Dancing on the Edge of the Widening Gyre: A History of Our Times by Mark David Ledbetter by Mark David Ledbetter - Read Online

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Dancing on the Edge of the Widening Gyre - Mark David Ledbetter

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Preface

This volume could be considered a background for the upcoming Volumes Four and Five of my series America's Forgotten History .

At the very end of the nineteenth century, America acquired the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and American Samoa, thus making itself a Pacific empire and thereby changing the course of American history. American history from that point on would be imperial history. Imperial history, as Garet Garrett explained in The Rise of Empire, is no longer national history but world history. The world stage, therefore, needs to be set if we are to make sense of post-1898 American history. However, sufficiently setting the world stage while telling the American story would – I have decided, using my prerogative as author – both distract us from the American story and make that story too long. Therefore, before taking on the post-1898 American project, I feel I need to spend time setting the world stage—both for my own understanding and to provide context for readers of my version of the American story.

Before 1898, America had been the light of freedom to the world, and its story could be told without too much distraction from that world. After 1898, it became the sword of freedom, with its light sometimes diminished as it went aggressively out into the world. The pillar of American foreign policy up until 1898 had been George Washington's Great Rule of non-alignment. Thomas Jefferson memorably phrased the rule like this: Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none. The two most important secondary pillars were the Monroe Doctrine and a quasi-imperial expansion into largely unoccupied territories to the west. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, though, three new pillars would replace the old. 1) The Platt and Roosevelt Corollaries strengthened the Monroe Doctrine and enlarged its scope to ultimately encompass the entire world. 2) The Open Door Policy of John Hay defined new rules for all the empires active in China, with America as the enforcer. 3) Though it would take an evolution of almost half a century, the earlier pillar of non-alignment was simply taken down as America began making alliances left and right.

This volume, then, is necessary to provide context and to keep America’s Forgotten History, Volumes 4 and 5, manageable. But there is one more reason for this volume. Winston Churchill considered the two world wars and the depression between them a single historical event, a second Thirty Years War. I do too, and consider it an event that almost extinguished classical liberalism. However, there is no way that the entirety of what I'll call the Thirty Year Event can be included in Volume Four unless I make that volume much longer than any of the previous volumes. My sense of proportion tells me I should take Volume Four from Theodore Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover and stop, leaving the depression and the Second World War for Volume Five. That, however, would split the Thirty Year Event in two. This book, then, serves to bridge Volumes Four and Five, keeping the Thirty Year Event as a single whole. It then goes on to consider that the entirety of the epoch for which the Thirty Year Event might signal the start of the final act. That epoch would be the one initiated by the American and French Revolutions, an epoch which may now be approaching its end.

The structure of this book will be quite different than the others, in which each presidential administration served as a chapter. This book is a series of loosely connected but self-contained historical essays. There is some repetition, but that's not necessarily a bad thing since each repetition is embedded in a different perspective.

Finally, the title. With the devastation of the Great War all around him, William Butler Yeats wrote one of the defining poems of the twentieth century: The Second Coming. He sensed, even at the beginning of the final stage, the end. The widening gyre – gyrations of an age spiraling out of control – were leading not to the Second Coming of Christ but to the triumph of the rough beast, whose gaze, blank and pitiless as the sun, would bring anarchy to the world. The best of us, because we lack all conviction, do nothing to staunch the blood-dimmed tide, but stand by as it is propelled over the world by the worst of us, who are full of passionate intensity. Would that be the passionate intensity seared into us by ideology? Or by ethno-nationalism? I believe it is both, and this book makes that case.

The simple calculations of real world mathematics guarantee some kind of cataclysmic financial collapse looming before us. To recognize that reality is not pessimism but simple reason. At the same time, though, I hold a possibly unreasonable optimism that we can somehow muddle through the End of Epoch, that we will finally tire of the passionate intensities which drove so much of our epoch, and replace them with the realization of a better way.

Part One

The liberal world order came to a fiery end with the First World War. A new way had to be found to insure that such a hell on earth never happen again. The war must be made, in President Wilson's oft-quoted words (borrowed from H. G. Wells), the war to end all wars. Since liberal ideas had not worked, a new way born of the new man – civilized and scientific – must be devised. The progressive and scientific elite, versed in the new discoveries for organizing large systems to the greatest efficiency, would lead the way. Their tool would be a government empowered to carry out their directives for the purpose of both preventing wars and lifting the masses from their cruel poverty. In America, anyway, the new man, as he was called, would eventually take for himself the label of liberal, forcing us to re-label the earlier kind of liberal as a classical liberal.

