Time for a fun one, America's favorite fighting Frenchman. You may have seen streets, parks and subway stations that include the name Lafayette, but may not know much about the man other than the show-stopping performance of Daveed Diggs, who played Lafayette in Hamilton. The actual Marquis de Lafayette was born in France to immense wealth and privilege, allowing him to mingle in the most elite circles of the time. He shipped off to the U.S. colonies to find his fortune and endeared himself to George Washington, fought for U.S. independence and then returned to France to play a crucial role in *their* revolution as well. Mike Duncan, a fish monger turned wildly popular history podcaster, wrote about Lafayette’s story in his new book, “Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution.” He joins to discuss Lafayette's fascinating life, his research and life in Paris during Covid and whether the U.S. is on the precipice of revolution and democratic decline.
Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.
Mike Duncan: The Second Continental Congress and George Washington, for political reasons, say, "We need to bring this guy in close. We need to make him very happy. We need to give him what he wants. And in so doing, he can have a little adventure. He can run around. He can get shot at. He can go home, he can show his war wounds off to the women in Versailles. And then convince the French to give us a bunch of money." That was what the plan was.
And it just so happened that Lafayette himself was an endearing enough person, and well liked enough just as an individual. He was not imperious. He was not arrogant. Him and George Washington, after just a few weeks, really hit it off. (MUSIC)
Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to Why Is This Happening with me, your host, Chris Hayes. Oh, man. A fun one today. (LAUGH) IS it weird to start your podcast by saying, "A fun one today?" the implication being the other ones aren't fun. But, you know, sometimes we do very heavy topics.
Sometimes we do lighter ones, and sometimes we do ones that just they're not drenched in pathos. And I would describe today as not drenched in pathos. A fascinating and important tale, and it's a historical tale today. And I think the place I want to start is just by saying it is an unbelievable cliché, particularly I think about, like, middle-aged and older dads (I think it's very gendered for some reason and I think it's weird that it is) like, become real history buffs.
I remember a tweet saying, like, every dad has to choose between being a Civil War dad (LAUGH) and a World War II dad, and you only get to be one, which made me really laugh, and which I keep thinking of. I'm actually neither, I'm a Reconstruction dad. That's my thing.
But I've always loved history. I loved history when I was a student in high school. I didn't pursue it that much in college, and I think, you know, there's ways in which I think history can be branded or perceived as being musty and old or boring or dense. And there's lots of historical writing that is all of those things.But, you know, ultimately all history is is anything any human or human society or institution did in the past, which is basically all of human life (LAUGH) on the planet. So there's lots of fascinating stuff no matter what you're into in quote/unquote "history."
And one of the thing things that I've discovered over the last few years has been a great source of both joy and enlightenment for me are history podcasts. It's a whole universe. And let me tell you, like, they're a game changer on a long drive. If you're on a long drive by yourself, if you are going for long walks. I mean, they are great and there's a bunch of 'em out there.
The one that I first discovered is a podcast called Revolutions. And it's a podcast that is all about, as you might intuit, various revolutions. I have learned so much from this podcast, I cannot even begin to tell you. I feel like I've learned more from this podcast about the stuff that I've listened to than all of my education combined.
There's an incredible season the Haitian revolution, which I have to say I knew essentially nothing about. There is the French revolution, the revolution of all revolutions (LAUGH) in terms of how I think certain people think about it. There is the glorious revolution in England, which is not quite a revolution but it's kind of a revolution.
And then, right now, or there's for a long time a series on the Russian Revolution which, to me, has been one of the best. The guy who hosts is a guy by the name of Mike Duncan. And when I first encountered it, you know, one of the great things about, like, the internet when the internet is being good is just discovering corners of talent and ability that are coming through the internet that wouldn't necessarily have been brought to you by other channels.
That, to me, is the great thing about the internet. Like, when you see a TikTok video, it's got 20 million views, and it is so funny, and so sharp. And it's some random teenager who's got, like, an incredible sense of timing and wit or whatever. And in the previous methods of conveying that probably wouldn't have let that teenager express that to you. But, thanks to the internet, you're seeing it.
And that's when I sort of love the internet. There's a lot of bad internet out there. But Revolutions, to me, was like the paradigmatic example of the good internet because the guy, I looked him up, and I was like, "Wait, what's this guy's deal? This is so good. Is he a broadcaster? Is he a professor of history?"
And it's like, no. I don't know, he's just a really smart, (LAUGH) erudite, interesting, curious dude who started doing this. His first podcast was about Rome. He then wrote a book about that. Then he started the Revolutions podcast.
And now he has a second book out, which I have to say is also extremely, extremely well done. And it's about a figure who is prominent in two different revolutions, so it makes a lot of sense for him, given what he's been working on, the Marquis de Lafayette who is a incredibly important figure in the American Revolution as a very young man.
I mean, starts up 19, teenager when he comes here to fight in George Washington's continental army, and then goes back to France where he is a key figure in the French Revolution, and then makes a triumphant return to the United States in the 1820s. It's a fascinating book. And is at the intersection (MUSIC) of all the various interests that Mike Duncan has. So, Mike, it's great to have you on the program.
Mike Duncan: It's very nice to be here.
Chris Hayes: Congrats on all your success. I'm a big fan. I've been sort of rooting on the success because I've gotten so much from your work. How did you become a history podcaster?
Mike Duncan: Boy, that's a (SIGH) really interesting question because I don't quite know how it worked out the way that it did. I just came out of university, I studied political science and philosophy. I wasn't even technically a history major in college. But I had been doing so much history reading to understand what I was studying.
I basically majored in political theory and a lot of, like, liberal theory. You know, like Scottish enlightenment guys like Hume and Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. But to understand political theory and the theorists that are writing about it, you have to, like, learn about the history of the time and place that they were living.
If you want to understand Machiavelli, you've gotta learn about the Italian city-states at that time. If you wanna understand why Hobbes is talking about how you need a strong, central ruler in order to prevent chaos, you have to understand that he was writing in the middle of, like, a generation-long civil war in Britain.
And so when I came out of university, I sort of left the theory stuff behind and had just dove headlong into the history side of it. And then, in particular, I started with the history of Rome. I fell head over heels in love with the ancient historians like Livy and like Polybius, and Plutarch, and Cassius Dio.
So I'm just devouring all of these books, and realizing that most of what I knew about Roman history and most of what I think everybody knows about Roman history is confined to this very narrow band inside the very broad spectrum of Roman history, which is like we know Caesar, you know. We know Augustus and, you know, Caligula and Nero because there's always gonna be some salacious movie about Caligula or Nero.
