US Sen. Carl Levin. (Photo: Matt Hampel / flickr)
Sen. Carl Levin pretty much had Goldman Sach's (GS) Lloyd Blankfein dead in a casket with that now-notorious email from GS's head of sales and trading, Tom Montag, describing one of their billion-dollar investment "products" as "one shitty deal." Levin seemed to delight in crossing the boundary into the realm of the unspeakable, knowing that even the so-called "family" newspapers and cable TV networks would have to report it. And just to make sure nobody missed the point, the senator repeated that phrase at least 20 times before the day was over. It was like the climactic scene in that old Hammer Films classic, "The Horror of Dracula," where Professor Van Helsing moves from coffin to coffin pounding stakes through the hearts of Drac and all his fellow bloodsuckers.
It's hardly the climax of our story, though. Ours has barely started. It seems to me, lately, that the crack up we've entered is liable to play out more gruesomely for our privileged elites than the orgy of bloodletting that attended the French Revolution. That historical moment was a sharp transition between old, settled, social relations and the new political realities of imminent industrialization and a rising middle class. The elites in charge of things to that moment, an ossified aristocracy, responded to rising discontent with utter feckless stupidity. To make matters worse, a great many of them were hunkered down in the fantasy-land royal palace of Versailles, enjoying what was for practical purposes a nonstop, mega house party. They must have thought they were safe 12 miles outside Paris.
The French Revolution actually got off to a better start than the way for which it is remembered. A progressive opposition put together a new legislature, the National Assembly. They undertook the writing of a constitution. But it all fell apart rather quickly, since the dim-witted king and his cohorts didn't really get into that old changing-times spirit and their lack of cooperation - not to mention their decadence - provoked the more violent factions of the common people to form that kraken of politics, the mob. What a goddamned mess it turned into - a revolving cast of mob masters, each worse than the last, whipping up the crowds to ever more horrible enormities of human vivisection - a political process that had gone hopelessly out of control. Despite the agile precedent of their friend, the new USA, quickly resolving its own rebellion into a functioning government of law, France opted for a bloody cluster fuck - which went on for eight more years.
The France of 1789 and the USA of today have a few important elements in common: a striking inability to sort out any national problems, an arrogant, depraved, ruling elite resistant to reform and an intellectual underclass motivated by blind fury.