Of course there never had been a real liberal world order. Yes, liberal ideas on free markets and the hidden hand had dominated the intellectual speculations of the economics profession. Markets had often been free enough in much of the West that the hidden hand could, in fact, direct scarce resources to where they were most needed, thereby enabling the growth in wealth that lifted the ever shrinking number of poor into the ever growing middle and upper classes. And government, infused as always with a multitude of contradictory forces pushing in contradictory directions, did have pockets of classical liberalism within it. But the power and inertia of pre-liberal ideas still dominated a large part of most western governments. In fact, it was a complex of those ideas made up of authoritarianism, imperialism, and racism which brought about the war that seemed to signal the end of the liberal world order. In other words, power politics caused the war. Liberalism took the blame. And a new, enlightened conception of power politics arose to replace the old.

Epoch-smashing changes, though, generally take several generations to work themselves into both the belief systems of individuals and the structures of society. So, even if the war marked the demise of liberalism, classical liberal thinking still dominated economic thinking for a time. But it was challenged by the younger generation, who proposed that a humane and scientific government rather than the cold and soulless market be the agent of change. This new wave, soon to be identified in this book as the French Way, had long been important, but somewhat towards the fringes of leading intellectual thought. With the Great War, though, the fringe suddenly found itself in the vanguard. The vanguard came in a variety of overlapping types, among them populism, progressivism, social gospel-ism, Christian socialism, regular socialism, communism, and the new one, fascism (modern translation: crony-capitalism).

Still, when the tremendous destruction of wealth during the war inevitably brought the negative economic adjustment of a recession, and when New Wave thinking on the role of government in solving such downturns exacerbated the problem, the decade-long Great Depression devastated the world economy and led straight into a second great war. The entire period from 1914 to 1945 might, as Churchill proposed, be considered a single great event, a second Thirty Years War, as it were. This second incarnation transformed the world as much as the first had transformed Europe three centuries earlier. In this book, it will be called the Thirty Year Event.

Liberal economics had survived World War One with at least its chairs in the great universities intact. But it could not survive the entirety of the Thirty Year Event. The intelligentsia, politicians, and people in general supported some form of global government as the mechanism for preventing a reoccurrence of war, and national governments as the mechanism for solving poverty and domestic problems. The young guard within the economics profession, raised in the midst of the Thirty Year Event and disillusioned with the world that had led to it, inevitably moved into positions of prestige in academia, where they would build magnificent intellectual structures of exquisite intricacy to explain why government had to be deeply involved in solving the problems of society. Classical liberalism, on the other hand, emerged from the Thirty Year Event on its deathbed, at least among the intelligentsia. The new wave had won.

Success, though, is often the parent of failure. Once you get what you want, you will eventually be confronted with the true meaning of what you want, something that is often far different than what you intended. Since the end of the Second World War, the nations of the West – and more recently most of the rest of the world – have advanced greatly with a mixed system comprised of roughly equal parts of freemarketism, socialism, and fascism (that is, crony-capitalism). Each of the three parts, naturally, takes credit for whatever good has happened and blames the other parts for the bad. But few people actually listened to the explanations of the discredited free marketers, largely excluded from both academia and the media as they were. With a few exceptions, they labored in obscurity for long decades until economic stagnation and the internet gave them an opening. They then found credibility and even some penetration into the mainstream after predicting and explaining the Great Recession of 2008.

Now, a perfect century after the commencement of the Thirty Year Event, the brave new way has built, among other things, unsustainable towers of debt and unfunded mandates so high they can never be paid down according to any real world calculations. Greece might be the harbinger, but there is little essential difference between what has happened in Greece and what is happening in most of the advanced world. Greece was one of the first to hit the wall of unsustainability, but the same fate awaits all nations with similar towers of debt. When the epoch is no longer sustainable, the epoch is at its end. We can only hope that, in the last century, we have advanced enough as people that this time we can manage to avoid a fiery conclusion, that we can nurse the world through the end of the epoch with mere financial collapse rather than war.

Whether we are faced with collapse or war, the ideological foundations and structures of the epoch have been loosened enough by the approaching crisis that we can consider questions and answers about the preceding century that, heretofore, were largely unconsidered. In that spirit, we will consider racism, ethnic tension, imperialism, and war over the last century in the hope that we can negotiate an end-of-epoch (if, in fact, end-of-epoch it is) less terrible than the Thirty Year Event.

