What Would the French Revolution Look Like in the Early 21st Century?

I’m not a historian, but the French Revolution (1789-1799 — dates vary) and the US Revolution (1763 -1787) have intrigued me as benchmark events in the history of the evolution of the way people structure their governments and adopt basic principals for themselves. There seems to me to be many parallels with then and with what is occurring today, but on a global rather than national scale.

Both the French and the Colonial revolutions arose because living conditions of the middle and lower classes had been steadily eroding as they witnessed the elites in their nation enjoying steadily improving lives. And the differences were largely flaunted by the wealthy.  Both revolutions became “movements” because pamphleteers – the bloggers of their day – educated the masses of their nation as to the inequities between the classes at the same time they also promoted taking action against the ruling class. Both revolutions were populist in nature in that they created new militias composed of ordinary citizens rather than fight with an installed army. Both revolutions were asymmetrical in that in both cases the populist militias had much less resources than the governments against which they revolted. Both revolutions were fought against what would today be called “The One Percent.”

In both revolutions, although political issues became integral to the fight, those principles by themselves would likely not be cause for wars were it not for much more basic issues that fueled them: lack of jobs, food, living conditions, and the prospect of whether the children of the revolutionaries would have hope for a brighter future. In many ways, the wars were fought for a redistribution of wealth – what has today become a popular rallying cry of the “Occupy” protests in major centers throughout the world.

And in the case of both nations, the “ordinary” people had to bear the burden of costly and ill-conceived wars waged shortly before the revolutionary movements accelerated and gained critical mass.

Extrapolate those conditions to today. Broaden the pre-war environments from two particular nations to a large number of nations around the globe. Replace the pamphleteers with bloggers and social media experts. Replace the wealthy elites with the oligarchs that control so much politics in so many nations today. Stir in the same everyday challenges and hopelessness facing the middle and lower classes of the French and the Colonialists.

As I noted right up front, I’m not a historian. But I can’t help but think that the conditions that bred the French and American Revolutions are occurring right now, but on a nearly-global basis and in the age of the Communications Revolution. If that conclusion is correct, then the structural changes that might arise as the current conflicts play themselves out may be at least the equal of – probably far surpass – the changes of the late 18th Century.

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