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Mars Unshackled: The French Revolution in World-Historical Perspective[1]

Theda Skocpol and Meyer Kestnbaum

Only with the French Revolution did the concept of "revolution" take on its modern meaning.[2] This etymological fact signals a larger truth about the grouping of events in world history. For many centuries prior to the 1500s, "revolution" referred to astronomical cycles. During the period of the English upheavals from 1640 to 1688, "revolution" was used to refer to fundamental political changes, yet still retained the sense of cycling back to a previous state of affairs. By the time of the French Revolution, however, "revolution" came to connote a sudden, fundamental, and innovative departure in a nation's social and political life—and the term has retained this connotation down to the present day. Since 1789–1799 in France, such massive social revolutions have punctuated modern world history. In part fueled by widespread revolts from below, social revolutions have recurrently brought basic changes in class relations, state structures, and hegemonic ideologies to particular countries. And they have transformed power balances and ideological models within the international system of nations.

Modern social revolutions have been tied together in both practical politics and academic scholarship. In practical politics, the actors in the social revolutions that followed the French Revolution often understood their own roles by reference back to what had happened in France; the obsession of the Bolsheviks with preventing a "Thermidorian reaction" in Russia is a case in point. Similarly, the French Revolution has served as a prototype for the academic analysis of succeeding revolutions. Yet later revolutions have also changed scholars' sense of what was interesting about the French case. Periodic reinterpretations of the French upheavals have been inspired not only by political or academic shifts within France; they have also depended on scholars' sense of how subsequent revolutions compare to, or build on, the great French precedent. As François Furet has correctly (if acerbically)


pointed out, the Russian Revolution cast a glaring light backward onto earlier French events, encouraging left-leaning scholars to probe ever more deeply into "class conflicts" in revolutionary France, and shifting the central focus from the period 1789–1791 toward 1792–1794 as the radical highpoint of the French Revolution, the moment when Jacobin rule allegedly foreshadowed the later triumphs and tribulations of the Russian Bolsheviks.[3]

But for many years now, the "social interpretation of the French Revolution" (as Alfred Cobban called the Marxist account) has been under scholarly assault. In an era of anti-Stalinism and the international Cold War, many scholars became critical of the theory that the French Revolution was a "bourgeois revolution" punctuated by moments of greater class-based radicalism from below. They reacted against Marxian concepts of class struggle and Leninist readings of history. Some of these opponents of Marxian interpretations have rested content with substituting alternative social interpretations—for example Cobban's own reading of the French Revolution as the falling out and recomposition of a noncapitalist landed elite.[4] Others, such as Richard Cobb, have asked us to drop all efforts to give the Revolution a macroscopic interpretation.[5] Still others, however—especially comparative-historical social scientists referring back to Alexis de Tocqueville and Max Weber rather than Karl Marx—have put forward "political" or "state-centered" readings of the French Revolution as alternatives to the Marxist schema.

It is not incidental that such political and comparative-historical readings of the French case proliferated just as dozens of "new nations" were emerging on the world scene after the 1950s, and just as social scientists became fascinated with problems of "modernization," including "political development." Social revolutions since the midtwentieth century have obviously been explosive dramas of national definition and assertion, with their "class struggles" centered on peasants and landlords as much or more than on proletarians and bourgeois. Arguably resonating with such patterns on the contemporary world stage, Barrington Moore Jr.'s 1966 opus, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy , treated both historical and recent revolutions as steps toward one or another kind of modern political regime—democracy, fascism, or communism—and attributed the 1789 French Revolution to a political alliance of peasants and the bourgeoisie, arrayed against the monarchy and a landed aristocracy.[6] Departing still further from Marxian ideas, Samuel P. Huntington's 1968 book, Political Order in Changing Society , also brought together European and Third World revolutions.[7] Huntington treated the French Revolution along with all other social revolutions as an "explosion" of political participation giving rise to strengthened new political institutions capable of channeling peasant and urban-middle-class demands into national politics. Finally, Theda Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions , published in 1979, reanalyzed both the French and Russian Revolu-


tions in terms originally inspired by her sense of the intertwining of agrarian changes, international power shifts, and transformations in state structures during the Chinese Revolution of 1911 through 1949.[8] Like Samuel Huntington, Skocpol argued that the transformations wrought by social revolutions were, principally, the enhanced centralization and bureaucratization of the state, accompanied by the mobilization of formerly excluded popular groups into national political life.

An "Internalist" Interpretation of the French Revolution?

Interpretations of the French Revolution may always have been intimately intertwined with the significance attached to subsequent social revolutions in world history, yet many historians surely will agree with Lynn Hunt in her effort to set aside all such ways of situating the French Revolution in crossnational perspective. In Hunt's view, comparativist approaches (ranging from the Marxian to the political modernization views) offer overly "externalist" theories that treat the French "Revolution merely . . . as the vehicle of transportation between long-term causes and effects."[9] Hunt proposes to substitute for previous accounts of the French Revolution a radically "internalist" interpretation. She focuses strictly on the actors and symbols of revolutionary dramas between 1789 and 1794 and argues that the "chief accomplishment of the French Revolution was the institution of a dramatically new political culture."[10] This new political culture was inspired but not caused by the Enlightenment. The new political culture, along with the new political leaders who came to the fore in the midst of the conflicts of 1789–1794 to espouse and be shaped by the emergent political culture, advocated the recreation of the French people along universal, national, and rationalistic lines through "the mobilizing potential of democratic republicanism."[11]

Indeed, Hunt's provocative book, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution , represents a strong challenge to any crossnational, structuralist reading of the logic of revolutions, for it argues that the French Revolution's "origins, outcomes, and nature of experience were distinctively French."[12] Hunt unabashedly draws us away from looking for uniformities across social revolutions in modern world history, and into probing the meanings-for-theparticipants of a few pivotal years in the singular history of a unique French nation. At the same time, however, Hunt wishes to retain a certain claim that the French Revolution had world-historical significance. This she does by asserting that the "Revolution . . . gave birth to so many essential characteristics of modern politics"[13] —characteristics such as ideological contention, democratic participation, and political party organization. "Once revolutionaries acted on Rousseau's belief that government could form a new people," Hunt claims, "the West was never again the same."[14] But by this


she does not mean that the French Revolution could, or should, be understood as parallel to other revolutions. She means that new possibilities for democratic politics were loosed on the world, to be interpreted in many alternative ways ranging from socialist to authoritarian, but not in the future to be ignored.

