6 lessons from the French Revolution

guillotineI’ve been reading about La Revolution Francaise recently and it seems that there are some really  useful lessons we can learn from what happened.

  1. The revolution happened because huge military spending had left France bankrupt. This, combined with poor harvests, led to starvation.
    Over-spending by governments is a recipe for disaster. US government debt currently stands at $16.4 trillion. Hmm, did we learn anything there?
  2. The problem could have been fixed by fair taxation, but wasn’t.
    The nobility and clergy were exempt from taxes, even though they owned most of the wealth, so it wasn’t too surprising that the country was bankrupt. These days, the wealthy pay most of the tax, so the situation is reversed.
  3. The people saw that the Queen had diamonds while they were starving. They believed that the Queen’s diamonds were the cause of the problem.
    Selling off the Queen’s jewellery would have made no difference to the country’s finances, and France was still bankrupt after Marie Antoinette had been executed. Wealth inequality wasn’t the problem then and still isn’t.
  4. The revolution began with violence and death. Once that started, there was no way to stop it.
    It isn’t surprising that suspending the rule of law and beginning a campaign of mass execution ends badly. Up to 100,000 people were executed, mostly for no valid reason. All revolutions go the same way, and history teaches us that once the killing starts it can’t be stopped. Yet modern would-be revolutionaries ignore this most important lesson.
  5. To try to lower the price of bread, the revolutionaries imposed price controls. They arrested and executed anyone who sold bread at a price higher than the law allowed.
    And not surprisingly bread became even scarcer than before. Who would make and sell bread when there was no money to be made, just the risk of being executed as a profiteer? The people starved. Lesson learned? No, just watch modern politicians imposing price controls on everything from electricity to food.
  6. Anyone who criticized the Revolution was arrested and executed.
    Including the instigators of the Revolution itself. Once you’ve created a monster, don’t be surprised if it eats you. Freedom of speech was considered counter-revolutionary. Criticizing the Revolution was treason. Robespierre, one of the leaders of the Revolution, decreed that anyone who showed fear when accused of treason must be guilty. He probably showed fear himself when he was guillotined without trial a few years later. Lesson learned? That freedom of speech and fair trials are of paramount importance? Probably. I think that even Robespierre probably worked that one out.

Anyone for a revolution? Two centuries later, of the six obvious lessons, only two seem to have been learned.

4 responses to “6 lessons from the French Revolution

  1. I didn’t think of the points so logically as you’ve presented them although I think I may disagree with one or two of your thoughts. I saw that touched you on the US of A. In America’s case I think that there a few issues going on in the country that I find fascinating and go back to the country’s founders and not directly comparable to the French Revolution.

  2. I like this logical perspective and I think you’re probably right. From your post I’ve taken away some truly thought-provoking … hmm, worries? Yes, worries.

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