Between 1789 and 1799, in a quiet developing corner of Europe, there was an uprising.
It was a period of radical, social and political upheaval that impacted on France and spread across Europe in the years that followed.
The French Revolution cast aside the absolute power of the monarchy that had ruled France for centuries in a sustained assault from radical left wing political groups and activists. Old fashioned concepts of monarchy, aristocracy, religion, class and culture were revisited, refined, and redefined as a new period of Enlightenment shook the very foundations of France to the core and laid down the basis of a new
In the early days of the Revolution there was an assault on the Bastille, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August, and an epic march on Versailles that forced the royal court back to Paris in October.
In the years that followed, tensions grew between various liberal assemblies and a right-wing monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms.
A Republic was proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XV1 was executed the next year. External threats also played a dominant role in the development of the Revolution. The French Revolutionary Wars started in 1792 and ultimately featured spectacular French victories that facilitated the conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the Low Countries and most territories west of the Rhine – achievements that had defied previous French governments for centuries.
But why did the Revolution happen?
Well, the government of King Louis XV1 faced a fiscal crisis in the 1780s. Economic problems included hunger and malnutrition and due to rising bread prices, rising food prices, and an inadequate transportation system that hindered the shipment of bulk foods from rural areas to large population centers.
And the State was virtually bankrupt from the enormous cost of fighting previous wars. Now where have we heard that before?
Taxes needed to be increased to swell the State’s coffers. Initially, the tax burden fell on those who could ill afford it, the poor, the hungry and the near destitute. It was some time before the reality dawned that the privileged clergy and aristocracy would also have to be taxed like they had never been taxed before.
And so the seeds of the Revolution were born, festered, grew, and became historic reality.
Thousands of loyal French were destined to die in the years that followed but they unwittingly, or was it deliberately, smoothed the basic foundation of the current French political process.
The people had spoken.
More than two centuries later, in May, 2012, the people of France spoke again.
Against choices and arguments of austerity or economic growth - increased employment or more budget cuts - public spending and budgetary constraints in the Euro zone - the people voted for the Socialist Francois Hollande in favour of the current President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Where Sarkozy had carved out an austerity deal with partners in Europe, Hollande fought the election on a platform against austerity.
An argument exists that local elections in the United Kingdom at the same time rejected the current government’s plans for continued austerity. In Greece, in the Spring of 2012, the news suggested difficulty in forming a new government and austerity lies again at the heart of the argument. In Spain and elsewhere across Europe, the debate continued - for or against austerity?
In 2014 our politicians seek to assure us that the recession that has gripped the world markets in the last decade is, at last, over. We have turned the corner. Many of us still wait to see concrete evidence of such a revival. Is it the case that the recession is really over? Or is it the case that political expedience and the proximity of 'elections'is such that a government marketing machine is at work?
People, more than two centuries after the French Revolution, still fear hunger, paucity, financial crisis and rising prices.
Behold, the quiet revolution of the twenty first century.