"The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

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The Romulan Republic
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"The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2020-05-02 05:32pm

https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2 ... ed/609463/
Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.

This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious. The onset of the next Depression, a challenge akin to World War II, a national midlife crisis—these comparisons have been offered and many more. But few are calling our current moment a revolution, and some have suggested that the coronavirus pandemic—coinciding as it has with the surge in Joe Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and the decline of Bernie Sanders’s—marks the end of any such possibility. “The Coronavirus Killed the Revolution,” declared the headline of a recent essay in The Atlantic by Shadi Hamid, who argued that the COVID-19 crisis makes people crave “normalcy” over deep structural change. As a historian of 18th- and 19th-century France, I think claims like these are mistaken.

An urgent desire for stability—for a fast resolution to upheaval—is in fact absolutely characteristic of any revolutionary era. “I pray we will be finished by Christmas,” wrote one beleaguered member of the French Constituent Assembly to a good friend in October 1789. In reality, of course, the assembly took another two years to finish its tasks, after which another assembly was elected; a republic was declared; Louis XVI was put on trial and executed in January 1793; General Napoleon Bonaparte became “first consul” in 1799 and emperor in 1804; Europe found itself engulfed in wars from 1792 to 1815. In short, life never went back to how it had been before 1789.

The United States may not be having a revolution right now, but we are surely living in revolutionary times. If we do not perceive them as such, it is because news coverage and everyday conversations alike turn on nonhuman agents. Instead of visionary leaders or outraged crowds, viruses, markets, and climate change seem to shape events today. History feels like it is out of our hands.

People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.

Analogies between the first months of the French Revolution and our current moment are easy to draw. Anthony Fauci, the infectious-diseases expert whom President Donald Trump often sidelines or ignores, is Jacques Necker, the popular finance minister to Louis XVI. Necker’s firing in early July 1789 was viewed widely as a calamity: “It was like losing your father,” the mathematician and astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly wrote in his memoirs. The recent spike in American gun and ammunition sales recalls the Parisians who stormed the Bastille Fortress in the hope of finding weapons and gunpowder. (They incidentally released a handful of individuals imprisoned there, but that was not the crowd’s original intent.) The conflict among city, state, and federal officials over coronavirus-related closures directly parallels 1789’s municipal revolutions, in which some cities had leaders who quickly proclaimed devotion to the new National Assembly, while the leaders of other cities remained loyal to the old structures of absolutist royal power and the mayors and aldermen of yet others were violently deposed.

That comparisons can so easily be made between the beginning of the French Revolution and the United States today does not mean that Americans are fated to see a Reign of Terror or that a military dictatorship like Napoleon’s looms large in our future. What it does mean is that everything is up for grabs. The United States of America can implode under external pressure and its own grave contradictions, or it can be reimagined and repurposed. Life will not go back to normal for us, either, because the norms of the past decades are simply no longer tenable for huge numbers of Americans. In a single week in March, 3.3 million American workers filed new unemployment claims. The following week, 6.6 million more did the same. Middle-class Americans who placed their retirement savings in the stock market have recently experienced huge losses. Even before the pandemic, black Americans on average had only 7 percent of the wealth of white ones (Native Americans, even less). Among non-Hispanic white Americans, deaths from drug abuse, suicide, and alcohol continue to rise. Nearly 2.5 million people are incarcerated. Trust in existing institutions (including the Electoral College and Congress) was already vanishingly small. Is it safe to go grocery shopping in a pandemic? Should we wear masks? Nobody knows who to believe.

Read: Red and blue America aren’t experiencing the same pandemic

Much like the past 40 years in the United States and Western Europe, the 1700s were a period of remarkable economic, social, and technological transformation. Comparatively cheap mass-manufactured goods from Britain and China sparked what historians call the 18th-century “consumer revolution.” In the 1780s, four-fifths of working-class Parisian households had more than 10 dishes in their cupboards, and more than half had a gold watch (in the 1720s, the figures were 20 percent and 5 percent). Whole new media forms emerged—the modern novel, easily reproduced prints, mass-market newspapers heavy on advertisements—as did new physical places (coffee shops, lending libraries, Freemason lodges) and virtual spaces (“the Republic of Letters” and “public opinion”) where those works were discussed and debated.

