X Close

The populist spirit of the Paris Commune One hundred and fifty years ago, revolutionaries were far more interested in democracy than feminism and Marx

Their aim was freedom and emancipation (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)

Their aim was freedom and emancipation (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)


March 20, 2021   7 mins

When I was a student in Paris, I would spend every 18 March walking the streets of Montmartre, where the Paris Commune was born. I would visit the side street in eastern Paris where the last barricade fell, the Mur des Fédérés against which Communard prisoners were executed, as well as the stones in the Luxembourg Gardens pitted by the bullets of the firing squads.

Sentimental, I know. I think what I found moving was that the Communards, including most of their leaders, were ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. Here was a crisis not of their making or choosing, but one they seized nonetheless.

At the crack of dawn on 18 March 150 years ago, the French government sent troops to repossess a large number of cannon in the possession of the Paris National Guard, the citizen militia. Crowds of Parisians turned out to stop the troops and, in a panic, the government, the army, the police and the senior civil service fled. Paris was left in the hands of its people.

A week later, they elected a city council, the Conseil de la Commune. Soon after that, clashes with government troops began in the suburbs, and intensified over the following six weeks. On 21 May, soldiers climbed over the city walls, and there followed a week of fighting which left whole streets in ruins, major public buildings in flames, and the streets strewn with corpses. Many hundreds of people were summarily executed, 40,000 were marched away as prisoners and over 4,000 were subsequently exiled to penal camps in New Caledonia. The Paris Commune seemed utterly defeated.

That the Commune and the “Communards” should still be remembered by so many people, however vaguely, is itself something of a mystery. Nineteenth-century Europe was not short of urban uprisings and bloody massacres. But only specialists recall the Warsaw rising of 1830, the revolts in Vienna and Prague in 1848, or the Roman Republic of 1849.

Part of the reason must be that it concerns Paris. But apart from Delacroix’s painting of Liberty Leading the People and Les MisĂ©rables, most know nothing of the half-dozen other Parisian uprisings of the century. Marx wrote importantly about the Commune, which must be another part of the reason. But then he wrote importantly about the June 1848 revolt and the December 1851 coup d’état, without that being enough to place them within popular folklore. So is it the name “Commune” which resonates both with hippy dreams of anarchic togetherness and with Communist narratives of history?

For Marxists (although Marx was privately unsure) the Commune was a political and theoretical breakthrough: “the form at last discovered”, he wrote, “for the emancipation of the working class”. The Communards, he argued, had hit on a non-oppressive and yet fully revolutionary way of exercising power, by abolishing all oppressive institutions — army, church, police — and giving power directly to the people themselves.

Marxists took it for granted that the industrial proletariat of Paris must have been the most dynamic and forward-looking element. Engels elaborated further by defining the Commune as the first “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the transition to a classless society. Lenin (whose body was to be shrouded in a Communard flag) was more critical: it was the Commune’s defeat that was really significant. It had failed because it did not have the leadership of a disciplined party, and because it was insufficiently ruthless in combatting class enemies. So the Communards were retrospectively enrolled for nearly a century as pioneering ancestors in the long march to Communism.

But a heretical counter-explanation emerged in the 1960s in the work of a young French historian, Jacques Rougerie: the Commune was not the first of a new kind of revolution, he said, but the last of an old one. Rougerie was brutally attacked by the Communist Party for his suggestion that the Communards were the descendants of the sans-culottes of the 1790s. Not an industrial proletariat, but skilled workers in traditional industries (engravers, joiners, cobblers), small businessmen, shopkeepers, clerks. Not looking forwards to Communism, but backwards to self-managed workers’ cooperatives and the republics of 1848 and 1792: they officially adopted the revolutionary calendar, which placed them in the Year 79. So, concluded some historians, the Commune was really the last gasp of the French Revolution.

But historians have a weakness for pioneering movements, which after all give their research projects extra glamour. A popular view in the Swinging Sixties was that the Commune was a bit like May 1968, a carnival of anarchy, even a “total revolution, as one historian suggested fancifully. Or was it a revolution to take back control of space that had been appropriated by bourgeois urbanism?