Admirable as Lynn Hunt's tour-de-force of an interpretation may be, it can be questioned from various standpoints. Most problematic from our point of view is Hunt's attempt to decouple the French Revolution's "internal" political processes from what Alexis de Tocqueville correctly identified as its most striking and enduring structural accomplishment: the rationalization, bureaucratization, and further centralization of state power in France.[15] Furthermore, going beyond Tocqueville, we see many powerful links between the "internal" patterns of political mobilization during the revolutionary years in France and a set of "external" dynamics. These external dynamics were not constituted by the "emergence of capitalism" or the abstract march of "political modernization." They were very concrete challenges of international warfare faced by France in the late eighteenth century.

Let us briefly suggest how patterns of "internal" French revolutionary politics—including the revolutionary rhetoric so effectively dissected by Hunt—can be linked to the "external" geopolitical challenges France faced from the beginning to the end of the Revolution. Geopolitical challenges contributed fundamentally to the outbreak and the distinctive rhetoric of the French Revolution in 1787–1789, to its radical crescendo in the Year II (1793–1794), and to its culmination in the peculiar Napoleonic dictatorship that emerged after 1799. In resonant response to these geopolitical challenges, the Revolution unshackled the French state's capacities to wage war. The Revolution completed and infused new popular energy into organizational transformations in the French military, changes that were launched under the Old Regime but not brought to successful fruition until the advent of the Republic and the subsequent extension of the Republic's armies and martial achievements by Napoleon.

Geopolitical Decline and the Outbreak of the Revolution

As is well known, the Old Regime's descent into the maelstrom started when the monarchy exhausted its ability to raise loans for military purposes, called without success on an Assembly of Notables for help, and then backed down in the face of demands by the parlements for the convening of the long-defunct Estates-General. Yet culturally oriented scholars are certainly right to pinpoint the subsequent emergence of demands for a National Assembly, a body that was challenger and alternative to the Estates, as the originating moment


of revolution (rather than of reforms within the basic structure of the Old Regime).

More was involved here than contending groups of privileged Frenchmen vying for the best framework of representation in which to press their particular status interests against the king and one another. New political practices and a rhetoric of national regeneration came suddenly to the fore, just as Lynn Hunt would have it. In the search for a unifying political charisma to replace sacred absolute monarchy, Hunt tells us, successive leadership groups in the Revolution devised oaths and staged symbolic festivals. They also invoked "certain key words . . . as revolutionary incantations," including "patrie , constitution, law, and, more specific to the radicals, regeneration, virtue, and vigilance."[16] Among the key words of the Revolution, "nation was perhaps the most universally sacred" right from the start in 1789[17] —just as the bid of certain urban-based leaders to create the unified National Assembly was at the heart of the early revolutionary challenge to the Old Regime's monarchical and corporatist system of authority.[18]

To be sure, certain aspects of the innovative political practices and rhetoric of 1789 were inspired by certain readings of Enlightenment literatures, understandings that had gestated for some years in discussions by certain educated critics of the Old Regime, urban Third Estate and aristocratic critics alike. But the Enlightenment did not cause the new politics of 1789, for its many texts and ideals had been equally well invoked by defenders of monarchy or by coporatist critics of royal initiatives such as the parlements. To understand the revolutionary urge for uniformly national representation, we must understand how badly many French elites wanted to find a road to national regeneration in the late eighteenth century.

During the course of the eighteenth century, the French Old Regime, with its hodgepodge of monarchy and corporatist privilege, had proved recurrently unable to sustain the glory of France in the face of rising, newly efficient rivals and military enemies, especially Prussia on the continent of Europe and Britain on the high seas.[19] The French monarchy lost all of the intra-European wars of the eighteenth century in which it became involved, achieving a victory of sorts only in the far-flung conflict over American independence. The humiliation of martial defeats, along with the strain of raising revenues for wars, rendered credible critics' arguments that the country's institutions were in need of basic overhaul. "Nothing did more to fuel . . . [the] surge of public discussion than the Seven Years' War" of 1756—1763. "Undertaken with no clear aims, in alliance with Austria, a traditional enemy of centuries standing, it led to humiliating defeats on land and sea at what seemed like enormous economic cost. Taxes and state borrowing had soared, but there was nothing to show for such efforts. In these circumstances an inquest began which spared no aspect of French society or institutions, and was encouraged . . . by the government itself."[20]


Indeed, in the wake of the embarrassing French defeats at the hand of smaller Prussian armies in the Seven Years' War, major organizational changes in the army were devised by a succession of activist ministers, among the most influential of whom were Étienne François de Choiseul and Claude Louis de Saint-Germain. These changes, which laid the basis for later accomplishments under the Republic and Napoleon, featured the organization of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and support troops into self-sufficient divisions and corps; the subordination of individual regiments and companies to unified division and corps commands; and the unification of military supply operations, which were henceforth nominally directed by the monarchy rather than by private military contractors, thus taking them out of the hands of "enterprising" colonels and captains.[21] France's next major martial involvement did not, however, allow the effectiveness of these reforms to be fully tested; nor did it bring political payoffs to the monarchy. French victories in the War of American Independence were gained at sea against Britain. And even though France prevailed in this conflict, the Old Regime's longstanding fiscal inefficiencies—which had hampered earlier war efforts as well—reached an apogee in the war's immediate aftermath. In the words of Simon Schama,

