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The Signs of Revolution


Many of the posts I’ve written here have been about the goals of understanding human nature, seeking community, and living in balance with our environment. Circumstances in this country are rushing us farther and farther away from achieving these goals.

What happens to a country that is divided the way we are? Where the government and the citizens consider themselves enemies, where defense of perceived individual freedoms trumps communal responsibility? What happens to a country that digs itself deeper into debt every year, pursuing geopolitical power and a minimalist bread-and-circuses for its citizenry? What happens when a country’s power to raise revenues to pay its debt and do its business is severely restricted by dispensations made for the privileged? When the people whose labor makes the system work are underpaid and disenfranchised? When the institutions that are supposed to protect the vulnerable are so corrupt, so bogged down in bureaucracy, and so focused on their own survival that they become the abusers?

We can look at France in 1788 to see what happens. Our current circumstances are not perfectly parallel to France’s before the revolution, but they do have some similarities. For example, the French government was strapped for funds after conducting foreign wars (our revolution, in fact). There was entrenched and increasing income disparity. Loyalties were divided – to the state, the church, the aristocratic class, the pursuit of wealth . . . People lost a sense of what it was to be French, to the degree they ever had it, and became atomized into competing groups. These are striking similarities between our country in 2020 and France in 1788.

There are striking differences, too. One difference involves the process that led to revolution. Despite the later bloodbath that the French Revolution became, the first steps were in many ways admirable. There was an extraordinary meeting of the Estates General to discuss better representation of the French citizenry within the government. This was done outside of the existing political structures; if we had something comparable here, it would be a nationwide convention that had nothing to do with Republican or Democrat but would provide a forum for free dialogue, not politicized bluster. During this time, the French leaders – including King Louis XVI – who were advocating for reform introduced the cahiers de doléances, basically notebooks of grievances, where people in every “estate,” or branch of society, could express their grievances freely. These and other actions were genuine responses to the divisions in French society.

The fact that these attempts failed to stem the Revolution doesn’t negate their value; they were still good things. We, on the other hand, are instituting no comparable sweeping reforms right now in the United States, as far as I can see. If America descends into revolution, I anticipate our first actions will be violent reactions, not organized reforms.

Photo from The Irish Times

The other difference between the United States and revolutionary France is our country’s split into local and federal governments. This adds even more potential for disunity and divided loyalties. We saw how this played out in 1860; local versus federal conflict seems like the most likely fracture line for any future American conflict, too. For years state and federal governments have challenged each other in the Supreme Court, on issues such as abortion rights, unionization, same-sex marriage, and other social and legal issues. The Interstate Commerce clause and federal funding have been the club the federal government has used on the states to enforce conformity. And the divide is only escalating. Voters, while struggling to protect their ability to vote at all, are questioning if their votes even matter, given the way the Electoral College works. States are pigeonholed by the powers that be as “red” or “blue,” regardless of the nuances of sentiment and policy represented within their borders. Cities have declared themselves “sanctuary” cities in defiance of federal immigration policy. And now federal agents are clashing with citizens against the will of local city and state leaders, and the President has stated plans to post them to more cities in the coming days and weeks.

What will happen next? Will reasonable people put together a plan for widespread reforms that address our cultural, racial, economic, and social divisions? That would be nice – but it would have to be done despite Congress and the White House, since those institutions, to put it mildly, are not at the forefront of change. If Washington isn’t behind the reforms, then a parallel government might effectively result, with challenges in the Supreme Court, the voting booths, and the streets. That could easily lead to the breakdown of civil structures and the rise of violence.

Or perhaps we’ll skip the widespread reforms and just escalate immediately to violence. If I wrote fiction, I could create a believable scenario for a revolution out of what’s happening right now: a state or city refusing federal forces; local blockades and federal invasions; federal funds withheld leaving locals without their Social Security, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid; and passions rising. Other cities and states would take sides, local citizens would weigh in, though hardly as a well-regulated militia, and all-out revolution could result. As the thirteen colonies did in 1776, rebel states might seek foreign involvement to strengthen them against the federal government and those states that remained with it. This recipe for disaster could be made surprisingly probable in fiction.

But if there is one thing that the last few years have proved to me, it’s that real life is stranger than fiction. Mark Twain said, “Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” I can’t help noticing the signs of the times and speculating on what they mean for future of the United States. But I’ll refrain from making any predictions, because I don’t expect the future to make sense.


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8 commentaires


tpthoman2
24 juil. 2020

I agree that there is a terminology issue when we talk about politics. The link you provided adds a lot of substance in describing different types of political action. Many of these are quite unselfish and service oriented. My understanding though is that whether we are talking about partisan politics, low level governance positions, community service, or even participation in voluntary non-government organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, young people are not participating at anything close to the rates of their parents and grandparents. While young people today have a particular moral aversion to partisan politics, they are also skeptical of most other public institutions.

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djf
24 juil. 2020

“I hope that if you're criticized, it's because of what you say, not because of the gender or political orientation of the person doing the criticizing.”

This is what I would like to see the cultural landscape return to. BTW, I embraced equal rights and feminism when it was not cool years ago. I also have black friends and my daughter might marry a Nigerian. I am not a racist or a male chauvinist

I think what I am doing is like the above comment by tpthoman2:

“When our family gets into these discussions, they will just walk away. I think there is some good evidence that this behavior is widespread. Younger people are less likely to vote than there…


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damariszehner
24 juil. 2020

djf: You say, "There are many liberals and females here so I expect to be criticized my point is there are consequences for culture wars." I hope that if you're criticized, it's because of what you say, not because of the gender or political orientation of the person doing the criticizing. That's not always the case, of course, but hey, I control the Delete button! Your point is correct, that the causes and effects of the culture wars are complicated and it is hard to find the "good guys." I understand your disillusionment; I feel it myself. I try to make a point, though, of finding common ground wherever I can without too severely compromising my principles, whether with MAGA-hat-w…

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djf
24 juil. 2020

I grew up intellectually in the eighties and early nineties with college and first career moves. Back then I was embracing globalism because I felt sustainable development and ecology was a future force. In my high school and college, I got a liberal education but grew up in a family with many conservative values. This made me somewhat of an outsider with both conservatives and liberals. I could relate to both but did not embrace either. I am now even more detached because of the polarization.

I am most upset with modern liberalism and wokeism, safetyism, and cancel culture. Some of this is because being older, white, and male I am the target. I also see these forces as anti-intellectua…

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damariszehner
22 juil. 2020

Pastorjimelliott: It's eerie how the universe works. Just last week I had an extensive conversation with someone about Chesterton's "Ballad of the White Horse." I love that quote -- thank you for sharing it and your thoughts.


Tpthoman: You suggest that young people are averse to politics. It's an issue, but perhaps more one of terminology than substance. Here's something about that: https://www.citizenssyllabus.org/duties/its-ok-to-hate-politics

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