Particularly in the United States, it was reinvented as an act of feminism. It was the women of the Commune, the notorious pétroleuses, who made it unique. This had once been a label of shame for the (mythical) women who supposedly went round setting fire to buildings. Now it became a title of honour. Communard women not only spoke up for themselves and their collective interests, it was argued, they actually fought on the barricades.

For some American historians, it was their organised use of violence that was the significant novelty of 1871: emancipation by the gun. The most recent reinterpretation is that the Commune was an event in global history, the most fashionable historiographical trend.

Old? New? Leninist? Anarchist? Feminist? Urban? Global? There are plenty of reasons for commemorating its 150th anniversary. But there are also simpler explanations for why the Commune is still remembered by many as inspiring and meaningful.

First is that it was short: two months. As Marx noted, this was only enough to indicate what might have been — and, of course, that includes almost anything. So it is easy to project things onto the Commune, things we would like to imagine as possible. And it also means that it didn’t have time to go really wrong. Yes, there were plenty of errors and some sinister aspects, but compared with the 1793 Terror or Stalinism, the Commune was innocent. It didn’t have time either to moderate into bourgeois banality, or to start devouring its own children. So always unfulfilled, its promise undiminished, it remains (in the words of a famous song written by one of its leaders) “le temps des cerises” — the cherry time.

The other reason it is remembered, as Marx also noted at the time, is because of the ferocity with which it was crushed during the last lurid “Bloody Week” of barricade fighting amid a city in flames. Around 7,000 people were killed — a unique bloodbath for the 19th century. This turned its followers into martyrs, and created a heroic legend.

There is still an annual pilgrimage to one of the killing sites, the Mur des Fédérés in the PÚre Lachaise cemetery. But the intention was commemoration, not repetition: in future, the French Left would fight at the ballot box, not on the barricade. Quite a number of prominent Communards returned as elected politicians or city officials. Two lived to be ministers in the French national unity government of 1914. Put all these elements together, and you get a powerful if enigmatic memory which can serve a range of purposes, including sentimental nostalgia.

But is this all the Commune can tell us 150 years later? I think there is something else, something that is not so often celebrated: namely, that the Commune was fundamentally about popular democracy. Today, we might even call it “populist”.

France since the implosion of the Revolution in the mid-1790s had lived under a succession of oligarchies, whether under republics, emperors or kings: a roundabout of elites. But the defeat by Germany in 1870-71 had discredited both mainstream Left and Right, and created a political vacuum. It looked as though this would end in another period of monarchy — rule by another section of the elite, with nothing to offer except repression spiced with paternalism.

But the Communards said no: this time the people themselves would rule. Of course, their defeat in war marked a far more dramatic break than anything we have so far experienced in the West. But today’s impatience with politicians, technocratic bureaucracies and establishment “experts” certainly invites some comparisons. Certainly, too many progressives today seem to prefer the elite: they have abandoned the idea that people who are poor, or even those who do ordinary jobs or who have not been to university, have ideas and experience of their own, and an equal right to a political voice.

Populism is feared and denigrated as reactionary. Yet the most basic principle of the Communards was that power should be shared as equally as possible, and that every person (well, every man) had an equal right to make decisions. Office holders at every level would be elected, and if they failed in their duty their electors would dismiss them: not just politicians but officials and magistrates, too. Wherever possible, citizens would perform public duties themselves — for example, as members of the National Guard, they would be their own police force. The aim was freedom and emancipation: to be treated as adults.

This was the purpose behind the secularisation of schools and a widespread demand for technical education: so that, wrote a Communard newspaper,  “those who can handle tools can also write books”. It lay behind the aspiration to workers’ cooperatives for women and men. The multiplication of political clubs across the city showed a thirst among ordinary people to have their say on political and social matters, often speaking for the first time in public.