[T]he pleasures of witnessing British imperial disarray and the belated satisfaction for the defeats of the Seven Years' War carried an expensive price tag . . . . [T]he ballooning of the deficit so weakened the nerfs —the sinews—of state that by 1787, its foreign policy was robbed of real freedom of action. For in that year sheer financial exigency prevented France from intervening decisively in the civil war in the Dutch Republic to support its own partisans, themselves going by the name of "Patriots." Paradoxically, then, the war that had been intended to restore the imperial power of France ended up compromising it so badly that king and patrie seemed to be two different, and before long irreconcilable, entities. It was not much longer before this process was taken even further, so that the court itself seemed a foreign parasite feeding off the body of the "true" Nation.[22]

Institutional transformations, statesmen and elites understood, would have to encompass the king's fundamental political relationship to tax-paying Frenchmen as well as the inner workings of the military machine. By 1787–1789 French elites were not just worried about who might have to pay more taxes than whom to solve a temporary monarchical financial crisis. Inspired by the British example of parliamentarism, as well as by the achievements of the American Revolution, many of them believed that the monarchy could not restore French international prestige without somehow consulting and involving them in fundamental decisions for the future.[23] In this context of a crisis of legitimacy in the state's basic mission and structure, the door was opened for certain elite elements to make a radical argument: that the entire


nation, not just separate privileged sectors, needed to be "represented" together with the king in the great work of political regeneration that was at hand.

We are suggesting, in short, that without the prior decades of geopolitical stress and relative decline for a great power that was facing escalating simultaneous challenges from land and sea, the national—moralistic dimension of the crisis of 1787–1789 might have been absent. Had this dimension been absent, the ensuing intraelite struggles might have resembled the decentralizing and particularistic conflicts of the Fronde over a century earlier, rather than leading into a politics of national regeneration, which was triggered by the calling of the Estates-General in 1789. The French elites who assembled to argue in—and about—the representative institutions of a constitutional monarchy were, despite their many differences, jointly concerned about how to strengthen the French nation through expanded political participation. Although in the early years of the Revolution declarations of war were far from the minds of most elites with contending constitutionalist visions, it was surely crucial that all French elites took for granted the past and potential future glory of the French state and nation. They argued within and about the central political and administrative institutions of a great power struggling against relative international decline, and the rhetoric of national regeneration resonated with this context.

War and Political Radicalization

When we move on to examine the political radicalization of the French Revolution after the early years of attempts at constitutional monarchy, it becomes even easier to demonstrate the links between the geopolitics and the domestic politics of the French Revolution. Lynn Hunt is ambiguous on the matter of whether the French Revolution brought "democracy," but surely it is safe to conclude that there was, during the Revolution, no stable democratization of national politics in the modern Western sense of that term. Democratic politics was not part of revolutionary practice or rhetoric right at the start, for national representation at first meant only the direct participation of all active citizens—that is, in practice, the propertied and educated elites of French society. Moreover, in later years, as popular involvement in revolutionary politics deepened in Paris and the provinces alike, "democracy" never came to mean orderly, predictably institutionalized electoral participation, as it would come to mean in the post-1820s United States, for example. Calculable and predictable rules for a liberal-democratic political "game" never stabilized amidst the dizzy succession of regimes that ruled revolutionary France.

What "democracy" did come to mean, however, especially under the aegis of the Montagnard Jacobins, was popular political mobilization to secure


the virtuous defense of the Revolution against its treasonous, conspiratorial enemies at home and abroad. As François Furet has argued, "Jacobinism laid down the model and the working of direct democracy by dictating opinion in the first organized group to appropriate the Revolution's discourse on itself."[24] But this did not happen all at once. It took an emergency context of national mobilization for war to bring out the full mass-mobilizing potential of Jacobinism.

The Jacobin clubs operated all along in some tension with the readings of national interest embodied in the representative Assemblies sitting in Paris, since they agitated on behalf of an "elect" understanding of the nation's and the Revolution's interests, namely their own understanding. Even so, in the early years when they were dominated by better-off middle-class elements, the Jacobin clubs operated as genuine forums for broad public discussion of all the major political issues of the day.[25] Arguably, the early Jacobin clubs embodied civic republicanism at its best. And they could hardly dictate to the national representative assemblies; they could only petition and lobby.

All of this changed after France went to war in 1792, and especially once the Montagnard Jacobins undertook the most intense efforts during 1793 and 1794 to defend their version of the Revolution against multiple revolts at home and invasions from abroad. After 1792, Isser Woloch tells us, the Jacobin clubs became more congenial places for political participation by the "common people," formerly passive citizens such as "master craftsmen, journeymen, artisans, small shopkeepers, minor clerks and functionaries, and common soldiers."[26] But during the same period the "clubs were markedly transformed. Having started as educational and propagandistic associations of middle-class reformers, they had gradually evolved into socially heterogeneous political action groups. Finally, in the Year II (1793—94), the sociétés populaires became the arms of a triumphant Montagnard government."[27] The clubs accepted central discipline from Paris, served as recruitment agencies for national administrative and military efforts, and became "unpaid bureaucratic agents" of local political surveillance and repression.

