Monday, September 17, 2012

Revolution + National Navel Gazing Thoughts - Book Review - The Story of a Year 1848 by Raymond Postgate

History can be a fun read, and still educate. This is a bit of a fun book about the year in the 19th century that really rocked Europe, 1848. This year was full of revolutions, counterrevolutions, dumping of the old guard and the emergence of a Napolean. There is also the proto-communist or socialist set up in France. The book is laid out in an interesting month by month frame. The foundation is that bedrock of peace and stability, Victorian England. The book begins and ends in that Victorian calm, and woven throughout the book are bits here and there about the small disturbances in England that paled in comparison to the wild events on the Continent. The year 1848 was quite a year. I know we, folks under 65, have not lived through a similar wild period, but I question whether we may in the near future. This book is a quick and well written weekend read. I do recommend it.

There were some bits that made me pause and think outside of the book's main focus on 1848. The Continent was thrown into chaos by the French revolting again. The growth of the press allowed for the revolution in France to spread throughout the Continent, and the race was on for what groups could overthrow their oppressive kings, dukes or emperors. It is an interesting read to see how quickly some of the rebellions failed, what rulers bent and showed flexibility, and where things were going with European thought. I noticed how the French Revolution and similar themes in French's revolt of '48 seemed to lay the groundwork for the later coming of Communism. I'd argue that the failures of the '48 revolts weighed on Lenin's mind when the Bolsheviks grabbed at power in 1917. Peasants could no longer overthrow the government themselves. There had to be an intelligent leadership group, and the military had to be swung to your side. The success in Austria and failure in Prussia were important lessons for Lenin’s boys. Marx was a political refugee in England after being kicked off the Continent in 1849. While born after the French Revolution but during the rise of the 'machinery' of capitalism, his ideas seem like a fusion of workers' grievances and the French Revolution's focus on power, liberty and the self. The seeds of the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent 'progressive' cultural marxist dogma in current American society were planted in the French Revolution.

England truly was a special case. It is quite weird how far right as well as far left figures found refuge and asylum there. As England assembled the Empire it would hold for a 100 years, the Continent was coming apart. England's isolation due to a narrow channel was not just physical but philosophical. There is enough material and commentary on that to fill books, but it is amazing how the only real disturbance in England was the small Chartist movement in 1848. England really wasn't a democracy, but it was not an iron fisted monarchy either. I'd argue this goes back to the emergence of the kings of England nearly 1000 years earlier and the relationship between landowners and their sovereign, but that is for another post. The comical thing to read about England in 1848 was how consumed they were with idiotic, small potatoes issues. Reading how England was wrapped up in smaller issues while the Continent burned and convulsed, I kept feeling as if I was reading about post-Cold War America. In their defense, they rose and held onto peak power for 70 more years. Drowning in inane matters, swimming in information and fighting over scoring points, we are blind to identify core problems, admit to their full list of causes, and try to tackle them.

1 comment:

Gabe Ruth said...

England's relationship with the continent during that period is a fascinating subject. For a very readable treatment from a very different point of view, check out The Crimes of England, by Chesterton.