Éric Vuillard’s The War of the Poor – Income Inequality Has a Long History

The disparity in income between the wealthy and working class in America continues to spark debates that will last long after the 2020 election. While income inequality is often cast as a current problem – the 1% vs. the 99%, Wall Street vs. Main Street – the gap between the haves and the have-nots has a long history.

Éric Vuillard’s The War of the Poor (translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti), is a slim volume that packs a punch. Vuillard takes us back to the sixteenth century after the Protestant Reformation successfully attacked privilege and the Catholic Church. Yet that Protestant promise of equality for the poor quickly established another bourgeois authority to protect those in power. Rising up to confront this new leadership were a number of theologians, including Thomas Müntzer.

While Vuillard attributes Müntzer’s early awakening when he was only 11 years old and witnessed his father being executed. Other accounts say there is no evidence that the elder Müntzer was killed. Still, something triggered outrage within Müntzer that set him on a path to oppose those in power. His mission kept him on the move, spreading his belief that the end of the world was on the horizon and those who believed in God would be entrusted with managing the journey to another realm. 

Of course, Müntzer wasn’t the only one crusading and often those who rose up to fight did so on a smaller scale to protect their families. Often these encounters turned violent. Vuillard writes about a tax collector who raped a 15 year-old girl when she had no money to pay. Her father followed the collector’s coach and split the man’s skull with a mallet.

And while Müntzer believed he was sent by God, in Vuillard’s descriptions, there’s little of the “turn the other cheek” when confronted by enemies. “Something terrible inhabits him, agitates him,” Vuillard writes. “He is enraged. He wants the rulers’ skins, he wants to sweep away the church, he wants to gut all those bastards.”

While Müntzer had an impact and certainly emerged as a courageous historical figure, he met a brutal death. Vuillard’s narrative, beautifully written, follows the path of this brave rabble rouser, who continues to inspire others.

The War of the Poor
Éric Vuillard
Translated by Mark Polizzotti

About Charlene Giannetti (446 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that completed filming on February 1, 2020. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.