And I was lookin' around and saying to myself, like, nobody really knows a lot of what's buried in these ancient histories. And this is 2006 and 2007. And this is what we now realize was the early days of podcasting, but there was a whole slew of history podcasts that existed at the time.
And I was listening to those. And I went looking for a Roman history podcast to expand my own understanding of Roman history. Realized no such thing existed yet. And so I'm lookin' at all this material. I feel like I'm a pretty good writer, I'm a pretty good communicator. I'll just sit down and start putting these out there.
And as you said, like, on the internet, there are no suits that are gonna say, "No, son. This is not going to work. Nobody's gonna buy this. We're gonna approve this." There were no gatekeepers, and there still are-- a nice thing about independent podcasting and the independent internet was there are no gatekeepers so nobody could tell me I couldn't do it.
So I just started putting out episodes one day. And every week, I would have a few more listeners, and a few more listeners, and it just kinda kept growing. Until, the next thing I know, I'm just kind of a professional history podcaster.
Chris Hayes: How old were you at the time?
Mike Duncan: I was 27 when I started.
Chris Hayes: Okay. So you were in your late 20s when you started.
Mike Duncan: Yes.
Chris Hayes: You were a fishmonger at one point? Is that right? Did I read that--
Mike Duncan: Yeah, well--
Chris Hayes: --correctly?
Mike Duncan: --I had to keep the day job going--
Chris Hayes: Yeah. Right. So--
Mike Duncan: --because originally, I mean, there was no money in podcasting. It was just something I was doing. So, yes, by day, I was working at a fish market in Portland, Oregon. And then at night, and really on my breaks and, you know, on my lunch break and after work, I'd be puttin' together these episodes.
And so I lived this, like, weird double life where, believe me, the people that I work with cutting fish were not the people who are listening to a long history of the Roman Empire. And they would say like, "What do you do at that night? That's crazy. You're writing a history of the Roman Empire?" I'm like, "Yeah, it's just what I do." (LAUGH)
And then the people who know me from The History of Rome would be like, "Wait, what do you do all day? You just (LAUGH) cut fish?" I'm like, "Yeah, I just cut fish." And it was actually really great to have this sort of job that required literally no brainpower. Like, it's not a job that requires a great deal of thought, which I wanted so that I could save all of sort of like my creative energy for what I was doing on nights and weekends.
Chris Hayes: I mean, I don't know how many people listening to this are interested in this, but I am, so we're just gonna go there. Like, I am fascinated by creative process, and your podcasts are essentially like read essays. I mean, you are reading your own historical writing.
Mike Duncan: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Chris Hayes: What's the process? Like, how did you start putting these together?
Mike Duncan: Yeah. I consider myself first and foremost a writer. That's what I do. Like 90% of the job is putting together the scripts, writing the scripts. And then, you know, the actual podcast itself is just be reading what I have spent all week writing.
And so really what it is, I just at the beginning of, like, a series of Revolutions, let's say, I'll put together like a giant bibliography of things that I need to be reading and then will just sort of devour these all on a first pass. And then as I'm moving through the timeline, each week I'm reading through all of the books that I've already got sort of like prearranged, that I'm gonna be looking at.
And I'll read the sections that are relevant to that week's episode. Like, you know, when we're in the Russian Revolution, I'm talkin' about like a six-week period in one particular episode. I'm about to do the Kornilov incident in the Russian Revolution, so this is like a six- or eight-week period.
So I'm reading like a dozen or so different books that are each covering this from a different angle. And I'm just taking very, very extensive notes. I take very, very detailed notes from all the books that I'm reading, and then I just will sit down and turn that, all those notes, into a script.
And by this point, I've now been doing this for like, you know, almost 15 years. You know, in the beginning, it was quite a bit of work just to crank out, you know, 2,000 words, and these days an episode is 4,000 to 4,500 words, and that's what I'm writing every week. But I have now a method and a process for, I think, doing this in an efficient way.
Chris Hayes: 4,000 good words, which yours are, a week is not nothing. I mean, that's a lift.
Mike Duncan: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: I mean, again, it's doable, but that's work.
Mike Duncan: Yeah. It is true, it's work. And then the times that I have also been writing a book at the same time that I'm making episodes--
Chris Hayes: Yeah, that's too much for me--
Mike Duncan: Yeah. Well, it was too much for me too. (LAUGHTER) It all turned out okay but, yeah, it's a lot. But that's what I do. I think even before I'm even, you know, a writer in terms of, like, having it be my career or my profession, like, it's just what I constitutionally am. I want to read books and I want to write things. That's just sort of how I've always done my life, going back to childhood.
Chris Hayes: When you say you became a professional podcast, like, again, this is a little bit like industry talk. But was there a point at which, like, were you selling ads against the Rome stuff? At what point were ya able to do this as your job?
Mike Duncan: Officially I became a professional, full-time professional podcaster when I started Revolutions. That was sort of the moment when I did it. During The History of Rome, like, I think the first couple years of History of Rome, I was just doing it to do it.
And then the company that I host with, which is Libsyn, Audible got in touch and said, "Hey, we're now advertising on podcasts. Would you like, you know, to do a couple of advertisements?" And me, being this, like, sort of like Xennial, like, I'm not quite Gen X and I'm not quite a Millennial but I do come of that era where it's--
Chris Hayes: Same here.
Mike Duncan: --very important that we don't, like, sell out.
Chris Hayes: Yes.
Mike Duncan: Where we don't compromise, like, our creative vision by getting paid for it. Like, (LAUGH) there's this weird--
Chris Hayes: I'm hosting a cable news show. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: Well, it's weird, man. Like, why? We all got stamped with this. And, like, at the--
Chris Hayes: Yeah, totally.
Mike Duncan: --end of the day, like, they didn't say, like, "Oh, and by the way, like, we have script approval." They just said like, "We're gonna give you money and just recommend our product." Which, you know, okay, I will do that. And so I started doin' that.
And that made about half the bills, sort of like my contribution to the family, 'cause it was me and my now wife. You know, she was girlfriend and then my fiancée and my wife. But I was still keeping the day job at the fish counter because I was worried about how precarious, you know, just like completely relying on these random checks that would show up in the mail for me doing this podcast.
Chris Hayes: Yeah. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: Yeah, I wasn't--
Chris Hayes: And you didn't have kids yet at this point, I imagine?
Mike Duncan: No, I did not have kids yet. What I did do was--
Chris Hayes: And Portland is a relatively low-cost city. I mean, it's not--
Mike Duncan: Man, I mean, jeez, not anymore. But when I was--
Chris Hayes: Not anymore, yeah, that's true.
Mike Duncan: Yeah, we moved outta there in 2009 and we moved to Austin. My wife graduated with a degree in graphic design right into the Great Recession. And so we were like Okies. Like, we put all of our stuff in the back of a U-Haul and moved to Austin because that's where jobs were at the time, for her.
