Monday, March 27, 2006

Antonia Fraser

Stupidity as a not sufficiently studied force in Politics...

Overlapping biographies of Marie Antoinette: Antonia Fraser's and Catherine of Hapsburg

After reading the really excellent biography of Marie Antoinette by Lady Antonia Fraser for reasons I will make clear to the Right Honourable Reader in a few lines, I got curious about what possible further contribution could a recently published book on the same Hapsburg-Lorraine Queen, written by an Hapsburg-Lorraine herself, be able to do. Answer: none.

Anyway, what has bring this blogger of yours close to the readership of "Point de Vue-Images du Monde"? A "sans-noblesse" attraction for royalty? An eagerness for gory stories of execution by guillotine? No, the Right Honourable Reader can sigh with relief , my motives are more worthy.

If you want, it's the "kaleidoscope effect" all over again. Not the "what if" school of revisionist history but the sense one accumulates through life that pure chance many times plays an enormous role in political upheaval. The pet obsession of this blogger of yours regarding understanding politics is to use "Russian Revolution" as the case-study to illuminate the different angles of a political process. Ideology, hard data on events and social context, the psychology of the main actors, all that political "bouillabaisse" should be tasted like a thinking-man's delicatessen. One should be able to acquire the ability to recognize thereafter the "essence" of a revolutionary process.

So, I read books on the French Revolution mostly as background to the "real thing" (Petrograd, 1905 to 1917 and thereafter) .

What strikes any reader of both revolutions is the psychological likeness of the two family triangles: LouisXIV-Marie Antoinette- the Dauphin; Nicholas II - Tsaritsina Alexandra Feodorovna - the Tsarevitch.

In both cases we have a flawed wimp of an husband, stupid according to all definitions of that whimsical quality, burdened by an enormous inferiority complex and feelings of inadequacy, dealing with a self-centered wife carrying whatever the dire circumstances the fixed obsession to keep the crown (imperial or royal) alive for her son to inherit it .

Sheer stupidity has never been sufficiently underlined as a important contribution to political debacles. (On the other hand, one has only to remember the exceptional intelligence of Stalin to be shy about making much out of I.Q. in rulers). In the cases of Versailles and Tsarskoe Selo to put the lack of brains of the Sovereigns on the spotlight is to cry out one of the inherent shortcomings of the monarchic principle. A good First Minister, an able Chancellor, a reasonably effective Council of State could perform near-miracles in camouflaging their Sovereign's intellectual shortcomings when the political weather was stable enough. But in times of high political barometric pressures, with storms gathering force, the lack of a quick calculating brain at the head of the institutional machinery was an irretrievable flaw.

To make matters worse, both Sovereigns, the French and the Russian, believed piously in the Higher legitimacy of their power, somehow believing their crucial reasonings (no matter how slow and clouded in its processing) were inspired, if not dictated, by God Himself.

Back to Marie Antoinette. The edifying story of her last weeks alive cannot hide the fact that pure dumbness, political frivolity and lack of substance brought in Terror. Just like in 1917..

Kisten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in the forthcoming picture based on Antonia Fraser's biography

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