I almost forgot.... today's Bastille Day! On this day in 1789, about 600 rioters overwhelmed the guards at the notorious political prison and freed SEVEN whole prisoners. They also killed a number of the employees there.
The reason that this is the National Day of France is that this was the point of no return for the French revolution. The reason for the French Revolution was that France was broke and in a severe depression and King Louis XVI didn't know what to do, so he called an Estates General, or National Parliament, the first in over a hundred and seventy years.
The kings of France weren't stupid. They knew that this would happen. The previous one in 1614 nearly established a constitutional monarchy, and to Cardinal Richelieu, the Prime Minister under Louis XIII, that just wouldn't do. So in 1617 and 1627, there was an "Assembly of Notables," a toy parliament of the King's friends, which tried to do some stuff, but failed. The notables wanted more power. So Louis and Richelieu established a two-headed dictatorship that lasted almost two centuries. The king's son, Louis XIV, when he became king, thought about calling a States General, but wisely decided against it. Instead, he threw a party at his palace in Versailles and that was a big success. It was the longest of it's kind, going on and on, in one form or another until the calling of the States General in 1789. Every noble had a silly part to play and they were eager to join in the fun and games. It was a culture as alien as something from another planet, but it suited the King's purpose.
This was all paid for by the commoners, who had no say in government except in the States General, which hadn't been in existence in ages, but thanks to millions of dollars worth of arms shipments to the American rebels during the Revolutionary war of 1775-81, and plain bad management of the economy, there was no money left in the kingdom. The eternal party had to be paid for somehow.
So the moribund Assembly of Notables was called in 1786. That was a waste. Then another one was called in 1788, and that was an even bigger waste.
So, as the economic situation got even uglier, Louis XVI called into existence something no one alive had ever seen before, then he treated an entire House with supreme contempt, leading to a legal revolt, converting it to the First National Assembly. Everything was entirely constitutional until the storming of the Bastille by the rioters. Then followed a constitutional monarchy, the first republic, Napolean, World War, another constitutional monarchy, a second republic, another Napolean, a third republic (we're now on the fifth) and so on and so forth.
Since the last successful revolution in 1959, France has been mostly calm (May 1968 was a play revolution, not a real one). The French mourn their lost glory by drinking wine and eating cheese. Two excellent activities. Vive Le France!
Follow Eric Lurio on Twitter: www.twitter.com/messy1