Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Historical Insanity

Horrifying Similarities between Modern America and Revolutionary France

There are horrifying similarities between modern Modern America and Revolutionary France. To explain, I think the modern United States resembles the Kingdom of France in the 1780s just before the French Revolution.

I came to this conclusion by asking what historical interlude most resembles modern America. Frighteningly, I always came to the same conclusion: 1780s France. Unfortunately, few of America’s leaders seem to grasp the analogy.

I examined the other precedents, the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, 1850s America, 1930s Spain, 1970s Chile, etc., and realized that none of them fit as well as 1780s France. My suspicion is that Americans are too arrogant to think the French madness could overcome their country.

Yet the similarities between 1780s France and modern America are too great to ignore. We need to examine similarities because the United States seems to be on a fast track to disaster.

Horrifying Similarities between Modern America and Revolutionary France

Here are some brief descriptions of the similarities between 1789 France and 2022 America.

A Declining Super Power

In 1789, France was a power in decline. In particular, a surprising rival had replaced France as Europe’s dominant power, the British Empire.

In the 18th Century, England had grown from a second-tier power on Europe’s periphery to the richest, most advance, and most powerful country on Earth. During the late 17th Century, many people assumed England could soon become a French colony under the Stuart kings. Instead, the English overthrew King James II in the Glorious Revolution and remade their country as a modern capitalist state, with a quasi-democratic government.

The British had even inflicted several embarrassing defeats on the mighty French Army. The most humiliating defeat was in the Seven Years War, when the British conquered the French Empire, including most of North America.

The British had even inflicted several embarrassing defeats on the mighty French Army. The most humiliating defeat was in the Seven Years War, when the British conquered the French Empire, including most of North America.

The French humiliated the British in the American Revolution. However, France gained nothing from its sacrifices in the Revolutionary War. The British permanently barred the French from North America by giving the United States all up to the Mississippi in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. Hence, the United States became a Continental power capable of keeping the French out of North America.

Similarly, the United States in 2022 is a nation that is being replaced by an aggressive and seemingly more competent rival: the People’s Republic of China. Notably, America has suffered humiliating reverses in Afghanistan and Iraq, that revealed its military power to be worthless.

America seems to have lost the economic competition with China and could soon lose its political influence. When the French lost the competition with the British in the late 18th century, they went crazy. Americans are losing the competition with the Chinese in the 21st century and they are going crazy.

Military Power

Another similarity is that France built the most powerful and advanced army in the world in the late 18th century. Yet, that army proved incapable of advancing French power. Notably, the French Kingdom invested a fortune in its navy and could never beat the British Royal Navy at sea.

America has built the most powerful military machine in human history. In fact, the US Congress passed a $768.2 billion defense budget in 28 December 2021. In contrast, America’s greatest rival, the People’s Republic of China, spent $244.934 billion on its military in 2021, Trading Economics estimates.

America spends over twice as much on the military as its biggest rival. Yet that military has proven incapable of achieving America’s goals abroad and seems helpless in the face of growing unrest at home.

Interestingly, the French Kingdom went to great lengths to modernize and rebuild its military in the late 18th century. Yet that modernization did nothing for ordinary French people, France’s position in the world, or the country’s defense.

The true beneficiaries of the military modernization were the revolutionary government and Napoleon I who found themselves with an excellent army to use against counterrevolutionary forces and foreign invaders. Notably, Napoleon Bonaparte himself was a graduate of France’s new scientific military academy. That’s a parable Americans need to ponder.

An Increasingly Arrogant and Intolerant Intelligentsia

During the 18th Century, the French Intelligentsia became arrogant, intolerant, and increasingly alienated from ordinary people and traditional French culture.

For instance, many intellectuals became openly hostile to the basic institutions of French society, including the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church. Some intellectuals, including Voltaire, branded France’s government and culture as corrupt, oppressive, and illegitimate. To be fair, France’s Ancien Regime was corrupt, oppressive, and ineffective.

However, there was a growing hostility to French society among intellectuals and large portions of the middle-and upper classes. This hostility came to the surface during the Revolution, when Revolutionary leaders in the National Assembly seized the church’s lands, tried to exterminate the aristocracy and the clergy, and waged war on conservative peasants in the Vendée.

In modern America, we see a growing hostility to basic American ideals and institutions on both sides of the political aisles. On the left, many Woke intellectuals denounce America itself as racist, white supremacist, and illegitimate. On the right, libertarians and conservative intellectuals denounce all government as illegitimate and corrupt.

Frighteningly, media critic Batya Ungar-Sargon alleges many American journalists are practicing a kind of class warfare against the working class. In her fascinating book, Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy, Ungar-Sargon alleges the news media has adopted an extreme woke ideology that is hostile to America itself.

