Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stalin vs. Marie Antoinette

Which is worse: A bad system filled with good people, or a good system filled with bad people?

Right, so I was reading about the French and Russian revolutions, and thinking about how glad I am that my country had George Washington instead of Stalin, and feeling bad for Marie Antoinette.

George Washington I regard as basically a good person in a good system. He's underrated these days, but the US did well under his leadership, and he established norms (like peacefully leaving office) which have served us well.

Marie Antoinette and even Louie XVI do not seem, from the accounts I've read, to have been bad people on a personal level. They didn't kick puppies or leave offensive comments on Youtube. But they were definitely part of a bad, oppressive system. Even after they were deposed, they could always call upon the armies of Austria and other allies to attack France and put them back in power (which they actually did try to do.) It did not matter that they may have been nice folks--their continued existence posed a threat to the revolution; their deaths were deemed necessary to end the system.

Russia before 1917 was an abysmal place. People were starving, and the gov't, needless to say, was terrible. It is almost unimaginable that so many starving people wouldn't rise up against a system that was killing them. They established what they hoped would be a utopia, a workers' paradise. Unfortunately, they ended up with Lenin, then Stalin, at the helm, and the tragic deaths of a million beautiful dreams.

You know the history. America remains one of the nicer spots in the world. The French eventually got Napoleon and then kings again and finally democracy, but France is also a fairly nice place. The poor Russians got the Soviet Union.

Of course it is best to have a good system with good people.
A bad system with good people can, I think, eventually work itself out, if everyone involved is devoted to fixing things.
But a good system with bad people will simply turn rotten.

Your thoughts?


  1. I think Marie Antoinette and Louie XVI's executions were more symbolic to the French Revolution than anything else. I haven't read much into detail about Nicholas II, but was he in a similar position in regards to the Russian Revolution which disposed him?

    I guess a larger question would be whether the French Revolution would've occurred when it did if not for the American Revolution.

    And yeah, Russian history, both pre-1917 and then throughout Soviet rule, is pretty damn bleak.

    1. Incidentally, the French wrote their constitution before the Americans wrote theirs.

    2. From what I've read, Louis was actively conspiring with his wife's relatives in Austria to get them to invade and put him back on the throne. And ultimately, after Napoleon was kicked out, they did put one of his relatives back on the throne.

      Poor Marie, though, I doubt was very much a threat, though I haven't read much about her execution. She probably had very little capacity to do much of anything against the revolution, given the social norms of the day. She was probably more a victim of class-hatred and bigotry against Austrians.

      The Romanovs are in the same position as the Bourbons--probably nice enough folks, but had to be killed to ensure they didn't come back to power. The RR, though, had already gone much further down the road to justifying murder on the grounds that people who were part of the upper classes were bad people simply by virtue of social class.

      I think the French Revolution basically would have happened anyway, because I think the real cause was mass starvation due to a particularly low dip in the Mini Ice Age. The business about having a constitution and the rights of man and so on is just the particular culturally-mediated form thinking folks imposed upon their rebellion. The common folks didn't care about that; they just wanted bread.

      I could be wrong, of course. :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.