Exactly as both François Furet and Lynn Hunt would maintain, there was a powerful logic of political culture at work in all of this, not just the "force of circumstances." Because French revolutionary rhetoric did not leave room for institutionalized contention over alternative ways to further the national interest, and because "virtue" in revolutionary discourse was consistently defined in opposition to the treason of "aristocratic conspirators," those who mobilized more and more of "the people" into national politics found it easiest to do so in the context of unlimited wars against what were perceived as overwhelmingly threatening enemies at home and abroad. War and terror went hand in hand, and in an important sense fulfilled revolutionary rhetoric.


Yet surely it would be a mistake to overlook how well the Montagnard Jacobin practices and rhetoric of centrally directed popular mobilization also served the very real military needs of the Revolution—and, ironically, simultaneously brought to fruition the military reforms that had been attempted under the Old Regime.

Desperate to stop the invading armies of foreign monarchies and French emigrés, the Montagnard representatives on mission frequently cashiered officers who failed on the battlefield and immediately replaced them with other soldiers or officers who, regardless of previous social status, had demonstrated battlefield valor and excellence in the immediate cause of defending the Revolution. As has often been emphasized, this gave reality to the Revolution's theme of "careers open to talent." But, equally important, the surviving parts of the line armies of France were actually reinvigorated under the Jacobins.[28] After voluntary enlistments failed to bring in sufficient troops to meet foreign and domestic military threats, the Montagnard Committee on Public Safety decreed the levée en masse on 23 August 1793, subjecting to conscription for war all national resources, human and material. This measure not only enormously expanded French forces, it also reinforced the amalgamation of regular line forces and revolutionary militias which had been decreed by the Convention in February 1792. Together, the amalgamation and the levée en masse married the army of the Old Regime to the forces and principles of the Revolution.

In the officer corps, regular-army noncommissioned officers—those retaining their old positions and those newly promoted after the flight of French officers following the king's capture at Varennes in 1791—remained dominant in the expanding armies, ensuring continuity between the old and new armies. And there was not only continuity for many personnel, there was also continuity in the organization of military command structures.[29] The division of the army into independent commands, a reform made under the Old Regime, was lauded for its democratic character just as the Terror was emerging in full force![30]

Meanwhile, of course, the rank and file of the French armies was transformed as well as invigorated by national conscription into the amalgamated forces. As military historian John Lynn has argued, "from the first days of the Revolution its leaders insisted that 'every citizen ought to be a soldier and every soldier a citizen' . . . [and the] outbreak of war in 1792 gave substance to theories and ideals expressed during the preceding three years."[31] Specifically, Lynn further explains:

Expansion of the army to the gargantuan size it attained in the summer of 1794 meant that young Frenchmen from all walks of life were called upon to serve . . . . Volunteers and conscripts made the army [as never before in French history] a representative cross-section of the French population. The troops


were now composed of the respectable and hard-working sons of its peasantry, artisans, and bourgeoisie. This change in composition alone . . . had immense significance. In the past those who suffered economic hardship, social inequity, or plain hard luck marched behind the regimental flags; they had reason to be reluctant or dispirited; they were certainly alienated. But by 1792–94 those young men who possessed full talent, confidence, and élan of the French people rallied around the banners of the revolutionary battalions . . . . It is impossible to read their letters without being struck by the intense pride of these soldiers who fought in defense of their homes and families and who expressed enthusiastic support for the revolutionary social and political order . . . . [And, in turn, the] soldiers of the Republic were honored by a grateful people. In hundreds of songs that so typified the Revolution, they were lauded as the heroes who protected their people and their revolution.[32]

Together, the amalgamation and the levée en masse created the first national army Europe had ever seen, fundamentally transforming the nature of war. As Carl von Clausewitz would later write, "a force appeared that beggared all imagination. Suddenly war became the business of the people—a people of thirty millions . . . . Instead of governments and armies as heretofore, the full weight of the nation was thrown into the balance. The resources and efforts now available for use surpassed all conventional limits: nothing now impeded the vigor with which war could be waged."[33] The armies of revolutionary France were able to adopt new, rapid, and flexible battlefield tactics involving the enhanced use not only of artillery, but also of aggressive drives by highly motivated citizen soldiers. Such tactics allowed France to defeat the forces of even those countries, Prussia and Britain, that were the most modern and efficient representatives of the monarchical coalition arrayed against the Revolution.

Thus, when Lynn Hunt suggests that French revolutionary politics was not distinctly "modernizing" because parallel achievements could be made under monarchies, she is simply wrong. She focuses on domestic politics alone and overlooks the real-world advantages of a mobilized, highly motivated citizen soldiery—a chief product of the French Revolution's radical phase of democratic mobilization. Prussia's Frederick the Great, we are told by Gunther Rothenberg, used administrative discipline to create a relatively efficient, albeit rigidly rank-ordered, officer corps, along with an efficient system of supply for his armies. But the Prussian monarch, Rothenberg also points out, never understood the value of native rank-and-file soldiers.[34] And why should he, sitting atop a regime where such soldiers were reluctantly impressed subjects rather than citizens fighting for "their" nation?

The Napoleonic Denouement

Lynn Hunt's failure to make much of the connection between revolutionary democratization and the Montagnard mobilization for war carries over into


her reluctance to accept Napoleon's rule as a logical culmination of the politics of the French Revolution. She treats Napoleon's triumph as an "authoritarian" and "conservative" solution "made possible by the weaknesses in revolutionary political culture."[35] Focusing strictly on domestic politics, she points to Napoleon's abrogation of liberal representative politics and, eventually, of elections, along with the basis of his regime among "disenchanted republicans who preferred a stabilizing modernization to the upheavals and uncertainties of widespread political participation."[36] It is almost as if Hunt wishes to preserve the old notion of the French Revolution as, in its soul, liberal-democratic, even if, in the end, that essence survived only as a set of ideals and practices to be revived later.

