1381: Anger against ineffective bureaucracy?

6 11 2009

The full text of Charles Oman’s seminal work, The Great Revolt of 1381 (1906) is now available online. A number of historians, mainly writing after Oman, have recognized that frustration with inefficient government bureaucracy was one of the key causes of the rebellion of 1381. (The poll tax, first levied in 1377, was a catalyst rather than a root cause.) Chancery rolls and other legal papers were burnt, law courts were attacked. Today we might tear up a parking ticket.

The parallels with the dawn of the post-bureaucratic age are striking. The breakdown in confidence in the government’s ability to administer effectively its most basic functions breeds the potential for ‘snaps’ in the public’s tolerance. In 1381 this was a violent revolt (which subsided remarkably quickly on the appearance of a 14 year old Richard II at Smithfield); in 2009 it might be a landslide election.

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