To write well about Great Depressions, one needs the intellect of John Maynard Keynes, which in our present world is not to be found.
To write well about revolutions, one needs the style of Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-Century Scottish ‘Sage of Chelsea’.
Fifty years after the French Revolution, he described its impact: ‘It appears to be, if not stated in words, yet tacitly felt and understood everywhere, that the event of these modern ages is the French Revolution.
‘A huge explosion, bursting through all formulas and customs; confounding into wreck and chaos the ordered arrangements of earthly life; blotting out, one might say, the very permanent and skyey loadstars – though only for a season.
‘To those who stood present in the actual midst of that smoke and thunder, the effect might well be too violent: blinding and deafening, into confused exasperation, almost into madness.
‘Those onlookers have played their part, were it with the printing-press or with the battle-cannon; their work, such as it was, remaining behind them – where the French Revolution also remains.’
We have not quite reached an English revolution, but the abrupt deposing of House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin has been a parliamentary revolution; it certainly burst through ‘all formulas and customs’.
Even a fortnight ago, the invoices in the House of Commons archive of expenses seemed more likely to amount to a political scandal than to a revolutionary event.
Each day since, onlookers have been expecting a resolution; that was still the general expectation on the day the Speaker read out his resignation speech on Tuesday – all of 33 seconds long.
Since then, the revolutionary event has gathered momentum. Perhaps this coming week will see a line drawn under it, but so far there has been no line that looks like holding. There is more embarrassment to come.
William Rees-Mogg is former editor-in-chief for The Times and a member of the House of Lords. He has been credited with accurately forecasting glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall — as well as the 1987 crash. His political commentary appears in The Times every Monday. His financial insights can only be found in the Fleet Street Letter, the UK’s longest-running investment newsletter.