They don’t realize it’s coming. The rich think that, because they’ve succeeded so well so far, they never need to worry that it can all come crashing down. They think we’re just talking a good game.
Rousseau’s most enduring contribution to the current revolutionary discourse, though, came via a 1789 speech. As writer Talia Lavin noted in a recent piece on the phrase’s origins, his pithy warning — “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich” — has become a rallying cry on social media and at contemporary political protests, where the people’s great and terrible anger at the economic predation of the 1% has helped propel a resurgent anti-capitalist movement. The phrase is all over Twitter, TikTok, and various other social media platforms. It has long been immortalized in song thanks to British heavy metal legends Motörhead (who provided the soundtrack for a bloody 1987 movie also named Eat the Rich about a restaurant that serves the meat of its former wealthy patrons), Swiss hard rockers Krokus, and, bizarrely, Aerosmith, whose vocalist Steven Tyler is currently estimated to be worth about $130 million. (Full disclosure: I have eat the rich tattooed on my stomach, which doubles as a tribute to Motörhead and my own political inclinations.)
I don’t think tattooing a phrase on your belly is a precursor to revolution, and I think that right now we have a complacent middle class (how else could Joe Biden be doing so well in the polls?). One real crisis is what it will take, and crises are on the way. Climate change is going to cause all kinds of disruption, the country is being managed so badly that new conflicts are going to arise, domestic unrest is going to be fomented by a militarized police and splintered right wing terrorist groups. Even minor things could be the tipping point — remember the gas shortages of the 1970s? Something like that could be the spark that wakes up a pissed-off majority.
I’m just saying the 1% need to recognize that they aren’t as well sheltered as they think they are. Buying off an election or hiring lobbyists isn’t going to turn them into good guys in the eyes of the people.