November 23, 2021
EP. 132 — Revolutionary History with Mike Duncan
No periods in history are more fascinating than those moments when the status quo is overthrown and everything changes. This week, podcaster and author Mike Duncan is on the show to discuss why revolutions happen and what unfolds in their aftermath. You can check out his book, Hero Of Two Worlds, at factuallypod.com/books.
132 — Revolutionary History with Mike Duncan
Speaker 1 [00:00:22] Hello everyone, welcome to Factually. I’m Adam Conover. Thank you so much for joining me once again, it’s a joy to have you listen to this podcast. It’s a joy to make this podcast. I’m thrilled to be here. I hope you’re going to have a great Thanksgiving tomorrow, if you celebrate it in the United States. If you celebrate it in Canada, I think you’ve probably already celebrated it because it gets a little colder there earlier; so you have your harvest festival earlier. If you were lucky enough to travel to Canada and then back to the United States, you got to have two Thanksgivings. I did that one year. It was incredible, the best year of my life. I get to celebrate my favorite holiday twice. It is my favorite holiday, despite the horrible history of Thanksgiving, which I’ve covered extensively on television. But you know what? I still like stuffing, goddammit, and I’m not going to stop eating it just because I know the truth. Knowing the truth doesn’t mean we have to stop being human and eating delicious foods. OK? OK. All right. We’re on the same page. Let’s talk about today’s show. I am a student of history. I love learning about history, and I’m drawn (whenever I’m learning about it) to the revolutionary periods in history. That time when the existing order is overthrown by a ragtag group of whoever and an entirely new society comes into being. Now, the first reason I’m drawn to them is because they are fucking exciting. You can’t overthrow an established political, economic and social order without something happening, and you know that something is bound to involve chaos, violence, heroism, rousing speeches, and less cool stuff like the occasional atrocity, a beheading or a thousand. It’s exciting stuff. It’s good reading, is what I’ll say. But on a deeper level, revolutionary history is especially intriguing for me because revolutions today seem kind of impossible. I know people in my life whose goal, politically, is to tear down capitalism and create socialism here in America. I’ve also met people who want to create an anarcho capitalist utopia; where all the roads are owned by billionaires and you have to pay a toll to go to the toilet, or whatever. There are a lot of people who want to overthrow the existing order (myself among them at times) but that seems like an impossible goal to us, right? It seems like a far off thing to wonder and dream about, not something that we can actually do. Our society today is so complex and entrenched, it’s hard for me to understand what a revolution would even entail. What would the steps be if I wanted to overthrow capitalism? What do I do first? You know what I mean? Do I get a big megaphone and say, ‘Hey everybody, we got to tear this shit down’ and everyone just rises up and starts tearing bricks out of the wall of the New York Stock Exchange? I don’t know. It seems like it’s something that I can’t really do. But the people who are alive during these revolutionary times, they actually did it. They got together and they said, ‘The system under which we live sucks and we want something radically new. And to do that, we need to tear down the way that we live today,’ and they fucking did it. It’s incredible, and it makes us realize that the same possibility might exist in our current time. But there’s a flip side to this because even though revolutions are possible, it doesn’t mean they always work out. Things don’t always go exactly according to plan. Last time I checked in Russia (or France, or Haiti, or America where I live today), even though the revolution overthrew an old order, it’s not like things are going amazingly well today. In fact, these are all places where people might say we need another revolution of some sort, even though the world that we live in was formed by those revolutions themselves. Look, I could talk about this myself for hours, but I want to bring on our guest today because we have an incredible guest on the show to talk about revolutionary periods in history and one particular historical character who made something of a career of revolutions; of traveling from place to place and participating in seemingly as many revolutions as possible. But we’ll get to that in the second half of the interview. First, let me introduce Mike Duncan. He’s the host of a really, really, really good podcast called ‘Revolutions,’ and most recently, the author of the history book ‘Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution.’ This was a fascinating interview, and you’re going to love it. Please welcome Mike Duncan. Mike Duncan, thank you so much for being here.
Speaker 2 [00:04:54] Thank you very much for having me here.
Speaker 1 [00:04:56] You are a well-known historian podcaster. You have a new book out about the Marquis de Lafayette, which I’d love to talk about. But first, I want to talk about how your very well known for your podcast on the history of revolutions around the world. Revolutions are a topic I find really interesting and that I’m drawn to, in the study history. Why were you drawn to them?
Speaker 2 [00:05:19] I think my interest in revolutions goes back to just being a teenager who was very interested in history in general. Then I grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and so the two poles of my love of history initially is the American Revolution. I’m very drawn to that. I’m very interested in it, and then I was also very drawn and interested in the Russian Revolution. I think it was very normal coming out of the Cold War and a very immediately post-Cold War world. Both of those things remained very, very interesting to me. So doing the Revolutions podcast is a lot of going back to my own personal roots in where my love of history comes from, but also just revolutions in general are inherently interesting because they are so complicated. They are the moments when everything that existed breaks down and something entirely new is trying to be born out of it, and that is an incredibly tumultuous process. There are so many things happening simultaneously and so many different personalities in conflict with each other that I think it is just an inherently a bright light that will draw your attention; in a way that just some normal run of the mill period in some civilizations history is not maybe going to draw your attention. A revolution is always a big flash bang on the timeline, and so you’re going to look and say like, ‘Well, oh, OK, well, what actually happened here? This is pretty important.’
Speaker 1 [00:06:47] Well, and it’s something that seems in our own world, almost impossible or sort of a North Star thing that we push towards. We never expect to get there. In our own political discourse, for instance, Bernie Sanders during his runs for president, says, ‘We’re going to have a political revolution in this country. That’s what we’re going to have,’ And he says that in order to make the impossible seem possible. To say the that the constraints of our normal political reality are going to change because we’re going to have a revolution. You can look at it and debate about how successful his political revolution has been. Semi successful, perhaps. But then when you look at the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, maybe the rise of the Chinese Communist Party, I’m not sure whether you’d call that a revolution or not. But those are moments where holy shit, it did happen and you did have people saying, ‘Wait, we need to radically remake the world.’ And they did it. Maybe the results weren’t what they intended, but something happened that in our own lives seems – The structures and the systems under which we live seem so permanent and when you look at these revolutions, you realize that they are not. Then you start to ask yourself, ‘Well, what caused the revolution to happen or what created the pinprick that widened into the giant opening that caused everything to change?’
