It’s been about 7 years since I studied History at A Level, so 7 years since I learnt about the French Revolution. Here’s what I remember off the top of my head – and how similar it is to Brexit.
There were many causes to the French Revolution, but key among them were the misplaced financial support of a friendly institution, the American Revolutionaries, Social Inequality, and fear of The Enemy Within.
The result of these sparks was a bloody revolution – The Reign of Terror, long term instability and the rise of a power-hungry egotist.
How is that at all like Brexit?
French support of a friendly organisation, the American Revolutionaries, was seen as a drain on France’s already struggling economy. The return on investment was nothing more than to get one over on the English.
With Brexit, the British public has been persuaded that we’re sinking too much money into an institution that provides no return, and that it’s the cause of our financial worries.
We’ve been lied to – we are (sorry, were) the world’s 4th largest economy, the ROI of the EU was arguably massive and the foreign scroungers that were the scapegoats have been shown to pretty much not exist. And yet we were persuaded that the financial support of the institution is the root of our economic problems.
Social Inequality was another cause. The Third Estate, or the common people, felt that they were propping up the clergy and the nobility who didn’t have to pay any taxes. A fair point.
With Brexit, the public are angry that the working people of the UK are propping up the lifestyles of foreign scroungers, elite tax dodgers and European Bureaucrats. The EU seems to gain masses of cash, like the Church during the French Revolution, and it seems the political elite aren’t worried by their taxes, just like the French nobility.
And finally, The Enemy Within. Growing fear and suspicion during the French Revolution saw the systematic murder of those that were deemed sympathisers of the Ancien Régime.
With Brexit, we are seeing the scapegoating of immigrants, or anyone who looks remotely foreign. We have witnessed the public humiliation of individuals with foreign origins. We have witnessed the beginning of a modern version of the key outcome of the French Revolution – The Reign of Terror.
Racist and xenophobic grafitti, protests and leaflets aimed at striking fear into the now vulnerable communities of non-white British people. Children told that they will have to “go home” while at school. Claims from Right Wing groups that they have won, and will continue to push for even more extreme measures. And we have seen the public execution of a high profile “sympathiser” to the “enemy’s'” cause, with the shooting of Jo Cox MP.
Our economy has become unstable. Our two leading political parties face unprecedented in-fighting. Whole communities feel unsafe in their own country.
We can only hope that it doesn’t end with an Emperor crowning himself as Napoleon did. Emperor Farage anyone?