Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Bureau of Land Management's Bastille

Image via La Wik
July 1789 was a tumultuous time in Paris.  Discontent with the Royal regime had been building for decades and had reached the point where the King was forced to call a Constitutional Assembly.  But as the nobles, clergy, and bourgeoisie harangued each other, the people of Paris were growing increasingly restive.

And by "restive" I mean that mobs were spontaneously forming.  The most important of these was the mob that stormed and sacked the notorious Bastille prison on July 14.  The Bastille had an evil reputation and was seen by essentially everyone - educated and uneducated alike - as a symbol of a despotic and tyrannical government.  And so the mob broke the doors down and sacked it.  They paraded the head of its commander on a pike through the streets.

Image via La Wik
What is odd is that the perception was very different from the reality.  The Bastille had almost no prisoners housed in it.  Conditions for the prisoners were actually fairly comfortable, and fine dining among its noble prisoners (most of those incarcerated there) was the norm.  But the air was filled with discontent, and so wildly exaggerated books like Simon-Nicholas Linguet's Memories of the Bastille painted a lurid (if untrue) portrait of the place.  And so it was torn down.  Today's Place de la Concorde is all that remains of the site.

We have just see the US Government's Bureau of Land Management go through an experience similar to Louis XVI.  What was essentially a mob driven by a long-building sense of grievance stared down the King's Men in Nevada.

A number of people have rightly pointed out that Mr. Bundy is no Saint, and that legally he doesn't have a leg to stand on.  That's quite true.  It also isn't the point that is driving events.

What is driving events is something that would have been well understood by M. Linguet.  Mobs do not spontaneously form out of nothing, and the spark that lights the fire may have very little to do with reality.  His memoir was essentially a work of fiction; it was enormously influential nonetheless because the Government then had laid the groundwork building widespread resentment.

As has ours in this day.

All that remains of the Bastille is the key to its main gates, currently handing on display at Mt. Vernon (it was a gift to George Washington from the Marquis de Lafayette).  That's all that's left of a feared symbol of Royal power - that and an annual national holiday in France.

Our Government has no idea what they have awakened, any more than Louis XVI had.  So far, it has played out without blood flowing in the streets.  I am pessimistic that this will continue for long.


Chickenmom said...

Let us just hope there will be a peaceful, legal change before the unthinkable happens.

Goober said...

You make a good point that I didn't get into for various reasons, a failure that I'll soon remedy, and the point is this:

Cliven Bundy is obviously in the wrong here. So why did hundreds of people turn out to risk their lives and their freedom to protect him?

It isn't because he's a good poster boy. It isn't because he's in the right. It's because people have been trying to be heard and have been ignored for far too long, and they are pissed.

My fear is that clivens obviously in the wrong here, and I'm afraid that will take the focus off legitimate greivances leading to this incident.

We've picked the wrong hill to die on, and it may be an irreversible mistake. When people focus on THIS CASE and see that we're clearly in the wrong, they will marginalize and forget.

If shots are fired over this, it will weaken, perhaps irreparably, the justification of those standing against the government.

Bundy is 100% irretrievably In the wrong. Why is he our poster boy?

Robert Fowler said...

I read this morning that they have arrested 16 of the protesters and charged them with domestic terrorism. If that's true, we could be in for a big surprise.

Borepatch said...

Robert, it looks like that story is a hoax:

Borepatch said...

Goober, the point of my post is that the truth or falsehood of who is the "good guy" and who is the "bad guy" are beside the point. The feeling of oppression is very real. People will convince themselves that the government is a tyrant. Shots being fired will simply accelerate that.

The media elites are not going to convince flyover country that they're not being oppressed, especially when the smell of gunpowder hangs in the air.

Terry said...

Small correction: The remains and reminders of the Bastille are not on the Place de la Concorde, but on the Place de la Bastille, quite a bit further east.

Other than, good post :-)

Just People said...

Blood will flow. I have no idea where..or what the spark will be. But, I don't believe it can be stopped.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"A number of people have rightly pointed out that Mr. Bundy is no Saint, and that legally he doesn't have a leg to stand on. That's quite true. It also isn't the point that is driving events."

Two points:

A) One issue here is that they are not protesting the .gov breaking the law, or any persecution of Mr. Bundy when he has not broken the law, they are protesting the law itself. So the fact that he may be in violation of the law is irrelevant. The folks behind the Boston Tea Party didn't have a legal leg to stand on, either.

B) He may not be a saint, but in this instance he may not be in the wrong morally, either. There are apparently a number of factors beyond payment of rent (or who he is supposed to be paying rent to), including things like water and grazing rights he had already purchased. (As I understand it, the Feds are saying "Even though you bought rights for 1000 cattle, that's now only enough for 100 cattle and you have to buy more for the 1000 cattle you have. Oh, and we're not going to sell you any more. Get rid of the extra cattle.") Essentially, there is a strong argument that the Feds have taken a valuable commodity from him without recompense.

Plus, of course, the fact that they sent 100+ agents, including snipers, after one rancher. This ridiculously heavy-handed response was probably the part that pushed so many into showing up armed in his support, and why whether he was right or wrong has become irrelevant to so many.

Joe Smow said...

What most people don't know is that the Bastille was an armory. It was stormed to acquire the 30,000 pounds of gunpowder stored there, not to free peasant prisoners (there were none). The propaganda made it into something else.

Lexington and Concorde was fought over gunpowder too, the British coming out of Boston to cease powder and cannon stored at Concorde. If the British had not fired upon the minutemen at Lexington, the revolution would not have started then.

If Federals had fired on peaceful protestors over Cliven Bundy, it could very well be the spark of another revolution. I wonder if they know how close we are to that?