In Part One, we'll define and consider what is called here the American Way, born from the American Revolution; and the French Way, born from the French Revolution; and how those two ideologies have competed with each other for the intellectual soul of the modern world. Then we'll consider important and epoch defining events. Some of those events have been virtually forgotten because remembering would have been inconvenient to the epoch's ideology. Some have been misinterpreted because they have been understood according to an ideology which is soon to be invalidated by its own unsustainability.

CHAPTER ONE

The Five Signposts of Socialism

AProgressive Empire – volume three of America's Forgotten History – considers the rise of progressivism in the United States in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Here we will look at the larger context, the rise of socialism in the world through the entirety of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. For that, there is no better reference than Joshua Muravchik's perfectly titled book, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism . Muravchik offers a series of signposts, some of them seminal socialist thinkers, others seminal events. These mark the critical junctures along the road to socialism, where it has reinvented itself in response to crisis. The ceaseless reinvention of socialism is made necessary by ceaseless failure, the failures all guaranteed by a single reality: human nature.

Muravchik researched and wrote his history of socialism and progressivism as an insider now on the outside. The son and grandson of dedicated lifelong socialists from two continents and two centuries, he himself was the national chairman of the Young People's Socialist League from 1968 to 1973. In other words, he became an apostate, a neoconservative, a member of that influential and much derided (even by the present author on occasion) group of former leftists who abandoned their communist god. Within the Left, a group quite religious in its hatred of apostasy, the phrase written by a neoconservative serves as damning criticism, sufficient in itself to disprove any thesis being proposed. But the book, if taken objectively, is quite beyond any significant criticism except one: the assumption contained in the book's title that socialism has fallen.

Here we will borrow from Heaven on Earth the first five of the signposts, a succession of reinventors of socialism (and add to those a pre-signpost) who will take us directly into the heart of the Thirty Year Event. They are: 1) Gracchus Babeuf, 2) Robert Owen, 3) Friedrich Engels/Karl Marx, 4) Vladimir Lenin, and 5) Benito Mussolini. But first, let's consider two revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century that shook the world: the American and French Revolutions. These were the culminating events of the Political Enlightenment. They established the only two roads upon which aspiring intellectuals could travel during the subsequent centuries and still stay within the bounds of recognized thought systems.

Two Revolutions

The American and French revolutions were not totally antithetical. In fact, they have a number of important elements in common.

They both got their start in a tax revolt, if the anti-tax movement in places like Picardy can be called the start of the French Revolution. In the 1760s and 1770s, oppressive taxes were imposed by English and French governments deeply in debt from fighting each other in the real First World War: the Seven Years War and its American component, the French and Indian War. And those wars got their start when a militia commander named George Washington, barely out of his teens, lost control of a confrontation in the deep forests of trains-alpine Virginia to his ostensible ally, Tanaghrisson, a seasoned veteran warrior. The wily Seneca Half-King managed to take advantage of both the neophyte Colonel Washington and a bit of confusion to foment a surprise attack on a tiny French delegation searching out the colonialists, and take advantage of the ensuing battle to foment a bloody massacre. It was all politically inspired. Tanaghrisson needed a war between the French and British to revive his own declining prospects within the Iroquois nation. His bit of subterfuge expanded into a worldwide conflagration fought on borrowed money. That led to taxes. Taxes led to the two revolutions which became the springs for the twin fonts of all modern western political ideologies. On such trivialities as the cog of Tanaghrisson's ambition turn the wheels of history.

Once their revolutions had taken hold, revolutionaries in both nations assumed that humans could intentionally construct new socio-political systems. Such optimism! Aside from the aberrations of the Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution of 1668, notions which held that man could recreate society had been consigned to the realms of fringe philosophic speculation. But construct they did, thereby inaugurating the epoch that now seems to be approaching its conclusion. Among the changes the two revolutions eventually brought about are these:

•  Before, democracy had been a laughably unrealistic and utopian ideal. Afterwards, no ideology could ever again gain credence in the world without at least claiming to be democratic.

•  The concept of human rights was universally recognized.

•  The age of absolutist kings came to an end.

But there were differences within the similarities. Four are named below:

1. The American Way established only the barest political frame, upon which the anonymous masses of individuals would construct and service a social system largely from below. The French Way, on the other hand, sought to provide not only the political framework of the new system but the totality of its engineering and architecture, with those fine embellishments formulated by the intelligentsia and imposed on society from above, even down to such details as making atheism a state religion and restarting history with 1793 as Year One of the new epoch.

