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"Some timely lessons from the French Revolution" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 May 2022 9:39 p.m. PST

"One of the great attractions of knowing history is that it tends to mitigate the tendency to view existing crises as unique or unprecedented. Very occasionally that does turn out to be true, but not usually. More often it's the opposite: avoidable problems re-occur due to rank ignorance of the past, or a refusal to learn its lessons. Why else would so many countries be deep in deficit, struggling with crippling debts, barely a decade after those same problems were overcome through enormous effort?

I was reminded of this recently while reading a biography of William Pitt, written by William Hague. In the annals of bad years, few could compete with the one Pitt was having in the spring of 1797, when it appeared any of a variety of crises could leave England gasping for its life.Pitt was prime minister, as his father had been before him. He had led the country for 14 years and would for several more; he remains the youngest person ever to serve as British prime minister, and also the longest serving. He'd had better times than that spring, however. To begin with there was the small matter of the French Revolution, which had awakened a manic nationalism and military aggressiveness on the continent, with which Britain was too weak on to deal on its own. Bonaparte, still just a general and not yet a dictator, was busy rampaging across Europe and quickly running out of armies to defeat, leaving Britain as the last, juiciest target towards which to turn his attention. In February of that year there was a run on the Bank of England, sparked by the landing of a few French troops which locals mistook for the start of an invasion. By the end of the month the bank was down to just enough gold for about two weeks, after which the country would be bankrupt…"

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