Between 1799 and 1804 Napoleon as First Consul instigated a series of sweeping reforms, fundamentally changing the institutions of France. He had a shrewd idea of what was necessary after a decade of Revolution: ‘My policy is to govern men as most of them wish to be governed. It is in this way, I believe, that popular sovereignty is acknowledged.’ Opposition notwithstanding, he was able to convert the majority of Frenchmen from being citizens to being subjects, and to impose on them a political, administrative and judicial system which reflected his own tastes for efficiency and uniformity. So, to what extent did Napoleon’s government during the consulate bring benefits to France? The answer must be that it did so only so far as to secure a regime at bottom authoritarian; that some benefited more than others as a result. However, for many if not all contemporaries the Consulate was ‘rational’, ‘modern’ and ultimately ‘beneficial’ notwithstanding.
From this position of apparent greatness, how was it that by 2000 Britain had a GDP per capita lower than that of either of the defeated nations? Why was her total GDP only $200,000,000 greater than France (12%), despite the average Frenchman working 16% fewer hours over the course of one year? Why did Britain no longer have an Empire, and why was the post-1945 world the ‘American’ half-century, pax americana as opposed to pax britannica?
Towards the end of the 18th century, a period largely dominated by war and diplomacy, a new ‘great power’ had surfaced in Europe – Prussia. Between 1740 and 1786 Prussia was ruled by King Frederick II, who went to extraordinary lengths to turn his country from a lowly state in the Holy Roman Empire, to a powerful threat to the Austrians. By 1786, Prussia had vastly increased its land mass, had connected the Duchy of Prussia with Brandenburg, and improved its economy.
Frederick II of Prussia is generally lauded as a champion of the enlightenment and one of the greatest military minds during the 1700s, but upon closer analysis, this may not be entirely accurate. This paper seeks to dispel the myths surrounding the Prussian king and attempts to present an unbiased evaluation of his forty-six-year reign to determine whether Frederick truly lives up to the common belief. Without sympathy to German patriotism, the question will be answered – is Frederick rightly termed “The Great”?
Most Palmerstonian scholars have not failed to acknowledge the short-term ramifications of the Don Pacifico debate. However, in many a political biography it does not receive the emphasis due to an important turning point in Lord Palmerston’s career. As he later noted, his immortal peroration had effectively revitalised his political stock. ‘Towards the End of the Session Ld John [sic] brought [the subject of removal from the Foreign Office] forward and proposed to me a change of office. I replied that after what had passed in the House of Commons […] it was quite impossible for me to consent to any such arrangement’. In other words – or so the standard narrative goes – he had successfully overcome a concerted attack upon his foreign policy to date, and he was subsequently able to resist pressure for his removal from above. What is often not articulated is that when he was in fact dismissed in December 1851, the popular indignation that resulted – a product of his standing in the aftermath of his success – did much to establish his claim to high office. For example, the Morning Chronicle described his loss as a ‘national humiliation’. If he was, indeed, ‘l’inevitable’ as prime minister in 1855 (as he so modestly put it), this status must be understood in the context of the Don Pacifico debate.
Was the foregoing intended on the part of Lord Palmerston? The answer must be that he was fully aware of what he was doing in June 1850: for two, not unrelated reasons. First, his contribution to the Don Pacifico debate is, in fact, resounding evidence for a political Machiavellianism. Greville rightly said that the speech was hardly a sufficient answer to all the charges made, but admitted that it was ‘adorned with a profusion of magnificent and successful claptraps’. This was not merely dodging the question on the foreign secretary’s part but was, rather, a calculated bid to capture patriotic sentiment. The fundamental fact about British politics at this time was the breakdown of the old-two party system following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. As a result, there was a clear window of opportunity for Lord Palmerston to rally non-Conservatives behind an attractive, libertarian banner and, in so doing, to win the battle for advantage within a future non-Conservative administration. In construing the resolution of the House of Lords as ‘totally incompatible with the interests, with the rights, with the honour, and with the dignity of the crown’; and in suggesting that his removal would be inimical to the ‘deepest interests’ of the nation, he was able to present himself as the only representative spokesman in the midst of manifest autocracy: both at home and abroad.
If the above suggests a high political battle, then this must be qualified by the second facet of Lord Palmerston’s manoeuvres; namely, his appeal to the nation outside the walls of Westminster. This has, indeed, been often overlooked; that through the press, he could solicit the ‘approbation of [his] policy and conduct […] from One End of the Country to the other’. The Globe, for example, commented that the foreign secretary had earned his countrymen’s ‘affection and respect’; and this can no doubt be attributed to the ‘Civis Romanus’ doctrine. Not only had he defended his alleged folly; he had also carved out an image of himself as the true ‘patriot hero’; the ‘most English minister’, no less. Indeed, he was invariably seen to be the personification of Victorian John Bullishness thereafter. When, in September 1853, he was awarded the freedom of the city in Glasgow, the words spoken by Lord Provost, highlighting ‘the courage and determination [he had] so often displayed in protecting the interests and the privileges of [his] countrymen abroad’, were merely an extension of this public mood and clearly show the extent to which the Don Pacifico debate resonated through the 1850s and beyond: underpinning Lord Palmerston’s political resiliency and success.
Now, we enter the realm of a more longstanding significance or impact on the trajectory of 19th century politics. Most obviously, in his claim to be the representative spokesman of the people, and in the irresistible appeal of his emotive rhetoric, Lord Palmerston contributed to the evolution of a new political style. ‘The strength of the government’, he reminded Henry Brand, Chief Whip, in 1863, ‘consists not simply in the balance of votes […] in the Commons, but mainly in favourable public opinion.’ This was surely a lesson learnt in 1850, if not a statement of a direct consequence of the Don Pacifico debate. The Leicestershire Mercury had, after all, suggested in 1851 that Lord Palmerston would be ‘carried back to office on the shoulders of the people’; and this, it would seem, is what had happened. Thus, Don Pacifico and its effects mark a shift away from the traditional elitist (or autocratic) model of early 19th century government and toward a British polity built on public confidence. Later, both Disraeli and Gladstone, faced with a far greater electorate following the 1867 extension of the franchise, had to find new and exciting ways of courting national strength and dominance: the Midlothian Campaign of 1879 being one example. However, the advent of party government was but a short-term factor, where the legacy of Lord Palmerston was part and parcel of this change.
