Marie Antoinette is famously said to have said, when told that the peasants had no bread: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Let them eat cake.” On Bastille Day 2011 the overseers at my then place of employ bought doughnuts for the serfs. They of course were not in the least cognizant of l’anniversaire. I added the caption in magic marker, purely for my own amusement, and the digital memento of the picture. I forgot the “s” in “Qu’ils.” Oh, la.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are favored in corporate venues when there is a need to reward the workers with a dose of the sweet grease jones. Were it not for the institution of the meeting in our work-a-day culture, I’m not sure that Krispy Kreme would still be in business. Modern American oligarchy, unlike the ancien régime, makes sure that the peasantry has plenty of cake to eat. For now. If you try, I bet you can hear the voice of Republican princess Michelle Bachmann saying, “Qu’ils mangent de les beignets…Let them eat doughnuts,” and then the American Id in the voice of Homer Simpson responding, “Mmmm...doughnuts…”
Today is Bastille Day. On July 14, 1789, citizen insurgents in Paris stormed the Bastille Saint-Antoine, a medieval fortress built by the French king Charles V and used as a prison by later French kings, including Louis XVI. There were only a few prisoners locked up in the Bastille that day. The Marquis de Sade had been transferred to another lock-up just ten days earlier. Nevertheless, the Bastille was to the citoyens of Paris a sinister reminder of their oppression under absolute royal power. The attacking crowd was not looking for cake, or to free a few prisoners. They were after the large store of muskets, powder, shot, and ball warehoused there. 30,000 pounds of gunpowder smells like revolution. Load up on guns and bring your friends.
Lafayette sent the key to the Bastille to George Washington as a gift. This key is still at Mount Vernon:
Give me leave, my dear General to present you with the main key of the fortress of despotism. It is a tribute, which I owe, as a son to my adoptive father, as an Aide-de-Camp to my General, as a Missionary of liberty to its Patriarch. Marquis de Lafayette
A financial crisis caused in part by the debt taken on by the French crown in bankrolling the American Revolution was a prime cause of the fall of monarchy in France. The French King backed our revolution against Britain, and in the end lost his head for it. Americans in general don’t know much history, and the French Revolution and its causes is probably not a popular subject of study. But many of the problems facing France in the years leading up to the Revolution have curious reverberations in these latter days when our own ruling elites are poised to lose their heads over massive government debt largely incurred by financing foreign wars.
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Note: This is old yada, slightly edited, originally posted on July 15, 2011.