Hence in 2022 America, as in 1789 France, much of the intelligentsia is at permanent war with the nation and its basic institutions. In France, that war ended when intellectuals such as Robespierre sent the King to the Guillotine and used the army to wage war on the peasants.

In the 1790s, the French practiced the ultimate cancel culture with the guillotine and muskets. Even Robespierre found himself canceled with the guillotine.

Ineffective Government and Gridlock

Gridlock and infective government were the immediate causes of the French Revolution. Notably, it was the radical measures King Louis XVI took to address France’s great financial crisis of 1783-1789 that led the Revolution.

To explain, France’s convoluted legal system kept the king from implementing enough taxes to pay for the government. France’s wealthy could block every effort to raise taxes by manipulating the courts.

In response, a desperate King tried to get around the system by reviving long dormant institutions. Louis first called an Assembly of Notables, an advisory body, hoping to convince the courts to raise taxes. When that failed, Louis called an Estates General. The Estates General was France’s parliament, which had not met since 1614.

Louis was playing with dynamite by calling the Estates-General because the body had the power to rewrite France’s constitution. No French King had convened an Estates-General for 175 years because of the body’s theoretical power.

The convening of the Estates-General led straight to the Revolution. Notably, the Estates-General became the National Assembly; which committed the worst atrocities of the Revolution, including the Reign of Terror and the genocide in the Vendée.

2022 America faces a similar crisis; the never-ending battles over the Debt Ceiling and the US Senate’s inability to pass anything but defense budget increases. Frighteningly, America has its own version of the Estates General in Article V of the US Constitution.

To explain, Article V gives state legislatures the power to call a Convention with the ability to rewrite the Constitution. It states: “on the Application of two-thirds of the Legislatures of the several States, [Congress] shall call a Convention for proposing amendments.” In other words, article V gives two-thirds of state legislatures the right to call a Constitutional Convention.

Frighteningly, Article V does not define a Constitutional Convention, it just gives state legislatures to power to call one. Nobody knows who would comprise the Constitutional Convention, what powers it would have, or how they will structure it. Notably, the last Constitutional Convention (in 1787) went rogue and wrote a new Constitution for the United States.

We do not know how a 21st Century Constitutional Convention will work. For example, Congress; or one House of Congress, could declare itself a Constitutional Convention and start rewriting the Constitution. That’s what happened at the Estates General of 1789, when France’s Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly and started rewriting the Constitution.

Civil War

Something Americans forget is that the French Revolution was a Civil War. The Civil War broke out when local governments and others in many regions of France refused to acknowledge the National Assembly’s authority.

What happens if some states refuse to accept the Constitutional Convention’s authority? In France, the result was a civil war between the National Assembly, federalist governments in some French cities, and monarchists.

The National Assembly won because it had control of the Army. Peasants with pitchforks were no match for trained soldiers with muskets and canon.

I think a 21st Century American Civil War will be a technological slaughter with the Pentagon’s war machine turned against ordinary Americans. For example, the United States Marines vs militia members with AK-47s and homemade armored cars. You can imagine the bloody outcome of that brief battle.

It is easy to imagine an American National Assembly ordering drone strikes against Utah ranchers who refuse to acknowledge its new Constitution. Or deploying infantry to Alabama to remove to remove a state government ignoring its new laws.

Income Inequality and Concentration of Wealth and Power

In 1789 France, as in 2022 America, wealth and power became concentrated in a small portion of the population. In both countries, wealthy oligarchs got control of the economy and the political system.

For example, Christian Morrisson and Wayne Snyder estimate the wealthiest 20% of France’s population controlled 60% of the nation’s wealth in 1789. Similarly, the wealthiest 20% of Americans controlled around 55% of the nation’s wealth in 2018, Politifact estimates. Moreover, the Federal Reserve estimates the richest 10% of Americans held 70% of the USA’s wealth in 2019, Collage Group reports.

Income inequality led to widespread frustration with the political system in 18th Century France. In particular, many people were angry at wealthy plutocrats who could buy noble status and influence with the King. As nobles, French plutocrats could exempt themselves from taxes.

Similarly, Propublica alleges the wealthiest 25 Americans paid a federal tax rate of 3.4% between 2014 and 2018. Yet those people were worth $401 billion. The tax rates are low because the rich can manipulate Congress, which sets the tax rates with campaign contributions.

Additionally, America’s wealthy now have a monopoly on political power. For example, Open Secrets claims the average annual income of a member of Congress was $1 million in April 2020. In contrast, Google estimates the median individual annual income in the USA was $31,133 in 2019. Similarly, the US Census Bureau estimates the median household income in the United States was $67,521 in 2020.

Hence, 2022 America like 1789 France has a government of the wealthy by the wealthy and for the wealthy. A similar plutocracy led to catastrophe in France in 1789.

The similarities between 2022 America and 1789 France are too great to ignore. Hopefully, Americans can learn from French history and avoid a catastrophe similar to the French Revolution.