So I kept the job. But when I did Revolutions, then we moved again from Austin. When we moved to Madison for the first time, I said, "Look, when we do this move," you know, The History of Rome was over by then. "I have this idea to start Revolutions. I think it's gonna work. I would like the opportunity to try to do this full time."
And so, like, the deal really just thinking about it strategically with my wife was like, "Okay, let's give it one year. If you can sort of have the income that we need to have you have in a year, then let's just go ahead and go for it." Now, at this point, I do have a one-year-old son. So--
Chris Hayes: That's much scarier.
Mike Duncan: --that first year, I had Twitchy, which was the twitch in my left eye, which I couldn't quite shake for about six or seven months because I was so nervous about everything. And I was stressed but then, like, it just worked out, for me.
Chris Hayes: So Revolutions is awesome. Where did the idea for Revolutions come from?
Mike Duncan: So ironically, it comes from a place where having just finished The History of Rome, which was 189 episodes where I covered a 1,000-year span of history, I was like, "Okay, the next thing I wanna do, I don't want it to be ancient history," because I would like to not be typecast as just an ancient historian. I think that I have more in my tool belt than just ancient history.
But I also wanted to do something where the project wasn't so gigantic. And so I was just gonna do these discreet seasons and, you know, do 12, 15 episodes on the English Revolution, the American Revolution, 15 episodes on the French Revolution. And I have the notes that I was making back in 2012 and 2013 when I was first sketchin' this out, and it was supposed to be done in three and a half years and be a very concise thing--
Chris Hayes: Ah, I see.
Mike Duncan: --and then I could move on to something bigger.
Chris Hayes: So it was those three: English, American, French?
Mike Duncan: Yeah. And, like, I knew I was gonna do Haiti, and I knew I was gonna do Russia, and I knew I was gonna do Mexico at that point. Like, those were the ones that I, like, knew I was gonna get to. And then of course, by the time I got to the French Revolution, I was in so much, like, constricted pain about trying to cram this stuff into 15 episodes that I took the governor off and just let the French Revolution fly for as long as it wanted to.
And it turned out to be 55 episodes long. And then I was like, "Well, I don't know when this is ever gonna end." And so it'll probably be like a decade. It's certainly longer than The History of Rome ever was. I don't know how many episodes I've done.
Chris Hayes: I've learned so much from it because, like, the French Revolution, which I studied and kind of knew, and then there's stuff like honestly I didn't really know anything about the Mexican Revolution. I knew--
Mike Duncan: Sure.
Chris Hayes: --very little about the Haitian Revolution. So those have been great for me because I'm coming to the material really with not that much. And what I've found and really enjoyed about it is that I've been able to enjoy seasons or, I don't know if they're called seasons, but revolutions that I knew a fair amount about and those I knew nothing about, and have enjoyed them both.
Mike Duncan: That's nice to hear, I mean, 'cause I go into a lotta detail. And I do try to move through these things very methodically. So that even if you've read five, six books about the French Revolution, I think that probably there's something to be gained from listening to my 55-episode treatment of it because there is probably stuff that's hidin' in there that just gets kinda skipped over or compressed. Like, I'm tryin' to treat 1790 with the same degree of detail that I treat 1793. It didn't work. So much happens in 1793 that that took, like, 15 episodes to get through.
Chris Hayes: So you're now a professional podcaster. What a world, but that's great.
Mike Duncan: They told me, when I was a kid, (LAUGH) "Hey, it's possible the profession that you have when you grow up doesn't even exist yet," as we're all sitting there writing--
Chris Hayes: That's great. That's so true. Yes, right.
Mike Duncan: --like, "We want to be astronauts," and, you know, like, whatever. And I was like, "Yeah, sure, whatever." And now (LAUGH) I'm a professional podcaster, like whatever that is.
Chris Hayes: And so you're working on the French Revolution. There is an American Revolution season, right?
Mike Duncan: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Chris Hayes: Yeah. I think I haven't listened to that one. I gotta go back and listen to that one.
Mike Duncan: That's fine.
Chris Hayes: So where do you start to get the idea for this book?
Mike Duncan: The idea for the Lafayette book, or at least my interest in Lafayette comes as I'm making the transition from the American Revolution to the French Revolution. Because I'm writing the American Revolution series knowing that the next thing I'm gonna do is the French Revolution.
And so I'm paying extra attention to figures who showed up in both revolutions. The two most important of them being Tom Paine and the Marquis de Lafayette. So I'm payin' attention to 'em. And in the American Revolution context, Lafayette is portrayed in a very positive way.
He's George Washington's surrogate son. He paid for his own way. He helped win all these battles. He's a great guy. And then you go over and start reading books about the French Revolution, and we're talking about the same guy just a couple years later.
And all these historians of the French Revolution are like, "Oh, here comes the bumbler Lafayette." "Here comes Lafayette who was asleep at the switch again." "Here's Lafayette who failed miserably at this, that, and the other thing." The first book I read about the French Revolution was the Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle, and that guy, he does not miss a chance to take a potshot at Lafayette.
If you go through the index and start turning to every time Lafayette shows up, there's gonna be some kinda little dig at him in there somewhere. So this suddenly became very interesting to me because it's the same person, more or less trying to do the same things, and in one context, historians view him very positively. In another, they view him very negatively. And so now he becomes, like, an interesting figure.
Go through the French Revolution, I'm movin' forward to, like, the Haitian Revolution, I find Lafayette showing up in correspondence with the presidents of Free Haiti. I'm reading a biography of Simón Bolívar as I'm writing my episodes about Spanish American independence, and lo and behold, I find, you know, multiple pages of Bolívar being in extensive correspondence with Lafayette.
And then I get to the French Revolution of 1830 and, you know, Lafayette's now in his 50s and 60s. He's involved in underground conspiracies to overthrow Louis XVIII, which is really one of the reasons he comes back on this famous tour to America, which is the next kind of thing that most Americans know him for. One of the reasons he goes on this tour is because he had recently been involved in some very seditious operations against (LAUGH) Louis XVIII, and they didn't work. And he was like, "I don't know, I might have to go cool it--"
Chris Hayes: Get outta town. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: Yeah, "I might have to go cool my heels in America for a little bit where people like me." And then he comes back and he's absolutely a major player in the revolution of 1830. I think he's probably the reason why Louis Philippe ultimately emerges victorious from that revolution.
So now he's like a 70-year-old man tryin' to squeeze back into his old National Guard uniform. And I look back and I'm like Lafayette has been around in more seasons of Revolutions, he's appeared in more episodes in Revolutions than really any other figure. And this is right at the moment when they're asking me, "Okay, your first book did pretty well. What would ya like your second book to be?"