Speaker 2 [00:08:16] Yeah, sure. When you take somebody like Bernie Sanders, his rhetoric about having a political revolution is a lot changing the way campaigns are financed and changing the way that moneyed interests are allowed to influence politics versus having a more democratic bent to politics, how wealth is distributed inside of the society. But if you take Bernie Sanders and compare him to actual revolutionaries, Bernie Sanders is not a revolutionary. Bernie Sanders himself would not even say, ‘I am a revolutionary.’ He believes in elections. He believes in the system. He’s not talking about overturning the United States Constitution and instituting some entirely new polity in its place. My own personal read on Bernie Sanders is, if a genuine revolutionary movement built up out of his political coalition that he would be one of the people saying, ‘Whoa, guys, that’s not it. I didn’t actually mean take up arms and go overthrow the government. I just meant we should probably have a better way of financing campaigns,’ which is a lot of what that political revolution was about. There’s absolutely laudable goals inside of what Bernie Sanders was trying to do, but it’s not revolutionary in anything but the rhetoric that he wanted to use. He’s using revolutionary as a synonym for a major change in the way we do electoral politics, as opposed to what Lenin or Mao or Robespierre are talking about when they are talking about revolution, which is literally ‘We are going to destroy the old state root and branch and build something new in its place.’
Speaker 1 [00:09:51] Well, before I ask you more about that, let me ask (and I’m sure that this is a question you’ve been asked on other podcast before): do you feel that there is a movement in America today that has genuinely revolutionary aspirations? I know you spoke about the January 6th uprising earlier this year on podcasts. But I’m curious if you think there is such a – How does it relate to American politics today?
Speaker 2 [00:10:22] It’s really hard to get a read on, it really is. Because one of the things that has been a recurring theme of every revolution that I have studied; and I’m on the Russian Revolution, which is like the 10th revolution in modern times that I’ve studied. If you go back to my work in Roman history, there’s a number of revolutionary events that take place inside of the experience of the Roman Empire over its thousand years. So I’ve been through this wringer a couple times, and there are often times in history where there is a great confluence of factors that could potentially produce a revolutionary event: economic upheaval, social upheaval, decline in political legitimacy of the existing regime. There are many things that come together. Sometimes these things are coalescing and you’re like, ‘Wow, I think this is going to be a revolution,’ and then there’s never really quite a spark that actually blows it up into a revolution. Or what’s about to coalesce simply dies away. Sometimes I’ve seen revolutionary events that are quite literally canceled on account of rain; where people are about to start coming together and there’s a major thunderstorm that drives people away and everything that was rising, almost literally, gets washed away by the rain. Other times, these things come together and on both sides: the people who are in favor of revolution and the people who are like, ‘We don’t want to have a revolution’ are both saying to themselves, ‘Well, now’s not the time. It’s not going to break out now, this isn’t actually the moment.’ And then all of a sudden it blows up in everybody’s faces. I think that this really happens in the Russian context. Both the Russian and French revolutions, even though they had active revolutionaries in the mix, nobody was able to predict the fall of the Bastille. When the February revolution breaks out in Russia, if you really dig into the nitty gritty of the details; it breaks out in opposition to some of the direct orders that are coming down from the Revolutionary Party, saying ‘We would like to hold off until May the 1st.’ There were a group of women who ignored the the orders that were coming down from the top, saying ‘We want to hold off until May the 1st,’ and they actually just went ahead and got it going in an unexpected way. So to answer your question about what’s going on right now in the United States, are there a lot of factors floating around out there that would be, if a revolutionary event of some kind broke out, as a historian, you’d be able to look back and say, ‘Well, sure, man. The financial crisis of 2008 was never really overcome by this society. It was something that they continued to deal with a decade later, even though everybody was like, “Well, unemployment’s low, so the economy must be fine,” even though there is an enormous amount of economic insecurity that remains that is then blasted by something like a global pandemic. That has structural inequalities; racially and economically, that trace back to the roots of the country. We have clearly some kind of anti-constitutional movement that has been born out of the Republican Party, that seems very uninterested in sort of paying attention to the results of elections.’ And if they don’t like the result of an election, what are they going to do? They’re just going to storm the Capitol and try to overturn it. But is that does that mean that we’re going to have a revolution or how is this revolution going to manifest? Is it going to be a Black Lives Matter style uprising in the streets? Is it going to be attacks on state houses or state capitols by these MAGA groups? Who knows, but there is a lot that is floating around out there, I will say that.
Speaker 1 [00:14:01] Yeah, it’s difficult. It’s fascinating because it’s so easy for us to have the desire to draw a comparison between right now and whatever time we’re studying in history. But then, the more you read about whatever that time is, you realize how many little seemingly inconsequential factors come together to cause the result that you read about. How chaotic truly every system is, as you say, whether or not it rained that day having such an effect, and it makes it really seem like a fool’s errand to try to compare and say ‘X y z is going to happen because of this happening in history.’ Or I guess I suppose the more you study, the main effect it has is to make you less confident in any prediction or evaluation you might have about the present, not more.
Speaker 2 [00:14:52] I would say, so I think that we are living in dramatic times. I do think that we are living through a moment in American history, and a moment in world history. What the result of that will be is anybody’s guess. I have my suspicions and they’re not great ones, but maybe something good will come out of it.
Speaker 1 [00:15:17] OK, here’s the big question I have about when I think about these revolutions. This is what’s driving me towards my own interest and study in them. So I’m really curious about your take, even though it’s a little bit big picture. So many of these revolutions start from almost utopian origins in terms of what people (at least the intellectuals, the wings of the forces that caused them) wanted. Genuinely, it’s folks who say, ‘The current system is not serving us, it is hurting people. It’s causing inequality. X y z. We should destroy and replace it with something better.’ The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, both as far as I know, really definitely started from that sort of place. I know people in my own life who share those aspirations; who say, ‘Oh my gosh,’ (and I share a lot of them as well) ‘capitalism controls our government too much and is resulting in the death of the planet. It’s hurting people and is killing people. Ultimately we need to like not just reform but destroy the system and build something new.’ I want to believe that better world is possible. That’s the slogan: ‘A better world is possible.’ But then when I look at those giant incidents in history, those are people who had the same goal: ‘Hey, we need to destroy this corrupt system and build something new.’ And guess what? They did it. The system was destroyed and they did build something new. The thing that they built kind of worked, but it was also kind of a mess and led to, in some cases, civil war or famine or all these other problems. Then it led to the world that we have today, right? If you look at the Russian Revolution a hundred years on, it led to the Russia that we have today. If you look at the French Revolution, centuries on, that led to the France that we have today. It didn’t lead to a world that I would necessarily say is better unequivocally. So that makes me, not cynical, but it makes me question whether or not that goal is something that works and I’m curious about what your view is on that, having studied so many of these. The limits of our ability as humans to actually create a better system for ourselves. Does humanity’s messiness always get in the way?
