Today is the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. It is easy – way too easy, in fact – for a Brit to make some sort of snide comment about the bloody awfulness (literally) of the events of that time, the Revolution, the terrible example of, well, the Terror, and so on. But, but trying to rise above all that obvious “god those Frenchies made a right pig of their revolution” sort of line, I am going to ask readers the following: What were, in your view, the good things that flowed from the Revolution?
About a month ago, I was at the Institute of Economic Affairs to hear a talk given by Antoine Clarke to the End of the World Club. The audience was larger than usual, and of a very high quality. It listened, fascinated and engrossed, and with some rueful laughter at the intense relevance of a seemingly rather obscure slice of history to our own times.
The talk was about French investment, private but egged on by French politicians for their own foreign policy reasons, in pre-revolutionary Russia. This investment was huge, and for a while it provided a healthy income to French savers, by French standards. But then, because of events which the French media of the time somehow neglected to inform their readers about, it all started to go wrong, and wronger and wronger, and then of course very wrong indeed. Collusion and corruption on a huge scale among and between politicians, bankers and journalists is not, said Antoine, anything new.
Antoine has now gathered his spoken thoughts from that night into a blog posting at the Cobden Centre.
The first Russian bonds sold in France were in 1867 to finance a railroad. Others followed, notably in 1888. At this point the French government decided on a policy of alliance with Russia and the encouragement of French savers to invest in Russian infrastructure. From 1887 to 1913, 3.5% of the French Gross National Product is invested in Russia alone. This amounted to a quarter of all foreign investment by French private citizens. That’s a savings ratio (14% in external investment alone) we wouldn’t mind seeing in the UK today!
A massive media campaign promoting Russia as a future economic giant (a bit like China in recent years) was pushed by politicians. Meanwhile French banks found they could make enormous amounts of commission from Russian bonds: in this period, the Credit Lyonnais makes 30% of its profits from its commission for selling the bonds.
In 1897, the ruble is linked to gold. The French government guarantees its citizens against any default. The Paris Stock Exchange takes listings for, among others: Banque russo-asiatique, la Banque de commerce de Sibérie, les usines Stoll, les Wagons de Petrograd.
The first signs of trouble come in 1905, with the post-Russo-Japanese War revolution. A provisional government announced a default of foreign bonds, but this isn’t reported in the French mainstream media or the French banks that continue to sell (mis-sell?).
During the First World War, the French government issued zero interest bonds to cover the Russian government’s loan repayment, with an agreement to sort out the problem after the war. However, in December 1917, Lenin announced the repudiation of Tsarist debts.
Boom, bust. And surprise surprise, French governments of the twentieth century were neither willing nor able to provide anything like the kind of compensation for disappointed French savers that had earlier been promised.
Antoine Clarke is fluently English thanks to his English father and fluently French thanks to his French mother, and he has lived and worked in both countries. As long as I have known him I have urged him to make maximum use of this bilingualism, in connecting us Anglo libertarians to French stories and writings, and vice versa. This talk and his subsequent written version of it is a perfect example of the sort of thing I had in mind, and I thank and congratulate him for it. How many non-French libertarians already knew this story? Some, certainly, a bit, but certainly not me.
If you are going to f**k the whole of France, that is not a bad place to start.
- Schrödinger’s cat, a commenter at Guido Fawkes
Oh yes, I have put my house in London on the market too! I live close to a large French language school and there are many shops near there aimed at French clientele, so when I read the latest news from France, I increased the asking price by about ten percent. I am sure that splashing sound in the distance is the waves of wealthy French businessmen swimming across the Channel, clutching their chequebooks in their teeth and feverishly looking to spend their dosh while they still can.
- heard at Samizdata HQ in London, pertaining to this.
I realise that the sums of money that get spent on “culture” are very small potatoes indeed when set beside other sorts of government extravagance.
Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that there is a connection between this report about France’s “new wave of culture-focused building projects”:
A Napoleon III villa in a Parisian suburb, squatted by artists and musicians; a cathedral-like hangar, the vestige of Dunkirk’s naval industry that used to define the life cycle of the entire city; a new, 240m-long bridge in the French Alps. This is just a sample of France’s recent crop of architectural projects, and they have at least one thing in common: they are all cultural facilities that offer a draw both through their content and their site.
… and reports like this one from the BBC about French economic pessimism, or this one entitled Is France the new Italy?
Hollande’s Socialist administration faces protests over taxes and burdensome regulation not just from business leaders, as you might expect, but also from farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, truck drivers and soccer players. …
Leaning heavily on higher taxes, the government has been slow to get public spending under control. France’s ratio of public spending to gross domestic product is now 57 percent – the highest in the euro area.
As Instapundit likes to say, what can’t go on forever won’t.
