Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Awake to Glory, Children of France!

With the words of the title, today we remember the signature event of their revolution, the storming of a prison fortress 220 years ago. Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé ! So what is a revolution and how can we tell one has occurred?

Two centuries ago, France was organized politically, economically and socially as the private estate of a very small hereditary elite. In that France lived the fattened clergy that blessed all the king did, the merchants and bankers who greased the wheels of the nobility's carriages, the courtiers and courtesans who tried to eke a living on the leavings of the privileged few and the very, very many who were the hereditary human beasts of burden.

Today the nobility is largely gone. The merchants and bankers have supplanted them. But the very many have unions and public schools and vacations and cars. Today only 6.2 percent of the French population lives under their official poverty threshold, which is higher than that of the United States.

Less than a century ago, Russia was a vast plantation in the hands of the Romanov family and their favorites. Not counting the papacy, which was not a nation-state at the time, in 1917 the czarist regime was the last remaining absolute monarchy of Europe.

Imperial Russia's elected legislative body, the Duma, was merely an advisory body with little effective power except to complain; from 1907 on, the leftist parties, which had won significant pluralities in the first two elections elections, were almost completely suppressed as electoral law was changed to favor propertied, land-holding voters. The nation was still not industrialized and its agriculture was primitive and in the hands of newly liberated serfs who had effectively become, as in the American South, penniless sharecroppers. The educated middle class was miniscule.

Today, with all its troubles, Russia's income inequality is lower than that of the United States -- the Russian Gini coefficient index stood at 40 in 2005, compared to 46.9 in the USA, albeit both higher than for most European Union member states.

In 1776, what is today the United States was divided into a vast territory held by native tribes and secondarily a set of European colonies comprising a string of small seaboard settlements held (in order of size) by Spain, France and England. In the English colony, a relatively small elite of freeholders and wealthy merchants decided not to pay taxes used to finance their defense from neighbors tired of their predatory behavior.

Their revolt was led by a few high-minded slaveowners and by merchants and bankers who proceeded to make enormous war profits by lending and supplying materiel to the fledgling government. In the new nation's eventual compact, proclamations of freedom did not apply to natives, African slaves nor indentured English servants, who were not even counted as full human beings for the purposes of electoral apportionment. In a process of roughly two centuries, still unfinished, each one had to shed blood to gain a semblance of fairness.

Today, 12.5 percent of all U.S. inhabitants -- or about 36 million people -- live below the poverty threshhold ($10,830 for an individual; $22,050 for a family of four). That's double the proportion in France, living at a lower threshold.

"In the French Revolution, when laborers' wives were mud-splattered by a passing carriage, they yelled at the marquise studiously ignoring them in her cabin, saying "One day we will all be marquises,' " a literature professor once remarked, adding, "while in the Russian Revolution they cried, 'One day you will be a peasant just like us.' "

We in the United States like to think our people are historically like the French. But that is not quite true.

On the American carriage rode a slaveowner who called out to the rabble, "Go die for me so I can avoid paying British taxes, go till my land and work my factories and build roads for my goods, go work, work work, and God will make you rich like me!"

And as the fools followed their pied piper, the gentleman's gales of laughter were drowned out by the cobblestone clopping of his hastening horses.

11 comments:

Erin said...
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Cecilieaux said...
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Anne said...

I'd like to think there is some kind of unbloody revolution going on right now in the US of A. Could it be possible?

Erin said...
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Cecilieaux said...
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Hendaque said...

Why leave the above on "Comments" here to muck up the after-glow of what is a truly poetic piece? Loved it.

Anyhow, you said "In the new nation's eventual compact, proclamations of freedom did not apply to natives, African slaves nor indentured English servants, who were not even counted as full human beings for the purposes of electoral apportionment."

Hey,guy,what about us? Women couldn't even make decisions regarding their own children until well into the 20th century and certainly weren't considered worthy "human beings" until long afof human rights ter the male descendants of the above groups.

Geneviève said...

I don't know if our revolution has been better than yours...

On this site

http://www.danielmartin.eu/Economie/Pauvrete-France-USA.htm#_Toc162946767

it is said that actually one cannot compare our rate of poverty and yours since
the ways of counting are not the same, and if it were the same, in
France the rate would be 11% more (and not 6,2), about the same as the USA.

I read that on the site I give the link above, and also on other
sites, where it is said that if poverty in America would be so bad
with regards to France, we would have many poor immigrants Americans
wanting to live in France, which is not the case, of course. And also
that your standard of living is 50% higher than ours,and your rate of
unemployed is very low with regards to ours. And also that the poverty
in the USA lasts only a few months for people.

Of course we have a better health care insurance. For instance, I know an American who chose to live in France because he has a daughter with
Down syndrome and the cost here is very low.

Andy said...

Personally, I think that this is bound up in statistics and ways of measuring and counting who is and is not poor.

For most people, it is a matter of survival. One slip, one road taken rather than another, one misfortune, plunge any one (except the small elite) into the 'poverty trap' from which it is difficult to escape.

To try and compare one country to another is almost impossible.

However, good post. I even enjoyed your little fracas with Erin, whose blog I did visit. I'm just not sure why you did......

Erin said...

You can "take it to my blog," but when you say things like: "but I don't want to allow Erin's misrepresentations to stand" and expect me to allow that on my blog, you are sorely mistaken. You "don't want to allow" something on my own blog... huh. You've just told me a lot about yourself. You don't get to decide what to allow on other people's blogs.

I have read the text of Obama's speech, I watched it, and I have read the pres of ND's words as well. Just because one Catholic accepts Obama at his university doesn't mean the Catholic Church as an institution condones his views on abortion. If he really wants to reduce abortions, again, he'd not be in favor of federal funding for abortions. One can talk the talk of bipartisan dialogues, but when it comes down to it, there is no room for compromise when it comes to abortion. Laws need to protect all human beings' lives, period.

Cecilieaux said...

To the commenters who are actually responding to my post here:

Ann, yes, I think there is the possibility of something akin to Canada's "quiet revolution" of the 1960s.

Hendaque, perhaps I should have mentioned women. Although isn't their oppression a universal human problem that no revolution has yet addressed?

Genevieve, excellent points! My understanding is that the French poverty threshold is higher; in other words, you could be officially "poor" in France even though you wouldn't be in the USA. If that is true, France's rate would have to be much higher than the U.S. rate for the same degree of poverty. At most, by your account, France comes a good full percentage point (that's several million people here) below.

As to standard of living, this is more of a moving target. How can France's be half that of the USA when all people in France have paid medical care available, 5 weeks annual vacation, the right to 2 years of unemployment at full pay ... all things completely unknown in the USA?

Andy, yes, the Erin fracas is evidence of what can happen when you surf carelessly. I was just amazed that anyone would send an empty envelope to the White House, no matter what the cause. Papessa Erin believes herself quite infallible, however, and is impermeable to reason.

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