On July 14th the French celebrate Bastille day. It is, in their eyes, the equivalent of the 4th of July in the United States. The juxtaposition of these two holidays only ten days apart has always struck me as interesting.
Within 15 years of the American Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution had kicked off. Several of the philosophical underpinnings were the same and several of the players were the same. Why is it, then, that the outcomes were so different?
The American Revolution entailed combat between armed forces and the occasional civilian casualty/atrocity that happened during wars of the time. The French Revolution is marked by the execution of tens of thousands of citizens by the folks that end up in charge. The American Revolution produced a government that evolved into a constitutional form of government that has lasted for over two centuries. The French Revolution produced a coup that turned them into an Empire and a return to monarchy before turning once again to a republic.
Look at the history of revolutions around the world. The history of the 20th century is full of revolutions and counter-revolutions that left nations weak and disorganized. Bastille day is a day when I look around and appreciate the blessing that the American Revolution was when compared to any other revolution in recorded history. At the end of the day there were no “purges” of political opponents and there was a stable nation that continually grew stronger over time.