2. For the American Way, democracy was the lesser god, something never to take precedence over the greater god of liberty. For the French Way, democracy itself tended to be the greater god, and was often construed as a higher form of liberty. Paradoxically, with democracy as the greater god, the ruling elite spoke for the People, as the People were too many and still too ignorant to speak for themselves. The elite imposed the rules and structures of the system from above as they waited for the People to shed their ignorance, which they would certainly do when raised within the enlightened new system.

3. Human rights in terms of the American Way were negative, while those of the French Way were positive. In other words, rights in terms of the American Way were protected by government, and included things like life, liberty, and property. In terms of the French Way, rights were something bestowed by government, and included things like economic and social equality. To put it another way, American equality meant equality under the law; French equality meant equality of possessions.

4. It is this last, in fact, which may have been the fork in the road. In America, equality under the law meant equality of opportunity with responsibility for grasping the opportunity resting firmly with the individual, and success in grasping the opportunity leading to extreme inequalities within society. By the end of the revolutionary period in France, the contradiction of equality leading to inequality had become untenable thanks to something Americans had little experience with: countless centuries of superrich lords ruling over super-poor peasants. French revolutionaries, fed up with the lording of the overlords, tweaked the American meaning of equality. Equality must mean Equality! From now on, there must be no one above or below. On this little tweak, over the next two centuries, would ride the life and death of hundreds of millions and the prosperity of billions.

The two fundamental ideologies of the modern world, defined here as the American Way and the French Way, must not be connected too strongly with the actual American and French nations. Calling the two ideologies American and French is simply a labeling of convenience that gives credit to the momentous importance of the two revolutions, but it's also a simplification for the sake of easy classification and understanding. In fact, the two ways have spread beyond America and France into the entire world, and each has infected the country of origin of the other. Elements of the French Way have always existed in America, and have only grown stronger over the centuries as negative rights were replaced by positive, and government became the agent of societal improvement. Elements of the American Way maintained a powerful presence within France for a good century after the French Revolution, most famously in the writings of Bastiat, Tocqueville, and Say. Also, if the ideologies are not confined to any nation, neither are they pure. There is a seeming infinity of ideologies in the modern world. But we can count any important modern international ideology (except the Islamic) as a permutation of one of the two. Or, more accurately, we might call each one a mixture of the two that leans towards one or the other.

Relying on simplification and generalization in order to facilitate comprehension, we can say there are two ways, and that they have been struggling with each other for the soul of the intelligentsia ever since the two revolutions. For most of the nineteenth century, the contest was a close thing, even if always moving haltingly and incrementally closer and closer to the French Way. By the conclusion of the Thirty Year Event, the French Way had emerged victorious. As evidence, ask yourself this: How many constitutions written by the multitudes of new nations since the Thirty Year Event have dedicated themselves to protecting negative rights in imitation of the American constitution, and how many have dedicated themselves to procuring positive rights in imitation of the French Way? If you take the definition of rights as the soul of a constitution, it's probably safe to say that virtually none of the new constitutions are American in spirit; virtually all are French. And even the American Constitution has itself been transformed into a living constitution so that it can be interpreted in a French Way. If you look not at constitutions, but at actual governments, the French Way is absolutely dominant. All governments, including that of the United States, pursue positive rights.

If we purify and rephrase the American and French Ways in terms of economic systems, we might call them *freemarketism and socialism. At least in the West, systems leaned towards free market thinking in the real world of human affairs (even if infected with earlier systems such as mercantilism and imperialism) up until the Thirty Year Event. Socialist leaning systems, though, captured more and more of the intelligentsia as the epoch evolved. The French Way stood ready to take advantage of the collapse of the world order during the pivotal thirty years.

[*For several reasons, the word 'capitalism' is problematic. However, in the discussion of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and communism below, it does seem reasonable to use the vocabulary that they use. Elsewhere in this book, the word capitalism will largely be avoided in favor of 'free market-ism' or 'free market capitalism' or 'classical liberalism.' But in this chapter, 'capitalism' it will be. Also, 'capitalist' will be used in the Marxist sense to contrast owners of the factors of production – capital – with the workers they hire.]