Even more important than the audience who Lord Palmerston addressed was the very essence of the foreign secretary’s rhetoric and the momentous impact that it had. As alluded to above, the underlying intention of his speech was to exploit and neutralise a common fear: the fear that somehow, the age-old ‘English oligarchy’ would shortly be usurped. 1848 had seen pervasive revolution on the continent: ‘thrones […] shattered […]; institutions overthrown’; and only in this context can the Don Pacifico debate be fully understood. If, in appealing to the nation’s primitive desires – desires ubiquitous and ‘classless’ – Lord Palmerston had forged a national community of interests, he had also imbued this community with an awareness (fanciful or otherwise) of the superiority of Britain’s liberal constitutional arrangements: as contrasted with the despotic nature of the continental governments. ‘We have shown that liberty is compatible with order; that individual freedom is reconcilable with obedience to the law.’ In turn, this presumed superiority became the lynchpin of a very British obligation to spread justice overseas. Fear had given way to a ‘trigger happy ebullience’, and the ‘reproach’ of Britons on the subject of foreign policy had thus been wiped away; ‘All [were] interested in foreign affairs’.
The immediate consequence of this transition was the ‘drift’ toward the Crimean War of 1853–56. The precise details surrounding said conflict are unimportant here; except to say that John Russell’s first administration had, by this stage, been replaced by a weak and ineffectual coalition: susceptible to a British public in an alarmingly ‘febrile state’. M.E. Chamberlain has suggested that this state was a function of the ‘excitement which had led to the revolutions in continental Europe […] dammed back in Britain’ and left to run in other channels. This seems plausible but needs to be drawn out and incorporated within a framework centred on the Don Pacifico debate and its effects. It was, at bottom, ‘the defence of popular liberty against menacing reaction, incarnate and triumphant in the Tsar, that brought Great Britain into the field’; or, at least this was the rationale entrenched in popular imagination and indirectly propagated by Lord Palmerston’s speech of June 1850. In other words, to explain the conflict we should look, not toward the various external factors, but rather inward at the domestic situation as it stood in the years preceding. Yes, a major factor in the outbreak of the war was ‘the breakdown of the traditional understandings between the powers’; however, this breakdown was itself driven by a British polity motivated (and united) by a Palmerstonian conception of the pecking order.
In the long run, this conception was not to go away: from the people, nor (reciprocally) from the political discourse and foreign policy of the years and decades following Lord Palmerston’s death in 1865. Don Pacifico had shown, above all, that foreign affairs were better suited to the construction of a cross-class domestic politics than, say, Reform or Ecclesiastical Titles; and this became increasingly significant in the context of the late 1860s: when Disraeli, in particular, sought to ‘acquire the national colours for his own party’. On succeeding to the premiership in 1866, for example, he could not fail to avoid the common movement for electoral reform: given the known dangers of extra-parliamentary discontent. However, the extension of the franchise created a reaction whereby certain ‘constitutional bastions’ were revoked. The position of the ruling classes under threat – their ability to govern called into question – the need to exemplify the principles of national leadership and create a community, ‘instead of a number of mutually exclusive classes’, was once again the order of the day: thus prompting the Abyssinian Expedition of 1868. War was, in effect, a national cause or patriotic purpose that would relieve domestic tensions; in which sense, Don Pacifico had emerged as the root political exemplar of the latter half of the 19th century.
The phrase ‘Civis Romanus sum’ might be forgotten, but the idea to which Lord Palmerston gave form on the night of 25 June 1850 deserves recognition as a significant factor in modern British history. In the first place, the Don Pacifico debate is underrated because ‘it awoke a sentiment through the length and breadth of England’ akin to the feelings felt in the run-up to ‘Free-trade and the [Great] Reform-bill’; and yet it has not been venerated by the national consciousness, nor systematically analysed by historians in quite the same way. However, its status as the most underrated event of the past is due to the lasting impact of a speech synonymous with the debate itself. As Lord Palmerston put it, the resolution of the House of Lords – and, by implication, his own ‘principle of national policy’ – involved ‘the future as well as the past’; that is, the future of a national hero, the future of the British polity and, perhaps most significantly, the future of British foreign policy aims and objectives. His lasting legacy, then, was to popularise foreign affairs for the first time and ‘to illustrate the political capital to be made from efficient representation of popular interests’. The result – the Pax Britannica, or an unremitting (arguably delusional) sense of Britain as a ‘spectacle […] worthy of the admiration of mankind’ – may still be with us to this day.
 Hansard (3rd ser.), vol. cxii, c. 444.
 Hansard (3rd ser.), vol. cxi, c. 1296.
 Bell, H.C.F. Lord Palmerston (London, 1936), vol. ii, p. 22
 See, e.g., Bell, Lord Palmerston, pp. 27–8; Chamberlain, M.E. Lord Palmerston (Cardiff, 1987), p. 74; Ridley, J. Lord Palmerston. (London, 1970), pp. 387–9.
 Broadlands Papers, GC/RU/343/enc. 1; cit. in Brown, D. Palmerston and the politics of foreign policy (Manchester, 2002), p. 112.
 Morning Chronicle, 25 Dec. 1851; cit. in [ibid.], p. 123.
 Ashley, E. The life of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston: 1846–65 (London, 1876), p. 77; letter to brother, William, 15 Feb. 1855.
 The Greville memoirs, 1814–1860, Lytton Stratchey and Roger Fulford (eds.), 1938, vol. vi, p. 232; cit. in Southgate, D. The most English minister…’: The policies and politics of Palmerston (London, 1966), p. 276.
 Parry, J. The politics of patriotism: English liberalism, national identity and Europe, 1830–1886 (Cambridge, 2006), p. 65.
 Hansard (3rd ser.), vol. cxii, cc. 380–81.
 Broadlands Papers, GC/RU/343/enc. 1; cit. in Brown, Palmerston and the politics of foreign policy, p. 112.
 Globe, 26 June 1850; cit. in [ibid.] p. 113.
 Broadlands Papers, MM/GR/50, Sligo Champion [Irish Tory paper], June 1850; cit. in [ibid.] p. 117; Daily Telegraph obituary; cit. in Southgate, Most English minister, p. xxviii.
 Chamberlain, M.E. ‘Pax Britannica?’: British foreign policy 1789–1914 (Harlow, 1988), p. 99; cf. also Ritchie, J.E. The life and times of Viscount Palmerston: embracing the diplomatic and domestic history of the British Empire during the last half century (London, 1866–7), vol. ii, p. 13: ‘Of his John Bullism the nation was proud’.
 Broadlands Papers, SP/B/3/1–4; cit. in Brown, Palmerston and the politics of foreign policy, p. 156.
 Palmerston to Brand, 14 Aug. 1863; cit. in Hawkins, A. British party politics, 1852–1886 (Basingstoke, 1998) p. 80.
 Broadlands Papers, GMC/52, Leicestershire Mercury, 24 Jan. 1852; cit. in Brown, Palmerston and the politics of foreign policy, p. 127.
