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The Potemkin Moment in France, 1789

If, in the French context, we mean by the "Potemkin Moment" the brief period when it became a truth universally acknowledged that the Feudal Era was so over -- that is, feudal social relations had come to an end -- July 1789 seems to be that moment (and hat tip, the Revolutions podcast 3.12, for making me see this). The Potemkin Moment was The Great Fear:omc

Between June and the beginning of August there were riots in the countryside. Peasants burned their nobles' chateaux, monasteries and buildings which housed public records. They particularly targeted documents which contained records of their feudal obligations. It was called "The Great Fear" and spread quickly throughout France.

Another source (I'm trying to make up for the lack of scholarly cites with volume):

The main targets of the subsequent uprisings were the seigneurs, to whom the peasants were obliged to pay feudal dues and the corvee. The chateaux (grand homes) of the seigneurial nobility were attacked and looted (wine cellars were often the first target). Written records of names, debts and seigneurial obligations were keenly sought and quickly burnt. Sometimes the nobles themselves were held captive and, under threat, forced to renounce their rights over the peasants on the estate. The uprisings began in the south-west of France but quickly spread, reaching their peak in the last week of July. The response of the newly empowered National Assembly was to dissolve most vestiges of feudalism during its famous night-sitting of August 4. The Great Fear fizzled out a few days later, although sporadic peasant uprisings would continue throughout the revolution.

And there are more examples in Kropotkin's The Great French Revolution 1789-1793.

Now, I'm hard-pressed to come up with a contemporary parallel. After all, our equivalent of the terriers, the feudal registers relating to land (a sort of paper-based GIS), are off in The Cloud, in a server farm somewhere in Utah, or Oregon, or North Carolina. The peasants can't get at them. In fact, the closest parallel I can think of to burning all the property records in France would be the clouded titles created by MERS, which was hardly a revolutionary act. Or was it?

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Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

Golem XIV has another interesting post about the solvency of current debt obligations on the books of the terriers banks in the US as well as the deplorable condition of the "stress-tested" EU banks. So it will be Jubilee then. Or, if the seigneurial obligations cannot be got at through the inter tubes, the revolution will not be televised.

Submitted by EGrise on

I've been thinking about that lately. What if we just mortared some of the server farms? Or like in Utah, just denied them water for cooling? I assume they'd just move offshore, but it would be an interesting shot across the bow.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm consider assaults on property violence, and I'm an advocate of strategic non-violence, but if we reached, say, warlordism...

A friend has the theory that we're going to see more "Going Postal" against infrastructure, like that FAA guy in Chicago recently. So your scenario would fit right into that.

Submitted by EGrise on

For the record, I agree - I'm not interested in political violence at all (if for no other reason, once that Pandora's box is open it's nearly impossible to close) and re: mortaring I certainly wouldn't want to harm a bunch of IT guys just trying to make a living like everyone else.

A non-violent thought I had was similar to the Stuxnet technique: wrecking the server/storage infrastructure through intrusion or introducing a tailored virus, possibly enhanced by internal "double agents" who could identify the targets.

I guess I was musing on infrastructure attacks in general, and what the response would be from the PTB if they thought it was coordinated (other than the usual "terrorism" stuff for public consumption, I'm thinking of the "chess moves") .

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

I suspect the recipients of the Stuxnet virus didn't view it as "non-violent".
Yours is an interesting defining of non-violence; it certainly doesn't match my definition...

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

Of course the peasants can get at the server farms. It's called hacking. The sticking point seems to be that the existing hackers have no sense of strategy, and the people with a grasp of strategy have no (or not enough) hacking skills.

Submitted by lambert on

However, French peasants are notoriously thorough, once roused. It may be (caveats above) that physical destruction is the only way forward.