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Parallels: 2011 and 1789

repost from iflizwerequeen

Is it time to get out the pitchforks? Let’s revisit the conditions that produced the French Revolution and see.  We may be closer than people think.

Since Bastille Day is coming up soon on July 14, and considering the conditions today in the USA, it seems more than appropriate to discuss the French Revolution and compare those times to these times.

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France was a government in financial crisis and bankrupted by wars

Like President Obama, Louis XVI ascended to the throne amidst a financial crisis; the state was nearing bankruptcy and outlays outpaced income. By 1787, the French government was bankrupt.  It was 4000 million livres in debt.  France had spent a lot of money fighting costly wars and had nothing to show for it. [We’ve been 8 years in Iraq and Iran and what do we have to show for it?]

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France had an unfair and corrupt tax system in which elite refused to pay taxes

In 1787, the king asked the nobility to help him reform the tax systems. France’s inefficient and antiquated financial system was unable to manage the national debt something which was both partially caused and exacerbated by the burden of an inadequate system of taxation.  Members of the first and second estate did not have to pay some taxes [just as many of the top 3% and Wall Street corporations don’t pay Federal Income taxes in the USA and none of them pay the 35% rate that they all bitch about as if they did pay it- none of them and that includes Michele Bachmann and Bill Clinton ].  King Louis XVI wanted them to start paying some of the taxes but of course they refused to do so [just as many in Congress refuse to support taxation in the USA today and just as the rich continue to bitch about a 35% Federal income tax rate that NONE of them pay.  NONE of them].

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A French class system existed in which the burden was put on those who could least afford it

At the time, France was divided into three estates and as a group they were referred to as Estates General.

The First Estate (about 0.5% of the population) comprised the entire clergy, traditionally divided into “higher” and “lower” clergy. Although there was no formal demarcation between the two categories, the upper clergy were, effectively, clerical nobility, from the families of the Second Estate. In the time of Louis XVI, every bishop in France was a nobleman, a situation that had not existed before the 18th century. At the other extreme, the “lower clergy” (parish priests and monks and nuns) constituted about 90 percent of the First Estate, which in 1789 numbered around 130,000

The Second Estate (approximately 1.5% of France’s population) was the French nobility and royalty, other than the monarch himself, who stood outside of the system of estates. The Second Estate is traditionally divided into “noblesse de robe” (“nobility of the robe”), the magisterial class that administered royal justice and civil government, and “noblesse d’épée” (“nobility of the sword”). Under the ancient régime, the Second Estate were exempt from the corvée royale (forced labour on the roads) and from most other forms of taxation. This exemption from paying taxes led to their reluctance to reform.

The Third Estate comprised all those not members of the above and can be divided into two groups, urban and rural. The urban included the bourgeoisie 8% of France’s population, as well as wage-laborers (such as craftsmen). The rural had no wealth and yet were forced to pay disproportionately high taxes to the other Estates. [Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  It does to me.  In the USA, those who earn less than $100,000 a year pay on average from 20- to 25% of their income in Federal taxes.  Those who earn in excess of $100,000 pay on average from 0- to 17.5% of their income in Federal taxes–but it doesn’t stop them bitching about the 35% that they are supposed to pay.  Key emphasis on “supposed” to pay.]

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The majority of the French people were isolated from the leaders of their nation.

Meanwhile, the royal court at Versailles was seen as being isolated from, and indifferent to, the hardships of the lower classes. [And so it is today with the US Congress, 44% of which consists of millionaires and all of which belong to the upper 5% of the wealthiest people in the nation.]

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The French ruling class, like the ruling class in the USA today demonstrated an unwillingness to compromise and a disdain for the majority.

While he did reduce government expenditures, opponents in the parlements (council of the king) successfully thwarted his attempts at enacting much needed reforms. Those who were opposed to Louis’ policies further undermined royal authority by distributing pamphlets (often reporting false or exaggerated information) that criticized the government and its officials, stirring up public opinion against the monarchy.

Ironic, but if the nobles and clergy had supported Louis XVI and given just a little bit toward their fair share, they might have saved their own asses.  However, as history would have it, they were outdone by their own greed and many of them died in the Revolution that followed.

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It was a time of, joblessness, hunger and desperation for the poor and yet none of this misery was shared by the ruling class.

Most people in France depended heavily on agriculture and farming in the 1700s. In the years 1787 – 1789, terrible weather, heavy rain, hard winters and too hot summers led to three very bad harvests in France. This led to peasants and farmers having smaller incomes, while food prices rose sharply. The poor harvests also meant that many French farmers became unemployed. Many poorer people were starving, but could not afford food and could not find a job. Meanwhile, the nobility, the clergy and King Louis and his family continued to live in the lap of luxury, in their palaces and chateaux. [Sounds somewhat like the “jobless recovery for the past 2 and a half years doesn’t it? ]

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The French ruling class underestimated the power and cleverness of the majority.

King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General  at the palace of Versailles, just Outside Paris, in May 1789. There were 1100 members, or deputies, divided into three orders. The nobles, the clergy, and the third estate, which represented millions of ordinary French people. The Estates-General reached an impasse.  The deputies of the Third estate came up with a resolution. They invited the other estates to join them, but made it clear that they intended to conduct the nation’s affairs with or without them. As their numbers exceeded the combined numbers of the other Estates, they could dominate any combined assembly.

On 20 June, the King ordered the Salle des États, the hall where the National Assembly met, closed. The Assembly moved their deliberations to the King’s tennis court (“Jeu de paume”), where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath (Serment du jeu de paume), under which they agreed not to separate until they had settled the constitution of France. Two days later, deprived of use of the tennis court as well, the Assembly met in the church of Saint Louis, where the majority of the representatives of the clergy joined them: efforts to restore the old order had served only to accelerate events.  The king gave the people more fuel to keep going and make change happen.

The Estates-General had ceased to exist, having become the National Assembly–all this near the end of June 1879.  On July 14, 1879, about two weeks later, the French people stormed Bastille and the rest is history.

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Liz Berry

Liz Berry

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