 Nonconformist, 3 May 1848, p. 314; cit. in Parry, The politics of patriotism, p. 173.
 Hansard (3rd ser.), vol. cxii, c. 443
 Parry, The politics of patriotism, p. 174.
 Ritchie, Lord Palmerston, vol. ii, p. 14.
 Chamberlain, Pax Britannica, p. 106.
 Chamberlain, Lord Palmerston, p. 84; cf. also Chamberlain, Pax Britannica, p. 106.
 Cambridge History of British Foreign Policy, vol. ii (Cambridge, 1923), p. 380.
 Parry, The politics of patriotism, p. 218.
 Ibid. p. 204.
 Blake, R. Disraeli (London, 1969), p. 283.
 Harcourt, F. ‘Disraeli’s Imperialism, 1866–1868: A Question of Timing?’ The Historical Journal, vol. xxiii (1980), p. 92.
 Morley, J. ‘Young England and the political future’, Fortnightly Rev. vol. i (1867), p. 496; cit. in Harcourt, ‘Disraeli’s Imperialism’, p. 93.
 Globe, 29 June 1850; cit. in Brown, Palmerston and the politics of foreign policy, p. 113.
 Hansard (3rd ser.), vol. xii, c. 381.
 Brown, Palmerston and the politics of foreign policy, p. 217.
 Hansard (3rd ser.), vol. cxii, c. 443.
Contributed by Jack Nicholson, History Editor
Onslow entered Parliament on 16 February 1720 as a Whig MP for the borough of Guildford. He had been trained in the Law, but, perceiving that he ‘was not made for the business of [that] profession’, he had had a short stint as secretary to his ‘uncle Onslow’, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and subsequently as Treasurer of the Post Office.  On taking up his seat, he soon made his mark: establishing himself ‘as a man of independent mind who voted in accordance with his convictions’.  He kept firm to his ‘original Whig principles […] and never deviated from them to serve any party cause.’  For example, on 23 November 1722, he opposed a motion to plunder the estates of Roman Catholics: declaring ‘his abhorrence of persecuting anybody on account of their opinions in religion’.  At the same time, he gained the support of Sir Robert Walpole: being invited to his house on 14 October, that same year, to consider the suspension of Habeus Corpus on the discovery of the Atterbury conspiracy (or a plot to overthrow the king).
Onslow’s early career, then, makes it hard to recognise him as the bridled member depicted by Lord Hervey as Walpole’s choice of Speaker in 1727:  ‘As he had no great pretensions to it from his age, his character, his weight in the House, or his particular knowledge, […] Walpole imagined that he must look upon his promotion entirely as an act of favour, and consequently think himself obliged […] to show all the complaisance in his power to his patron and benefactor’.  In reality, the man had already proven himself to be a leading personality of the Commons; important enough to rise with prominent members on 13 March 1727 to express ‘highest indignation and resentment’ of recent behaviour by the Imperial ambassador.  Hervey might have been correct in suggesting that one motive behind Walpole’s decision was a desire to avoid advancing a possible rival. However, Onslow was chosen, above all, for his genuine ‘independency’ and ‘unshaken zeal in the service of the kingdom’.  He was called to the chair, by ‘the most general concurrence that was ever known’, on 23 January 1728. 
This independency would serve him well in his new role. ‘He was the first Speaker to recognise the crucial importance of distancing the chair from […] discreditable activity’ or corruption,  and corruption was manifest in the long eighteenth century. Indeed, in 1740, Onslow wrote to Sir More Molineux: ‘God knows there is so much of it about everywhere […] and to tell you the truth I am quite sick of the world’.  Jumping forward slightly to 1742 – and jumping is required, for want of primary source material – there is one example which illustrates his integrity. At this time, a secret committee was called to investigate the affairs of the Walpole-Townshend ministry. There being a tie for the last two places, Onslow was required to name these members: only to be criticised for choosing those friendly to the fallen minister. In order to refute the assertion that he was influenced by personal interest, and so ‘remain active as the custodian of constitutional correctness’,  he resigned from his (lucrative) post as Treasurer of the Navy the very next day.
Onslow also set the pattern for the impartiality of the Chair (although he did not shed his party associations). Again, he recognised that to be successful in his role he could be no respecter of persons, and ‘the lash of his tongue’ fell on such leading members as Pulteney, Pelham, Pitt and Fox.  As he put it on 4 February 1734, ‘It is no business of mine to appear on either side of the question. But it is my duty to take notice, when gentlemen are disorderly.’  On the other hand, he was not impartial according to our modern conception of the speakership. He apparently voted, for example, in six out of seven divisions in Committee for which lists survive during the first twenty years of his tenure in office.  In particular, he actively criticised matters relating to the army, about which he held strong prejudices. Then, in his fifth and final parliament he was ‘obliged to speak his opinion’ on two legislative measures he disliked; namely, the Regency Bill of 1751 and Lord Chancellor Hardwicke’s Marriage Bill of 1753. 
The foregoing is evidence for two, not unrelated themes. First, Onslow’s contemporary fame as Speaker was based primarily on his success as Chairman of the House. Horace Walpole recorded for posterity an account of how, as a young Member, he once baited Speaker Onslow into a ‘great rage’ in the chamber, and, in 1764, he commented on Sir Fletcher Norton’s notorious comparison between the Commons and a group of drunken porters, that ‘had Onslow been in the chair […] he would have knocked him down with the mace’.  In other words, ‘he filled the Chair with unblemished integrity during the long reign of George the Second’ and, consequently, earned the unanimous acclaim of his fellow-members.  Richard Rigby, for example, made this critical comparison of Speaker Norton with Onslow on 14 May, 1777: ‘When Mr Onslow was Speaker, he would not let members stand on the floor, or by the chair, or behind the chair talking; and when the House was disorderly, he used to call out and say, he hoped the House would support him in keeping order’. 
Second, Onslow saw his role to protect the institution of Parliament. Indeed, ‘the distinguishing feature of [his] public character was a regard and veneration for the British constitution, as it was declared and established at the revolution’ of 1688.  On the Regency Bill, for example, ‘he professed that he would not have begun an opposition’ but, alas, he could not avoid declaring ‘that he thought the regulations dangerous’.  This was because the Pelham Administration proposed the division of power between the Princess of Wales and the Duke of Cumberland, contrary to the preservation of the constitution. His concern was also manifest in his staunch belief ‘that the form of proceedings, as instituted by our ancestors, operated as a check and a control on the action of ministers’  – a belief which probably explains his reactionary stand in the matter of the reporting of parliamentary debates. On 13 April 1738, he brought this matter before the attention of the House and passed the resolution that publication was ‘a notorious breach of [parliamentary] privilege’. 