The pithiest expression of the Communard spirit is the famous Internationale, written by a member of the Commune, Eugùne Pottier. It includes this: “there are no supreme saviours, not God, not emperors, not politicians 
 let’s save ourselves; 
 enough of languishing as dependents, equality demands other laws.”

It is, of course, easy to pick holes in this. Not much was put into practice in seven weeks of civil war, and if it had been it wouldn’t have worked for long: what normal person wants to spend all their evenings in political meetings, sitting on local committees, or patrolling the streets in National Guard uniform chasing prostitutes and bakers illegally working at night (two of the Commune’s slightly eccentric reforms)? Besides, there were plenty of Communards who were a bit too keen on repressing opinions they didn’t like, persecuting harmless priests and nuns, and dreaming of a return to the Jacobin Terror.

Nevertheless, the Communard leadership were reluctant to introduce censorship, disliked locking people up and refused to use the death penalty: the guillotine was fetched from its shed and publicly burnt. Yes, in the end a number of hostages were killed, some even nastily lynched: mainly gendarmes and priests, including the Archbishop of Paris. But this was done in the last desperate days, as Communard prisoners were being slaughtered by the army, and it was never officially sanctioned. As the writer and Commune member Jules Vallùs put it, even in defeat they wanted to go down in history “unstained by the filth of the abattoir”. How many revolutionary leaders can say the same? Lenin’s conclusion was that they were fools who were defeated because their “excessive magnanimity” held them back from the “implacable extermination” of their class enemies —not a weakness he ever yielded to.

The Commune was doomed anyway. No government was going to permit that level of democracy. If the French army had not defeated it, the German army, which was still camped outside the city, would probably have done so. Or it might well have collapsed of its own accord: as one of its members lamented, they were really just “a talkative little parliament” and they were haemorrhaging support. As we have seen over and over again in history, most people sooner or later (and often sooner than later) want to get back to normal boring life.

But had the Communards anticipated Lenin’s retrospective advice, or followed the example of Robespierre’s Terror, the Commune would not have left the enigmatic but positive legacy it has — this wistful, always unfulfilled aspiration to true democracy.

There remains something profoundly moving in that aspiration; moving enough for me to make my annual journey up to Montmartre. For on the whole the Communards did their best, according to their lights, for democracy, for their city, and for their fellow citizens. They were people for whom Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were more inspiring than Censorship, Identity and Victimhood. In that sense, at least, their actions still resonate today.


Professor Robert Tombs is a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, and the author of The English and Their History


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

45 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

Very interesting piece.

Certainly, too many progressives today seem to prefer the elite: they have abandoned the idea that people who are poor, or even those who do ordinary jobs or who have not been to university, have ideas and experience of their own, and an equal right to a political voice.

While, of course, criticising them for not being left wing enough.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Criticizing their “false consciousness” in the way of liberating them from the mental chains of a subservience imposed by bourgeois ideology.

Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

What is the ideology of the bourgeoisie?
Genuine question – i’m genuinely curious if the bourgeoisie have an ideology, and what that ideology may be. If it indeed imposes ‘mental chains of a subservience’ (subservience to whom?), it sounds like a fairly powerful and pervasive ideology, yet i cannot identify it as any of the known ideologies.

Last edited 3 years ago by Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago

I like this take by Jacques Rougerie:

the Commune was not the first of a new kind of revolution […] Not an industrial proletariat, but skilled workers in traditional industries (engravers, joiners, cobblers), small businessmen, shopkeepers, clerks. Not looking forwards to Communism, but backwards to self-managed workers’ cooperatives

The bourgeoisie in short; the backbone of society. Skilful tradesmen perfecting their trades, innovating, was the driving force of ‘European civilisation’ as we know it, since prehistory. Persecuted by the marxist left as “enemies of the proletariat” and screwed out of their livelihood by the neoliberal / globalist profiteering “ruling elites” outsourcing pretty much every manufacturing industry to China and suchlike.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Allons Enfants

I’m not sure engravers, joiners, cobblers, small businessmen, shopkeepers, and clerks are what is usually meant by the bourgeoisie!

