The sharp increase in fuel prices in recent months has sparked a protest movement in France known as the gilets jaunes or “yellow vests.” In a climate reminiscent of 1789, demonstrators and the police have clashed in Paris and other cities across France. But to what extent can we compare the two eras?
On July 14, 1789, in Paris, the price of bread had reached its highest point in a century. Parisians held the king responsible. The royal administration’s meddlesome regulation had made grain commerce among the provinces difficult, leading to local famines. The result: a riot in the capital, and the taking of the Bastille — a mostly empty prison but a hated symbol of the absolute monarchy. What then followed was a revolution — the French Revolution — taken over by an elite fired by the mad ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: this generation of twentysomething men would invent the first modern dictatorship and shed much French blood before taking on Europe, all in the name of the republic and according to a virtue that it claimed to embody. Robespierre, one of the most wild[...]