And I just say, like, "I think I should go back to the beginning of Lafayette's life and tell this dude's story through this 50-year, incredibly tumultuous, incredibly important period in Atlantic history, in European history, in world history." And then of course when I slid the book proposal across the table, everybody was like, "Oh, the guy from Hamilton. Great. You know, here's--"
Chris Hayes: "Daveed Diggs. I love that guy."
Mike Duncan: Yeah. Man, yeah, of course--
Chris Hayes: "He rapped so fast."
Mike Duncan: "He was the best guy in the whole thing." And then they said I could write the book.
Chris Hayes: That's funny. I was gonna ask if that was in the ether, so it was. I think it was probably hopeful 'cause, like, literally--
Mike Duncan: Oh, very hopeful.
Chris Hayes: --when I think of Lafayette, I think of Daveed Diggs who's just the actor that plays Lafayette in the first act and Jefferson in the second and is just like a psychotically talented (LAUGH) individual--
Mike Duncan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Chris Hayes: --and incredibly charming. So it's like I have a mental image, when you say "Marquis de Lafayette," it's like I literally think of Daveed Diggs.
Mike Duncan: Yeah. And, like, goin' through this, I didn't do it because of Hamilton. Like, I had this notion in my head that I wanted to do this, and then Hamilton landed. And I went from telling people, "I'm thinkin' about writin' a book about Lafayette," and having them say, "Who?" "Was he in World War II?" "Okay, no?" to either people still saying, "I don't know who that person is, but good luck," or people lighting up and saying, "Oh, the guy from Hamilton. Amazing. Do it."
Chris Hayes: It's crazy too, once you realize it, how much stuff there is named after him in the States. You pass it all the time, Lafayette Park is the park across--
Mike Duncan: Sure.
Chris Hayes: --from the White House. There's a Broadway-Lafayette stop on the F train that I pass every night. Like, there's lots of people that participate in the Revolution; why are 10,000 different (LAUGH) things named after this guy?
Mike Duncan: Honestly, it does trace back to this tour that he goes on in 1842 and 1825. He joined the Revolution as an 19-year-old kid, right? And he was commissioned as a major general as a 19-year-old kid. So he's this very high-ranking continental officer at a very young age.
And what that means is that, when you get to sort of the 50th anniversary of American independence, you know, when it's 1824 and 1825, there are people who are 30 years old, 40 years old. They've got kids, they've got houses, they've got a whole career. They were born after the Revolution.
Like, that generation of Founding Fathers had more or less died off by this point. You know, Jefferson and Adams were still hangin' around. I don't know they were like 110 and, like, Adams had to be fed by his family. That's where he was. But point being that Lafayette was still young enough that he could go on this tour as a the last representative of the continental army.
He was the last surviving major general of the continental army. And so as he goes around, every city he comes to, they're like, "We're so glad you're here. We love you. You remind us of the great Revolution. We know how much you sacrificed for us. We're gonna name this park after you." "We're gonna name this county after you." "We're gonna name this city after you." "We're gonna name this school after you."
And so it's really just like everywhere he goes, they name something after him. And he visits literally all 30 states on this tour. One of the unique things about Lafayette is that, even though he's this French nobleman, he's this French guy, he saw and visited more of the United States than really anybody of that generation.
'Cause even George Washington, you know, eventually, you know, goes on a tour of the South, and he goes on a tour of the North during his presidency. But you don't find these guys out in St. Louis or, you know, out in, like, rural Illinois or down in New Orleans or up in, like, upstate New York.
Lafayette visited all these places. He saw America in its biggest cities. He saw America in the wilderness. He saw America in small towns. He saw America on the coast. He saw America in the hinterlands. He saw west, east, north, south. Like, the guy visited everywhere.
And he was an international celebrity. So when he shows up in St. Louis, which at this point is, like, you know, a nothing-burger out there in the middle of nowhere, it's a big deal that he shows up. So of course they're gonna name things after him.
Chris Hayes: So let's start with why this very young French nobleman decides to essentially purchase his own boat, sail across the Atlantic, and join a fight for a country he doesn't live in. I wanna talk about that right after we take this quick break.
Chris Hayes: All right, so Lafayette is from a very, very prominent family, right, in France? He's a nobleman.
Mike Duncan: Yes.
Chris Hayes: Why does he leave when he does to go across the ocean to find his fortune in the U.S.? Well, in the colonies.
Mike Duncan: There's a very specific set of events that takes him from his cushy life in Versailles over the Atlantic to joining the continental army. So he was born a noble but on the periphery of the nobility, right? He's a provincial noble. He's not from Paris, he's not from Versailles.
But because of a series of deaths in his family, he winds up inheriting an enormous amount of money from multiple noble families. And that brings him up to Paris where he's now an extremely eligible bachelor 'cause he's this young orphan who is incredibly rich.
He's like a Jane Austen character at this point, like everybody is circling around this guy like, "Oh my lord, he's an orphan, and he's rich. We have to (LAUGH) marry our daughters to him." And so who comes calling? The Noailles family.
The Noailles family are essentially the second most important family in France, second only to the Bourbans themselves, the royal family. The Noailles are right there are the inner circle of power. And they have a daughter, Adrienne, they would like to marry to Lafayette. They arrange a marriage to him.
Now Lafayette enters this rarefied air of Versailles, and he's literally in a social circle with Marie Antoinette, with the future King Louis XVI, you know, like that's the group that he's running around in. But he doesn't really fit in with them, and he's not comfortable with them, he doesn't really get along with his father-in-law, who all kinda treat him as an awkward bumpkin from sort of outside of their circle who is now trafficking with them.
He thinks he's going to have a career in the French military. This is his plan. But as a result of French defeat in the Seven Years War, which is just a couple years earlier, there's a reform movement inside of the French government and inside the French military to start getting rid of these well-connected teenagers who are being given commissions well above their experience, and well above their talent, simply because they're highly connected.
And Lafayette has recently gotten a commission in the French army because he is incredibly well connected to this incredibly well-connected family. And they kick him off the rolls. So now he's sitting there, as an 18-year-old, saying to himself, like, "I don't fit in at Versailles. They don't like me and I don't like them. I don't get along with my father-in-law. I've just been kicked outta the army. What am I gonna do?"
I think he felt like his whole life was flashing before his eyes, and he wasn't gonna be able to do anything with his life. And at that same moment, there is this thing that is happening on the other side of the Atlantic which is these colonial farmers have risen up against the British Empire and are trying to break away from them.
And he's looking over there, and he's saying to himself, you know, "There's an opportunity for me to go over there and make my mark on the world and do something glorious. Escape from this family life that I'm not particularly happy about."