The two revolutions did not start out representing two clearly delineated ideologies. The early stages of the French Revolution bore important similarities to the American. The French Revolution was deeply influenced by the American, and both revolutions had been deeply influenced by such thinkers of the political Enlightenment as England's John Locke and France's Baron de Montesquieu. The French Revolution included among its disparate early leadership such heroes of the American Revolution as Thomas Paine, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Thomas Jefferson. With the political Enlightenment as a starting point and the American Revolution as a template, the French Revolution started out espousing something very much like the American Way. The Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 and to some extent the Montagnard Constitution of 1793 were based on negative rights such as the sanctity of property, free speech, assembly, and religion, with only a relatively smaller inclusion of positive rights. However, even if there were early signs that the French Revolution might replicate the American, differing circumstances insured the revolutions would diverge in kind and in spirit.

The American people were imbued with a proud history formed of the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and their tradition of local militia defense. They were bred in a new world, one where the potential for class hatred and jealousy was much less than elsewhere. That is to say, the poor were not really so poor, the rich not really so rich, and the poor had the realistic possibility of becoming the rich. For Americans, then, property rights made perfect sense. (This, of course, ignores the aberration of slavery, which is a separate issue grown from a different historical flow.)

France, on the other hand, was a feudal nation of peasants ruled by an oppressive and confiscatory aristocracy and absolutist king. To French peasants and city proto-proletariat, universal property rights seemed to make little sense. Fighting a revolution for such an ideal would mean, it naturally seemed, spilling blood to protect the property of the oppressors, property that had in truth been scraped out of their backs over the course of long centuries. It made more sense to them, as they would soon violently make clear, to pursue positive rights, such as cheap bread and guaranteed housing.

Another difference was location. Americans fought their revolution in a land separated from the authority of the central government by an ocean. The French fought theirs in a city ruled by a king and a land bordered by monarchies and aristocracies, countries which would not meekly permit the overthrow of the King of neighboring France. Everyone knew that invasion in response to France's internal revolution was almost guaranteed.

And finally, the American Revolution was not, in fact, a revolution but a secession. Americans sought not to overthrow the King and the central government but merely to separate from them. However great the American threat to England, it was not an existential threat. The French Revolution, on the other hand, was a true revolution which sought not to separate from the central government and its king but to overthrow them. The threat to the king and ruling class was literally existential. Their very existence could be erased, and was, ever so efficiently, by that famous invention of Dr. Guillotine.

Those differing circumstances insured that the French Revolution would take an ominous turn. Though the Montagnard Constitution was tremendously popular, the National Convention immediately (but temporarily) set it aside in favor of a Revolutionary Government that could respond unimpeded to the manic bloodletting into which the revolution seemed to be descending, respond unimpeded to civil wars still raging here and there, and respond unimpeded to the significant external threat from surrounding monarchies scared stiff by the overthrow of the French monarchy. Unimpeded by constitutional restraints, the Revolutionary Government vastly escalated the bloodletting into the Reign of Terror, and never found opportunity to bring back the Montagnard Constitution.

In hindsight, it's no surprise that the French Revolution evolved into one which had to satisfy the savage desires of a populace little educated in Enlightenment principles but very cognizant of the tyrannical boot of the hated upper class. Of course the leaders of the populace were educated and knew of Enlightenment theories. But if they hoped to remain leaders, and also if they were moved by pity for the plight of the peasants and city proto-proletariat, there seemed no alternative but to evolve beyond the American ideal of negative rights to the new ideal of positive rights. Most of the leaders started as staunch defenders of property, but ended up socialists. One of those was François-Noel Babeuf, renamed Gracchus.

Gracchus Babeuf

Muravchik proposes Babeuf as the first signpost, but he might well have named Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Men published in 1754. Rousseau's wide-ranging and often excellent speculations were within the living memory of many of the French revolutionaries. But it was his goofy speculations on the earliest days of the human race, as described in his Discourse on Inequality , which seem to have sunk in most deeply; so deeply, in fact, they have gone on to permeate the entirety of western civilization down to the present day. Obviously, our modern sense of back to nature is infused with a Rousseuian sensibility, but so is the full spectrum of Western culture, for both good and bad.

History begins, Rousseau tells us, in a beautifully-wooded, mild-weathered sylvan paradise of brooks and meadows, the fruits of nature bountiful, the dangers and threats of nature insignificant, and the necessity for exertion to satisfy human needs minimal. We cut ourselves off from this Eden when first we felt the dark desire to make some piece of it our own. That led to complex social interactions, which led to inequalities in possessions as well as the discovery of inequalities in attributes and abilities. That, in turn, led to jealousy, which led to the full range of negative human emotions, and therefore the downward spiral from natural man living the natural life in a natural state to the corrupted state of modern civilization. The solution was to return man to his natural state. And what is that natural state, other than a surpassingly pleasant life in a Garden of Eden? It was the state of equality. Equality was the key, and a return to equality could only be had by abolishing the source of avarice and jealousy: private possessions.