What, I wonder, will those new culture palaces end up being used for?
The Times 11 November 1913 p7
The Saverne Affair
(or Zabern Incident) occasionally gets a mention in discussions of the origins of the First World War.
It is one of those multi-dimensional disputes in which one conflict slams into another. One of those conflicts is a straight ethnic one – familiar to anyone with a passing interest in Northern Ireland – between Germans and Frenchmen. The other is between the German military and Germany’s burgeoning democracy.
So far, a German officer has been rude (or has he?) about the Alsatians and there’s been a riot. There will be further riots followed by votes of no-confidence in the government.
The point is that it served as a reminder to the French that Alsace had been lost in 1870, while in Germany, it demonstrated that democracy was advancing at the expense of the military. I believe that fear of losing their privileges was one of the factors that led Germany’s rulers to go to war.
… the victims of the French Revolution. Today is 20th Brumaire in the year CCXXII. On this day in in Year Two, 10th November 1793 in the former calendar, the Festival of Reason was inaugurated in the Temple of Reason, before and afterwards known as the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
When reading his description of the first Festival modern readers may find it difficult to share the outrage expressed by the highly partisan nineteenth century politician and historian of the French Revolution, denounced alike by Carlyle and Marx, Adolphe Thiers. The Catholic Church under the ancien régime was oppressive and parasitical, and the Festival can seem to modern eyes like nothing much worse than an embarrassingly amateur charity pageant run by the Women’s Institute:
The first festival of Reason was held with pomp on the 20th of Brumaire (10th of November) It was attended by all the sections, together with the constituted authorities. A young woman represented the goddess of Reason. She was the wife of Momoro, the printer, one of the friends of Vincent, Bonsin, Chaumette, Hebert, and the like. She was dressed in a white drapery; a mantle of azure blue hung from her shoulders ; her flowing hair was covered with the cap of liberty. She sat upon an antique seat, intwined with ivy and borne by four citizens. Young girls dressed in white, and crowned with roses, preceded and followed the goddess. Then came the busts of Lepelletier and Marat, musicians, troops, and all the armed sections. Speeches were delivered, and hymns sung in the Temple of Reason ; they then proceeded to the Convention, and Chaumette spoke in these terms :
“Legislators ! Fanaticism has given way to reason. Its bleared eyes could not endure the brilliancy of the light. This day an immense concourse has assembled beneath those Grothic vaults, which, for the first time, re-echoed the truth. There the French have celebrated the only true worship, that of liberty, that of reason. There we have formed wishes for the prosperity of the arms of the republic. There we have abandoned inanimate idols for reason, for that animated image, the masterpiece of Nature.” As he uttered these words, Chaumette pointed to the living goddess of Reason.
Whatever the semblance, nothing about the French Revolution was harmless. The Goddess Reason ascended her throne two months into the Terror. When the Catholic peasants of the Vendée were so ungrateful for the blessings of the Goddess as to attempt counter-revolution, Momoro, the man whose wife had played the role of the Goddess, was deeply involved in its brutal suppression. Chaumette, too, was one of the leading enragés, and soppy modern “liberals” inclined to praise the Cult of Reason as an ancestor of their own views might like to read more about its teachings regarding women. Neither Momoro nor Chaumette had long to enjoy their status as founders. By spring of the next year Robespierre decided to replace the Cult of Reason with the Cult of the Supreme Being. From then on it was the People’s Front of Judea scene from Life of Brian with real deaths. The Committee of Public Safety sent Momoro to the guillotine on 24th March 1794 and Chaumette followed him on 15th April. Robespierre himself fell from power in June and was guillotined in July.
A few paragraphs later Thiers describes “restraints” being imposed on a people that he thought were unprecedented in all prior history. They were not, alas, unrepeated in subsequent history:
If then we survey the state of France at this period, we shall see that never were more restraints imposed at once on that inert and patient part of the population on which political experiments are made. People dared no longer express any opinion. They were afraid to visit their friends, lest they might be compromised with them, and lose liberty and even life. A hundred thousand arrests and some hundreds of condemnations, rendered imprisonment and the scaffold ever present to the minds of twenty-five millions of French. They had to bear heavy taxes. If, by a perfectly arbitrary classification, they were placed on the list of the rich, they lost for that year a portion of their income.
Sometimes, at the requisition of a representative or of some agent or other, they were obliged to give up their crops, or their most valuable effects in gold and silver. They durst no longer display any luxury, or indulge in noisy pleasures. They were no longer permitted to use metallic money, but obliged to take and give a depreciated paper, with which it was difficult to procure such things as they needed. They were forced, if shopkeepers, to sell at a fictitious price, if buyers, to put up with the worst commodities, because the best shunned the maximum and the assignats : sometimes, indeed, they had to do without either, because good and bad were alike concealed. They had but one sort of black bread, common to the rich as to the poor, for which they were obliged to contend at the doors of the bakers, after waiting for several hours. Lastly, the names of the weights and measures, the names of the months and days, were changed ; there were but three Sundays instead of four ; and the women and the aged men were deprived of those religious ceremonies which they had been accustomed to attend all their lives.
