The New York Times printed an intriguing article about socially-responsible billionaires the other day, featuring the surprisingly generous words spoken recently by people such as Jeff Greene, a real estate investor, and Johann Rupert, the merchandising mogul. It appears that a small group of the super-rich are now assailing income inequality and feeling a pressure to do something about it, at least in words. Will their actions live up to their verbal bravado? We shall see…
During the Revolution, the super-rich did not just talk about abandoning their privileges, they actually did it!
What radically generous event of 1789 puts the modern-day hand-wringing of Jeff Greene and Johann Rupert to shame?
- The Night of August 4th, when privileges were discarded by the noble members of the Assembly with astounding aplomb. This powerfully egalitarian gesture effectively made all (male) citizens equal before the law, and laid the groundwork for the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.
- The Night of July 29th, known in history as Le Baiser de Lambesc or “the kiss of Lambesc,” when deputies on both the Left and the Right joined together to pledge unity in addressing the nation’s financial ills. Following that symbolic embrace, they pledged to donate 50% of their income to state coffers, and 100% of the Assembly paid up within one month.
- The Night of July 14th, when crowds of happy workers and tradespeople of the nearby Faubourg Saint-Antoine, seeking to honor the generosity of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, brought flowers and picnic dinners to share with neighbors and prisoners in the Bastille courtyard.
- The Night of May 1st, known as la Fête de Jeanne d’Arc (of the Feast of Joan of Arc), when joyous parishoners, in tribute to the new accord between the French Throne and the Roman Catholic Church, gave particularly large donations to their local parishes at a special midnight mass.