What this overlooks is well stated by François Furet: "The concept 'bourgeois revolution' is simply not suited to account for the . . . revolutionary dynamic, for the political and cultural tidal wave unleashed by Jacobinism and the revolutionary war. Henceforth, the war conducted the Revolution far more than the Revolution conducted the war." "Nationalist feeling was no longer limited to the new France; it became an ideological model, the banner of a crusade . . . . [T]he French people did not exactly discover a miraculously exemplary form of human community; but surely they were the first to integrate the masses into the State and to form a modern democratic nation." "The price of that historical experience was open-ended war."[37]

Indeed, the final account of the French Revolution as a great drama of integrating "the masses into the State" was drawn up under Napoleon's regimes. The Consulate and the Empire were not simply exercises in domestic political stabilization under authoritarian "modernizing" rule. Institutionally speaking, Napoleon's regimes furthered the fusion of the political and the military, and the subordination of domestic policy to foreign policy, that had begun under the Jacobins and progressed through the Directory. This reached a climax after Napoleon's coronation, when the offices of chief of state and commander and chief were joined and a massive Imperial Headquarters was constructed, through whose staffs much of the business of state was conducted.[38]

Meanwhile, in the structure and operations of his Grande Armée , Napoleon fully exploited the meritocratic and democratic possibilities of the Revolution. As Gunther Rothenberg tells us, "from the Revolution, Napoleon inherited huge conscript armies, led by young and ambitious commanders, accustomed to a mobile, offensive, and ruthless way of war."[39] The Grande Armée's officer corps maintained the principle of careers opened to talent, both in military schools and on the battlefields, where Napoleon often personally rewarded daring soldiers and junior officers with on-the-spot advancement. "Opportunities for advancement in Napoleon's forces were far greater than those in any other contemporary army and served as a potent morale booster."[40] Advancement for many officers was, of course,


also due to the fact that Napoleon vastly expanded his armies, enforcing revolutionary draft laws to bring in some two million men between 1804 and 1813. The avowed values of the rank-and-file soldiery may have changed, as John Lynn has argued, from republican "virtue" to a more professional sense of military "honor."[41] But French citizens were, more than ever, called in huge numbers to serve their nation through military valor. Especially on the field of battle, Napoleonic France was truly a mass-mobilizing regime. Certainly the leaders and peoples of other European nations were convinced that Napoleon had succeeded in channeling outward the new democratic energies unleashed by the French Revolution.

If Napoleon's regimes were devoted to perpetual, expansionist warfare, there were several reasons rooted in the overall French revolutionary process. Many Frenchmen, not to mention foreign rebels against their own old regimes, wanted French ideals to be carried as far as possible across the face of continental Europe. What is more, for Napoleon as for earlier rulers during the Revolution, perpetuation of personal rule, the "defense" of the nation, and aggression against foreign powers tended to fuse into a single impulse. French military successes inevitably alarmed and mobilized foreign enemies, who then had to be engaged again in the virtually unending conflicts of this period; and any failure in war would certainly embolden political enemies at home. Yet, perhaps most important, the very logic of the French military innovations first crystallized under the Republic called forth exactly the perpetual military expansionism that became the hallmark of Napoleon's regimes.

From the Republic onward, the enormous size of French armies freed them from the logistical constraints of the prior century—provided that they kept moving. Large French armies could bypass fortresses without beseiging them, as Old Regime armies normally did.[42] Moreover, without stopping to lay siege, the huge Republican, and later Imperial, armies could be provisioned not just by reserves and supply convoys, but above all by collecting supplies from the area and levying contributions with which supplies were later purchased. If they kept on the move, the French armies would not exhaust the supply potential of a given area; and if they fought on enemy territories, they would alleviate the burden on France. In short, the French armies could externalize their supply needs, imposing them upon conquered opponents or recently "liberated" allies, thus diminishing the need to supply French forces from a fixed base or from the rear. By fighting and living on the move, French armies avoided the logistical perils of feeding a huge force confined to one place which had previously plagued European armies.[43]

As the French armies built through the Revolution were freed from the logistical constraints of the prior century, they became highly mobile and effective. The "nation in arms" made fast-moving field armies rather than sieges the centerpiece of war and these armies, in turn, made war the means


by which whole nations could be tamed. Napoleonic expansionism was made possible because the speed and mobility of the huge French armies expanded the range of what could be done by military might in the field. French armies massed to destroy the main field forces of their enemies could inflict extensive, even catastrophic losses, breaking the morale of opposing governments and stripping them of their military protection. This forced enemy governments into negotiations under highly unfavorable terms.[44] Eventually, of course, this spurred other Europeans to rebel against French conquests and encouraged rival governments to imitate French military innovations—further perpetuating warfare. Yet, initially the military innovations crystallized during the radical phase of the French Revolution, and perpetuated in the military during the Directory, made it easy for Napoleon to lead massive French forces in triumphant campaigns of conquest across Europe.

Not only military strategies and tactics, therefore, but also the foreign policy objectives that these new strategies facilitated, were remade by the French revolutionary "nation in arms." In war without end (until he was broken and exiled), Napoleon as the "Emperor of the French" truly realized the inherent possibilities for fusing nationalist politics and mass-mobilizing warfare unleashed in the modern world by the French Revolution.[45]

In Conclusion: Retaining a Comparative Perspective on the French Revolution

To sum up our commentary on Lynn Hunt's analysis of the political culture of the French Revolution, we see no reason why most of what she so vividly describes about political symbols and practices cannot be integrated into a state-centered and geopolitically situated "structural" analysis of the overall causes and outcomes of the French Revolution. It is surprising that Hunt herself did not see the possibilities for such an integration. The reason may lie in her quite proper reservations about a purely "Tocquevillian" account of domestic state-building. Alexis de Tocqueville did go too far in portraying the French Revolution primarily as a fulfillment of the Old Regime's teleology of administrative centralization. His interpretation overlooks the Revolution's burst of democratic participation in efforts for National Regeneration. It also overlooks that democratic participation was subsequently channeled far more into the military affairs of the French nation than into its patterns of domestic politics and administration.