Speaker 2 [00:17:54] Well, I do think that a better world is possible. I do. I would fundamentally agree with that assessment; that I don’t think that anybody should ever stop and look around and say that this is the best that we can do. Because I do think that if you look back 200 years, 300 years ago: when it comes to the status of Africans in the world, when it comes to the status of women in the world, I think you would be very hard pressed to tell a lot of people today, ‘Well, all these revolutionary upheavals, what have they really gotten us? What have they really achieved for us?’ And the answer is, like, a lot. So I think that for a lot of people, it is a better world today than it was 100 years ago or 200 years ago. And that if we ever stop thinking that we can keep progressing and keep moving and if we’re not aiming for a better world 100 years from now or 200 years from now, then what on earth are we even doing? Because there’s lots and lots still left to be done. Now, when it comes to what role revolutions play in this – For example, if you take the French Revolution; the French move, ultimately, from an absolutist monarchy that is based on feudalism and based off of these aristocratic structures and moves towards a system that is based off of rights: where there are elections, there’s participation in government, it creates a more egalitarian and equal system, at least in the ideal. Was a revolution necessary to achieve that? Or could they have just reformed their way to the same place, which I think is one of the big question that’s floating around out there is, ‘They did all of this just to get to a place where if they had just had more intelligent leaders, they could have just done a few reforms and gotten to the same place.’
Speaker 1 [00:19:47] The British didn’t need the guillotine so many people to get there.
Speaker 2 [00:19:50] Right, so my question, however, and just to cut to the end of the chase here, I don’t really have an answer to this right now. I have thought about this a lot, but it is so complicated and so messy that I don’t really know that I have a great definitive answer to it because the British only get to where they are in terms of slowly but surely reforming the system in order to protect the elites in the period (whatever period it is), whether it’s the 1830s or 1850s or 1880s, the British underwent a gigantic bloody civil war that involved them chopping the head off of their own king in the 17th century. They don’t usually like to talk about the Stewart era of their history, they usually go, ‘Here’s a TV show about The Tudors. Here’s a TV show about Victoria,’ and they just sort of skip everything in between, not ever talking about the Stewart period of their history, which is the most interesting period to me because it’s a gigantic civil war that involves a lot of people getting killed. So the other question then is, if the French Revolution exists and the Russian Revolution exists as a threat that is looming out there for regimes that do not initiate the kind of reforms that make their society better (more libertarian, more egalitarian, more responsive to the needs of their people). Do those regimes make those choices to reform, absent the very visible threat of something like the Russian Revolution or the French Revolution? Do the British do what the British do if the French aren’t rolling out the guillotine?
Speaker 1 [00:21:21] Because we got to make sure we don’t get guillotined.
Speaker 2 [00:21:24] Yeah. They were scared to death of the French Revolution, and they didn’t want to have a French Revolution. So absent the historical experience of the French Revolution sitting there, do the British elites deal with the British elites do? Do the Scandinavian elites do what the Scandinavian elites do? Kind of at the same time, because the British – We talk about the British because we’re sort of an Anglophone country. But the British are doing a lot of what most of the other Scandinavian countries are doing, which is slowly reforming their way through this period. In a way that you find the French going through these 20 year cycles of revolution through most of the 18th/19th century. I don’t really have a good answer to, ‘Is the revolution necessary? Why couldn’t they have just reformed their way to it?’ Well, because without a revolution floating around out there, why does anybody want to work on a reform project? That’s just sitting there for all of us to sit with and breathe deeply about and meditate on.
Speaker 1 [00:22:17] This is why people write alternate reality history novels. Because it’s almost impossible to, when you’re studying history, not start thinking, ‘Well, what if things went a little bit differently?’ But those are truly an unanswerable question by history.
Speaker 2 [00:22:33] Mm-Hmm. Yep.
Speaker 1 [00:22:36] OK, here’s another question I have. There’s been an idea floating around (that I’ve heard of cropping up more and more places) that when we evaluate the American Revolution, that in truth we shouldn’t view it quite so positively; that it was really a rebellion of wealthy landowners looking after their own interests and instituting those interests directly into the Constitution in order to protect their wealth and their power at the expense of everyone else. That’s probably better than continuing to be a subject of the British Empire but it’s hardly as laudable as a true like working class revolution say. I’m curious about your view on that. You said growing up, you loved the American Revolution.
Speaker 2 [00:23:30] I was a good patriotic boy coming out of the Cold War, you know? A good, white boy coming out of the Cold War, I should add.
Speaker 1 [00:23:39] I should add Paul Revere and all that. Has your view of it changed at all?
Speaker 2 [00:23:43] Oh boy, howdy, has it.
Speaker 1 [00:23:46] Tell me how.
Speaker 2 [00:23:48] Yeah, the American Revolution is a political revolution; in the sense that a group of people who were colonists broke away from the mother country and founded a self-governing republic. I do think that there is something to that, in terms of it being more than it being just like shuffling papers around on a desk, in terms of what they actually managed to accomplish. It was a world that was defined by monarchy and aristocracy; of nobility of the blood. As opposed to what the Americans are setting up, which is a participatory republic. But it’s also, by far of all the revolutions that I’ve covered, the most conservative revolution of all of them. It’s emphatically not a social revolution, in the sense that it was coming and it was rising from below and trying to overturn the prevailing economic system and social system and political system. It was, in essence, merely a political break. It was a political divorce between two groups of elites as opposed to anything else, and of course, they do turn around immediately and make sure that slavery is entrenched. Then of course, the other thing is, one of the causes of the American Revolution is the British trying to hem the colonists in. The British were drawing a line down the Appalachian mountains and saying, ‘You guys have to stay on the east side of this because on the west side of this, we have a bunch of indigenous tribes who we, the British Empire, have treaties with. And we’re not just going to let you move into their territory and take their land because that’s not in our interests. And frankly, we don’t want you growing that much bigger anyway. We would like you sticking to the coasts, please.’ And this is, I think, one of the major instigators of the revolution that a lot of these leaders, guys like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had invested a lot of time and effort and resources into staking, literally, land claims. They had titles to this land in the Ohio country that they wanted to sell. It was a part of George Washington’s portfolio that was very threatened by what the British were trying to do with the Intolerable Acts. So those kinds of things, you see them revolting against the idea that their British masters are going to prevent them from doing whatever it is that they want to do; which is ultimately a genocidal land grab across an entire continent and in the southern colonies, the perpetuation of slavery in perpetuity. So that’s not good. Those are not good things. You get into like, the what ifs: like, what if we had lost the American Revolution? What actually changes here? Is it better for slavery? Does slavery end earlier if the Americans are part of the British Empire? Do we do less genocidal land grabbing if we’re a part of the British Empire? The sneaky answer (I have given this a little bit of thought), to both those questions, is no. Because if the American colonies are still part of the British Empire, I do think that changes the calculations in the British government about their own attitudes towards slavery. How eager are we to get rid of slavery and then how much balancing the interests of these white colonists who we have; who would like to continue to expand across the continent and get more natural resources that are good for us, the British Empire, versus these treaties that we have with the indigenous tribes in terms of state interests, which of these is more important? I think that they would probably have sided with their white Anglo colonists and settlers as opposed to the indigenous tribes. You can just look at the British empires conduct in in Asia and in India, and you can say to yourself, ‘I’m not really sure that, ultimately, the British government would have done much to control the instincts and aspirations of the American colonists to have a genocidal conquest across the continent and perpetuate slavery indefinitely.’