Onslow retired from the Chair and from the House on 18 March 1761. To mark the occasion, the House resolved that its thanks ‘be given to Mr Speaker, for his constant and unwearied attendance in the chair, during the course of above thirty-three years, in five successive parliaments’. Members praised, in particular, ‘the indefatigable pains’ he had taken ‘to promote the real interest of his king and country, to maintain the honour and dignity of parliament, and to preserve inviolable the rights and privileges of the Commons of Great Britain.’  The House then called upon the King to ‘confer some signal mark of his royal favour’ upon Onslow ‘for his great and eminent services’, thereby laying the precedent for the Speaker’s pension.  Finally, Onslow was the first ex-Speaker to receive the freedom of the City of London, ‘as a grateful and lasting testimony of the respectful love and veneration which the citizens of London [entertained] of his person’. He died at his home on Great Russell Street – close to the British Museum, of which he was a principal trustee – on 17 February 1768.
 Historic Manuscripts Commission, 14th Report, Part IX (1895), p. 501.
 Laundy, P. The office of speaker (London, 1964), p. 262.
 Historic Manuscripts Commission, 14th Report, Part IX (1895), p. 516.
 Cobbett, W. Parliamentary history of England. Vol. VIII (London, 1811) col. 51.
 Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 296.
 Some materials towards memoirs of the reign of King George II. By John, Lord Hervey. Ed. Roger Sedgwick. (London, 1931). Vol. I. p.74; cited in Thomas, The House of Commons in the eighteenth century, p. 296.
 Cobbett, W. The parliamentary history of England. Vol. VIII (London, 1811), col. 560.
 Historic Manuscripts Commission, 14th Report, Part IX (1895), p. 516; Cobbett, W. Parliamentary History of England. Vol. VIII, col. 630.
 Cobbett, W. The parliamentary history of England. Vol. VIII (London, 1811), col. 629.
 Laundy, P. ‘Onslow, Arthur (1691–1768)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford, 2004); online ed., Jan. 2008 [accessed 25 June 2015].
 Quoted by Vullliamy, C. E. The Onslow family 1528–1874: With some account of their times (London, 1953), p. 107.
 Watson, J.S. ‘Arthur Onslow and party politics’, Essays in British history: Presented to Sir Keith Feiling. Ed. Hugh Trevor-Roper. (London, 1965), p. 154.
 Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 351.
 Chandler, R. The History and proceedings of the House of Commons. Vol. VIII (London, 1742), p. 64; cit. in [ibid.] p. 352.
 Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 299.
 Memoirs of the reign of King George the Second by Horace Walpole. Eds. Henry Fox, Lord Holland. (London, 1847), p. 126; cit. in Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 303.
 The Letters of Horace Walpole, fourth Earl of Orford. Ed. Paget Tonybee. (Oxford, 1905), vol. I, p. xxxix; vol. VII, p. 9; cit. in Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 351.
 Memoirs of the reign of King George Third by Horace Walpole. Ed. Henry Fox, Lord Holland. (London, 1894), vol. I, p. 39.
 Almon, J. The parliamentary register. Vol. VII (London, 1777), p. 194; cit. in Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 355.
 Hatsell, cit. in Cobbett, W. The parliamentary history of England. Vol. XV (London, 1813), col. 1014.
 Memoirs of the reign of King George the Second by Horace Walpole. Eds. Henry Fox, Lord Holland. (London, 1847), p. 126; cit. in Thomas, P.D.G. The House of Commons in the eighteenth century (Aldershot, 1992), p. 303.
 Quoted by Laundy, P. in The office of speaker (London, 1964), p. 265.
 Cobbett, W. The parliamentary History of England. Vol. IX (London, 1811), col. 812.
 Cobbett, W. The parliamentary History of England. Vol. XV (London, 1813), cols. 1013–1014.
 Cobbett, W. The parliamentary History of England. Vol. XV (London, 1813), col. 1015.
 Annual Register, 1761, p. 106; cit. in Laundy, P. The office of speaker (London, 1964), p. 272.
Contributed by Jack Nicholson, History Editor
There is little consensus on the precise beginnings of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ – which is a pity, since this dispels any notion of a little bulb lighting up over Europe. In France, the three musketeers – Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire – epitomised this ‘revolution’ in human thought. But was there actually any sort of trend between the ideas of these men? In a country which had no active politics, the intellectuals of the day were not in a position to dream up a coherent political system. Montesquieu’s ‘Spirit of the Laws’ (1748), predicated on the virtues of the English constitution, had been brutally distorted come the third quarter of the century; the concept of the separation of powers was employed merely in defence of the claims of the French parlements, and the word ‘despotism’ had extended so pervasively that it had almost become meaningless – compare ‘deficit’ today. Likewise, Rousseau’s Social Contract (1762) was, and is, characterised by notorious paradox; did contemporaries understand it? Did it have a discernible impact during the Revolution’s course?
What is certain is that the public life of eighteenth century France was acted out before a burgeoning, communal platform of informed public opinion, which by 1770 had escalated beyond the government’s control. However, this is not to say that literacy was a nationwide phenomenon, and the ability to read, then as now, did not necessarily endow the ability to think. On the eve of revolution, just 37% of the population could read, and of them the preponderance were indulging exclusively in popular literature – almanacs, chapbooks, and cheaply produced collections of fictitious works. Enlightening works were not cheap; Diderot’s monolithic Encylopédie cost the equivalent (on average) of ninety-three weeks’ wages. What is more, for most Europeans the monotony of daily life did not call for any modification in thought, or for any revolution. With respect to France, therefore, the question must be posed: what did?
Any attempt to assess the Enlightenment singularly is inevitably going to flounder. This spurt toward the attainment of knowledge and progress, and thereby greater happiness or human perfection, was concomitant with an array of demographic, social and economic alterations in pre-revolutionary France, which were uneasily juxtaposed to the prevailing features of the Ancien Régime: population increase alongside a decline in agricultural output; a thriving over-seas colonial trade alongside a languishing hinterland economy; the assent of the bourgeoisie alongside (an attempt at) the consolidation of government power. Louis XVI’s accession to the throne in 1774 roughly corresponded with the beginnings of substantial economic downturn; but the protracted recession, glaring in 1778, was by no means incurable. Come 1787 – post bad harvest and the calamitous decision to enter the American War of Independence (1775-1783) – the country had plummeted into a period of cyclical downswing, wrought upon an economy of low resistance; employment and production both fell by 50%. It would take some flare of imagination to resolve this crisis.