And then also, like everybody else, he had been reading enlightenment literature. These ideas of liberty and equality and independence and national self-determination are all swirling around in his head and it just combines to just have him make this decision. "You know what? In defiance of the king, in defiance of my father-in-law, in defiance of society, I am going to, yes, buy my own boat and sail over there and join the continental army."
Chris Hayes: And it's fairly quickly that he becomes close to Washington and becomes a very significant figure in the continental army.
Mike Duncan: Yeah. He is seen as an enormously valuable political piece in terms of what the Second Continental Congress, what the American leaders, and what the continental army are trying to do. Everybody in America knows that the way that they're actually going to be able to defeat the British is if they can get the French on their sides, right? And getting all these Anglo Protestant farmers trying to bait these absolute Catholic Frenchmen into joining the cause is not an easy sell. But also, you know, like, we both wanna--
Chris Hayes: "Enemy of my enemy," yeah.
Mike Duncan: Yeah, man. "We both wanna stick it to the British. So, like, if we both wanna stick it to the British, let's do it." And when the Marquis de La--
Chris Hayes: It's like the U.S. arming the mujahideen against (LAUGH) the Soviets.
Mike Duncan: Well, Spencer Ackerman has a theory that Osama bin Laden is basically the Lafayette of--
Chris Hayes: Fascinating.
Mike Duncan: Yes, yes. It's a great theory that he loves to needle me with. So when he shows up, he is this marquis, which they'd never seen a French marquis before. He's incredibly rich. He says, "I'm not here for a salary. I can pay my own way. I'm not here to just, like, make a buck off you guys."
He is personally friends with Louis XVI. He's personally friends, frenemies, with Marie Antoinette, right? They weren't really friends, they were frenemies. But well connected. And they're like, "My god. Like, this guy is a direct conduit back to the center of French power."
And then the people in France, like the Foreign Minister Vergennes, are looking at Lafayette and saying like, "Man, this guy might be our conduit to the inner circle of the American leadership, George Washington." So the Second Continental Congress and George Washington, for political reasons, say, "We need to bring this guy in close. We need to make him very happy. We need to give him what he wants.
"And, in so doing, he can have a little adventure, he can run around, he can get shot at. He can go home, he can show his war wounds off to the women in Versailles. And then convince the French to give us a bunch of money." That was what the plan was.
And it just so happened that Lafayette himself was an endearing enough person, and well liked enough just as an individual. He was not imperious. He was not arrogant. Him and George Washington, after just a few weeks, really, I mean, hit it off.
Chris Hayes: This comes across in the book, that he's a really likable dude, at least on the colony side. And there is an intense affection, camaraderie. Like, he is taken into this circle because of who he is and what his name is and his connections. But then people, like, really love this dude.
Mike Duncan: Yes. I think so. And as I said in the book, his foot in the door is that he's friends with the king and queen. The reason he stays in the tent is because he does all these little things. He speaks English as much as he can. It's not all the time, he's just learning how to speak English, but most French officers who came over just assumed that anybody who was educated would be able to speak fluent French.
And when they came over and started barking, you know, trying to negotiate with the Second Continental Congress in French, and everybody' starin' at 'em like, "We don't speak French. We hate the French, or we used to hate the French, now we love you."
So Lafayette does all of these little things. When it's his turn, you know, to do like kinda the daily grunt work of being a major general, they were all on rotation, right? Like, you know, one guy was like the senior officer of the day. And Lafayette did his duty diligently.
The very first battle that he's in, which is I think when Washington goes from, "Oh, okay, this guy might be kind of a nuisance. He's this absolutely untested, inexperienced 19-year-old rich teenager who I am tolerating for political reasons," at the Battle of Brandywine, Lafayette runs towards the battle not away from the battle.
He gets wounded. He keeps fighting. When he is ordered to retreat, along with everybody else, he takes it upon himself to rally quite a chaotic retreat at this one particular bridge and get these guys under control and have those soldiers hold the bridge so that everybody else could get away. And this is where Washington finds him, wounded, and holding a bridge so that everybody can get away.
Like, Washington is looking at this like, "Oh, okay. You might actually be something that I care about." And I think from that point on, that kind of ebullient courage, you know, I don't know how else to put it, really endears you to your comrades in arms in a major way.
Chris Hayes: How long is he in the U.S.?
Mike Duncan: Like, he comes over in 1777, and he's serving in the continental army until Yorktown, which is in 1781. And he takes one year off. He goes back to France, because this was the plan all along, was to have him, you know, serve in the continental army and then go back to France.
And Lafayette is instrumental, along with Benjamin Franklin, in convincing the French to send the expedition under Rochambeau. And then Lafayette comes back around the time that Rochambeau does and rejoins the army, and he's there at Yorktown. He's fighting.
He was actually the general who was in charge of the force that was tryin' to pin Cornwallis down before Washington and Rochambeau could get down there. And then he makes a return trip in 1784. But he's in and out of the United States for like five years, right, before he kinda goes back for good.
Chris Hayes: And by the end of it, Washington views him as an adopted son.
Mike Duncan: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: What is that relationship like?
Mike Duncan: It's very difficult to tell, especially from Washington's side, like, what were they really thinking here? I do think that there is something to the notion that Lafayette was an orphan. His father was killed in battle when he was two years old. That's when he becomes the Marquis de Lafayette, at the tender age of two. And then his mother died when he was like 12.
And so when Lafayette shows up in Washington's camp, Washington says to him, because Lafayette is this important, valuable political piece, like, "I would like you to join my family." And what Washington means by this is Washington has a military family. This is kind of how Washington refers to the senior officers around him. And he is inviting Lafayette into that military family. But just because there's a bit of a language barrier, Lafayette hears this and he's like, "My god. You know, Washington has invited me into his--"
Chris Hayes: "Adopted me." (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: --"family." Yeah, "He's adopted me. This is fantastic. I love this guy." And so, from Lafayette's side, I do think he sees in Washington a surrogate father. He had tried to have a bit of a surrogate father in his father-in-law, the Duke de Noailles, and that did not work. They did not get along with each other. There is a sitcom to be written about their relationship.
But with Washington, you do start to get it. And now, on Washington's side though, like, Washington was childless too. He was probably impotent. He was very paternal and fatherly to his adopted children. But in the main, he was very reserved in public.
Alexander Hamilton is right there too, who is also essentially an orphan, who's very, very close to him. Washington did not develop any kind of fatherly feelings for Alexander Hamilton. That was always a very professional relationship that those two had, whereas Lafayette comes in and there's just kind of something about him.
