Monday, 6 April 2009
Confidence in a Crisis
Dan Jones, a Cambridge protégé of Davis Starkey, has written a compelling new study of the Peasants Revolt called Summer of Blood which is soon to be published by HarperPress. Though wary of anachronism, I tried to draw parallels with the revolt and present unrest, typified by the strange and muddled protests that took place in London last week as the G20 conference was being held. Many media commentators have been warning of impending social unrest caused by the economic crisis. But the peasants of 1381 were emboldened by a period of relative prosperity that followed the reduction in labour surplus caused by the Black Death. And if we look back to the most recent period of widespread social unrest, the late 1960s and early 1970s, that was a period of relative affluence. It appears that confidence rather than desperation is a major factor in manufacturing rebellion. People in fear of losing their jobs are likely to become more conservative, more risk averse, finding comfort in a stronger state, protectionism and appeals to a mythical national past. That path has its own considerable dangers if the example of the 1930s is anything to go by.
Posted by History Today magazine at 03:37