As sources of information proliferated, long-standing sources of authority (monarchy, aristocracy, and the established Church) feared losing power and turned reactionary. At the same time, the longer-term transformations on which these social and cultural innovations were built—the growth of European overseas empires and the emergence of settler colonialism, massive silver exports from South and Central America, the trans-Atlantic slave trade—continued, and in ever more brutal forms. More than 6 million Africans were sold into slavery in the 18th century—a time that some still call the “Age of Enlightenment.”

In the summer of 1789, as peasants attacked chateaus and revolutionaries vowed to “abolish privilege,” many members of the elite felt that their world had suddenly fallen apart. In truth, it had been disintegrating for decades. Today, as in the 1790s, an old order is ending in convulsions. Even before the coronavirus prompted flight cancellations and entry bans, climate activists were rightly telling us to change our modes and patterns of travel. Even before nonessential businesses were shut by government orders, online shopping and same-day deliveries were rapidly remaking retail commerce, while environmental concerns and anti-consumerism were revolutionizing the fashion industry. The pandemic and resulting public-health crisis have caused an abrupt and salutary revaluation in which cleaners, care workers, grocery-store stockers, and delivery drivers are gaining recognition for the essential work they have been doing all along. Taken together, these changes may not look like a revolution—but real revolutions are the ones that nobody sees coming.

The men and women who made the French Revolution—a revolution which, in a few short and hectic years, decriminalized heresy, blasphemy, and witchcraft; replaced one of the oldest European monarchies with a republic based on universal male suffrage; introduced no-fault divorce and easy adoption; embraced the ideal of formal equality before the law; and, for a short time at least, defined employment, education, and subsistence as basic human rights—had no model to follow, no plans, no platform agreed upon in advance. As the UCLA historian Lynn A. Hunt has argued, they made it up as they went along. Yet for more than two centuries, elements of their improvised politics have been revolution’s signature features: a declared sovereignty, devised symbols, an anthem, war. At the junction Americans face today, however, we need to imitate not the outcome of the French revolution but the energy, creativity, and optimism of the French revolutionaries.

Human beings are responsible both for much of what is wrong and for much of what could be right about the world today. But we have to take responsibility. In hindsight a revolution may look like a single event, but they are never experienced that way. Instead they are extended periods in which the routines of normal life are dislocated and existing rituals lose their meaning. They are deeply unsettling, but they are also periods of great creativity. As some Americans take shelter in their homes from a newly arrived threat and others put their health at risk to combat it, we can all mourn lost certainties, but we can also set about intentionally creating new possibilities. To claim this moment as a revolution is to claim it for human action.
While one may argue the details of some of the historical parallels they use, I think there's a lot of truth here. And its all the more striking coming from the Atlantic. I'm not familiar with the author of this specific piece, but in my experience the Atlantic in general has a slant which can best be described as "aggressively Centrist". They did an issue a few months ago warning about the possibility of civil war, but a lot of their articles appeared to blame this prospect on "both sides" being partisan, and demanded more civility. One of their frequent writers IIRC is David Frum, an anti-Trump Republican. So to see this outlet in particular not only acknowledging the possibility of revolution, but appear to advocate for a revolutionary response, is striking to me.
"I know its easy to be defeatist here because nothing has seemingly reigned Trump in so far. But I will say this: every asshole succeeds until finally, they don't. Again, 18 months before he resigned, Nixon had a sky-high approval rating of 67%. Harvey Weinstein was winning Oscars until one day, he definitely wasn't."-John Oliver

"The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan."-General Von Clauswitz, describing my opinion of Bernie or Busters and third partiers in a nutshell.

