Tonight I attended Antoine Rault’s play, Le Système: an account of the first credit bubble and crash in French history (an event initiated by the Scottish economist John Law, and which transpired during the Regency in 1719-21). It brings to mind two items of interest: 1) the economic causes of the French Revolution, and 2) the political gamble of the writers’s own bio in the program notes.
To make a long story very, very short: it appears that Rault, like Niall Ferguson in The Ascent of Money, agrees that “John Law was not only responsible for the first true boom and bust in asset prices, he also may be said to have caused, indirectly, the French Revolution” (Ferguson 126). This comes out in allusions to the workers, farmers, and artisans who made money during Law’s System, and who are held up to ridicule by the rich noble villains who foiled the System in order to return things to the (unfair, privilege-bound) status quo at the end. But where Ferguson blames Law for “comprehensively blowing the best chance that the ancien régime monarchy had to reform its finances,” Rault blames the political chicanery of Law’s rivals at the Regency court. He casts particular opprobrium on a cleric and a financier, and ends the drama with Law—played with fine, tight-lipped integrity by Loránt Deutsch—down on his knees in despair, wailing, “I am honest, I am honest!” (“Je suis honnête, je suis honnête!”).
Which leads to the author’s clever sleight of hand in the program notes, where he connects his own experience in politics to his reinvention as an honest writer. As Rault writes: “I put what I know about politics, and what I learned in the years I spent stalking the corridors of power, into this play” (“J’ai mis dans cette pièce ce que je sais de la politique et ce que j’ai appris en fréquentant durant quelques années les anti-chambres du pouvoir”). His on-line bio suggests that this bitterness may have something to do with the work he once did as a “communications expert” for political heavy-weights Jérôme Monod and Christian Jacob.
What a clever way to wreak revenge on your former bosses. And what a fabulous gamble on art as redemption!
p.s. Isn’t it funny that the French pronounce John Law as John “Loss”?!