Steve Wesley
Steve Wesley
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

The ‘petite bourgeoisie’ would probably be a more precise title. That sneering, dismissive phrase still in circulation from our betters. The sort of person who loves their country, believes in home ownership, runs a small business, accepts tax is necessary for the apparatus of the state to function but doesn’t like being overtaxed, aspires to driving a nice car and washes it on a Sunday. Heavens above maybe even drives a Transit van and enjoys football, is proud to live in suburbia, …….. in other words those who actually make, manufacture, sell, fix and do things, and are continually mocked and reviled by a cynical media, academia and the political classes.

Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Wesley

Yes, ‘petite bourgeoisie’ is a much better term, thanks for that. All as you said, “those who actually make, manufacture, sell, fix and do things”. And in the process invent things, methods, techniques – sometimes big, sometimes small and subtle. They used to form guilds, went from apprenticeship to masterhood (often with a “gap year” or two of travelling involved for the apprentice to learn the trade abroad too).
Many (if not all) of nowadays’ “big luxury shots” started out like that: the Thierry HermĂšs of HermĂšs, the Trudons of Cire Trudon (dating back to 1643, they supplied Marie Tussaud with wax during the revolutionary beheadings), the tea merchants Mariage & FrĂšres, just to stick with Paris. What’s common with them and the car mechanic or carpenter next door is the love, devotion, curiosity and pride in their trade.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago
Reply to  Allons Enfants

I believe that journeyman came between apprentice and master, at least in most guilds. Allons Enfants, can you or anyone else here tell us more about these “self-managed workers’ cooperatives”? I for one don’t know anything about those if one means as a common institution long before the Paris Commune. Well, unless the reference is to the medieval guilds. But those were not exactly a showcase of democracy as I understand it, as the masters seemed to have ruled over the journeymen and apprentices. Anyone care to enlighten me certainly and perhaps others?

Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel

I don’t know – i took it as a reference to guilds, can’t think of any other institutions.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Wesley

The trouble with the petit bourgeois is that their allegiance is to the capitalist status quo and its big bourgeois ruling class. They are not simply dismissed, but considered therefrom an objective enemy of the revolution.

Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

They are, in the original meaning – which is “burgher”, i.e. townpeople doing townpeopleish things for a living. Cobbling, trading, banking, smithing, that sort of thing.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Allons Enfants

True enough, but etymologies and original meanings aren’t always very helpful! I agree with Steve Wesley that petty bourgoisie would be a better term here.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Allons Enfants

Tombs should have made clear the French Rev had many factions, from the bourgeois Jacobins to the nihilist Hebertiste. In between was The Conspiracy of Equals led by Gracchus Babeuf and considered a seminal form of Communism.

Jeff Mason
Jeff Mason
3 years ago

The first Paris Commune of the early 1790’s is much more of a cautionary tale. When the monarchy was abolished and the Assembly adjourned, the Commune filled the power void and radicals like Danton, Marat and Robespierre became the de facto leaders, not just of Paris, but the entire country. The results was the September Massacres in which thousands were slaughtered in the most gruesome and barbaric ways. It wasn’t the Royalists who were to primary victims but non-juring priests, nuns, inmates of insane asylums, and petty criminals. This then grew into the Terror in which a person could be denounced as traitor in the morning and guillotined in the afternoon. The Terror is the extreme version of ‘mob rule’ but it always starts as ‘the will of the people.’ That ‘will’ is legitimate but only within a firm framework of the rule of law. We are seeing a mild version of it today with ‘cancel culture’ where people are deprived of their employment, their friends and their social standing in response to accusations of evil behavior which is usually holding opinions contrary to those of the accuser. This is why we should actively fight against ‘cancel culture.’ All the ‘social justice’ nonsense and ‘critical race theory’ where all whites are racist simply because they are white is reminiscent of the Terror where people were accused of ‘counter revolutionary’ thoughts simply because they were not sans-culottes or had once supported the monarchy, or the Girondists, or any other group that the radicals hated that week. Let’s not go there again.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeff Mason
Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Mason

This then grew into the Terror in which a person could be denounced as traitor in the morning and guillotined in the afternoon. The Terror is the extreme version of ‘mob rule’ but it always starts as ‘the will of the people.’ 