It was a straight road from Revolutionary France to Soviet Russia, but if you look carefully the twisty paths from there to nearly all the “political experiments” and other horrors of the twentieth century can be discerned, including the two great wars remembered today.
“Those French bastards. Will they never learn?”, asks Joan Smith in the Independent. And answers. By the grace of the State and in the Most Holy Name of Equality, yes! Those bastards will learn. They will be taught a lesson.
There is a bunch of well-known “bastards” in France who are keen on having sex with prostituted women. Don’t take my word for it: that’s how they describe themselves in a declaration insisting on their right to buy sex. The “bastards” (salauds in French) are so cross about a proposed law which would impose fines on men who pay for sex that they’ve decided to out themselves in a monthly magazine. The “manifesto of 343 bastards” has been signed by writers, actors, and commentators who say they have used, or are likely to use, “the services of prostitutes” – and aren’t ashamed of it.
The question of whether anyone (although it’s mostly men) should be able to buy sex is shaping up to become one of the great battles of the 21st century. France’s socialist government intends to follow the example of some Scandinavian countries, which have criminalised “punters”.
If you believe in equality, it’s hard to see why men should be allowed to pay to use women’s bodies, especially against a background of alarming levels of domestic and sexual violence.
To my astonishment the most logical riposte from among the Independent comments to Ms Smith’s last quoted non-sequitur comes from a man blogging from the bottom corner of the political diamond, conservative-socialist authoritarian David A.S. Lindsay. Mr Lindsay says,
Alike in Britain and in France, by all means let it be made a criminal offence for anyone above the age of consent, raised to 18, to buy sex. And, with exactly equal sentencing, for anyone above the age of consent, raised to 18, to sell sex. Are women morally and intellectually equal to men, or not?
So far as I can tell this is not sarcasm; he wants both buyers and sellers of sex criminalised. I differ, but one cannot fault his logic on the “both or neither” point.
Edmund from King Lear gave me the title of this post. It is mostly there because I am incapable of passing up a nifty lit ref. However it does occur to me that there is a way it might be made relevant. Many people will particularly want to cheer the way the salauds proudly snap their nicotine-stained fingers in the faces of their would-be oppressors:
Nous aimons la liberté, la littérature et l’intimité. Et quand l’Etat s’occupe de nos fesses, elles sont toutes les trois en danger.
Aujourd’hui la prostitution, demain la pornographie : qu’interdira-t-on après-demain ?
Hell, I cheered that, and I’ll be in church tomorrow and I had to look up “les fesses” in a French dictionary. (By the way, does “quand l’Etat s’occupe de nos fesses” have the double meaning I think it might have?) But it would really be nice, and principled, and a bloody good strategy for those who do not cheer, for those godly folk and their secular equivalents whose skin crawls at the thought of prostitution, to also stand up for the bastards. Because as the bastards say, “Today prostitution, tomorrow pornography: what will they forbid the day after next?”
What follows is the final part of a series based on a talk I gave at the end of August at one of Brian’s Fridays. See also Parts I, II, III, IV. & V
When reading about the time it is impossible to be unaware that in less than a year Europe will be plunged into war. It is not as if they are unaware of the risk. Churchill, hardly a pacifist, describes the prospect as “Armageddon”. A recent series of articles have appeared in the Times under the title “Europe’s Armed Camp”.
In the 1900s, Germany began to build up its navy. Britain responded. By 1913 Germany is ready to throw in the towel. Britain has not only shown herself prepared to outbuild Germany at every step but has raised a Territorial Army to fend off a potential invasion. She has also developed plans to send an Expeditionary Force to the Continent should the need arise.
Meanwhile and simultaneously, France and Germany have both expanded their armies.
It is worth spending a little bit of time describing the political systems in Central and Eastern Europe. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia all had systems that were partly monarchical and partly parliamentary. In Germany the Kaiser made all the appointments. The Reichstag was elected on a wider franchise than the House of Commons i.e. universal male franchise and it had the power to block the Kaiser’s bills including the budget.
Austria-Hungary had parliaments everywhere although the Hungarian was elected on an extremely restricted franchise and there were some magnificently complicated arrangements for making decisions, such as military spending that affected the whole empire.
In the wake of the 1905 Russian Revolution, a parliament, the Duma, was elected on a universal male franchise. It had rather too many socialists for the Tsar’s liking so the franchise was narrowed until he got something more acceptable. The Duma is not entirely powerless but does not appear to have any control over the budget.