There's something about his character, there's something about the way that he acts and talks and behaves that really melts a bit of Washington's very infamous stoic reserve. There's stories about Washington where, like, you know, I forget exactly who it is that does this, but they dare another guy to go, like, slap Washington on the back and be like, "Hey, how's it goin', General?"
And when the guy does this, he accepts the dare, like, Washington gives him this, like, death stare, which is, "Do not touch me in public." Whereas with Lafayette, as the months and then years go by, like, if Lafayette wants to approach Washington and give him a kiss on each cheek, that's somethin' Lafayette can get away with that nobody else can get away with. And so there is a special bond between these two guys.
Chris Hayes: So Lafayette goes back to France. He has been a hero of the American Revolution. He is still a very wealthy member of the nobility and elite. And in the inner circle of the Ancien Régime. Like, the system that has been constructed that is about to fall.
Mike Duncan: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Yeah. And he went to the United States filled with some vague idealistic enlightened notions that liberty is better than tyranny, all people are created equal. As opposed to the old divisions of aristocracy and commons probably are not founded on anything worth salvaging.
I think Lafayette comes to this conclusion very quickly, both from his own encounters with the people who hang out at Versailles. He was not very impressed with them or their talents. And then when he comes over to America, he meets these people like Hamilton or like Henry Knox or Benedict Arnold who are really self-made people. They came from nowhere and are suddenly leading an independence movement.
So Lafayette joins in the 1780s a fairly robust reform movement inside of the nobility, and inside of sort of what we call the upper bourgeoisie. These educated French people who understood that the system that they were living under, the political system, the economic system, the social system that they were living under was really just grinding to a halt. The French monarchy more or less goes bankrupt in 1786, partly as a result of Lafayette and Benjamin Franklin convincing them--
Chris Hayes: Right. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: --to give like a billion dollars to the Americans, which then the Americans mostly didn't pay back because, you know, hey, national interest. But Lafayette is heavily involved in this reform movement. He is, by his nature, and I think that this is true of really his whole life, as much as he's associated with being a revolutionary, and he is willing to go into revolution when necessary, he's mostly a liberal social reformer.
When he sees injustice, he wants to correct it. And he spends his time, his money, his attention on poor relief, on rights for Protestants, on rights for Jews. From 1783, like very, very early, he's one of the earliest proponents, he wants to do graduate emancipation. But he wants to abolish slavery, and believes that the revolution will not be complete until slavery has been abolished. So he--
Chris Hayes: The American Revolution?
Mike Duncan: Yeah, yeah, the American Revolution.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, so is an early abolitionist for a white nobleperson.
Mike Duncan: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Yeah. And there were a couple of 'em. You know, like, he's reading the Marquis de Condorcet, who is an abolitionist, and there was a little circle in the educated elite who did recognize that slavery was a bad thing and needed to be abolished. And Lafayette joins this group.
And so this puts him in the wedge that is now aiming at Ancien Régime France. And they run into an intransigent nobility who do not wanna give up to privileges, who do not wanna give up their special rights. And the conflict between those two, and the contradiction between this sort of reactionary resistance and this liberal reform movement ultimately does explode into the French Revolution, as a result of, you know, many other things. And I know we're gonna--
Chris Hayes: Yes. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: --be here all day if I have to explain--
Chris Hayes: Fifty-five episodes, yes.
Mike Duncan: Yeah, yeah. But I don't know. There was a volcano and there was a hailstorm and, you know, bread prices were skyrocketing. And the next thing you know, it's the French Revolution.
Chris Hayes: Well, what role does he play? And when does he make his choice about which side to be on?
Mike Duncan: From very early, he is elected as a delegate to the Estates General. So if you're familiar with the basics of the French Revolution, you know that it kinda gets going when the Estates General convene in May of 1789.
Chris Hayes: By the way, the Estates General, this is a little tangents. The Estates General is my favorite example of, like, when people talk about the Electoral College or gerrymandering. That, like, you can contrive systems that are punitively democratic, but aren't at all, right?
Mike Duncan: Right. (LAUGH)
Chris Hayes: Estates General is, like, what, it's the three estates? It's the nobility, the clergy, and then like basically the entire--
Mike Duncan: The commons.
Chris Hayes: The commons.
Mike Duncan: Right.
Chris Hayes: Right? And, like, yeah. Like, if the nobility and the clergy vote for something, (LAUGH) that wins, right?
Mike Duncan: Yeah, because each estate got one vote--
Chris Hayes: Yes. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: --in this system. It doesn't make a lot of sense.
Chris Hayes: The point about the Estates General to me is that the rules of whatever you're punitively democratic system are matter a tremendous amount for their democratic legitimacy. And in this sense, it was like, "Well, you know, each estate gets a vote." (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: Yep. Exactly. "And that's the way we've always done it." And that's where the breakdown happens. The Estates General hadn't met, I think the last time was like 1614. It had been 175-odd years since this body had convened. And when they got together, the third estate, who represents 95% of the population, are saying like, "We want to have at least half the votes."
That's all they were asking for, honestly, was like half the votes. They didn't want 95% of the vote, they want half. And the nobility and the clergy were trying to resist it, or at least some of them were trying to resist it to the point where that political breakdown creates the conditions that lead into the summer of 1789.
So Lafayette is there for this, and he made a pledge to the people who elected him as a noble delegate that, "I will not mess with the one estate/one vote rule, unless the king says we're gonna do away with it." And it's one of the very, like, subtle political mistakes Lafayette makes in his life.
But when we advance to the fall of the Bastille, right? When the Parisians do rise up for a variety of reasons, and take down the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, and both then and I think now in the historical memory truly marks the beginning of the French Revolution, the very next day, on July 15th, 1789, the city leaders of Paris are starting to organize a militia, like a citizen militia, that will be able to maintain order in the city, "Now that we have, like, kicked out the king's guards.
"And now that we've kicked out the royal intendant, we are going to organize ourselves as a self-governing commune. We are now gonna have a mayor for the first time. We're gonna have this little electoral council. And we need somebody to lead the militia," which kinda doubles as a police force and a military body.
And in their minds, the leaders of Paris, there's only one person who can lead this. Because you need somebody who has popular support, who's not going to be seen by the people as a tyrant or as somebody who is coming in to just, like, really restore order with, like, the iron fist. But also has something resembling military experience. Somebody who can actually do the job of leading armed troops in battle, or armed troops through the streets of Paris.
And the only person they can think of is it the Marquis de Lafayette. So on July 15th, 1789, day after the Bastille falls, they acclaim him unanimously commander general of the National Guard. And then that becomes his role in the French Revolution. He is charged with keeping the peace in Paris, keeping order in Paris, while also defending revolutionary liberty at the same time.