We had a brief “taster menu” of that in Hungary in 1919: the “red terror”, lasting 133 days; the ‘revolutionary’ terror groups executing whoever they could land their hands on. (And only 26 years later it became the main course for almost half a century… Never again.)

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

WWG1WGA, as it were. Just look at the great ‘Selfi Revolution’ of 2021 where the Redneck Populists took Congress, took selfies, walked about within the rope paths set for tourists, did no actual harm, and left, and were then to be hounded by the raging, and vengeful Government thugs and if the Gov. in office can, will be martyred for it.

Yes, I think we all understand the Commune of Paris a bit.

Last edited 3 years ago by Galeti Tavas
Tony Price
Tony Price
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

‘Did no actual harm’. Interesting when 5 (?) died, dozens were assaulted, and doors and furniture smashed. ‘…walked about within the rope paths set for tourists’ – apart from the ones lounging in offices and climbing all over the chambers etc. What actual planet are you on dude?

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Weren’t four of those five who died Trump protesters and hasn’t the alleged assault with a fire extinguisher on the officer who died been called into question and isn’t the autopsy into the actual cause of his death still highly unusually yet to be published so many months after the event?

I also believe that Judicial Watch has applied to a court for the release of the autopsy report into Officer Sicknick’s death after repeated FOI requests from it were denied.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

And Enrique Torria, a leader of the Proud Boys who urged them onto the Capital, turned out to be an FBI informer.

Last edited 3 years ago by robert scheetz
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

Typical!

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

I think the fire extinguisher thing has been more or less abandoned.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Really so the score is 5-0?
Some Coup d’Etat!!!

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Price

So 5 died. The first was a unarmed protester/rioter shot by a nervous Capital policeman, the second was a women protester trampled as police forced people out. Two police officers seem to have committed suicide for unknown reasons. One police officer (Sicknick) died at home, perhaps because of the riot, but seemed to have a fatal stoke. There was some incidental property damage but no fires. There were a lot of police and protesters injured in the melee.
Compared to recent protest activity, the Capital activity was mild. None compare to the Paris discussion.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Hardee Hodges

The Question is. Will Ms. Babbitt shot by that panicky ‘excuse’ for a Policeman, be in line for a $27 million handout like than late criminal George Floyd?

Allons Enfants
Allons Enfants
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Price

the ones lounging in offices and climbing all over the chambers 

There’s no harm in either activity.
Out of curiosity, what’s your take on last year’s massive BLM looting / burning / destruction spree? Good many more got killed / maimed / hospitalised, and that’s not even counting the immense damage to property & environment.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Price

They dared to sit in the evil Pelosi’s chair and steal her sacred gavel. Of course had it been Antifa/BLM they would have burnt the place to the ground.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Yorks

Only it wasn’t. In fact, if you gather a mob of any ideological flavor, the results are going to be similar. The Paris Commune at least exhibited some self-organization and self-discipline.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

“Rougerie was brutally attacked by the Communist Party for his suggestion that the Communards were the descendants of the sans-culottes of the 1790s.”
That’s peculiar, because I’ve always seen the sans-culottes of the 1790’s as the forerunners of the Communists of the 20th century, given their shared penchant for terror, torture, and mass murder.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

As Paris goes into Lockdown yet again perhaps it is now the time to ‘try again’, before it is too late?

