SATURDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2010
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provide at least three examples that prove that people are full of crap, at least half of the time.
1. In 1642 the British Parliament deposed the king, and beheaded him a few years later to make sure he doesn’t put the crown back on his head. Again, in 1688 they made it very clear that they believed they had the right to choose their own monarch – John Locke’s political theory had apparently summed it up very nicely. However, when the American colonies wanted to overthrow the rule of the British Crown and Parliament almost a century later, and even used John Locke’s arguments, the very same British political ruling class would have none of it. One can still to some extent understand the king’s position, but the British Parliament refused to budge: the colonists had absolutely no right to demand independence.
2. As idealistic as the American rebels were in their revolution with “All men are created equal” and “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” they turned around and forced inequality on people of colour that they felt they had the right to own as personal property, and deprived these people not only of their personal liberty but also of any chance of a good life and some earthly happiness.
3. After their defeat against England in 1763, the French were itching for revenge. The French King Louis XVI and his advisers believed the American rebels’ struggle against their colonial masters provided the perfect opportunity. “Let us support the rebels in their revolution against King and aristocracy!” decreed the king, and shoved another chocolate eclair into his mouth. However, little more than a decade later, French rebels were pulling on the gates of Versailles, and revolution was permeating the air in Paris. “How dare they?!” muttered the king in the direction of his panicked advisors, and wondered what had happened to the cream cake.
And, now that I think about it, there is a fourth example.
4. The revolutionaries in France were fired up with idealism and zeal for liberty, equality and fraternity in 1789 and the years immediately following the revolution. But was this freedom intended for the ordinary worker in a tannery or the peasant in the countryside? “Don’t be ridiculous!” some of the leaders of the revolution would have thought in the safety of their private quarters (at one point it would have been risky to make such declarations on a street corner in Paris). Did the equality and fraternity parts stand a better chance? Could the ordinary man and woman who owned no business, professional title or property get excited about the revolution? They could certainly get excited in the beginning, but disappointment wasn’t far behind. Despite some noble declarations, the revolution, at the end of a long and bloody day, was aimed at broadening the aristocracy. “It’s our turn to live well!” a member of the newly empowered bourgeoisie would have hissed through his teeth at his servant, before commanding another glass of wine.