I was going through some old papers a couple of weeks ago (spring cleaning and all that jazz) and found notes I had taken on the French Revolution all the way back in High School. This is one of the very few things I had kept from that time, for the event had left quite an impression on me.
I had been 7 or 8 years old when I had my first class about the French Revolution, but even then it struck me how it was the little people, the ‘nobodies’ (i.e. the of 1789, who brought about the massive changes that define the French Revolution. Like most other historical events of this magnitude, it has definitely been romanticized, but the fact remains that, at its core, the French Revolution was the uprising of an outraged population asking for social justice.
Consider the facts: the French Revolution was, in (very) short, the boiling over of years of frustration. One factor was the widespread famine and malnutrition, bringing about disease and death. King Louis XV’s involvement in many wars and Louis XVI’s support of the colonists during the American Revolution emptied out the country’s coffers and forced them to go deep into debt. So what did they do to get more money? They increased taxes, and unjustly so as the poor were shouldering a disproportionately large portion of it. Meanwhile, Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, continued living lavishly.
Meanwhile, dangerous ideas (for the royalty, that it) were being discussed amongst those suffering the most. The rise of Enlightenment ideas and philosophies made more and more people question the absolute character of the royalty as well as the numerous privileges granted to a lazy nobility. It didn’t seem right that the hard-working professional and mercantile classes were the ones working so hard and yet still suffering so.
And so the population rose up and demanded justice. Imagine, in a country where royalty used to be akin to divinity, the king and queen were both beheaded.
Far be it that I am encouraging such a violent revolution against the forces of injustices that are operating today. After all, that was the end of the 18th century, and we are nine years into the 21st century. However, the injustices are just as rampant today as they were then, the proportion of people suffering around the world is probably about the same, if not more, and the changes required will be just as painful to put in place today as they were back then.
Don’t be fooled by the seeming eloquence of this post; it took quite some musing before I wrote it, and that only happened after I saw Jon Stewart’s interview with Jack Cafferty (watch the clip of the interview here).
And, of course, the part that made me click (finally) was the following:
Jon Stewart: There is a lot of talk about populist rage. (…) Is there a stirring up of a population that feels helpless and therefore will become destructive, or is there something constructive in people getting upset? Because Americans, when they get upset… You know, you look at other countries man and when they get upset, they go on strike, they have riots and we just send emails in capital letters.
Jack Cafferty: In fairness, you know what they did when they got upset? The elected an African American president.
I have often blogged about how the real power lies with the grassroots, and that it’s up to the masses to make the changes that have made history. There is no reason why so many people who think the current system is unjust shouldn’t have their views respected. It actually doesn’t make any sense; a little like the irrationality of celebrities being role models instead of role models being celebrities, powerful people have become heroes rather than every day heroes having power. The real heroes, those who work steadfastly, day after day, making the world a better place, are considered to be nobodies.
It makes me wonder how we got ourselves into this state of affairs. Think about it: who are considered to be the ‘nobodies’ of today? You and I are. We aren’t celebrities, we aren’t criminals, we aren’t socialites, we aren’t big time politicians, we aren’t big bankers, we aren’t big economists – we are the day to day workers, making the world go around. And although the entire system rests on us doing that work to the best of our ability, we are considered as nobodies.
It doesn’t make sense, and this in itself should make us realize that we aren’t the ‘nobodies’. They are. And it is up to us to create a Revolution which will change the course of history.