I SUPPORT A NATIONAL GENERAL STRIKE TO REMOVE TRUMP FROM OFFICE.

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GrosseAdmiralFox
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by GrosseAdmiralFox » 2020-05-21 01:01am

The thing is when the other side collectively decided to go off the cliff since Reagan (Reagan, due to his policies, effectively kicked out the Rockefeller Republicans), this was kind of inevitable, especially with how things like the second amendment and things like freedom of speech and assembly are taken to 'word of god' status.

The technological context has shifted enough that normal controls for this have broken down and broken down hard... which is why privacy is going to die one way or another in the next few decades among many rights and freedoms that we consider sacred.

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Aether
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by Aether » 2020-05-27 02:41pm

It makes for a good story, but I am not going to lose sleep at night wondering if a second American Civil War will erupt.

Knuckle dragging trumpanzees are no where near cohesive enough nor do they have the political backing for an organized revolt. They will pose in their YouTube videos with their liberty-freedom boom sticks, bitch about their rights, and then proceed to shoot watermelons like they have always done.

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The Romulan Republic
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2020-05-27 03:04pm

Aether wrote:
2020-05-27 02:41pm
It makes for a good story, but I am not going to lose sleep at night wondering if a second American Civil War will erupt.

Knuckle dragging trumpanzees are no where near cohesive enough nor do they have the political backing for an organized revolt. They will pose in their YouTube videos with their liberty-freedom boom sticks, bitch about their rights, and then proceed to shoot watermelons like they have always done.
It would be reassuring to think so, and I'd certainly be happy if they ended up folding like a cheap tent (the accelerationists, meanwhile, would be bitterly disappointed).

However, keep in mind that the far Right in America has engaged in serious violence before- not on an organized nationwide scale, but the Oklahoma City bombing, the two Bundy standoffs, and innumerable mass shootings, to name just some examples, show there is very much a threat- if not to the nation, then certainly to individual lives. We also see that fear of these people can to some extent dictate policy, and that law enforcement tends to handle them with kid gloves, whether out of sympathy with their views or just to avoid escalation.

Also, we are in a unique position (in modern times, anyway- there's precedent in the Andrew Johnson Presidency's emboldenment of the Klan during Reconstruction, but that's REALLY not an era we want to emulate) of the President actively condoning, legitimizing and inciting these people. At the same time, the country is under a level of stress it arguably hasn't been since the Depression, due to COVID-19 and the resulting economic catastrophe which may yet rival or surpass the Great Depression. Those are conditions that even under a far better Presidency could spawn serious civil unrest.

We are also, unfortunately, seeing an increasing appetite for retaliatory violence and armed revolution on the Left, though so far its mostly limited to talk, not action. I say "unfortunately" because I still have some hope for the electoral process and/or peaceful demonstrations, and because most of the advocates of violence on the Left strike me more as angry people who just want to see it all burn than people with a real idea of how to accomplish anything constructive, and as a consequence I fear that if they did do anything, they'd likely just go off half-cocked, kill a bunch of innocent people, and accomplish jack shit. But if things continue on the track they're on, it might not be long before the Left will need to embrace some degree of organized violence, as a matter of self-preservation.

We could step back from the brink. We have before. The US underwent a period of civil unrest during the Vietnam War era and the Civil Rights movement, and earlier during the Depression, and neither ended in violent revolution or civil war. But there is a danger.
"I know its easy to be defeatist here because nothing has seemingly reigned Trump in so far. But I will say this: every asshole succeeds until finally, they don't. Again, 18 months before he resigned, Nixon had a sky-high approval rating of 67%. Harvey Weinstein was winning Oscars until one day, he definitely wasn't."-John Oliver

"The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan."-General Von Clauswitz, describing my opinion of Bernie or Busters and third partiers in a nutshell.

I SUPPORT A NATIONAL GENERAL STRIKE TO REMOVE TRUMP FROM OFFICE.

