Spirits of Revolution

Originally written in 2023.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightfuldespotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. “

-George Washington, First President of the United States, 1796

On this Fourth of July, Americans can look to France, the sister country of the Revolution, and the strikes and riots there as of late, over the French government increasing the retirement age from 62 to 64. In America, the retirement age is already 66 for full governmental retirement benefits. French income tax rates are comparable to American ones – however, France enjoys benefits like universal healthcare and a comprehensive public transport system, ensuring that cars and the surrounding expenses are not necessary for most consumers. Both countries hold a strong revolutionary history, with both national revolutions happening in the second half of the 18th century. Why then, does America accept lower standards across the board?

In recent history, the term “no one wants to work” has been flung around the American zeitgeist. But in actuality, openings in the job market have just provided for a reshuffling of positions and a general upward shift in pay. Nowhere is there organized revolt and striking for higher pay that lasts in any serious notion. In contrast, the Yellow Jackets in France protest against a relatively generous state, quickly gaining concessions from the French government. Here, again, we see the revolutionary spirit alive to a point in France.

A commonly cited reason for the American Revolution is the Stamp Act, a relatively small tax imposed on the Thirteen Colonies by Great Britain that involved placing a stamp onto newspapers and other forms of printed media. This small act alone inspired the creation of multiple revolutionary groups, and a boycott on British goods. Now, Americans are content with paying similar tax rates to European countries with access to only faint skeleton of the social programs that Europeans enjoy, often without even clean drinking water.

In the 2020 American election, the Democrat and Republican parties gained a total of 98.2 percent of the vote. The next closest party, the Libertarian Party, gained only 1.2 percent of the vote. In contrast, French elections do not look so dichotomous. Marine Le Pen advanced to the second round of elections with 23.2% of the vote, followed very closely by Mélenchon with 22% of the vote. It becomes apparent that the French citizenry both vote, and revolt, according to their own specific interests, while Americans choose a neoliberal elephant or a neoliberal donkey. It is important to note, however, that the French enjoy a parliamentary democracy, while America enjoys a representative democracy.

In a representative democracy like America’s, solutions like the Affordable Care Act are passed in moments of party majority. Bipartisan solutions are rare, and solutions that are passed are often hamfisted and flawed in themselves. The ACA does not begin to hold a candle to the integrity and structure of European socialized medicine. Polarization only grows, and there seems to be no end in sight to the two party system. Additionally, most Americans only see things getting significantly worse from here. Why, then, has there been no real protest since the largely ineffectual Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011?

It’s clear that Americans, by and large, are in a worse economic situation than any other first world nation, with an ever-widening wealth gap and a stagnating life expectancy. And yet, unlike France, for a country founded on revolution with a strong national mythos of revolution, Americans just do not bother to revolt. Perhaps the next few years will bring a revival of the American national spirit of revolution, or perhaps not. One thing is for sure – the two-party system isn’t going to solve America’s problems.

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