The calling of the Estates General in early 1789 was the ultimate product of the above. By no coincidence, in the first four months of that year 2,639 cheap political pamphlets were disseminated. For the first time, “journalism assumed its modern role of whipping up popular passion” (Cobban, 1968, p.25), and hundreds of thousands of starving poor were mobilised. “An unfavourable concatenation of events had brought together in a common opposition the bourgeoisie and the proteleriat” (Labrousse, 1958, p.72); had amalgamated “a political protest against the tyrannies and restrictions of the Ancien Régime, [with] a social protest of depressed [and] impoverished classes.” (Rudé, 1964, p.66) Which was the more important in building up to this point? Were socio-economic changes to “provide the soil in which intellectualism could germinate”? (Lewis, 1999, p.8) Was the Enlightenment the propagator, or a cleverly disguised manifestation of change? Regardless, the conceptualisation of the French Revolution as a bloc with one inspiration is invalid.
Contributed by Jack Nicholson
The first ‘giant’ highlighted in the Beveridge Report was ‘want’ – poverty and the lack of basics to live a healthy life. The National Insurance Act was passed in 1946, which provided comprehensive insurance against most eventualities such as illness, unemployment and retirement. Most people paid roughly 4 shillings and it was said that social provision was made for citizens from the ‘cradle to the grave’, catering for their needs from their time of birth to their death. Criticism arose however as there were limitations to who would receive insurance, for example married women and a number of self-employed workers were not included under the scheme. To counter this, the National Assistance Act was passed in 1948 which aimed to cover those who didn’t qualify for the National Insurance Act. However, benefits were set too low, in 1948 benefits were only 19% of the average industrial wage, which resulted in many citizens remaining below the subsistence level. Though there were some criticisms over both acts, Britain had taken a step forward and therefore it must be concluded that, in terms of ‘want’, Britain had improved by 1950.
The 1946 National Health Service Act became the first step towards eradicating ‘disease’. This made healthcare free on the basis of citizenship and need rather than the payment of fees or insurance premiums. The National Health Service launched in 1948 which instituted, for the first time in Britain, a universal state health service. The NHS provided free diagnosis and treatment of illnesses at home or in hospital, including dental and ophthalmic treatment – something which had never been seen before. Problems arose however, as the costs of the NHS rose over the following years and by 1950 the idea of free treatment for all was undermined when charges were introduced for dental treatment. Also, out of date hospitals hindered the development of the NHS as a full service could only be provided by the more advanced hospitals. Although there were worries that the NHS would bankrupt the country, costing £358 billion per year by 1950, health improved and this was highlighted when the overall life expectancy rose in Britain. By achieving this and other subsequent advances the NHS has been considered the greatest single achievement in the development of the welfare state.
High levels of unemployment pose a threat to any successful society thus Beveridge sought to combat the perceived cause of this, idleness, as one of his five ‘giants’. One way in which the government kept almost full employment was through nationalisation. Following the principles of economist John Maynard Keynes, the government took control of certain industries such as iron and steel manufacture. Under this managed economy the government could use tax money to keep an industry afloat even if it faced economic difficulties. In addition to this, unprofitable industries were subsidised in order to keep people in work. The nationalisation of key industries helped keep unemployment rates low and by 1946, unemployment was reduced to 2.5 % and this was in spite of huge post-war problems such as shortages of raw materials and massive debts. Roughly full employment was seen as a great success and although the cost of paying for the new social services, combined with the debts incurred from fighting WWII, meant that Britain’s post-war economy was in bad shape, idleness was virtually eradicated.
The lack of education for all was seen as a worry, especially during the war, and the Butler Act, released in 1944, led to the large scale reform of schooling. Education was made compulsory until the age of 15 and three types of secondary school were introduced. The ’11+’was put in place to assign children to one of three types of school according to their ability. Those who passed this exam were placed in ‘grammar schools’ these children were expected to continue their education and possibly go to university and get jobs in management. Those who didn’t pass were placed in ‘secondary modern’ or ‘secondary technical’ schools, now known as ‘comprehensives’. Children who failed the exam were not expected to stay at school after they turned 15 and were expected to pursue apprenticeships or other forms of employment. Although education was provided for all children, little had been done to enhance the opportunities for working class children, most of whom left school at 15 with few if any paper qualifications.
Squalor, or poverty, was common during and soon after the Second World War. Most of Britain still had slum areas and overcrowding was a serious problem, this was made worse by bomb damage during the war. To deal with the problem of squalor the government concentrated on the building of decent homes for the working class after the war. The government aimed at building 200,000 houses a year and many of these were prefabricated houses which were assembled quickly onsite. To succeed these aims the New Towns Act and the Town and Country Planning Act were passed in 1946 and 1947 respectively. The New Towns act allowed the government to designate areas as new towns, and the Town and Country Planning Act established that planning permission was required for land development; ownership alone no longer conferred the right to develop the land. This led to the planning of 14 new towns in Britain, including Glenrothes and East Kilbride in Scotland. However, the 1951 census revealed that there were 750,000 fewer houses than households in Britain and this was approximately the same level of homelessness seen in 1931. Although the government faced serious economic and social problems following World War Two, ultimately the severe housing shortage meant that ‘squalor’ was not eradicated in Britain following the introduction of the Welfare State.
Overall, it must be concluded that life in Britain had improved after the introduction of the Welfare State. Although there was still much to do, such as handling the cost of the NHS and sorting out the housing shortages, four out of William Beveridge’s five ‘giants’ were mainly eradicated. Though it could be said that examples such as life expectancy rising since the war were inevitable, the NHS still proved to be a success. Thanks to the National Insurance and Assistance Acts, previously virtually unseen insurance was now provided on a large scale and education was now made available for all children, regardless of their background. Unemployment was tackled and the nationalisation of industry meant that the return of the soldiers was not the sole factor for this increase. Improvements were inevitably needed but the Welfare State was young and by 1950 despite these minor setbacks life in Britain had improved significantly.
Contributed by Freddie Carty
‘History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.’ Winston Churchill
The study of history and our remembrance of the past has become a battleground in recent years, with historians on all sides of the political spectrum weighing in on our collective understanding of history and the perceived bias and nuances contained within it. As Winston Churchill aptly surmises in the above quote, much of what we now believe to be fact was once conceived by a historian, with his own set of motives, presuppositions and purposes. But is history truly written by the winners? Or is that too a simplistic view to take of the rich multi-layered study of the past?