That's what he's gonna do for the next three years. And ultimately, when the women go off to Versailles in October 1789 and bring the king and queen back, now Lafayette as the defender of order in Paris is now also protecting the king and queen, and also protecting the people from the king and queen.
And it's like an incredibly dicey place for any person to be. It's arguably one of the hardest historical jobs I've ever seen given to somebody, which is like, "Keep order in revolutionary Paris, while also not betraying the principles of liberty and equality. Good luck."
Chris Hayes: Right.
Mike Duncan: He did pretty well, I think, considering how difficult of a job that would be for, like, literally anybody. And ultimately, you know, he stumbles and falls and gets kicked out of the revolution.
Chris Hayes: You moved to Paris to do this, right?
Mike Duncan: I did.
Chris Hayes: How was that?
Mike Duncan: It was great. And then also very hard, like, simultaneously.
Chris Hayes: How's your French?
Mike Duncan: My French is much better than it used to be. I lived in Paris for a very weird time, 'cause I did the year of COVID in Paris. We were on a 23-hour-a-day lockdown for eight weeks in I guess it was like March and April of 2020. And I was over there with my wife, and I have two small kids, and we were in a 500-square-foot apartment.
Chris Hayes: Ooh. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: So, yeah, it was weird, and a lot. There is a whole section in the book where Lafayette is in solitary confinement in these rooms. After he gets evicted from the French Revolution, he winds up in Austrian dungeons. And some of that became I think a little autobiographical. (LAUGH) As I was writing it, I was certainly able to feel what it might be like to be confined for a very long period of time.
Chris Hayes: So your whole family was there.
Mike Duncan: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: Did your family like it? I mean, Paris is, you know, one of the greatest places on Earth.
Mike Duncan: Sure. Yeah. And like I say, you know, my kids just went to regular French school, so they both became bilingual. We were living in the Marais. We were livin' not too far from the Hotel de Ville. You know, we came back ultimately, like, and we were, like, "Are we gonna stay here forever? Like, are we just gonna, like, sort of emigrate to France permanently?" And I think after COVID, we both felt we were disconnected from our families--
Chris Hayes: Family, yeah.
Mike Duncan: It was hard. It was hard. And I know that everybody was disconnected from their families. You know, I have a friend in Georgia who was disconnected from his family in Oregon, and I know that that's true. But we also had sovereign borders dividing us. We had an ocean dividing us.
And for a lotta 2020, with it just ravaging out of control in the United States, when it looked like North America was gonna become this plague continent that the rest of the world was gonna have to quarantine for god knows how long. You know, we're just like, "Jesus." Like, us moving to France was never supposed to be like, "Oh, by the way, you never see your family again."
Chris Hayes: Right.
Mike Duncan: So when things did loosen up enough, and when the book got finished, we were like, "Okay, let's get to a point where we're at least driving distance from our families, just on the off-chance." I mean, off-chance. Like, things like this will happen again. Like, COVID's the first of many not the last of anything, unfortunately.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, I fear that's true. And as someone who has lived abroad, just come back, went through COVID there and written a book about someone who moved between two different worlds in moments of revolutionary fervor. I mean, one of the things that I've taken from the Revolutions series is the famous Lenin quote, which I'm gonna mangle, about, like, decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.
And it's interesting because you'll see that in the podcast, in terms of how time gets, like, condensed or distended, because there will be a week in the French Revolution, or ten days in 1917, that are epochal. And then there's longer periods of time where very little happens compared to those kind of intense times. It's hard to have historical perspective on your own time, but it does feel to me now that there's a lot (LAUGH) happening here. And I just wonder, like, your perspective, as someone who--
Mike Duncan: Oh.
Chris Hayes: --thinks about this full time.
Mike Duncan: Yeah. We're havin' a moment here, (LAUGH) just so you know. Like you, you know, I come outta the '90s, which feels like one of those decades where nothing happened, which I know is my own perspective on things. But I just felt like I drank a lotta Starbucks and watched Seinfeld and, like, that's really all that happened in the 1990s.
So, no, we're havin' a lot goin' on here. 'Cause I was still in France when January 6th happened, and all of the election, like, I watched all that sorta from afar. It's always nice to, like, get outside of things so you can sort of look back and see what's happening. It is sometimes hard to get perspective when you're in the middle of something--
Chris Hayes: Exactly.
Mike Duncan: --and literally in the middle of something. Whereas I watched a lot of the Trump presidency kind of, like, one step removed. And I remember, like, especially, like when I was on a 23-hour-a-day lockdown in my apartment in Paris, and my Twitter is just, you know, people that I follow on Twitter.
And you would get these comments from, let's say, conservatives or people on Fox News who are like, you know, "CNN's only hyping COVID to get Trump." Or, like, you. You were bangin' your shoe against the table from, like, day one, right? And good job for doing that. But, like, people probably said to you, "The only reason you're hyping this is because you hate Trump. This has nothing--"
Chris Hayes: Right. Or that, "You're being--"
Mike Duncan: --" to do with CO--"
Chris Hayes: --"hysterical and ridiculous."
Mike Duncan: Yeah, right. Right. Like, it's no different from the flu. And I'm, like, sittin' there like, "Dude, this is happening (LAUGH) in the whole world."
Chris Hayes: (LAUGH) The whole world.
Mike Duncan: Right? Like, I can't leave my apartment and I promise you Macron is not locking me in this apartment 'cause he's tryin' to stick it to Trump. So it is nice to get that perspective.
Chris Hayes: Well, it's funny you say that because we're speaking today in late September on a Wednesday. My A block tonight is actually on this topic. The A block is a riff about Ron DeSantis taking a shot at Australia and saying he's not sure if it's even a free country anymore. And China might be more free than Australia because of the--
Mike Duncan: Yes.
Chris Hayes: --severity of their COVID restrictions. And the thing that drove me crazy is I had friends in other countries. I'll never forget, during COVID, talking to a friend, a very good friends of ours who lives in Buenos Aries. And in Buenos Aires, like, she was talking about how she went out for her daily walk, and that like you can basically only leave the house to go get groceries. And you better--
Mike Duncan: Yep.
Chris Hayes: --have a grocery bag or the cops are gonna come and ask to see your groceries or give you a ticket.
Mike Duncan: Yes.
Chris Hayes: And this was common. And here, we're in the U.S., it's like we're under a quote/unquote lockdown which, like, it meant that these businesses were closed. There was a public health order. It did really change the texture of daily life. But at any point, you could have walked anywhere you wanted. You could get in your car. You coulda driven to see your relatives four states away. No one was stopping you.
