Absolute Monarchy, Revolution, and the Bourgeoisie

So I was thinking about the Russian Revolution (as is my wont,) and wondering why everyone was so vehemently against the bourgeoisie and not, at least in their rhetoric, the nobility. (I’ve long wondered the exact same thing about the French Revolution.)

If there is one thing that all commentators seem to agree on, including the man himself, it’s that Nicholas II (aka Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, final Tsar of all Russia,) was not fit to rule. He was not an evil man (though he did send millions of his subjects to their deaths,) and he was not an idiot, but neither was he extraordinary in any of the ways necessary to rule an empire.

But this isn’t reason to go executing a guy. After all, Russia managed to survive the tsardom of Peter the Great’s retarded half-brother (principally by making Peter co-tsar,) so there’s no particular reason why the nobility couldn’t have just stepped in and run things for Nicholas. Poor little Alexei probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer, and then one of Nicholas’s brothers or nephews would have been in the running for tsar–seems like a pretty decent position to hold out for.

But in an absolute monarchy, how much power does the nobility have? Could they intervene and change the direction of the war (or stop/prevent it altogether?)

Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) consolidated an absolute monarchy in France (with the height of his power around 1680.) In 1789, about 110 years later, the French Revolution broke out; in 1793, Louis XVII was executed.

Peter and Catherine the Greats (1672 – 1725; 1729 – 1796) consolidated monarchical power in Russia. The Russian Revolution broke out in 1905 and then more successfully in 1917; Nicholas was executed in 1918. Assuming Catherine was fairly powerful until her death, (and I suspect she likely would have been deposed had she not,) that gives us about 110 or 120 years between absolute monarch and revolution.

Is there a connection?

Obviously one possibility is just that folks who manage to make themselves absolute monarchs are rare indeed, and their descendents tend to regress toward normal personalities until they just aren’t politically savvy enough to hold onto power, at which point a vacuum occurs and a revolution fills it.

Revolutionaries, by and large, aren’t penniless peasants or factory workers (at least, not at the beginning.) They’re fairly idle intellectuals who have the time and resources to write lots of books and articles about revolution. Lenin was hanging out in Switzerland, writing, when the Russian Revolution broke out, not slogging through the trenches or working in a factory.

As I understand it, the consolidation of absolute monarchy requires taking power from the nobles. The nobles get their support from their personal peasants (their serfs.) The Royalty get their support against the nobles, therefore, from free men–middle class folks not bound to any particular noble. These middle-class folks tend to live in the city–they are the bourgeoisie.

Think of a ladder–or a cellular automata–with four rungs: royals, nobles, bourgeoisie, and peasants.

If the royalty and bourgeoisie are aligned, and the nobles and peasants are aligned, then this might explain why, when Russia and France decided to execute their monarchs, they simultaneously attacked the bourgeoisie–but said little, at least explicitly and propagandically, against the nobility.

By using the peasants to attack the bourgeoisie, the nobles attacked the king’s base of support, leaving him unable to defend himself and hang onto power. A strong monarch might be able to prevent such maneuvering, but a weak monarch can’t. Nicholas II doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’d imprison infant relatives for their whole lives or have his son tortured to death. He didn’t even bother taking another wife after the tsarina failed to produce a suitable heir.

I see the exact same dynamic happening today. For the peasants, we have America’s minority communities–mostly blacks and Hispanics–who are disproportionately poor. Working and middle-class whites are the bourgeoisie. College students and striving rich are the nobles, and the royalty are the rich.

Occupy Wall Street was an attempt by student-types to call direct attention to the wealth of the royalty, but never got widespread support. By contrast, student protests attacking bourgeois whites on behalf of black peasants have been getting tons of support; their ideas are now considered mainstream, while OWS’s are still fringe.

There’s a great irony in Ivy League kids lecturing anyone about their “privilege,” much like the irony in Lenin sitting on his butt in Switzerland while complaining about the bourgeoisie.

But in this case, is the students’ real target actually the rich?

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13 thoughts on “Absolute Monarchy, Revolution, and the Bourgeoisie

  1. The worst excesses of the revolution have been caused by the middle class signalling how much it wants to genocide the middle class. Hence the need for a nobility unafraid of using violence to insure that this does not happen, a priesthood cynical enough to declare such behavior heretical. Leftism happened because nobody was more capable of cruelty than leftists. OWS failed because they were incapable baboons routed by a cold weather and bad camp hygiene. Lenin succeeded because he was fairly capable and the Tsar lacked the will to execute him.

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    • OWS was anarchists, and anarchists, by definition, have no organizing power. Also, no one liked them.

      Lenin believed in taking power, so he did.

      The Tsar, oh the Tsar. Bit of a nincompoop. Should have executed Lenin. Peter the Great wouldn’t have hesitated to chop his head off.

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      • OWS was also crippled by progressive stack and generally taking every loony “social justice” idea to its extreme.

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      • Agreed.

        The Tsar is proof that absolute monarchy is only one fool away from absolute catastrophe. Monarchs need to be checked by priests and noblemen, if only to keep the kingdom alive during the reign of a fool or fop.

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  2. The absolute monarchs, in order to consolidate their power, marginalized the nobles in favor of a new professional class- the bureaucrats. I got this from Martin Van Creveld in his book Rise and Decline of the State.

    Anyway, the nobles were weakened, and as industry ramped up, those merchants who embraced it became wealthy- and used their wealth to influence the monarchs. The bureaucrats and academics- pretty much the same thing, saw this and were very upset about it, which is why this hatred of the bourgeoisie began.

    The absolute monarchs may have felt powerful, but in reality they were symbolism and signature. Many many signatures authorizing stuff they seldom read. The bureaucrats had a lot of control- then, these upstart bourgeoisie insist on being part of the government. Suddenly the Duma is full of rich industrialists who can bend the Tsar’s ear. From the bureaucrat’s point of view, this was terrible.

    The mechanism via which the bourgeoisie were getting control of state power was ultimately through the monarch, so the monarch had to go. Then, they filled all the legislative bodies with more bureaucrats.

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      • Yes. Roughly corresponds to the internationalist versus the nationalists, commies versus fascists, etc…
        They won’t let us stop the rollercoaster and get off.

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  3. Neither Catherine the Great, Louis XIII & Louis XIV – none were absolute. While they did strive to consolidate power, they all missed.
    August did point to a large part of the issue that resulted, however: the attempts to strip power from nobles led to an expansion of bureaucrats, most of whom were drawn from the merchant class. Within a short period of time (well, politically) this lead to a tiering of the middle class – those with access to bureaucratic positions and those without. The bourgeoisie with access did their best to erect barriers to entry to maximize their own access to power, wealth, and influence.
    This tier of the middle class was the target of the other tier of the middle class out of frustration at an inability to pierce these barriers and gain access to this sort of position.
    I suspect that if a 20-something Karl Marx had been given a non-demanding lifetime appointment to a bureaucratic job in a middling sized city he would have very happily spent his adult life stamping forms all day before donning a sensible hat and going home to dinner rather than writing anything at all.
    Revolutionaries and their followers didn’t aspire to be Dukes or Kings; they aspired to be postmasters and ministers.

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