The writings concerning the American Revolutionary Wars show all too well the impact the victors have on the recording of their own histories. The Battle of Waxhaws or as many American historians and textbooks refer to it ‘The Waxhaw Massacre’ has had one of the most biased portrayals when looking at the history of the conflict. These American textbooks tell a tale of a one-sided massacre in which the Continental army led by Abraham Buford was slaughtered by the Loyalist force after they had raised the white flag of surrender. The pictorial sources of the time show Loyalists spearing the American force on their bayonets as they tried to flee and the leader of the Loyalist force, Banastre Tarleton, has been portrayed by many American written sources as a tyrant, who unmercifully slaughtered the surrendering opposition. However even though it is true that the Continental army suffered serious losses during the battle, the American perspective of it appears to be both overblown and inaccurate. Even though, like all events in history, what actually occurred at Waxhaws will never truly be known. A more balanced view of the conflict can be seen by ignoring the supposed ‘first-hand’ accounts that have come to define our knowledge of the time. The first of such primary sources was written by Henry Bowyer three decades after the event. Henry Bowyer was the primary advisor of Abraham Buford during the battle and he claimed that he was tasked with taking the white flag to the British before fleeing after he faced heavy fire, he then stated that: “The rage of the British soldiers, excited by the continued fire of the Americans, while a negotiation was offered by flag, impelled them to acts of vengeance that knew no limits.” The second of the sources was written by Doctor Brownfield, who dictated his story forty years after the battle took place. He too claims to have carried the white flag to the British but similarly to Bowyer he claimed he was “cut down” and could not deliver the flag. But when these accounts are compared to Buford’s own record of the conflict, clear errors arise. Buford stated that the bearer of the white flag returned to him after the surrender was rejected and makes no mention of them being fired upon or struck down. This contradicts directly the accounts of both Bowyer and Brownfield, neither of whom recalled returning to Buford. The picturesque accounts of both Bowyer and Brownfield do however resonate with the overriding American narrative of the War of Independence, in which an oppressed people overthrew their cruel and violent rulers. A discourse perpetuated in both the textbooks and collective consciousness of American’s today.
The example given above is just one of many instances in the recording of history in which sources are ignored or inaccuracies forgiven to ensure that the national view of events is continued and validated, as Enoch Powell stated in his 1964 lecture at Trinity College, Dublin:
All history is a myth. It is a pattern which men weave out of the materials of the past. The moment a fact enters into history it becomes mythical, because it has been taken and fitted into its place in a set of ordered relationships which is the creation of a human mind and not otherwise present in nature.
In effect the sources of yesteryear are melded and linked by historians to create a view of the past based on their prejudices and preconceptions. So in this sense history is not written by the winners but by whomever wishes to leave a mark on the records of our past. However if we wish to truly progress from some of our archaic assumptions about the past we must begin to question the supposed bedrock of our collective historical understanding and move toward a more balanced and nuanced view of what came before.
Contributed by Joe Tyler-Todd
Nationalism and patriotism were significant factors in causing World War I. If a person is nationalistic, then they have a strong support of the rights and interests of their country.Each of Europe’s Great Powers developed a firm belief in its own cultural, economic and military supremacy, creating a fatal misconception that any war would produce a victory within a matter of months. This arrogance and over-confidence was fuelled by the press in each country promoting extreme nationalism. Various forms of propaganda, including newspapers and banners, were packed with nationalist rhetoric and ‘sabre-rattling’. It could also be found in other cultural expressions, such as literature, music and theatre. For example, even well-known songs made the people of countries like Britain, Germany and France more bellicose – the British sang ‘Rule Britannia’ declaring Britons ‘will never be slaves’ and the Germans sang ‘Deutschland uberalles’, portraying Germany ‘above all, over everything in the world’ . Songs like this produced nationalistic spirit and were almost catalysts for promoting nationalism in some countries. As each nation became more convinced of the integrity of its position and the prospects for victory, the likelihood of war increased. Politicians, royals and diplomats did little to deflate the public appetite for war, and some actively contributed to it by making provocative remarks themselves.
In an age where countries were becoming more nationalistic, all nations wanted to assert their power and independence. This led to colonies and similarly countries under foreign rule aiming for independence, and this was ultimately a reason for World War I as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was fuelled by nationalism and the Slavs wanting to break free from Austrian rule. On 28th June Ferdinand visited Sarajevo, capital of modern day Bosnia, which had just been taken under Austrian rule. The Black Hand gang were a group of nationalistic terrorists who wanted independence. After failed bomb attempts in the morning, Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and subsequently killed him. Austria then blamed Serbia for ‘supporting’ the terrorists. They, supported by Germany, send Serbia an ultimatum which included taking full responsibility for the assassination. Serbia failed to accept all of the points, which led to Russia mobilising its troops to protect Serbia. Germany then declared war on Russia and this led to the alliances coming into action, World War I had begun. Ultimately, the new found nationalistic beliefs of countries under foreign rule were always going to lead to attempts to claim independence. This is what led to the actions of the Black Hand gang and also tested the strength of the alliance for the first time. For these reasons nationalism must be considered as a factor for the start of World War I
Imperialism is when a country increases their power and wealth by bringing additional territories under their control, frequently in order to maintain or start an empire, or a collection of colonies. The imperialist nation – sometimes benignly called the ‘mother country’ – acquires these new territories by military conquest, political pressure or infiltration. This often requires skirmishes, or even a fully-fledged war against the local population. The British, for instance, had to seize control of South Africa away from hostile native tribes like the Zulus, and then the Boers (white farmers of Dutch extraction). Both conflicts were more difficult than they had envisaged. Nevertheless, the strategic and economic benefits of new colonies usually outweighed the risks. Once control was established, the region became a colony, the primary purpose of which was to benefit the imperial power. Usually this involved the supply of precious metals or other resources, cheap labour or agricultural land. The British Empire, for example, was largely based on trade, particularly the importation of raw materials and the commercial sale of manufactured goods. Military advantages also arrive when obtaining a colony, such as strategic locations for naval bases or troops. By 1914 there were relatively few parts of the world still open to imperial conquest. The ‘scramble for Africa’ saw much of that continent already claimed by European powers. Imperial competition, layered atop intense nationalism, contributed to the tension and rivalry of the pre-war generation.