Speaker 1 [00:27:47] Yeah. Oh my god.
Speaker 2 [00:27:49] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s a bummer.
Speaker 1 [00:27:51] It’s a bummer. Look, I’ve read a fair amount on the American Revolution, a fair amount of revisionist accounts. But even just the way you put it, in terms of George Washington tried to personally make sure that he can make as much use of his assets as possible. That is, I don’t know, in five minutes. That’s a revolution of my own understanding of it.
Speaker 2 [00:28:17] I don’t know if this comes specifically from the West Coast, where I’m from originally. I’m from Seattle and my whole family’s from Washington and Oregon and California. So the history of the United States is often a story of north and south; like, north versus south, and it is true, this is the axis of American history. But there is also been an east west axis of American history that I think is just as interesting, just as important. Because North/South gets you the conflict over slavery, East/West gets you the conflict with the eradication of the indigenous tribes and the move West and then, how the people in the West felt about the people in the East is just as important to explaining American history as anything that goes on with the North and the South.
Speaker 1 [00:28:57] Amazing. I had never heard that account; that the colonists wish to push east and were being prevented from doing so. It also makes a connection to me, to so much of the time when our language around freedom in America: the more you look at American politics and the history of the last century, it looks like a lot of that freedom is freedom to make as much money as I can from my property. No one can tell me that I can’t knock down this thing I own and build something that’s going to make me a lot of money. So the connection to that was what the original leaders of the revolution were trying to do as well. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s just part of our DNA. That tracks really well for me.’ Yeah.
Speaker 2 [00:29:44] I mean, the United States is is fundamentally a commercial enterprise. That’s how it begins. There are religious dissidents who are fleeing from Britain settling up in Massachusetts, but a lot of what’s going on here, down in Virginia, down in the south and most of the other colonial projects are: how do we make money commercially from this new ’empty’ continent that we have arrived at? And I think that mentality gets laced in from the beginning. It’s absolutely a part of the American DNA and the desire to go forth and stake your own claim and generate as much wealth for yourself personally as possible. That’s yeah, that’s the story of the United States.
Speaker 1 [00:30:31] One of the very first guests on the show, Adam Winkler, wrote a book called, ‘We the Corporations,’ which postulated that the very first charter (or thing that you could say was close to a constitution) was basically a trading company setting up in the United States. That the original colonists were ruled by a corporate charter, not by any other system of laws. The country was, literally, colonized initially by corporations.
Speaker 2 [00:31:03] Mm hmm. Yeah, for sure.
Speaker 1 [00:31:06] Incredible. Well, do you ever have trouble in your work, like, every single one of these revolutions ends up becoming myth, right? Here in America, as you’re telling this story (your version of the story, the version that comes from from your own scholarship on it), it’s immediately bumping up against everything that we were not just taught in school, but absorbed through osmosis in the culture about what the American Revolution is and what it represents. I even feel myself pushing back against it, I hear the voice of Barack Obama over my shoulder going like, ‘No, the highest ideals expressed in the Federalist Papers,’ or whatever the fuck. It’s so hard to push back against that. I imagine the same is true elsewhere: if you’re in Russia, you’re hearing about the Russian Revolution to some extent. Is it a difficult topic topic to study because of those myths? Does that complicate it at all for you?
Speaker 2 [00:32:04] Well, the nice thing for somebody like me who’s you sitting here in the United States is that I I have that conflicted relationship with the American Revolution. I could probably go off for 5 or 10 minutes on the fact that despite everything that we just talked about, they did lace in also into the DNA of the Constitution, things like liberty and equality as being the highest ideals that we have to aim for. And we have been aiming for those things. And there have been populations and groups and individuals throughout the entirety of American history who have been trying to live up to those ideals, often in opposition to some of those crass commercial and racist instincts that are also laced into the United States. I can say all those things, too. But if I’m looking at the French Revolution or the wars in the Three Kingdoms in Britain, or I’m looking at the Russian Revolution or all of Spanish-American Independence, which I did a big series on, I’m personally coming in to those topics not saturated in some culture’s myth making project about those events. I do feel like because I’m a bit of an outsider looking in on it, there’s good and bad to being an outsider looking in on things. The good of being an outsider looking in on things, is I feel like you can just way events and get a sense of what happened between these people and not feel like, ‘Oh, what I’m thinking and saying about this is going to challenge some long-held notion or be really offensive to even members of my own family.’ I don’t really bring those prejudices into what I’m talking about. So when I talk about beliefs – Take, for example, Simone Bolivar, who is (I think) even more than George Washington; a mythical liberating founding figure in Venezuela, in Colombia, in Ecuador and in pretty much all of South America. They worship this guy. Officially., I mean, they worship this guy like a God. If you are to challenge that, then you’re running up against an entire school system that has taught you not to ever challenge Bolivar or anything that he stood for. I can see lots of good stuff in Bolivar, I can see lots of bad stuff in Bolivar. I can criticize him, I can praise him. I’ve gotten lots of emails from people in Venezuela, from people in Colombia who have said, ‘I went through this school system. I’ve got a university degree. I felt like I was pretty well versed in the history of my own country. But the things that you were talking about, just never come up. They are never, never, never, never talked about.’ So I think that’s a nice thing about being an outsider. Now there are also bad hings: you can say, ‘Well, you don’t really understand the nuance of what’s going on in here. And probably, very possibly, you’re projecting things from your own culture onto our culture. And so you’re getting some stuff wrong.’ I freely admit that I’m probably getting some things wrong here and there. But I can also happily talk about guys like Lenin; the good and the bad without feeling like I’m trapped into into representing one side or another.
