So said the late ’89 Classical scholars Bill and Ted in their Excellent Adventure. Fast forward three years, to 1992, and “The End of History and the Last Man” was published as a final nail in the Curtain’s coffin. Contemporaries at the time, consumed by excusable hubris, believed the West had won the ideological war. In a little, over 25 years we see the convergence of history on the brink of a precipice. And while fans of the franchise wait for a possible third instalment, it appears their time machine has most heinously brought history back from the dead.
The toppling of the establishment and the creation of new history is a dish best served with ferocity. Marie-Antoinette, the long dead Queen of France, catalysed the demise of the Bourbon monarchy amongst other things by the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. However, what Bourbon France’s Third Estate has in common with the proletariat of Brusain (Brexit+US Election), is that the ruling order is being bulldozed. The question to ask is, are we seeing a long-awaited re-run of history’s most seismic century (the late 18 and 19th)?
Historian, William Doyle has written extensively on the topic of France’s Ancien Regime – loosely summarised as the perseverance of divine right monarchy well into the late-18th century. That, of course, came to an abrupt end in 1793. The peasantry, comprising well over 70% of a country’s stock of souls have always been viewed with disdain. The lot of the working classes, for better or worse, hasn’t improved. As the largest of the Ancien Regime’s Estates, as in the contemporary, the rulers ensure that they are divided and immobilised – and for a good reason. When this virulent section of society is properly mobilised, they wield power the likes of Bourbon monarchs, Stuart kings, Prime Minister Cameron, and Democrat nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton dream of, doing little to assuage and counter.
The 19th Century, by comparison, was less bloody. The rulers of Europe increasingly kept their heads attached to bodies; this is despite the tumultuousness of the Napoleonic Wars. However, as Richard Seymour writes, for the British high command having a proletariat rise and challenge the status quo was not a scenario they wished to live through. And as a consequence, he cites specific Acts of Parliament that were passed to ameliorate the concerns of hidden Spartacus’s amongst working class men. An excellent emollient used during this period in Britain was the widening of the franchise to those men who had been alienated from voting rights.
So how do our constants and variables come together in a textbook-sized one-inch equation? Well, they don’t. What I’ve described is the social world. If what has been written about above were solvable then the world would have known Brexit would happen and that Donald Trump would become the President-Elect. What I’ve attempted to illustrate above is that the social contract, between the rulers (the 1%) and the plebs (historically the working class, and referred to colloquially as the 99%), is a balancing act. The 1% know that the bargain they struck with the 99%, to rule over them and amass enormous wealth, is only tenable so long as they give sufficiently large crumbs to the 99% and don’t encroach too much on their freedoms. However, as with any weak system, once the policy takers (the 99%) don’t receive their allocation of crumbs then the 1% are faced with life and death situation. The 99% (working class) might be despised, loathed, ridiculed and hated by the policy makers (1%) but they give their consent to be ruled over by them.
As has been seen over the past two years, and especially by Brexit and the recent US election result, is that the working classes are not being listened to: they are being taken for granted. My prediction for the upcoming European-wide elections during 2017 is this: We haven’t seen the end of populist parties gaining wins, and we haven’t seen the end of the working class striking fear into the hearts of their rulers. History always will, and frequently does, repeat itself. The events of 1793 and the 19th Century are being repeated today in all Western countries. Can our policy-makers break the repetitiveness of history, or are we consigned to a fate we already know? And to spin Sinatra’s pithy phrase, “If it can happen in America it can happen anywhere”,
If it can happen in Brusain, it can happen anywhere