Human behaviour is a science. Certain people will behave in a certain predictable, way, like chemical reactions. Groups of people will likewise react to events in a certain way depending on character and circumstances. Every society has a fuse of varying length based on its particular volatility, thus the present economic austerity (2013) has produced riots in some countries, but not others.
American research has shown that administrative stability in a country is dependant on at least 80 per cent of the population putting up with (not necessarily supporting) the government. Once over 20 per cent actively oppose it, chaos ensues. Thus the Northern Irish “Troubles” were caused by the fact that the Catholic third of the population there actively opposed Protestant rule from 1969 until power sharing in 1998.
Just as a society’s reactions can be understood by a perceptive observer, so can an individuals; history is full of examples. Here are a few, first some English ones.
King Charles II of England had no legitimate offspring; his heir was thus his unpopular, obtuse younger brother James, Duke of York, known as “Dismal Jimmy”. Charles foresaw what would happen; he stated that his brother would last less than five years on the throne. Absolutely correct! King James II (as the brother became) was deposed in 1688 after a reign of three years.
In 1894, Queen Victoria was informed that her granddaughter, Alexandra of Hesse, was to marry the Crown Prince of Russia. Instead of making her glad, the news appalled her. She wrote “my blood runs cold when I think of her so young most likely placed on that very unsafe throne, her dear life and above all her husband’s constantly threatened”. Victoria’s fears were realised in 1918 when Empress Alexandra (as she had become) and her husband, Nicholas II, perished in front of a firing squad
In 1935, shortly after his silver jubilee, King George V told his secretary that his feckless son and heir would destroy himself within one year of succeeding to the throne; he was absolutely correct. in December 1936, King Edward VIII (as he had become) was forced to abdicate after a reign of eleven months.
Foreign examples abound also. when he was dismissed as German Chancellor, Bismarck predicted that the empire he had founded (the so-called “Second Reich”) would, without his moderate policy, last only another twenty years; he was absolutely correct. It fell in 1919 after suicidally starting the First World War in which it fought on two fronts. At the end of that war, all three allied commanders (Foch, Haigh and Pershing) predicted correctly another war (of revenge) in twenty years.
The inter-war period produced dictatorships. In the 1930s, Atatürk, the wise founder of the Republic of Turkey, evaluated them. He said Mussolini was a charlatan who would one day be hanged by his own people. Hitler, he stated, was mad, but Stalin was a shrewd realist who would survive. All spot on!
As predicted, Stalin was the only one of the three to survive, but his country imploded 38 years after his death. Its dissolution in 1991 caught almost everyone by surprise. One of the few exceptions was the veteran British politician Denis Healey. As a former communist, he was fascinated by the USSR, and visited it (in a private capacity) every year after the Second World War. On one such occasion he managed to obtain a meeting with its then leader, Khruschchev, and told him that the USSR was a colonial empire and, like the Western ones, would break up. The latter laughed and replied that it would happen only “when shrimps whistle” (the Russian equivalent of “when pigs fly”). Khrushchev did not live to see this come about, but Healey did. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, he published his reminiscences about it in a book aptly entitled When Shrimps Whistle.