Murdered by Barbarians

VIENNA – Real money must reflect the realities of the real economy. If it becomes detached from economic reality, like a clock that no longer tells the right time, it becomes a hazard to everyone.

 

Air FranceGrounded: Air France planes are idled by yet another strike.

Photo credit: Eric Piermont / AFP

 

Appointments are missed. Trains crash. You show up at the airport and find the plane left two hours ago! Air France is on strike. Our flight – with Austrian Airlines – left an hour late as a result.

“This is a mess,” we said to nobody in particular, as we waited for a plane this morning.

“Welcome to France,” said a voice behind us.

Puzzling out the secrets of money and interest rates was interrupted by the news – and nostalgia. The gruesome details: An 86-year-old French priest was forced to kneel in his church. Then his throat was cut.

“Murdered by Barbarians,” screamed a headline in the French newspaper Le Figaro.

“We must be pitiless,” said former president Nicolas Sarkozy. “It’s war.”

 

SarkozySarko the pitiless! Surely the Retro-Caliph in Raqqa is trembling.

Cartoon by Steve Bell

 

He may have picked up a few lines from Saint Bernard, rehearsed nearly 1,000 years ago. In the Burgundian town of Vézelay, on March 31, 1146, St. Bernard of Clairvaux delivered his famous oration on responding to the Muslim threat:

 

Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed on Christian people? […] Fly then to arms; let a holy rage animate you in the fight, and let the Christian world resound with these words of the prophet: “Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood!”

 

Saint_BernardSt. Bernard de Clairvaux (a.k.a. Bernardo de Claraval) sees the light and decides a few swords need to be stained with blood in a spot of tit-for-tat ravaging.

Panting by François Vincent Latil

 

In France – as in the U.S. – saintly politicians compete to see who can most convincingly promise to “get tough.” Of course, getting tough is just what the so-called Islamic State (known in France by its Arabic acronym, Daesh) wants.

The strategy is ancient. More than 2,000 years ago, radical Jewish groups conducted a war of terror against their Roman masters, hoping to provoke a crackdown by the authorities… leading to the radicalization of the masses. Did it work?

Depends on how you look at it. The Jews got their crackdown. Vespasian and Titus put down their insurrection, leveled Jerusalem, destroyed The Temple and, according to Josephus, killed 1.1 million Jews.

 

Communists, Trotskyites, Maoists

We remember discussing the radicals’ strategy back in 1969. This is where the nostalgia comes in.  Last night, we stayed at a tiny hotel in Paris, near where we first got to know the city 43 years ago.

We had gone for a semester abroad, after discovering that the tuition at the University of Paris was only $80. That meant that even with airfare, it was cheaper to go to the Sorbonne than to the University of Maryland.

The semester turned into a lifelong relationship, marked by equal periods of affection and disgust. We didn’t speak French at the time, but we had had four years of it in high school. That seemed like plenty (although it later proved comically insufficient).

But we were adventurous back then. And penniless. So, we got ourselves to Paris and hung out at the bars around St.-Germain-des-Prés. It was a very different city in the 1960s. It was a world leader in fashion, technology, movies, food, and philosophy. But Paris had a problem back then, too.

 

paris68-03sPolice and radical students facing off in Paris in 1968. It is quite ironic that the protesters of 1968 have transmogrified into the biggest squares, warmongers and happy police state administrators of today.

Photo credit: Gökşin Sipahioğlu

 

Communists, Trotskyites, Maoists, anarchists, syndicalists, and students – in 1968, they rebelled, ripped up the streets to build barricades out of the paving stones (the streets were covered with asphalt soon after), and engaged with the police in pitched battles.

By the time we arrived a year later, skirmishes between gendarmes and radical groups were still going on. The organized rebels would race around a corner, throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police who formed up into protected phalanxes with their clear plastic shields.

Then the cops would suddenly charge the insurgents, swinging their billy clubs at anyone they could reach. Trained and practiced, the terrorists would retreat quickly. This left the police with nobody to rough up except innocent onlookers.

That is how your editor nearly got hospitalized. Walking down the street, he was mistaken for a radical… knocked to the ground and worked over by three policemen, who eagerly went about their work with happy cudgels.

 

french_student_riot_may_19681Paris, May 1968 – it is fair to say that the streets weren’t exactly safe.

Photo credit: n24.de

 

Revolutionary Strategy

Sitting in a café with a bandaged face, we discussed the revolutionaries’ strategy with a young French intellectual of Trotskyite tendencies. Even almost a half-century later, we recalled the conversation when we passed the café (still in business) where it took place.

“Oh, sorry to see you got beaten up,” he said. “But it’s just collateral damage. We’re making headway. The police don’t like it when we attack them. It’s a point of pride, more than anything else.

“So, they overreact. But the more they show on TV people like you getting beaten up by the cops, the more the working class comes over to our side. We’re going to win.”

 

Leon Trotsky 2Leon Trotsky, proponent of the “permanent revolution”, and an idol of many of the 1968 rebels. It is truly funny that his legacy seems to be the modern-day crony-socialist zombie economy!

Photo credit: Popperfoto / Getty Images

 

The revolutionaries did not win. They did not topple the Fifth Republic. But they eventually got much of what they wanted: Free schooling, free drugs and medical attention; a high-cost, zombified crony economy; a bureaucratized, tightly regulated society; even a 35-hour workweek.

And now look at it.

“Yes, it’s a mess…” repeated the voice behind us.

 

Image captions by PT

 

The above article originally appeared as “The Story of How We Were Worked Over by Policeat the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

 

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