Revolutions are a funny thing, historically speaking. Personally, when I think revolution, I think about the French Revolution. It was a pretty fucking big deal. First of all, it proved how truly terrible democracy could be. Second, it gave rise to Napoleon. And lastly, as it empowered Napoleon, it also empowered his style of warfare. This, of course, prompts the question, what was Napoleon’s style of warfare?
Aside from military history and tactics and strategy, which are great fun but not really relevant to this discussion, we have the method of drafting commoners and promotion by merit. That’s right. Just normal people fighting for France, working their way up the ranks. The French army stopped being an aristocratic force of professional soldiers and turned into a pseudo egalitarian fighting force. The common folk served as officers. The common folk were in control.
But, you know, that wasn’t the first time that happened. Not even close. For a moment, let’s put aside the Roman Civil Wars and that chaos. Forget Athens, forget all that for now. Instead, jump ahead quite a bit in history to the English Civil War.
During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell led the New Model Army. What was the New Model Army? Well…ahem. Jump up two paragraphs. Here I’ll quote myself: drafting commoners and promotion by merit. You see, the English Civil War was actually a religious war. It was a war against an overreaching king who trampled on the rights of the Puritans. You know the Puritans, right? They’re the ones who came over and settled New England.
The Puritans hated fun, but they also believed in free trade and the right to govern themselves. Now, the Puritans were motherfuckers and you shouldn’t like them because they were (what we would now consider) a right-wing religious theocracy. However, the Puritans believed that every man was equal to the next (as long as they were devout, white, and owned land) and they hated the aristocracy. In other words, the New Model Army was the precursor to Napoleon’s Grande Armee. But the New Model Army wasn’t exactly the pure proletariat army, because the English Civil War didn’t completely strip the aristocracy of their power. In fact, it was the nobility who pushed the Civil War. Glancing through English history, it was the nobility who championed their liberties. But it would be dreadfully incorrect to think that liberty was the same thing as freedom.
Liberty is more like, the nobility can do what they want without Royal interference. Freedom is more of a Germanic concept, more of a “we aren’t beholden to a nobility who tells us what to do.” Freedom was a concept that dates back to the days of ancient Rome and the Germanic tribes who unified under *gasp* elected Kings.
In much the same way, the English Civil War deeply affected the colonies in North America. The Southerners were, in effect, an aristocracy. So while the the Puritans controlled the North, the imported English aristocracy controlled the South. Not too long after the English Civil War, there was another war, one that the US knows as the Revolutionary War.
The American Revolution essentially had two different armies, but in truth, it really only had one army. The South was almost entirely slaves. There weren’t enough rich, white aristocrats to form a proper army. George Washington was the leader of the army, but that was in the old English aristocratic sense. He was an officer-noble. The troops were mostly Yankees. The troops were mostly Puritanical Northerners who hated the overbearing English crown, and as you may suspect from the direction of all this, they weren’t of the nobility.
So here we are, back to the beginning. Napoleon’s Grande Armee was totally different from the previous iterations of lowborn armies, in practice, but it wasn’t a new concept. It was a concept that dated back to England.
Suck it, France. Your revolution sucked. It went like this: revolution, abuse of power, rise of Napoleon, end of revolution/beginning of Empire, defeat, and back to a monarchy.
But something far more important happened in the midst of this. When you start promoting normal people, they get the idea that maybe society should work like that. In the span of a few decades, the promise of advancement sank deep into the Western psyche, and in the ensuing decades, it took off. Now we can all vote, for better or worse, and the aristocracy has merged with corporate interests. Now the old battle between the common folk and the aristocracy is embodied in the Occupy movement.
Welcome to the new world.