Speaker 2 [00:35:20] Well, that’s really interesting because I just read a book called, ‘Superpower Interrupted,’ which is a short history of China. The entire idea was, it’s trying to tell you the history of China from the Chinese perspective. More or less the perspective you would learn if you went to school there minus, probably, some of the state propaganda. But there’s always that back and forth of, so many other histories of that place are written from an American perspective, from the perspective that Americans have with what we think of China, our interactions: Nixon went to China, all that kind of thing. If you go to the Barnes and Noble, you’ll see a million books like that and you won’t see the opposite. But then on the other hand, what are the gaps that are coming out of the Chinese perspective. Or the perspective of a historian writing in that country? What are the presumptions? That makes me wonder, ‘Well, hold on a second. I have never read an American history written by a non-American.’ We write so much about our own history, and I can’t think of one that is coming from an outsider perspective in that way. Is that something you chase after?
Speaker 2 [00:36:33] I don’t actively chase after it, necessarily. I think to get at that stuff, you need to be reading in different languages; and that’s going to be a part of it. Because if you read a British account of the United States, it’s always difficult to not just roll your eyes at whatever it is they’re talking about because you know they’ve got an axe to grind here and there about this and that. I just lived in Europe for three years, for example. When I was over there, I was in France and so I’ve learned how to read French. So I’ve gotten some really good French perspectives on the United States, and I do feel like I got plugged in a little bit to the European takes on the United States. I think that it, in the same way that there’s really great stuff about them, about their ability to see what’s going on in the United States and just be like, ‘You guys are insane. You’re an insane country. You’re a country full of insane people running into each other.’ This is a thing about you that is hard to understand if you’re living in the United States because we do have (and I admit to this for myself) an incredibly parochial view of history and of the world. I was in France during COVID and I was in Paris for COVID. I was on a 23 hour a day lockdown for three months. It was actually a pretty intense lockdown period over there. But I would be reading my Twitter feed (which is mostly Americans) and I would be getting these people who were who were protesting against the idea that COVID was a big deal and saying, ‘This is just CNN inventing something to get at Trump.’ You have to be so myopic about the way that the world (about the whole rest of the world) to think that COVID, in the spring of 2020, was just being cooked up by American media because they didn’t like Trump. AI’m sitting there in lockdown in Paris being like ‘I promise you, this has got nothing to do with Trump. This has everything to do with the fact that there is a virus that is loose in the world and it is on the front pages of every single newspaper of every single country in the world.’ But at the same time, the Europeans love to ding the United States for their racism and the Europeans will say, ‘The Americans are incredibly racist. They’re a racist culture and they’re doing racist things, and we can see it very clearly how racist they are. And it’s quite insane that there is even a debate in the United States about whether or not racism exists, or whether or not racism is one of the most important structural factors of the United States,’ which of course it is. We can see that clearly, ‘Unlike us good, enlightened Europeans who aren’t saddled with such prejudices.’
Speaker 1 [00:39:12] Meanwhile, those boats back. Send those boats back.
Speaker 1 [00:39:15] Yeah, man. I’m just like, ‘What are you talking about? We learned it from watching you, dad,’ is basically my attitude towards that. So again, there are blind spots either way. We do sometimes use other people’s bad behavior to feel good about ourselves. There’s also times where I feel like Americans can get too mired in the notion that only American society is racist and that only America is a country where the African or black population is being mistreated and that other societies are enlightened and don’t deal with these kind of prejudices. Talk to black people in France, talked to them in Germany, talk to them in Britain. They will all tell you exactly the same story. It’s not just the United States who is guilty of all this.
Speaker 1 [00:40:03] Go to almost, literally, any country on Earth and you will find that when the borders of that nation were drawn, they were drawn around an ethnic group that ended up a minority. I remember, in college, visiting Germany and and going, ‘Oh, Turkish people here are not treated very well.’
Speaker 2 [00:40:21] Yeah. I think that that’s entirely true. But I think that kind of cross cultural, cross political exchange is really, really good because there are blind spots to every single part of it. If you’re actually going to get any kind of unified vision of what’s actually going on, it is good to try to be an inside or be an outsider, listen to outsiders, listen to insiders; because sometimes the French will comment on the United States and I’ll be like, ‘You guys actually don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s all not true.’
Speaker 1 [00:40:51] Well, speaking about cross-cultural connections and the American Revolution and the French, I want to ask you about your book.
Speaker 2 [00:40:58] What a Segway.
Speaker 1 [00:40:59] Isn’t that incredible?
Speaker 2 [00:41:01] We lucked into that.
Speaker 1 [00:41:02] We really found our way there, but we got to take a really quick break. We’ll be right back with more Mike Duncan. OK, we’re back with Mike Duncan. So after you have spent so many episodes doing podcasts about revolutions, why write a book about the Marquis de Lafayette?
Speaker 2 [00:41:30] Lafayette showed up in more revolutions and more episodes of the Revolutions podcast, over the years that I spent producing them, than really any other figure. I do spend a lot of time in the ‘age of democratic revolution’ between, like 1775 and about 1830 in the Atlantic world with the American Revolution and the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution, Spanish-American Independence and then I do the French Revolution of 1830. Lafayette gets into the American Revolution as this 19 year old kid, and he participates in really major historical events in France and in the United States. Then for the next 50 years, he’s bouncing in and out of history. We finally find him as a 70 year old, trying to squeeze back into his old National Guard uniform to go overthrow King Charles the 10th in 1830. So he has this incredibly long career that just so happens to coincide with an incredibly tumultuous and revolutionary period in the history of the Atlantic world. So when I got to the point in the podcast where Lafayette dies in 1834 – I actually said to the podcast audience at this point, ‘This guy Lafayette, he’s died now. He’s been around so much. So what I’d like to do is, I’m not going to do a quick retrospective of his life. I really want to do a standalone episode, where we sort of look back at him from the beginning.’ That standalone episode, more or less, became the pitch for the book to my publisher and then it blossomed into a 500 page biography.
Speaker 1 [00:43:04] Cool. Yeah, there’s some fictional character on the tip of my tongue who shows up in every chapter of the epic story.
Speaker 2 [00:43:15] Well, people say Forrest Gump.
Speaker 1 [00:43:17] There you go.
Speaker 2 [00:43:18] But the thing is, that Lafayette was also participating in things more than just sort of accidentally showing up. I know that they give some historical causal role; in terms of where does the smiley face come from. But Lafayette was more historically important than Forrest Gump was. That’s my informed scholarly opinion on that.
Speaker 1 [00:43:48] This French man is a hero of the American Revolution. There’s things named for him all up and down the East Coast. So who the hell was this guy?