There are people landing in JFK just walking through. (LAUGH) And then, at the same time, you have Trump and all these people saying like, "This is tyranny," and, "Liberate Michigan." And I would talk to people in other countries and they're like, "Dude, like, I literally cannot leave my house. I cannot go outside." (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: Yeah. And that was my experience, you know. I had to carry a piece of paper with me, and it was not just like perfunctory. There were cops that were roaming around, and I would have to talk to them. And believe me, talking to French police in your sort of like decent French that I have, they're like, "What are you even doing here?" You know, like--
Chris Hayes: Yeah. Right.
Mike Duncan: --and I got two kids with me, like, and we could take them out. So, like, usually like, "Look, I'm walking a kid." Like, we had to walk our kids like we walk dogs. Man, we had to like get 'em outta the house just to give 'em some fresh air. So, yeah, the perspective.
The United States has always had a reputation for being incredibly parochial in its outlook, in its just utter inability to see what is happening in the rest of the world, and to only care about what's happening in the United States. And I knew this intellectually. I know it's a true thing. I've traveled abroad and it's quite noticeable. But having lived over there for three years, like, it's even more noticeable.
Chris Hayes: Right. What did January 6th look like as a person who studies revolutions and was watching it from abroad?
Mike Duncan: Okay. So January 6th gets us back to, like, my first book, which is called The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic, which is all about how, in the middle of the second century BC, there are a bunch of confluent factors that contributed to a breakdown of political norms, political comity.
And more aggressive politicking among the senatorial elite where they stopped believing in the republican system as it had existed for centuries, and started taking any opportunity to seize power when it was presented to them. And to not really care about the way that things had been done before.
This leads from a system that was pretty intact in terms of transferring power and holding elections and whoever wins the election wins the election. And as I go through this book, by the time that you're two thirds of the way through it, you have somebody's about to win an election and another faction doesn't want them to win that election. And so they've got the hired swordsmen who are on retainer and bring 'em down to the forum and have 'em literally kick over the voting urns, like the physical voting urns where votes are being calculated, to--
Chris Hayes: Wow.
Mike Duncan: --disrupt this election and prevent the opposing candidate from winning. This is two thirds of the way through the book. By the end of the book, we are talking about entire armies are marching against each other, trying to achieve the same ends.
And a lot of the events at the end of this book do come down to issues of one person has won a vote and the other side's not very happy about it, "And what are we gonna do? Are we just going to accept it? Or am I gonna make my six legions into Rome and prevent that election from taking place?"
So all of that was written with some degree of concentration about what is happening in the United States with the American republic and American democracy. And I was writing this, like, in 2014 and 2015 and 2016. And then of course when Trump comes along, everybody's like, "Dude, you better hustle this book out the door or it's not gonna be, like, a prescient warning, it's gonna be like, 'Dude, that's old news.'"
Chris Hayes: Right. (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: "Yeah, man, we already know how the American republic falls. Like, we're living through it right now." So then you get to the election of 2020 where Trump did the same thing that he did in 2016, which is say, "If I lose this election, it's only because of fraud," right? "My loss means it was fraudulent."
And so then they do this, and we all lived through months of them saying, "It's fraudulent," trying to prove that it's fraudulent, failing to prove that it's fraudulent but just going out there and saying it again anyway. Then basically saying, "We're gonna have this huge rally. We're gonna point it at the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another."
Then they're holding the rally. Then they're charging into the Capitol. And there were still lots of people who are like, "Wow, I can't believe this is happening. This is so surprising." It's like what do you think? They've been telling us that they were going to do this for months.
When are people going to realize that this is actually a thing people are willing to do now? It's so outside of the living experience of a couple of generations of Americans, right, who grew up in the wake of World War II, and who then lived through all of the second half of the 20th century where things like this didn't happen. It's very shocking to them. And I will admit, like, it was shocking to me to, like, actually watch the mob go up there and do this.
Chris Hayes: The fact they got in. I mean, that was--
Mike Duncan: Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure.
Chris Hayes: --what was shocking, was like, "Wait, what?" (LAUGH)
Mike Duncan: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, which, uh-huh (AFFIRM), yeah, why did that happen? So watching it on TV was like, "Oh wow, this is shocking that this is happening." But also, like, of course this is gonna happen. And what I try to tell people, and what I will tell to everybody who's listening right now, is January 6th was not the end of anything, right?
It was not the climax of anything. It was not the final word in anything. It was not the high-water mark of anything. It was something that they did that didn't quite work, right? I don't know how far they would have taken it. You know, we have now seen what the plan was. Had a couple of things gone differently, would they have taken hostages? And what would the result of that have been?
Chris Hayes: Right.
Mike Duncan: Right? 'Cause that's what we were going for. And now that all of that happened, and I know that you're involved in, you know, what I would call sort of the media establishment because of your job, there is a great degree of concern that I have that we are not really turning hard on the people who organized that--
Chris Hayes: Yeah.
Mike Duncan: --and led. People like Ted Cruz, people like Hawley, they would have been expelled from the Senate. There are representatives who should have been expelled from the House of Representatives for having participated in it. And because none of those things happened, we have now set a precedent where those kinds of things can happen again.
And I think that, in 2022, we will see the same kinds of things happen anywhere there is a close election, especially at the state level. I live outside of Madison, Wisconsin. And, you know, if Evers squeaks out a win by a couple thousand votes, which is not outside the realm of possibility, I don't see any way of getting out of that without something similar to January 6th happening here.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, the fact that it's not a high-water mark, the fact that it's established a kind of precedent, a model, even just like a mental model for people.
Mike Duncan: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). It's now in the realm of possibility, for sure. And there's no consequences for it, is there?
Chris Hayes: There is essentially none. I mean, people are being prosecuted, although, you know.
Mike Duncan: That's soldiers, man. Like, what do you--
Chris Hayes: Right, right.
Mike Duncan: Yeah. Like, great. Ya got Calley. Good work. What about Kissinger?
Chris Hayes: Mike Duncan is a historian. He's author of The New York Times bestselling book Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution. It's a biography of Marquis de Lafayette, chronicles the clashes he had with successive governments here in the U.S. and then of France until his death in 1834.
He's host of the phenomenal Revolutions podcast. The book's (MUSIC) phenomenal too. I mean, if you like Mike's writing as spoken in Revolutions, you'll love the book. He also hosted the podcast The History of Rome. It's such a great pleasure to get to talk to you, Mike. Thanks so much.
Mike Duncan: Thank you so much for havin' me.
Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks to Mike Duncan. Again, the book is awesome. The podcast is awesome, you should check all of that. And send your feedback. Tweet us with the hashtag "WithPod," email WithPod@gmail.com. Why Is This Happening is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the all-in team, and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to NBCNews.com/WhyIsThisHappening.
Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email WITHpod@gmail.com. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the “All In” team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.