Throughout history, access to food has been the driving force behind wars and revolutions. It is the primary and most urgent requirement of life. It was to be expected that before a farmer even harvested all his crop, either kings’ men or marauders would steal and plunder it away. Life consisted of subsisting off of whatever the land could provide or the income could afford. “In the time of the [Reign of] Terror, hunger bred fear, not only about the next day’s food but the risk of nighttime theft, or the next day’s arrest— and possibly execution-— for hoarding” (Burns, 2007, p. 106).
For most of us today, this hand-to-mouth way of living is blessedly unfamiliar. We can afford to satisfy higher needs such as the need for friendship or creative expressions (McLeod, 2007). During the French Revolution, citizens were fighting angrily for the ability to strive for these same higher needs. If the monarchy had provided the stability for its citizens to not worry about their physiological needs, then they could direct their energy to pursuing those higher needs. When King Louis XVI didn’t follow through on providing that stability, his starving subjects resorted to fighting their own battles with anarchy. The confusion–the terror–that ensued opened the door for Napoleon. He offered the stability people sought.
A self-serving leader (at any point in history) who does not respond to a need for change will eventually have that change thrust upon them, often in unpleasant ways. In 1789, people were starving and demanding that something change. When their leadership was silent, they took matters into their own hands.
1. Burns, James MacGregor. (2007). Transforming leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
2. McLeod, S. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html