The 1905 Revolution took place in the wake of Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. This severly weakened Russia both on land and on sea. She has been rebuilding her forces but it is a slow process.
In the absence of a strong Russia, Austria has been having a field day in the Balkans. It annexed Bosnia in 1908, created Albania to prevent Serbian access to the Adriatic and has detached Bulgaria from her alliance with Russia.
And yet Austria is worried. Historians of the period love telling us how many times Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of the Austrian General Staff, urged war on Serbia. The number is well into the twenties. The Serbs make no secret of their desire to add the Austrian territories of Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia to their own. The Austrians see this has highly destabilising: should Croatia go why not Bohemia, or Slovakia, or Ruthenia?
There are some extraordinarily disturbing ideas knocking around Germany. In his book “The Next War” General Bernhardi talks about the need to smash France, curb Britain and ignore treaties and other promises into the bargain. The Prime Minister, Bethmann-Hollweg, the “Good German”, talks of a coming race war between Teuton and Slav.
In addition to threats abroad they face threats at home. The Socialists are the largest party in the Reichstag and it is becoming ever more difficult to get their army and navy bills enacted.
The Times, 5 August 1914 page 6
Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 to 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted that every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognised words such as ‘yes’. He firmly believed – like many members of the French elite – that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.
- Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers p193. While Sleepwalkers is clearly well-researched I am far from sure the research supports the conclusions i.e. that the First World War was all one big accident. I may blog more on this sometime but equally I may not.
A year ago today, Polly Toynbee wrote this in the Guardian: Hollande and Europe are turning the tide. Where will it leave Cameron?
Labour gains from the triumph of the French Socialist leader with his intellectually cogent rallying cry for a new direction for Europe. Look how he won with a promise to tax the super-rich at a heart-attack rate of 75%, yet the French stock market actually rose slightly. Can he now turn the great liner of the EU’s disastrous economic policy?
Looking at the comments to the above article “newest first”, one AndyZama said,
Yes Polly. Time will tell.
Maybe in time you will again have to squirm with embarrassment like when you wrote articles like this.
Which link, in turn, takes us to an article by Ms Toynbee from 2006 that said,
Twice a year Gordon Brown fills his party’s sails with pride. His tornado of facts and figures magics up images of untold national wealth and success. Sixty per cent more personal wealth! Most chancellors sound as if chunks of their speech are penned by officials, not quite convincing in their grasp of macro or micro details. But here is the man who studies everything, consuming documents with the speed of a shredder. Standing at the dispatch box, the towering superiority of his brain makes intellectual pygmies of his opponents. George Osborne’s feeble joke about Granita and the green chancellor (green with envy) died on his lips: lacking authority, unlike Cameron, he also lacks the likeability to compensate. Like Old Mr Brown and Squirrel Nutkin, the big Scots brain seems not to register Osborne’s presence until he bites off his tail.
However, British politics is unaccustomed to intellect: the intellectual in politics has often been doomed to failure. A brainy chancellor running the economy from the engine rooms of the Treasury is one thing – but a great prime minister needs political genius. So far we don’t know if Brown has it. Within a few months he may prove, as his enemies suggest, to be a character too inflexible, too inward and just too serious for the top job. Or we could possibly have the most formidable leader in many years. As David Cameron reaches the end of a shrewd first year, he has done the best he can, but now his fate depends entirely on the untried strength of Gordon Brown as prime minister.
Nothing new could be gleaned from his pre-budget report this week, with no new direction hinted at. His aces will stay firmly up his sleeve until he moves next door. But the more opaque he seems, the greater the surprises he must spring in his first 100 days in No 10. With some nervousness, those around him try in vain to lower expectations, but his party already yearns for the near-impossible. It wants the stability he brings from the Treasury, the iron chancellor who broke the boom-and-bust cycle with his bare hands.
I do sympathise, a little. The internet holds many more failed prophecies and assessments that turned out to be spectacularly wrong than just these two. There are even some of mine in there. But Polly Toynbee is so gloriously reliable. If wrong guesses were sold like music, she’d have a row of gold discs on her wall.
Google have caved in and decided to appease the French groups shaking them down over having the audacity to spider their news.
Google has agreed to create a 60m euro ($82m; £52m) fund to help French media organisations improve their internet operations. It follows two months of negotiations after local news sites had demanded payment for the privilege of letting the search giant display their links. The French government had threatened to tax the revenue Google made from posting ads alongside the results. The US firm had retorted it might stop indexing French papers’ articles.
But refusing the index the stories in question is exactly what Google should have done. The notion that this appeasement will satisfy these rent seekers is risible. They have seen Google fold under pressure and they will be back for more.