Indeed the previous comparable outbreak of political violence in France was in May 1968, almost precisely 50 years ago. (As a reminder, I define “political violence” as internal collective conflict that occupies the middle territory between individual-on-individual violence (crime) and interstate wars.)
Although most historians disagree with the idea that there are cycles in history (at best, it rhymes), our cliodynamic research has identified a number of periodic processes in historical dynamics. And one of them is the 50-year cycle in political violence (see a previous post on this topic). This cycle doesn’t need to be very precise—in historical data the cycle periods can vary anywhere between 40 and 60 years. But sometimes it strikes with eerie precision, like what we see today in Paris.
In the United States we also see this cycle, which resulted in spikes of political violence spaced almost precisely 50 years apart: late 1960s–early 1970s, circa 1920, and in the 1860s–early 1870s (see my book Ages of Discord for details). It is one of the reasons for my prediction that we will experience a peak of political violence in the early 2020s. (But not the only one: even more important are such factors as intraelite conflict and popular immiseration. Also, that prediction was made 10 years ago, and the way political unrest has been developing here hints that we may have this spike arrive “before it is scheduled”).
Returning to the political turmoil in France, if my reading of the situation is correct, we haven’t seen the peak yet. It’s interesting that a Reuters article, published last Spring on the 50-year anniversary of the May 1968 riots, concluded that French mood [is] far from revolutionary despite lingering May ’68 spirit. Strangely enough, the article argued that the current economic malaise affecting France (for example, expressed in high unemployment rate) was an argument against the willingness of the French to protest against the government. In the Structural-Demographic Theory, however, popular immiseration is instead one of the factors driving mass-mobilization potential, and therefore the social pressures for instability.
A very interesting question is what level the structural-demographic pressures for instability have reached in France. Unlike with the US, I haven’t run the numbers, so I can’t answer this question currently (and not for a while, as I will be wrapped up with the analysis of Seshat data and with models based on these data). But that will really determine whether political instability spreads, or dies out.