Speaker 2 [00:43:59] Succinctly: Lafayette was a young, rich, noble teenager in the 1770’s, who had been raised to want to go out and have a glorious career for himself. He saw himself as somebody who would have a great military career. He had been raised to expect that for himself. Then he was also at the same time, reading a lot of the Enlightenment era philosophy that was floating around. These ideals of liberty and equality and the natural rights of humans, as opposed to these old superstitious aristocracies in the old Catholic Church, these ideas are really current in the educated salons of France. He’s imbibing all of this as a teenager. This coincides with this group of Anglo Protestant farmers who have decided to go into revolt against the British. Lafayette is sitting there at the age of 19, not particularly happy with his home life. He says, ‘I have a chance to go off and have a crazy adventure, do something kind of on behalf of an idealistic cause.’ These guys at least say they’re fighting for liberty and equality. And also I get to kill Englishmen, which every Frenchman wants to do. So he runs off and joins the Continental Army at the age of 19. He more or less runs away from home. He defies commands from his father in law to come back. He literally defies Louis the sixteenth, who was just his old drinking buddy because all those guys were palling around with each other at Versailles. They were all about the same age. And yeah, so Lafayette runs away and joins the Continental Army.
Speaker 1 [00:45:40] You can just show up and join the Continental Army? ‘Hey, give me a hat and a musket.’
Speaker 2 [00:45:47] To a certain degree, yeah, man. If you showed up with a hat and a musket at the Continental Army, they would enroll you into the ranks. They were desperate for recruits, all the time. But what makes Lafayette special, because he secures a commission for himself as a major general, which is not a middling rank. He wasn’t a colonel. He wasn’t a major.
Speaker 1 [00:46:05] He’s like, ‘Excuse me, I’m rich, so give me some medals.’
Speaker 2 [00:46:10] OK, that’s part of it. Because he said, ‘I’m not here to make money off of you guys. I’ll pay my own way,’ because most of the European officers who were showing up presenting themselves to the continental Congress, saying, ‘Hey, we want to join your army.’ They were also saying, ‘Give me a million dollars a week and I’ll teach you how to actually do war.’ The Congress is like, ‘Well, we don’t have that.’ But also, Lafayette is a member of the inner circle of the French nobility. He knows Louis the sixteenth. He knows Marie Antoinette. They are the same age. They literally were in the same social scene. They knew each other. He knows the foreign minister. Everybody in the United States who’s leading this rebellion: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams. They all know, that in order to actually secure their independence from Britain, they are going to need France to get into the war. They need French money. They need French guns. They need French soldiers. They need the French Navy. Absent those things, they’re probably either never going to be able to finalize the break with the British. Or this war is just going to go on for a generation. And it’ll just be a persistent flare up of a guerrilla conflict, as opposed to ever having a really decisive end to it. What Lafayette represents is a direct line back to the inner circle of French decision making, and they figure if we can bring this guy in – Okay, he’s nineteen years old. He’s never fought in a battle in his life. He wants to be a major general. Great. Let’s make him a major general. Let’s bring him into George Washington’s tent. He can hang around. He can feel like he’s having the adventure he’s apparently shown up to have. We’ll have him run around in a battle and then we will send him back to France and have him promote the cause and have him speak directly to the people that he’s related to. Because one of the things I didn’t mention in that is that his wife, Adrienne, (who he had recently married before he ran away) was a member of probably the second most powerful family in France. They were second only to the Bourbons in terms of French politics. So that’s what Lafayette represents to the Americans in the beginning; is that French alliance that they are seeking. Lafayette grows into being quite a bit more than that (personally, politically, militarily) to the Americans going forward. But that’s how he gets his foot in the door.
Speaker 1 [00:48:21] Yeah. So what you’re describing, is this callow youth who they’re humoring because it’s good politics? He became a hero of the revolution, did he not?
Speaker 2 [00:48:32] Yeah, because he was never a callow youth. He was viewed as such because he’s just this rich French teenager who has shown up and been like, [in a French accent] ‘Oh hon hon, I want to join you.’ That was apparently my impression of Lafayette, that I just did.
Speaker 1 [00:48:45] I can tell you spent a lot of time in France because that accent was impeccable.
Speaker 2 [00:48:49] Thank you very much. He was not a callow youth. He wasn’t some dandy who’s there to cosplay at being a soldier. He really believed that he was a soldier, and he was. Within a matter of weeks, George Washington does start to turn his own impression of Lafayette because at first he’s like ‘God, they’ve saddled me with this French teenager who I don’t really want to have around.’ But from very early in their relationship, Lafayette does a couple of things that makes Washington go, ‘You know, he might actually be here to do this job of being a soldier, which is actually really important right now.’ Over the weeks and months, Lafayette sort of endears himself to just about everybody in the higher rungs of the rebellion; both the civilian side in the second continental Congress and in the military side inside the senior staff of the Continental Army, so that by the time you’re getting to the spring of 1778 (after he’s been there for six months), he is as integral a part of the rebellion as anybody else. He’s as American, as any Frenchman can possibly be; is a remark that’s made about him. Then he spends the rest of the war trying to secure this alliance and make sure that when the alliance happens, that whenever he’s with the French, he’s always saying good things about the Americans to make the French feel good about the alliance. And whenever he’s with the Americans, he’s always saying good things about the French to make the Americans feel comfortable.
Speaker 1 [00:50:19] He’s a diplomat.
Speaker 2 [00:50:20] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he saw himself in that role. I think honestly, he was quite successful.
Speaker 1 [00:50:26] Yeah. What other revolutions does he show up in?
Speaker 2 [00:50:31] Well, he immediately leaves the American Revolution and goes back to France and joined the reform movements; the liberal reform movements of the 1780’s, trying to reform what is in every way, a completely broken regime in France. The monarchy in France in the 1770’s and 1780’s was just a broken, grinding mess. He and everybody else (a lot of these other liberal nobles) are trying to reform the French monarchy. This barrels directly into what becomes the French Revolution. Lafayette, by 1789, is a major player in the French Revolution. He’s in estates general. After the fall of the Bastille, they give him control of this institution called the National Guard, which is a citizen militia that is tasked with keeping order in Paris during these revolutionary tumults, which vests him with enormous power and enormous influence. So all through 1789, 1790, 1791 and really up through 1792, he’s one of the most important figures in the French Revolution and then becomes emblematic of the group of idealistic liberal nobles and liberal bourgeoisie who entered into the French Revolution, believing that they were going after a constitutional monarchy and then running into a more radicalized faction that had been produced by the revolution that overthrows them along with the old regime. So Lafayette gets pitched out the other side and actually winds up spending five years swapping between Austrian and Prussian dungeons before he’s released five years later. So then you go forward and he kind of sits out a lot of the Napoleonic empire. I don’t want to go through the whole book, but if you read the book, he’s got a whole fascinating relationship with Bonaparte, whom he kind of detests. After the fall of Napoleon, Lafayette gets involved in secret underground liberal conspiracies to overthrow King Louis the 18th, who was at that moment leading a restored Bourbon regime. It was a part of a wider reactionary blanket that was settling in on Europe after this generation of upheaval; which is the French Revolution, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. The answer to that, in the next generation, was a very repressive and reactionary blanket that was being put down everywhere, and Lafayette burrowed down and started joining conspiracies to overthrow all of that. He’s now in his 50’s and 60’s when he’s doing this. If you advance another 10 years to King Charles the 10th (who was the most reactionary of the French Kings after the fall of Napoleon), Lafayette is hip deep in the revolution of 1830 to overthrow him, which they succeed at. Lafayette is probably the pivotal figure in ensuring the peaceful transfer of power from King Charles the 10th to a new King: Louis Philip, who’s the citizen king and who is supposed to be the embodiment of this constitutional monarchy that Lafayette had been fighting for his whole life. So at the age of 19, he’s in the American Revolution and at the age of 70, he’s in the revolution of 1830. So probably four solid revolutionary moments that he was very influential in.
