Revolutions: The Past and The Present

Today In History, January 24th

Aidan Pollock and Aidan Karpicz

Emperor Caligula assassinated; his Uncle Claudius succeeds him

    On January 24th, 41 A.D, the emperor of the Roman Empire, Caligula, was assassinated and his uncle, Claudius, inherited the throne. For nearly four years, the now-25 year old emperor had been, to say it nicely, a hot disaster. Both he and the empire were in massive debt, thousands of people were killed arbitrarily, phony wars had been waged against the Germans and Britons, and let’s just say that Caligula had very loose morals. By 41 A.D., it had become too much for a small clique of officers centered around Cassius Chaerea, who realized that if they didn’t kill the emperor then the emperor will kill them.

They orchestrated the assassination at the place where Caligula watched his gladiatorial games. The group managed to separate the emperor from his guards, and Caligula was locked shut in a room with several assassins, who subsequently stabbed him. The Praetorian Guard, a sort of bodyguard for the emperor who were persuaded abandon him, then went and killed his wife and child (Rome was never known for its humanity or mercy), before allegedly finding his uncle Claudius hidden behind a curtain. The guard hailed Claudius, who never really wanted to be involved in politics, as emperor, which is ironic because the goal of the conspirators was to restore the old Roman Republic.

Louis XVI Calls For The Estates General

On January 24, 1789, the estates general was a general assembly representing the French estates of the realm: the clergy the First Estate, the nobility the Second Estate, and the commoners the Third Estate. Summoned by King Louis XVI, it was brought to an end when the Third Estate formed into a National Assembly, inviting the other two to join, against the wishes of the King. This signals the outbreak of the French Revolution.

The suggestion to summon the Estates General came from the Assembly of Notables, which was made up of notable people and peasants, which was installed by the King on February 22, 1787, but it had not met since 1626. The usual business of registering the King’s edicts as law was performed by the Parlement of Paris. In this year, it was refusing to cooperate with Charles Alexandre de Calonne’s program of badly needed financial reform, due to the special interests of its noble members. Calonne was the Controller-General of Finances, appointed by the King to address the state deficit. As a last measure, Calonne was hoping to bypass them by reviving an archaic institution.

Modern Analysis

With all of this history, it is interesting to look at the parallels between these events and the modern revolutions of modern times. These revolutions, whether overthrowing a tyrannical government or establishing one, all seem to be somewhere on a “revolutionary curve.” They all start with a tyrannical government establishing itself (usually to establish peace), a group, out of self-interest or grandiose ideals, overthrowing it, and the new government establishes a more democratic regime to justify its power grab.

In Rome, a group of officers overthrow a tyrannical government and tried to establish a republic, but were thwarted by the Praetorian Guard.

In France, Louis XVI’s calling of the Estates-General would spark a revolution, albeit slow one, that would soon dismantle the monarchy and establish a republic.

In all of these places, fear and anger led to the overthrow of a despotic government, with different circumstances giving slightly different events and outcomes. But we can use these instances of revolution to determine what we should do about the revolution in Syria. For example, in France, the outbreak of war between France and Austria is pointed by many as the point where the Revolution started to kill so many. So it may seem like non-intervention is the way to go. But on the other hand, the absence of any conflict gave the government time to consolidate power in its hands and no one else’s. In conclusion, history is often contradictory; one way looks wrong but so does the other way. No way is ever really the right way, but history often forces us to make such decisions so that our enemies don’t get the chance to.