All of this was argued in Theda Skocpol's 1979 book, States and Social Revolutions , yet that work did not stress the connections between social revolutions and mass military mobilization as strongly as it might have done. The reason for now highlighting those connections more vividly takes us back to a point we made at the start of this chapter. We suggested that later social revolutions in modern world history inevitably cast new light on our under-


standings of earlier social revolutions, including the pioneering French Revolution. A massive, new social revolution burst on the world in 1979, just as States and Social Revolutions was published. That revolution, of course, was the Iranian Revolution. Although this conflict has yet to fully run its course, the Iranian Revolution has unmistakably fused national political regeneration with mass mobilization for international warfare.

From Lynn Hunt's strictly "internalist" cultural perspective, the Iranian Revolution could hardly be more different from the great French Revolution of 1789. French revolutionary political culture was a secularist alternative to divine-right monarchy, because the French revolutionaries fought the prerogatives and symbols of Catholicism as well as monarchy and aristocratic privilege. The Iranian Revolution, by contrast, has opposed a secularist, "modernizing" absolutist monarchy in the name of an Islamic theocratic regime. Iran's revolutionary political culture is a militantly antisecularist and antimodernizing version of Shi'a Islam.[46] These contrasts are understandable in structural terms. Old-Regime France was a Great Power in which monarchy and a bureaucratic Catholic church were allied, thus encouraging critics of the Old Regime to elaborate secularist ideals. In contrast, Old-Regime Iran was a minor power facing cultural and economic penetration from the secular West. The Shah had curbed the privileges of Shi'a clerics, many of whom were fiercely critical of him for his pro-Western, anti-Islamic policies of modernization. Militant-traditionalist clerics in Iran were ultimately able to claim ideological and organizational leadership of the forces that undermined and overthrew the Shah, putting themselves in a position to build the New Regime, not oppose it.

Despite the obvious cultural and structural contrasts between France and Iran, however, notice the remarkable similarities in the overall political and geopolitical dynamics of these revolutions. Just as the French Revolution did, the Iranian Revolution brought to power an ideological leadership more obsessed with virtue and national regeneration than with economic struggles or modernizing efficiency. Similarly, the Iranian Revolution mobilized masses of formerly excluded people into national politics and excelled at motivating the new citizens, through ideology and exemplary leadership, to participate in protracted and humanly costly international warfare. Like revolutionary France, moreover, revolutionary Iran amalgamated urban militias and the remnants of royal line armies to produce military forces capable of hurling huge numbers of citizen soldiers into costly battles. From a comparative-historical and structuralist perspective, therefore, the Iranian Revolution and the French Revolution are remarkably parallel transformative events, and social analysts have much to gain by examining them in comparison to each other.[47] Both the parallels and the contrasts of these social revolutions can be better understood through comparative study.

All of this is by way of arguing that the French Revolution was in certain


basic ways a prototype for later social-revolutionary transformations in very different times and places within the modern world. Try as they may, historians of France will never be able to reappropriate the French Revolution for French history alone—not even for European or Western history alone. The French Revolution was, is—and ever will be, as interpretations of it change from new vantage points—a truly world-historical event. The French Revolution is the property of all those who would understand the patterns and meanings of politics in our global era of democracy, bureaucracy, national state formation, and the still-burning passions of international warfare.

The Making of a "Bourgeois Revolution"

Eric Hobsbawm

"To entertain any theory about revolution," writes John Dunn[1] —"and it is not even possible to identify just what events do constitute revolutions without assuming some theory about the meaning of revolution—is to assume a political posture . . . . The value-free study of revolutions is a logical impossibility for those who live in the real world." For the student of revolutions the problem is complicated by the fact that the political postures assumed spontaneously by those who write or speak about them, and, if not careful, by the student him- or herself, are not necessarily coherent or consistent. We live in an era when rapid and fundamental change has become the norm in everyday life, so that the terms revolution and revolutionary extend far beyond the field of political science. Moreover, common discourse identifies them, much in the eighteenth-century manner, with progress and the improvement of life, so that, as advertising agencies understand only too well, the word revolutionary , when attached to a new microwave oven as distinct from a political regime, will sell the product more effectively, even among those most passionately committed to the defense of the status quo against subversion.

Nevertheless, the primary political meaning of "revolution" remains profoundly controversial, as the historiography of the subject demonstrates, and the debates surrounding the bicentenary of the French Revolution of 1789 demonstrate even more unmistakably. What usually happens to revolutions sufficiently distant from the present—and two centuries are, by the newsagency standards which dominate our information, almost beyond the range of the remembered past—is that they are either transformed into nonrevolutions, that is, integrated into historical continuity or excluded from it as insignificant temporary interruptions, or else they are celebrated by public rites of passage suitable to the occasions that mark the birth of nations and regimes. They remain controversial only among historians. Thus the English


revolution or revolutions of the seventeenth century have been tacitly eliminated from political discourse: even in the tercentenary year of what used to be called the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the constituting event of British parliamentary sovereignty, its presence in public rhetoric has been subdued and marginal. In contrast, a celebratory consensus has marked the various bicentenaries connected with the American Revolution, and even opponents of those aspects of it which are still—or again—highly controversial, such as its deliberate refusal to give public recognition to religion, would not dream of using this as an argument against it. Its public face, jubilees and centenaries apart, is that of a rite of passage in the life of the nation, Independence (celebrated on the Fourth of July) taking its place after first settlement (celebrated on Thanksgiving).

