The Beauty and Waste of Versailles

The palace of Versailles is one of the most recognized landmarks in Western Civilization. Built by Louis XIV, it is a striking artistic and architectural achievement, rivaled only by the marvels of antiquity. Yet, the palace is also a prime example of government waste and corruption and the problems of political and economic centralization. The French economy crumbled following two expensive wars in the 18th century (The Seven Years War and The American War for Independence), not to mention the constant warfare under Louis XIV, and the bureaucracy of Louis XIV was a snake pit littered with intriguing courtiers and self-interested aristocrats. No one but the “Sun King” could manage it successfully. The court arrogated both power and wealth to the center through its heavy-handed mercantilist programs and dominated the provinces and the French legal system under the model of a unitary state. During the reign of Louis XVI, Charles Alexander de Calonne proposed a series of reforms which would have transformed the French economy (free trade, hard money, reduced taxes on the 3rd Estate), but the 1st and 2nd Estates rejected it out of self interest. A political safety valve did not exist in France–the Estates General had been suspended in the early 1600s–and the economic and political problems spilled over into Revolution. Pre-revolutionary France offers fine examples for modern society to avoid: debt, waste, continual wars, centralization, corruption, a detached and decadent political class, inflationary monetary policies and central banking. We should heed the warnings.

Regardless, I still wonder at Versailles and am struck by the splendor of the palace. It was designed to do so. Here are two videos–one, two–that I find to be a fascinating look at both pre-Revolution and post-Revolution Versailles. They are short, under five minutes, are well produced, and are from a great website: Enjoy! By the way, if you watch the videos, mention you found them at in the comments section. It would be a great way to bring other cool people to the best educational opportunity on the web.

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