The increased sense of imperialism led to two ‘crises’, both based in Morocco. In 1905 Morocco was one of the few African states not occupied by a European ruler. France hoped to conquer Morocco and add it to their ever growing list of colonies. In an agreement lasting four years to finalise in 1904, the French Foreign Minister at the time, Théophile Delcassé, it was concluded that Morocco would come under French control. Originally in November 1901 an agreement of this was signed with Italy, but Spain was unsure and insisted on informing the British government. Originally the British refused to support Delcassé but changed their minds in April 1904 and in October 1904 France got the agreement of the Spanish. However, France hadn’t asked Germany, and on 31st March 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm visited Morocco and promised them protection against anyone who threatened them. The French were outraged and Britain saw it as yet another attempt by Germany to build a German Empire to rival Britain’s empire.A Conference was held at Algeciras starting on 16th January 1906 to settle the dispute. Of the 13 nations present, the German representatives found that their only supporter was Austria-Hungary, while then others including Britain and Russia supported France. Germany was forced to promise to stay out of Morocco and France agreed to yield control of the Moroccan police, but otherwise retained effective control of Moroccan political and financial affairs. The Agadir Crisis, or Second Moroccan Crisis took place in 1911. At the start of 1911 a rebellion broke out in Morocco and subsequently France sent in an army to quash it. On 1st July, a German gunboat ‘Panther’ was sent to the port of Agadir under the pretext of preserving German trade interest. In the middle of the crisis, Germany was hit by financial turmoil. The stock market plunged by 30 percent in a single day, the public started cashing in currency notes for gold and there was a run on the banks. Faced with the potential of being driven off the gold standard, the Kaiser backed down and let the French take over most of Morocco. France and Germany underwent negotiations on 9th July and ended with Germany accepting France’s position in Morocco in return for territory in the French Equatorial African colony of Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo). The crisis led to Britain and France making a naval agreement where the Royal Navy promised to protect the northern coast of France from German attack, while France concentrated her fleet in the western Mediterranean and agreed to protect British interests there. The ultimate outcome of these two crises was the strengthening of the alliance between Britain and France and German embarrassment, increasing the likelihood of them wanting to bounce back stronger and the pathway for war was almost set.
Another factor in the developing mood for war was militarism, the attempt to build up a strong army and navy in order to give a nation the means and will to make war, and its incipient arms race. Powerful new weapons were produced in the decades before 1914, capable of killing on an industrial scale. Utilising new mass-production techniques, the Western nations could churn out these weapons and munitions in great quantities and at a rapid pace. But the descent into war was not only driven by new weapons; it was also fueled by militaristic cultures and attitudes. Military elites strongly influenced, and in some cases, dominated the governments and aristocracies of the Great Powers. The government became plagued with admirals and generals whose only focus was to expand the country’s military force by demanding increases in defence spending and promoting military solutions to political and diplomatic problems. War plans were also drawn up and so corrupted governments like this made war even more likely. As the former German army officer Alfred Vagts would later write, militarism was “a domination of the military man over the civilian, an undue preponderance of military demands (and) an emphasis on military considerations.”
It’s natural for military leaders to be obsessed with modernising their forces and equipping them with new technology, and the decades prior to 1914 saw no shortage of this. One of the most significant examples of weapon development was the heavy artillery. Marked improvements were made in the calibre, range, accuracy and portability areas of this powerful, but previously slightly unreliable weapon. The changes meant that artillery shelling and bombardments would become standard practice, particularly after the emergence of trench warfare. Millions of metres of barbed wire, an invention of the 1860s, would be mass produced and installed around trenches to halt charging infantry. Various types of poison gas including chlorine, phosgene and mustard were developed. In the naval areas, the development of the dreadnought – a large battleship, the first of which was launched in 1906 – prompted a flurry of ship-building and naval rearmament.European military expenditure catapulted between 1900 and 1914. In 1870 the combined military spending of the six great powers (Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy) totalled £94 million. By 1914 this had quadrupled to £398 million. German defence spending during this period increased by a colossal 73%, dwarfing the increases in France (10%) and Britain (13%). Russian’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 seemed to be a catalyst for their defence spending to rise by more than a third after the loss prompted the Tsar to order a massive rearmament program. By the 1910s, 45% of Russian government spending was allocated to the armed forces, while just 5% went on education, which shows the great effect militarism can cause.
As previously mentioned, it wasn’t just the amount and quality of weapons that was improving. Of the Great Powers, all of them except Britain had conscription. By 1914, Europe’s powers had increased their armed forces dramatically. Germany, France and Russia had over 1,000,000 soldiers while Britain, Italy and Austria-Hungary had between 710,000 and 810,000 men. In order to keep the amount the amount of soldiers increasing, the main countries of Europe started to train their young men as backup, so that if there a war broke out they could call, not only on the standing army, but on huge numbers of trained reservists. It was once estimated that the total number of men (including reservists) that the countries could thus call upon totalled as high as 8.5 million for Germany and 3-4 million for the other powers. This is an example of the ‘knock-on effect’ of militarism and why the countries were so eager to get the largest army as possible. As one country increased its armies, the others felt obliged to increase their armed forces as well in order to not fall behind and to keep the ‘balance of power’. Overall militarism was important in starting WWI as it not only made countries strengthen their armies, but it also increased suspicion and hatred between nations as well as giving nations the wherewithal to wage war.
Overall nationalism, imperialism and militarism all played a key role in starting WWI. Militarism made nations switch their focus to military needs, they all wanted to have the strongest army, and so gave the resources for war in 1914. Imperialism created the early tensions between the main European powers. France’s imperialistic aims led to them trying to invade Morocco and in doing so, created the early sparks between them and Germany and fortifying the alliance with Britain. Finally, nationalism formed the ‘last piece of the puzzle’. Though it could be said that war was always likely, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was fuelled by nationalism and ultimately that it was lead to Germany declaring war. Overall, it would seem that militarism was the main reason for the outbreak of World War One. Without the strong sense of militarism, my nations wouldn’t have had the resources to spark a world war. However as each nation got stronger, they wanted to expand their territory and ‘prove their strength’, which is what led to imperialism and the invasion of independent countries. Though nationalism did set off the war, without militarism, which led to imperialism, there would be no beliefs to become independent and eventually with the high amount of resources the great powers had, war would’ve been inevitable without the actions of the Black Hand gang.
Contributed by Freddie Carty
However, the role of Rasputin in the fall of the Romanov dynasty was less significant than other factors, namely the impact of the First World War. There is evidence to substantiate the claim that Rasputin was merely a symbol of Russian despotism and not a crucial character in its downfall or construction, for his murder resulted in little change in the governing of Russia, ‘nothing was changed with Rasputin’s removal; nothing improved either in affairs of the State or in the Tsar’s situation’.
Instead, staggering losses on the battlefield played a definite role in the revolution. Rampant discontent lowered morale which was further undermined by series of military defeats like the Battle of the Massurian Lakes in 1915 and the failure of the Brusilov Offensive in 1916. This crisis in morale, as argued by Allan Wildman, ‘was rooted fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be achieved.’
However, the war devastated not only soldiers and, by the end of 1915, it was clear that the economy was collapsing under the heightened strain of wartime demand. The root of such issues was the combined destructive nature of food shortages and inflation. The most affected region was the capital, St. Petersburg, a result of the distance from supplies and poor transportation networks. The initial outcome of this was growing criticism of governmental administration not war-weariness and disillusionment. However, increasing heavy losses strengthened revolutionary notions. A report by the St. Petersburg branch of the security police, the Okhrana, in October 1916, warned bluntly of ‘the possibility in the near future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the burdens of daily existence.’ Nonetheless, little response was taken.