Speaker 1 [00:53:52] Did he feel that at the end of this – Because the story that you tell of him in relation to French history, is being a part of not failed revolution but it’s two steps forward, two steps back, one step back, two steps forward is what it sounds like. That you go from the French Revolution, which I’m sure began with a lot of optimism to, ‘Go, now we’ve got this guy, Napoleon. Then he’s overthrown. Now we have the reactionary kings. We’re back in the situation we were before, but worse.’ Did he die feeling like, ‘I’ve finally done it with this final king.’
Speaker 2 [00:54:32] No, he was immediately disappointed. I think with good reason, because Lafayette’s whole worldview is he’s a reformer and he’s a progressive and he’s a liberal. He comes out of that enlightenment mentality; that what we should do is look at how things are running, whether it’s economically or whether it’s socially or politically, even scientific. He wasn’t much of a scientist. But this also plays into the scientific sphere of the time of, ‘We should look at how things are and we should analyze how to improve them, and then we should improve them. Because we should never sit back and think that life is perfect and on improvable.’ So Lafayette is somebody who always wanted to improve things. One of the nice things about him (if you’re writing about him from the perspective of the 21st century) is that very early on, he becomes an abolitionist. In the early 1780’s, he’s writing letters back to his closest friend, George Washington, saying, ‘You know, if the American Revolution is going to actually succeed in this project of liberty and equality, (that I’ve kind of thought was the reason you went into revolt in the first place) if it’s going to mean anything, then we need to emancipate the slaves and you should do that.’ This is something that he harps on for the rest of his life. But Lafayette thinks that these things ought to be going in a reformist way, in that; we should have legislatures, we should have elections, we should have people participating in politics. We should have declared rights of citizens so that governments can’t just do whatever they want to people. Once that system is in place, then further reforms that will inevitably need to be enacted should go through those legislatures and should go through those constitutional governments. We find Lafayette going into revolution when he thinks that those kind of constitutional systems are not in place: if there’s not a declared declaration of Rights, if there’s not a constitution, if there aren’t elections. In Lafayette’s mind, this is an illegitimate regime and it’s time to go into revolution. If those things do exist, then he thinks that this is the system that we can use to further the reforms that I think will be needed. I think that Lafayette had a theory of permanent reform, where we would always be improving things. So his ultimate disappointment with Louis Felipe and what’s called the ‘July Monarchy’ is that these things were put in place. The Constitution was put into place. There was a declaration of Rights that was enacted. But then the government didn’t want to do any more reforms. They just wanted to sit right there and not make another move forward. So Lafayette and his friends (in what becomes known as the party of movement, as opposed to the party of resistance), these are the two political parties that exist under the July Monarchy. He is very frustrated because he thinks the revolution of 1830 was supposed to be the beginning of something, and all of these other people in the government thought, ‘No, no, no, that was the end of it. That’s as far as we ever wanted to go.’ So, yeah, he dies ultimately frustrated with the regime that he helped put into place. But he was always hopeful that maybe tomorrow would be a better day. He was an optimistic guy.
Speaker 1 [00:57:38] Yeah. It seems so emblematic of the issue with these revolutions generally, that one has such high hopes and they always (to some extent) founder on the rocks of reality; hopefully making things somewhat better, or that’s the optimistic view you could take of them. But there’s always a degree to which they never quite seem to live up to their promise, even as they are moving things forward.
Speaker 2 [00:58:06] Yeah. And I do think that if you look at it from a certain perspective, a lot of these revolutions are two steps forward (or even five steps forward) and then four steps back or three steps back. But there does seem to be steps forward that are taken. If you get to the Post Napoleonic Europe, which is there is this repressive blanket reactionary regime that’s going into place in France, especially. It’s never goes back to 1788. It never goes back to the way it was before the revolution. There were things that even the restored Bourbon monarchy had to take into account because the French people, having achieved a lot in the revolution: in terms of citizenship and in terms of rights, in terms of the peasantry, the way the peasantry felt that they should be treated and the way they could be treated. You couldn’t undo a lot of that. Getting back to our question, when is revolution necessary? Was it a good thing? Could you have achieved these things without a revolution? I don’t know that you could have, because you do sometimes need to really crack a system and shatter a system in order to build something new in its place that is going to advance the cause of (I think what everybody is is after here, which is) liberty and equality and fraternity.
Speaker 1 [00:59:25] But the problem is you can never predict, once you’ve cracked the system, exactly how things are going to evolve.
Speaker 2 [00:59:33] Oh never, no.
Speaker 1 [00:59:34] Take the (and I’ve only studied it a little bit over the last few months, and so my knowledge is very cursory) the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and everything that happened in Chinese history over the last century. It is very far removed from what people thought they were doing at the outset. When the people who joined that revolution said, ‘We’re true believers in the Communist Party’ during the Cultural Revolution, a lot of them were like, ‘Wait, what the fuck is going on?’ You are destroying something, and what arises in its place is beyond our ability to predict, to a certain extent. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that – I feel like a lot of these figures set out to say, ‘Once we destroy the old regime, we will put x y z in its place.’ When in fact, it’s almost impossible to make a prediction of what is going to arise to replace it.
Speaker 2 [01:00:33] Even when they try, they’d fail. Sometimes they try and they succeed, but it winds up getting swamped by other things. One of the things that we do know, historically, about revolutions is that after several years of revolutionary chaos, you often have some kind of authoritarian regime that is coming in that is specifically made possible by the years of revolutionary tumult, whether it was a Napoleon or whether it’s a Stalin. Like you said, right now I’m doing a series on the Russian Revolution and I’m in October of 1917. The episode I’m writing this week is about the couple of days in late October (in the new style calendar is November of 1917) when the Bolsheviks take power. A lot of the people who are staging this revolution inside the Bolshevik party, if you go to their Wikipedia page or you go to some glossary of people who have participated in the Bolshevik Revolution, almost all of them end with ‘killed by Stalin in the purges’ because there literally was a purge of the old Bolsheviks to get rid of all the people who originated the revolution in the first place, who were going to be able to challenge Stalin’s legitimacy as the embodiment of what the Soviet revolution was about.