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
3 years ago

I recommend a read of Zola’s ‘The Debacle’. Tremendous account of the war and the commune and how the pretensions and past glories of a country can come crumbling down very quickly. Incredible that 40ish yrs later in the mass slaughter of the Battle of the Frontiers in 1914 and the retreat the French showed flexibility and immense resilience when in 1871 they were brittle.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

And fatally “brittle” again in June, 1940.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago

The only explanation for 1940 is considerable infiltration by Nazis, other fascists, and the fascistic Soviet-oriented Communist Party, none of whom wanted France as it was (somewhat democratic and egalitarian) to survive. I don’t know what the reasons for 1871 might be, although Nap III seems to have been pretty goofy.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

I’m sure like anarchists, the Communards would have soon been faced with the difficulty of how to deal with non-Communards.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
3 years ago

As always from Professor Tombs, a piece both very interestingly, usefully informative and seminally suggestive.
The world economy is going to collapse, completely. (Reason no. 1. It is $600 trillions in debt – yes, there is a ‘t’ there, in the denomination of the sum. There are other vast interlocking reasons.)
When that happens, do you think people will mostly turn to Far-Left Socialism, like the Latin Americans who never seem to learn anything from being promised solutions and then being entirely betrayed by Marxian kleptocrat demagogues?
Or will most populaces, as Prof. Tombs here hints, turn against both Left and Right and give the order of the boot to the elites who have mismanaged everything (in their own interests) for so long?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

The Tribunes of the Plebs will ultimately triumph.
Vae Victis.

Howard Medwell
Howard Medwell
3 years ago

I found this piece surprisingly moving, although I should imagine I am on the opposite wing of politics to Professor Tombs. The only bit I would disagree with is his insistence that the skilled craftsmen who he rightly says were a key social group in the Commune, were somehow opposed to the “grey moustached proletariat” of Socialist Realist mythology.
There wasn’t much of a grey moustached proletariat in Paris in 1871 – the great majority of people worked in small workshops and other mini-workplaces – I think I read somewhere that the average ratio of “workers to bosses” was about 2:1!
Apart from people like the railway workers, who I believe also played an important role in the Commune, there must have been a huge number of ordinary Parisians who worked in what we call the “gig economy”.
Two questions present themselves: firstly night it not be possible for a left-wing ideology, not exactly that of 20th century working-class movements, to appeal to such people; secondly, can you think of a present-day country in which this state of affairs pertains?

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

I like this essay, though Prof. Tombs sympathy seems to resonate with petit bourgeois idealism.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
3 years ago

Based on your description here, Professor Tombs, it seems as if the Paris Communard was the only uprising in which Left and Right collaborated.
One wonders if such an event could even happen nowadays. . . perhaps in . . . Myanmar?
Certainly not in this West that we now inhabit. The distance now between Populist and Libertine motivations is as wide as the English Channel.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago

I appreciate this essay.
Many thanks.

tomiller2011
tomiller2011
3 years ago

Very interesting and useful. Your description of the spirit of the Commundards reminds me of that of many who were on the ‘red’ side before and during the Spanish Civil War, and why their memory still weighs so much in domestic Spanish politics. If channelled by able leaders -rather than being exploited by left-wing authoritarians and their fellow-travellers for their own purposes as usually happens- the democratic spirit of the people can do wonders.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  tomiller2011

Once serious violence is employed, social organization reverts to the most efficient form of violence, militarism, by a process of elimination and evolution. You could possibly defend a democracy or other egalitarian arrangement militarily, but the tendency will be toward authoritarianism, regardless whether the rhetoric is of the Left or the Right, as we observe in the Commune, the Russian revolution(s), China, and so on, as well as the more openly authoritarian regimes of unfortunately recent memory.

Jurek Molnar
Jurek Molnar
3 years ago

That was a great piece. Thanks a lot.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

“By the standards of humanity as a whole, England over the centuries has been among the richest, safest and best governed places on earth, as periodical influxes of people testify. Its living standards in the 14th century were higher than much of the world in the 20th
 We who have lived in England since 1945 have been among the luckiest people in the existence of Homo sapiens, rich, peaceful and healthy.”
Thus wrote Professor Tombs seven years ago.
This present article is to be similarly applauded. Than you.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

..

Last edited 3 years ago by Charles Stanhope
aahkendall
aahkendall
3 years ago

Wonderful piece, thank you Professor Tombs, a delicious mix of socio-political, historical and philosophical commentary to feed the mind.