Today is the anniversary of the storming of Bastille, the prison that symbolized the absolute rule of the French Monarchy. 14th of July 1789 marked the beginning of the French revolution, and the end of belief that kings and aristocrats had divine right to rule. The citizens themselves would take the matter of the state in their hands, and liberty, equality and fraternity would become the ideals upon which future societies would be built.
Unfortunately, like most (if not all) popular uprisings, the French revolutions soon descended into chaos and bloodbath. It started a tradition that culminated most (in)famously by the bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, and be extension, the communist putsch of 1948 in Czechoslovakia. Although it can be argued that the republican system brings more freedom and popular participation in the state politics than the monarchy, an equally convincing argument in favour of monarchy – especially the constitutional kind – could be made. Compare the totalitarian republics of the Soviet block, present-day China or North Korea, with the democratic and relatively free monarchies of United Kingdom, Canada (yes, the Queen is our head of state), Belgium, Sweden, and others. In other words, the problem is not in who rules, but how.
Ironically, this problem has not spared the greatest democracy in history. Arguably, people have fewer freedoms in the United States today than ten years ago. As someone who was in Washington, DC on September 11th, 2001, and who felt deeply the shock and sorrow of the American people, I have first-hand experienced the decline of the American public’s trust in its government as the atmosphere of fear (with the perpetual ‘code orange’ airport security) has risen. If I felt freer in America than in Canada in 1997, today I must say the opposite is true.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the French revolution should be that the way to rule the country is to listen to its citizens. Neither iron fist nor revolutions seem to work as solutions to social problems.