I recently read The Scarlet Pimpernel (text, audio, movie) by Baroness Orczy, and ran into a bit of an interesting philosophical quandry while I was reading it. You see, the Scarlet Pimpernel is an English nobleman who through disguise and deception rescues French nobility from the Guillotine during the French Revolution of 1792 and spirits them away to England and safety. I’ll write more about this great series of books later, but the issue that I ran into while reading the first of the Scarlet Pimpernel novels was that, simply put- I felt what he was doing was wrong.
Now some of that comes from reading Scaramouche (also an excellent novel- text, audio) right before the Scarlet Pimpernel, because Scaramouche does an excellent job of presenting the case of the crimes of the nobility in France, and exactly why they needed to be exterminated. In addition to those at home, those nobles that escaped justice were rallying support among the other nobles of Europe to attack France and destroy it’s new burgeoning republican government and once again usurp the will of the people. So how exactly was the Scarlet Pimpernel a good guy again? (He is, if you’re a noble, if you’re a commoner…not so much…And you’ll note the Author herself was actually a noble! Talk about propaganda!)
It took a bit to mentally reconcile that for me, but eventually I decided he was helping the innocent nobles (since not all were cruel overlords) to escape an overreaching new government that bordered on fanaticism, and so I decided I could accept it. However, I also came to realize that part of the reason I was reacting to badly toward the Scarlet Pimpernel’s mission was that I actually understood the feelings of the people of pre-revolutionary France (well, as much as a modern person can) because in a way I was living in a similar time.
The revolution came (in large part) because of a severe divide between the filthy rich and the poor, where the masses were literally playthings of the rich, and the government systems were tools of that inaccessible landed nobility. Being Canadian, I’ve spent most of my life happy with our system, and actually overall continue to be happy (but a little worried) about it to this day, but when I look at the situation in the USA and the world, I start to feel what those ancient French must have felt. Take a look at the USA, or should I call is CSA (Corporate States of America) where the major corporations managed to turn a financial crisis into a windfall! Where the corporations now have the Rights of a person and the ability to influence politics in a huge way, but don’t share any of the Responsibilities for any of their actions. (A corporation is a person, unless they do something wrong, in which case they’re not. Could the former French nobility have asked for better? Non!) Where the police are tools of the rich, and a relatively minor offense of theft turns into a major case because it affected one of the corporate nobility like Apple.
And do I expect it to get better? No, worse, much much worse. The financial stability we seem to be enjoying again is an illusion, and another crisis is just around the corner. What’s sadder- that millions of people will become destitute, or that we can expect the culprits to walk away, and even profit from it?
A bas les aristos! Indeed.