my students--I sense fear, anger and a deep feeling of injustice reminiscient of the climate on the eve of the French revolution. Just replace bread shortages with foreclosures, aristocrats with bankers, and privileges such as the right not to pay tax with stock options. Add to that support for the king but rejection of many of his ministers, and the comparison looks less far-fetched. ... Fear for its own present and future is combined with anger at those it considers responsible, and who are much less afflicted than they. Are not senior bankers today like the aristocrats of yesterday, their privileges no longer justified by their social functions--to serve the king with their swords or to contribute to the creation and dissemination of wealth? .... This sympathy is perceived to contrast with the harsh treatment of carmakers. ... An interesting incident was reported by CNN last week. A group of protesters--very few to be honest--rented a bus in Connecticut and stopped in front of the mansions of AIG executives to express support for those who had returned their bonuses and outrage against those who had not and were still living in gran style, in contrast with the many who had lost nearly everything. ... Revolution is not around the corner, at least in America", Dominique Moisi (DM) at the FT, 3 April 2009.
Indeed, these are the last days. I agree with DM, another Harvard professor! DM may be kidding himself. I doubt Louis XVI thought "revolution [was] around the corner" either. Disagreeing with DM, if Obama wants to keep his head, he will have to offer the mob some blood sacrifices. If he calls, I can give him a list. Madame DuFarge kept one. Why wouldn't I? Very few protestors today. We'll see in a year.