However, the Tsar was a symbol of morality in their lives while all catastrophes originated from meddling bureaucrats, functionaries and nobles. But, from the commencement of the First World War, the Tsar took active participation in government, tactics and administration. Therefore, he was personally blamed for many later crises and royalist support crumbled. In the summer of 1915, the Tsar became the new Commander-in-Chief of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary. The result was disastrous: firstly, it associated the monarchy with the unpopular war; secondly, Tsar Nicholas II was an incompetent leader, vexing his commanders with interference and thirdly, while at the front, he was unable to govern. This left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, and Rasputin, both ostracised and detested by the Russian people.
As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Tsar Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that, inexorably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was adopted. This was ignored. While the Tsar was at the front, the Tsarina was left in charge of governing. She proved to be an ineffective ruler in a time of war, announcing a succession of Prime Ministers and angering the Duma. ‘From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk’ (1918) by Ariadna Tyrkova, a Constitutional Democratic Party member, states that rumours stated ‘Germans were influencing Alexandra Feodorovna through the medium of Rasputin and Stürmer.’ It, also, describes the Tsarina as ‘haughty and unapproachable’ and a ruler who ‘lacked popularity’. Although such rumours may not have been true, it would have inevitably damaged the reputation of both the Tsar and Tsarina.
Moreover, the Tsarina’s trust on Rasputin on all matters, state or personal, was ruinous. Rasputin was hated by the people for his influence: ‘Russia and History’s Turning Point’ (1965) by Alexander Kerensky, describes ‘the Tsarina’s blind faith in Rasputin led her to seek his counsel not only in personal matters but also on questions of state policy.’ Such actions of the Tsarina would have alienated the majority of Russia, even loyal subjects. In addition, unfulfilled aspirations of democracy from the 1905 Revolution fuelled anti-imperialist revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts. The Tsar sought to quieten such political surges and mitigate social unrest though patriotic war against a common adversary of the Triple Entente, supporting its ally Serbia. Instead of restoring Russia’s political and military standing, the First World War undermined both the monarchy and society to the brink of ruin.
However, all these causes are interrelated: without the influence of diplomatic pressure, Russia would have not entered the First World War which itself worsened the internal stability of the state. Moreover, without poor social conditions, due to the collapsing economy and rapid urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution, revolutionary ideas would not have gained traction or without the obstinacy of the Tsar, the revolution would not have occurred. Different historians apply different emphases to each cause: liberal writers would prioritise the turmoil of the war while materialist histories would highlight on the irrevocability of change. However, it can be said with some certainty, that the character of Rasputin did not play a crucial part in the downfall of the Tsarist regime in 1917.
Contributed by Ali Qureshi
Such occurrences are scattered throughout time, bringing rise to such figures as George Washington and Fidel Castro both of whom continue to influence our world today. However how does such an impactful event begin? Even though revolutions are complex, multifaceted events at the heart of many lie the same conditions, processes and catalysts. As the father of Communism, Karl Marx stated ‘History repeats itself…’ Even though the fundamental assumption at the centre of Marx’s idea is simplistic, common strands can be found throughout time providing the keys to social change across the ages.
The famous phrase, ‘The economy, stupid’ coined by James Carville during Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign seems to aptly summarise the underlying presence of the economy as a force for change throughout history and more specifically as a catalyst for revolution. The 1917 Russian Revolution can serve as an example of this; from 1916 Russian peasants were expected to work for 11 hours a day in adverse conditions. At the end of the long and gruelling day they returned to their living quarters typically sharing with at least five other workers. In addition to this Sergei Witte’s land reforms earlier in the 20th century that created overcrowding on the land plots in which they worked, and the continued refusal of the Tsarist regime to allow worker ownership of land led to brutal economic conditions and an appalling quality of life for the poorest in Russian society. These negative economic factors made Russian workers look for an alternative governing system that would better represent their views and allow them to remove their Tsarist oppressors. One such alternative was the Marxist-Leninist ideology gaining tract throughout Russia, an ideal based on the removal of private property and as a result the autonomy of land they so desired. Thus five years later after much violence and bloodshed the USSR was formed, with the principals the workers had fought for enshrined in the new constitution ‘It is only in the camp of the Soviets… that it has been possible to eliminate the oppression of nationalities… and to establish the basis of a fraternal collaboration of peoples.’ As proven by this example, when a large group in society is hungry and economically disadvantaged they will typically look for a new system that removes the disparity in wealth seen before.
As the French philosopher Voltaire once sardonically remarked ‘An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.’ Even though Voltaire died in 1778 this quote still seems to apply in a world in which assassination is a key method in upholding governments deemed unacceptable to western interests, as seen by the removal of the ruling power in Chile, Guatemala and Iran. However the use of violence to supplement suffrage and undermining democratic principles can be seen as another strand connecting revolutions in the modern world. The People Power Revolution of 1983 in the Philippines can clearly be linked to the misuse of the democratic process. Ferdinand Marcos had been the President of the Philippines since 1965, after the end of his second term in 1972 instead of standing down he used martial law to reinforce his power and by 1973 he had established himself as the lone ruler of the Philippines. Marcos’ rule slowly became more despotic, creating a new self-written constitution and either arresting or exiling all of his political rivals. Ninoy Aquino was one of such rivals, before Marcos established martial law Ninoy was the leader of the opposition. Aquino was permitted to leave the Philippines in 1980 after suffering a heart attack during his seventh year of unjust imprisonment. On August 21, 1983 Aquino returned to his home country, the speech he planned to make on his arrival stated: “I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation.” However he never read this statement as upon stepping off the plane at Manilla Airport he was assassinated. The violent killing of a popular, non-violent political figure appeared to be the final straw for the people of the Philippines and even though protest had been prevalent before the assassination of Ninoy, Filipinos became united in action against the violent dictatorship. They took to the streets in mass peaceful-protest, at the peak of the revolution three million people marched down the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, wearing yellow ribbons in homage to their lost leader. This collective action and mounting military assaults against his regime forced Marcos to resign in 1986, finally ending fourteen years of repression and corruption. The People Power Revolution truly unified the people of the Philippines showing that democracy is a concept for which people will always fight, and that going against the rich tradition of representation and egalitarianism makes revolution inevitable.
These two factors only skim the surface of the complex multi-causal nature of revolution but they do begin to explain how such an event could be started. Even though many view the idea of revolution as a cliché of a bygone era, as we move into a period of economic uncertainty and electoral fraud becomes increasingly apparent, such an event could be just round the corner.
Contributed by Joe Tyler-Todd