We all know that things have consequences, albeit without foreseeing those consequences very clearly, but the understanding…in practice…that those consequences are likely to be of another order, e.g., more intense as they benefit from the momentum of the event they follow, is a lesson we all seem to find hard to learn.

C’est ainsi que la chute du roi avait entraîné la chute du système bourgeois, et que l’insurrection populaire contre Louis XVI, inspirée par des sentiments patriotiques, par la crainte du péril extérieur, aboutit, le jour même de sa victoire, à l’établissement de la démocratie. [Aulard, 296.]

It did not follow that overthrowing Louis XVI would automatically and instantly provoke the collapse of what Aulard calls the “bourgeois system,” i.e., the 1792 regime that institutionalized for a year a middle class elite-run monarchy that arbitrarily granted the right to vote only to the rest of the middle class club, thereby trying carefully to avoid the much feared democracy dreamed of by revolutionaries. It also did not follow that the popular insurrection against Louis provoked by his secret plotting with foreign governments against his own people would lead directly to democracy.

There may be a logic to these linkages but it is tortured and complicated. As is often the case, the ruler, by his shortsightedness and obstinate rejection of compromise eagerly offered (by the bourgeoisie even after his secret plotting with foreigners was revealed), managed to defeat himself far more definitively than was necessary. Fortunately for those of us who are neither rulers nor satisfied with those who are, rulers seem never to learn this lesson.


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