Are we on the brink of revolution?

The Washington Post

The protests that have erupted across the U.S. following the brutal deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of the police fit a pattern of long-term structural problems meeting sudden crises that historically have shaped revolutions in the past. As we grapple with what might change in the wake of covid-19 and unrest across the country, the case of the French Revolution of 1789 reminds us of the contested nature of social change. Revolutions do not necessarily erupt at the moment when people are most oppressed. Rather, revolutions have more often been the result of “rising expectations.” Periods of progress followed by crushed hopes can be especially dangerous, leading to rage and violence. Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the first political theorists to highlight what he viewed as a curious paradox: the French Revolution erupted not when the nation was in the throes of decline, such as during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) in the later years of the reign of Louis XIV, but rather, at a time of relative prosperity in France. In his words, “A study of comparative statistics makes it clear that in none of the decades immediately following the Revolution did our national prosperity make such rapid forward strides as in the two preceding it.”


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