Speaker 1 [01:01:46] Yeah, and that wasn’t what they set out to do when they were planning their revolution in their coffeehouses, they weren’t like, ‘Hey, in two decades, I’m going to be shot in the head.’
Speaker 2 [01:01:57] Yeah, and they certainly were not doing it on behalf of this Georgian dude who, sure, was a pretty good fighter and was a half decent editor of Pravda. But nobody went into it saying, ‘This is so we can make Stalin a dictator.’
Speaker 1 [01:02:12] But it sounds like, just to return to La Fayette, this is a guy who participated in these revolutions very optimistically. I think we have too much of a history in American history of glorifying the great men of history. But it sounds like this is someone whose involvement in these revolutions you admire and you admire their spirit in which he went into it. That’s what it sounds like, hearing you talk about it.
Speaker 2 [01:02:38] Yeah, sure. I’m enormously sympathetic to Lafayette. The book is not a hagiography. I’m not here to just do nothing but sing his praises, the guy had also a lot of faults that I’m happy to talk about. But when people say, ‘OK, you’ve written one of these dad history biographies of an American revolutionary figure, did you write a ‘great man’ biography?’ And my answer to that question is really kind of twofold. Writing a ‘great man’ history involves giving the ‘great man’ this intense amount of causal influence on history; where everything that happens in world history needs to run through your great genius of history. Somebody like Napoleon or somebody like Julius Caesar, you know? Even to a certain degree, when we talk about American history, we talk a lot about how Washington’s character and Washington’s actions define how American history unfolds. This is not really true for Lafayette. He was there, he was a participant. Sometimes I find him intervening in the historical course of events in a way that had Lafayette not intervened, things might have gone differently. The revolution of 1830 being a prime example of this. But a lot of the other times, I find him just being tossed by the waves of history. He’s being carried this way in that, by forces that are far beyond his control. I think that’s far more of a realistic and accurate (and frankly, relatable) account of a person’s life: that sometimes I have a role to play here and other times, forces far beyond my control or acting on me. I don’t think that anybody can sell a thesis of Lafayette as being the most important person who ever lived in history, and I certainly am not going to make that claim. The other bit of this just being: in order to be a great man in history, one of the things that all great men of history have in common is a sociopathic disregard for other human beings. These guys have body counts in the tens of thousands, hundreds and thousands or millions. A pile of dead bodies that they are scrambling to the top of and then proclaiming themselves a great man of history. Most of them are great military leaders and it involves a lot of slaughter and a lot of genocide. Lafayette didn’t really have that sociopathic ability to just completely disregard the lives of other people. People said, ‘Did you write a “great man” biography?’ And I kind of feel like I wrote a good man biography. I think he was a pretty good guy who was trying to do the right thing. I think he mostly succeeded at what he was trying to accomplish, and I think he generally made the world around him a better place, and that’s what he was trying to do. All of that I find quite admirable. Despite whatever his faults were as a human being, which we all have our faults.
Speaker 1 [01:05:43] Yeah. Unless you’re going to slaughter tens of millions, that really is the position all of us are in with history. Just trying to bend the arc a little bit and otherwise being a witness to it. Saying, ‘Holy shit, a bunch of people stormed the Capitol building and I don’t really know what I could have done about that. But I guess maybe I’ll keep showing up to City Council meetings or whatever it is to try to help out and do my bit right.’
Speaker 2 [01:06:09] Yeah. And also just in general, just to play on that, the great man of history thesis in terms of explaining global events is complete bullshit. And we all know that all of these historical events are actually done by a million billion, little participatory actions by regular people. Like the people who were there when they tore down the Bastille, that was the one thing that they did. Then later they were just sort of around, or they were just had a cold the day of the insurrection of August 10th. So they weren’t there for that. It was something that happened down the street. That’s very relatable. That’s the way we all live our lives.
Speaker 1 [01:06:45] Amazing. Mike, this has been an awesome hour. Thank you so much for coming on to talk to us about this. You’ve really expanded my understanding of what a revolution is and of the American Revolution. The book sounds incredible. I hope folks check it out. And if you want to check it out just to remind you, you can go to our special book shop at factuallypod.com/books.
Speaker 2 [01:07:05] Yeah. Buy my book, please.
Speaker 1 [01:07:08] Thank you so much for being here, Mike. I really appreciate
Speaker 2 [01:07:10] Thanks very much.
Speaker 1 [01:07:16] Well, thank you once again to Mike Duncan for coming on the show. If you love that interview as much as I did, check out his book: ‘Hero of Two Worlds’ at factuallypod.com/books. I want to thank our producers Chelsea Jacobson and Sam Roudman. Our engineer, Ryan Connor. Andrew W.K. for our theme song. The fine folks at Falcon Northwest for building me the incredible custom gaming PC that I’m recording this very episode for you on. Check them out at Falcon-NW.com. You can find me online @AdamConover or at adamconover.net. If you want to send me an email, send it to email@example.com. I do read your emails and I do love to get them. Until next week, we’ll see you on Factually. Thank you so much for listening.
July 26, 2022
How can we best help animals, when it’s we humans who cause their suffering? Animal Crisis authors Alice Crary and Lori Gruen join Adam to explain how the same systems that hurt and kill animals also harm humans. They discuss the human rights abuses that happen in industrial slaughterhouses and how palm oil monocrops are devastating the world’s rainforests. They also share how we can have solidarity with animals in our daily lives. You can purchase their book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 19, 2022
In times of turmoil, it can be useful to take a longer view of history. Like, a LOT longer. Paleontologist and author of “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals” Stephen Brusatte joins Adam to explain how mammals took over the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and why we survived and achieve sentience when dinosaurs died out. Stephen goes on to discuss why taking a deep look at our history can help prepare us for the crises of the near future. You can purchase Stephen’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 13, 2022
Trans people have existed as long as, you know, people have. But the barriers to legal inclusion and equality are still higher than most people realize. “Sex is as Sex Does” author Paisley Currah joins Adam to discuss why institutions have been slow to give legal recognition to trans identities, why Republicans have shifted their attacks from bathroom policies to trans youth in sports, and why the struggle for trans equality is tied to feminism and women’s liberation. You can purchase Paisley’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books