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Ziggy Stardust
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by Ziggy Stardust » 2020-05-29 11:04am

Aether wrote:
2020-05-27 02:41pm
It makes for a good story, but I am not going to lose sleep at night wondering if a second American Civil War will erupt.

Knuckle dragging trumpanzees are no where near cohesive enough nor do they have the political backing for an organized revolt. They will pose in their YouTube videos with their liberty-freedom boom sticks, bitch about their rights, and then proceed to shoot watermelons like they have always done.
IIRC, the OG Nazis were essentially viewed as a bunch of drunken buffoons, until suddenly they weren't. Given the "trumpanzees" are essentially just Nazis 2.0, I think it would be foolish to underestimate them. Given the erosion of our political institutions over the last 20 years or so, the threshold is a lot lower than it used to be for things to go wrong.

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loomer
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by loomer » 2020-05-29 11:06am

Ziggy Stardust wrote:
2020-05-29 11:04am
Aether wrote:
2020-05-27 02:41pm
It makes for a good story, but I am not going to lose sleep at night wondering if a second American Civil War will erupt.

Knuckle dragging trumpanzees are no where near cohesive enough nor do they have the political backing for an organized revolt. They will pose in their YouTube videos with their liberty-freedom boom sticks, bitch about their rights, and then proceed to shoot watermelons like they have always done.
IIRC, the OG Nazis were essentially viewed as a bunch of drunken buffoons, until suddenly they weren't. Given the "trumpanzees" are essentially just Nazis 2.0, I think it would be foolish to underestimate them. Given the erosion of our political institutions over the last 20 years or so, the threshold is a lot lower than it used to be for things to go wrong.
Pretty accurately viewed as such, too, which should give some idea of how dangerous a bunch of drunken buffoons who are in the right place with the right rhetoric at the right time can be.
"Doctors keep their scalpels and other instruments handy, for emergencies. Keep your philosophy ready too—ready to understand heaven and earth. In everything you do, even the smallest thing, remember the chain that links them. Nothing earthly succeeds by ignoring heaven, nothing heavenly by ignoring the earth." M.A.A.A

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Aether
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by Aether » 2020-05-29 12:44pm

Ziggy Stardust wrote:
2020-05-29 11:04am
Aether wrote:
2020-05-27 02:41pm
It makes for a good story, but I am not going to lose sleep at night wondering if a second American Civil War will erupt.

Knuckle dragging trumpanzees are no where near cohesive enough nor do they have the political backing for an organized revolt. They will pose in their YouTube videos with their liberty-freedom boom sticks, bitch about their rights, and then proceed to shoot watermelons like they have always done.
IIRC, the OG Nazis were essentially viewed as a bunch of drunken buffoons, until suddenly they weren't. Given the "trumpanzees" are essentially just Nazis 2.0, I think it would be foolish to underestimate them. Given the erosion of our political institutions over the last 20 years or so, the threshold is a lot lower than it used to be for things to go wrong.
"Eventually, someday, somehow, something may happen."

Trump will be out of office, one way or another - it's a matter of 4 years or 6 months if he does not win 2020.

The historical parallels are fun to draw. It's fun to play "what if..." Outside of isolated instances, which are sure to happen, there is no movement powerful enough to unite behind a man that is incapable of leading. And by "not leading" I don't mean he is simply enacting policies that I do not agree with - I honestly see no strategy, no introspection on the what and how.

It will take more than Trump's bullshit rhetoric and several People of Wal*Mart to legitimately pose a threat that rises to the level of civil unrest on par with war.

Are there local and/or state governments, military branches eagerly awaiting a signal? I don't see it. Trump is the GOP's useful idiot - Supreme court nominations, deregulation, Corporate welfare I mean "repatriating cash flow from overseas."

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Ziggy Stardust
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Re: "The Revolution Is Under Way Already"

Post by Ziggy Stardust » 2020-05-30 10:56am

Wow, you pretty spectacularly missed the point there, didn't you, bud?

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