Attempts to apply these two techniques of eliminating the controversial aspects of the French Revolution have been made—by republicans and the political right respectively—and the contention that it achieved little or nothing other than what would have happened without it, and thus constitutes not a major transforming set of events but only a sort of stumble on the long path of French history, is one of the main weapons in the intellectual war against those who wish to celebrate its bicentenary. Yet these attempts have failed. On the one hand, the Revolution never gained the general retrospective consensus without which such events cannot become harmless national birthdays, not even after World War II briefly eliminated from the political scene that French right which defined itself by its rejection of 1789. On the contrary, since the Revolution inspired not only the left of the relatively remote past but also the contemporary left, it could not but remain contentious. As is quite evident from the prebicentenary debates in France, the traditional opponents of 1789 have been reinforced by the opponents of 1917—reactionaries who would not disclaim that label, by liberals who certainly would. On the other hand, the antirevolutionary attempt to demote the Revolution or shunt it onto a sidetrack of French historical development has also failed, since, if it had succeeded, it would no longer need to be seriously argued. Indeed, the mere project of trying to prove that the French Revolution is not an altogether major event in modern history must strike non-Frenchmen as brave and quixotic, that is, as absurd.

Historians can no more escape taking a political posture about revolutions than anybody else. However, they can at least avoid seeing and judging them unhistorically, that is to say teleologically. Revolutions, or at all events such major sociopolitical upheavals as the French Revolution, belong to the class of historical phenomena whose significance is not to be judged by the intentions or expectations of those who make them, or even those that could be imputed to them by subsequent analysis. Such intentions are not, of course, irrelevant to the study of the phenomenon. However, they cannot determine it, because uncontrollability of process and outcome is its essential character-


istic. Since such phenomena—modern great wars are other members of this class—are usually associated with declarations of intent before, during, and after the event, the temptation to judge them accordingly is great, all the more so since those who occupy the main parts in these dramas are usually rational, goal-oriented, problem-solving decision makers, "engineers of men's [bodies and] souls," to adapt the phrase of one of them (Stalin). This temptation must be resisted. The French Revolution cannot be adequately discussed in terms of its, or its makers', success or failure to achieve actual or ascribed objects. Consequently, however tempting, it is also pointless to indulge in the ex post facto cost-benefit analysis which asks such questions as "Was it all worth while?" and "Could the results have been achieved at less cost?" For we are not dealing with phenomena to which the criteria of social problem-solving apply more than peripherally: where human agencies can effectively choose between correct and incorrect solutions, alternative strategies, or more or less wasteful or elegant methods of achieving ends specifiable in advance. Such ends are not absent, but they are dwarfed by what is uncontrolled and unintended. Even if we suppose that the Constitution of 1791 was exactly what the leaders of the National Assembly of 1789 had intended to achieve and that it represented what turned out to be the lasting achievements of the Revolution, it cannot be seriously supposed that at the time of its promulgation it was in anyone's power to declare the Revolution over. The subsequent events prove the contrary.

But this raises precisely the dual problem of the (or any) revolution's aims and its results or consequences. And in the case of the French Revolution this is particularly thorny, because it produced different, and, it has been widely held, mutually incompatible consequences—for example, the heritage of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Republic—and because in France "the passage from the feudal and aristocratic forms of society to the industrial and democratic was attended by convulsions,"[2] unlike in "other nations" (Britain), whereas the results were, in broad historical terms, not all that dissimilar.

Was the Revolution therefore avoidable? Did it produce results which could only have been achieved through revolution and not in other ways? Did it pursue a logical line of development which then "skidded off course"[3] and, if so, was this also inevitable? These are, of course, primarily political rather than historical questions, and the answers tend to fit political preconceptions. Yet if we start with the assumption that in great revolutions, as in the great mass wars of modern times, the unintended consequences are almost certainly more important than the intended ones, though not independent of these, then historians may find emancipation from their politics a little easier. So long as these do not actually prevent them from recognizing the historical specificity of their own timebound point of view, and the historical dimensions of their topic.


What, then, were the historical consequences of the French Revolution? If we compare the judgment of both educated opinion and professional historiography on the eve of the bicentenary with that on the occasion of the centenary, we shall be struck by the curious attempts to minimize what, a century ago, was regarded as, beyond question, let alone dispute, a historical phenomenon of extraordinary, nay of unique, importance. "The French Revolution," wrote a respected British historian and expert on the period,

the most terrible and momentous series of events in all history, is the real starting-point for the history of the nineteenth century; for that great upheaval has profoundly affected the political and, still more, the social life of the Continent of Europe.[4]

Hardly any observer in 1889 would have disagreed.

Nor would many observers today take a different view about the Revolution's impact on world history in the nineteenth century. Only the curious retreat of French intellectual debate into a hexagonal provincialism can explain why the impact of the French Revolution on the non-French world has had so modest a place in the passionate historiographical and ideological debates that preceded the bicentenary. On the other hand, it is surprising that the economic effects of the Revolution, which are today viewed with generally skeptical or critical eyes, were seen as so patently positive by nineteenth-century observers. "Men of the highest social positions in France," wrote Richard Cobden in 1853,

admit that to the measures of 1789 . . . which have elevated the millions of their countrymen, from a condition hardly superior to that of the Russian serf, to the rank of citizens and proprietors of the soil, France is indebted for a more rapid advance in civilization, wealth and happiness, than was ever previously made by any community of a similar extent, within the same period of time.[5]