Inequality and private property would, from this point on, be the twin evils from which all others come, and the twin pillars of the French Way. The blame for a utopian Eden, and the serpent with his apple that banished us from it, cannot be laid solely on Rousseau. It was in the French air. Others, equally famous at the time, such as Mably and Morrely, inspired the radical dreamers among the French revolutionaries, such as Babeuf, to turn away from the American Way, and bring their revolution along for the ride.

Rousseau was often denounced as an apostate, but he himself never gave up on God or Christianity. His followers, though, were pretty much all atheists. Their use of Rousseau's creation myth – with innocent man cast out by his own avarice from an all-providing garden of beauty and plenty, from which he fell to this craven worldly existence – is therefore fascinating. Were they (and we, those Rousseauian moderns among us who are atheists and worshipful of the natural world) trying to recreate religion on the base of science and nature? But the end of the creation story, if there is no God, must be on earth rather than in heaven. So the socialist project was to create a heaven on earth, a return to an Eden not in the skies after we die, but right here, where we are and while we live. The biblical ornamentation of the project would be filled out over the following century with prophets, a socialist Bible that explains everything, and even an apocalypse at the end of the predestined course of history. If old religions had spilled rivers of blood under the fanatic, true-believing eyes of prophets, popes, and caliphs, the leaders of this new religion would surpass them in that horrific attempt to impose morality, because, as both the old and new religionists knew, heaven was more important than individual human lives.

The first communist changed his given name from François-Noel to Gracchus (or Graco), in honor of the Gracchus brothers, Tiberias and Gaius, the populist agrarian agitators and proto-socialists of the Roman Empire. Gracchus Babeuf is less famous than Robespierre; and Babeuf's Conspiracy of Equals (or Society of Equals) less famous than the Jacobin Club. But Babeuf – after he, too, had followed the typical evolutionary path away from belief in the sanctity of property rights, and away from his earlier antipathy towards violence – led the Revolution towards the utopian purity of a classless socialist society. The word communist had not yet been coined, but when it was, it was translated from French communiste by utopian Owenist socialist John Barmby to describe Gracchus Babeuf.

Babeuf got his start as an essayist and agitator in his native Picardy, center of a determined tax revolt that was protesting the oppressive taxation of the Third Estate by the First and Second Estates. The First Estate was the Church: those who pray. They had need of great wealth to do the work of God. Nobles and aristocrats, those who fight, made up the Second Estate. They were theoretically descended from those entrusted with maintaining – militarily and otherwise – the integrity and structures of the state, an expensive proposition. Prayer-givers and protectors, since they themselves produced little, needed financing. Since, together, they made up a mere 5 percent of the population, the remaining 95 percent, the Third Estate, those who work, should be able to cover their costs. But in reality, the needs of the First and Second Estates were so great after factoring in extravagant lifestyles, building projects, and foreign wars that even 95 percent were too few. Income to the First Estate from enforced tithing may have been somewhat sufficient, but income to the Second Estate from such practices as selling the rights to state monopolies was far from adequate. Since the Third Estate was made up of creatures lower on the Great Chain of Being, and since mere labor was of a lower order than prayer-giving and fighting, it was only natural and fair that the Third Estate make up any shortfalls in government income. The poor, in other words, must be taxed to support the rich. Such was the logic, as formulated by the beneficiaries of the logic.

To the masses of peasants and workers of the Third Estate, such logic was no longer tenable. The divergence in logic led to revolution, and revolution led to a reexamination of the nature of man and society. As a writer and agitator, Babeuf engaged vigorously in the war of ideas that, over the ten-year course of the French Revolution, would clarify and refine the goals, tactics, and underlying ideology of the workers of the Third Estate. Determined and courageous in the face of censorship , he often spent time in prison for his anti-government writings (as well as for exercising his skill in forgery when he was short of cash). During one stint in prison, he gathered around him those who named themselves the Conspiracy (or Society) of Equals and, when released, became publisher and contributor to The Tribune of the People. After the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Conspiracy and the Tribune together formulated what here is called the French Way.

The violent antipathy the working class and its leaders felt for the ruling class was natural, considering that peasants and workers had been ruthlessly taxed and oppressed for centuries. It was natural, also, for them to imagine a new utopian order that would arise once they were freed from the leech-like dominance of