Cobden, the apostle of free trade, was a Radical Liberal by British standards and a politician, and not one disinclined to underestimate the economic progress of his own country since 1789. However, his contemporary Heinrich yon Sybel, the first (non-French) academic historian to bring the heavy artillery of archival scholarship to bear on the subject, was both more cautious and more moderate in his liberalism. Yet he estimated that since 1789 French industry had grown fourfold, French agriculture threefold, and French commerce more than threefold, a growth which he clearly linked to the Revolution.[6] I cite these opinions not because they carry any historical authority—they plainly do not—but as evidence that intelligent and informed observers took it for granted that the effects of the Revolution on nineteenth-century France had been as striking as they were, on balance, beneficent. Whether these beliefs were adequately founded, is a matter for historical investigation. But so also is the fact that such beliefs were widely


and, probably among men and women of even a very moderate liberal persuasion, almost universally held for long stretches of the nineteenth century. For how people read the past, especially the past within, or almost within, living memory, is part of history. And what it is that makes them read (or misread) it in a particular way, is a matter of moment, not only because even myths and misunderstandings can become historical forces if widely enough accepted, but also because there may be something about the original event that encourages one particular reading rather than another.

This is particularly relevant to one aspect of the historical revisionism that has dominated the scholarly debate on the French Revolution for some decades and has discouraged excessively triumphalist celebrations of its bicentenary. The "orthodox" interpretation of the Revolution, which had dominated both institutions and scholarship for decades and which revisionism attacked—and, it must be said, has made largely untenable in its conventional versions—had become increasingly identified with a, or rather "the," Marxist interpretation. Indeed, at the time when the main assault on this position was launched in France by Furet and Richet in 1970,[7] the holder of the prestigious Chair in the History of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne, and thus the chief guardian of the Revolution's reputation, was a devoted member of the French Communist party. Revisionism about the French Revolution was part of the general process by which French intellectuals in the 1970s and 1980s distanced themselves from their radical and Marxist past, or—depending on their personal history—took their revenge upon those who had dominated intellectual fashion for so long. And the core of the Marxist interpretation of the Revolution appeared to be the claim, (1) that it was a class struggle and (2) a "bourgeois revolution" which overthrew feudalism in order to establish a bourgeois and capitalist France.

The interesting thing about both these claims is that—as Marx himself freely acknowledged—they were not his. He derived them from the French liberal historians of the Restoration. The French Revolution may not have been the "bourgeois revolution" whose nature or existence historians are today debating, but it was certainly read as one by the generation that immediately succeeded it. A recent study sees "les historiens bourgeois de la Restauration, tout à leur célébration de l'epopée des classes moyennes"[8] ("the bourgeois historians of the Restoration busy celebrating the epic of the middle classes"). A German historian of the Vormärz —and no one took to the concept of the bourgeois revolution more enthusiastically than German liberals of the pre-1848 era—presented the case for it in its classic if "idealist" form. The "institutions of the Middle Ages" had had their day. New ideas had arisen, and these had affected all ways of thinking about the world, but "above all the relations of the ranks of society [Stände] in human society." The "bourgeois rank" (Bürgerstand) became everyday more important, by virtue of the visibly growing mass of intellect and education (gei-


stige Bildung) it represented. And so "men began to speak and write about the Rights of Man, and to investigate the rights of those who based their claims on so-called privileges."[9] That is how the French Revolution came about.

More concretely F. A. Mignet (1796—1884) who published his History of the French Revolution—the first on the subject written by a professional historian—as early as 1824, argued that in the Old Regime men were divided into rival classes, the nobles and "the people" or Third Estate, "whose power, wealth, stability and intelligence were growing daily," and which formulated the Constitution of 1791. "This constitution was the work of the middle class, at that time the strongest; for, as everyone knows, the dominant power always seizes control of institutions." Unfortunately, caught between the aristocracy and "the multitude," the liberal middle class "was attacked by the one and invaded by the other." The common people would never have become sovereign "if the civil war and the foreign coalition had not required its intervention and its help." As "the multitude" was needed to defend the country, "it required to govern it; so it made its own revolution just as the middle class had done." Nevertheless, the aim of the Revolution was achieved: despite "anarchy and despotism; the old society was destroyed during the revolution, and the new one established under the empire."[10]

If those who reflected on the history of their childhood or their parents' maturity took a view so different from that of today's historians, it was in seeing the revolution not only as bourgeois but also as a class struggle of the laboring masses against the ruling classes, in short as a social revolution. The current view that the bulk of Frenchmen were "attentistes ou indifférents" (except when the revolution's religious policy turned them into counterrevolutionaries), while even in the cities "participation in the revolutionary movement concerned only a narrow minority of militants,"[11] was clearly not shared by Tocqueville[12] or by Franñois Guizot (1787–1874), the quintessence (and prime minister) of the July monarchy, which he certainly regarded as a bourgeois regime; and an exceedingly able historian whose insight remains impressive even today. For Guizot all of French history was a secular class struggle between landlords and peasants, nobles and commoners, which, in the language popularized by his contemporary Augustin Thierry (1795–1856)—who echoes the discourse of Walter Scott, as Guizot himself echoes that of the English Revolution of which he made himself the historian[13] —he saw as a war of races: as English feudalism was a Norman Conquest of the Anglo-Saxons, so French feudalism was the conquest of Franks over native Gauls.[14] Yet thirteen centuries had never fused rulers and ruled into a single people. 1789 gave the Gauls their chance. "The result of the revolution was not in doubt. The former vanquished became the victors. They had conquered France in their turn."[15]

For the historians who looked back on it after a generation, and pretty


certainly for the average French "bourgeois" or notable after 1815, three things about the Revolution seemed clear. It had overthrown an old regime and instituted a new one, whatever the continuities with France before 1789. (It must have been as clear to contemporaries as it is to us that the world of Balzac was not that of Beaumarchais.) This new regime, bourgeois and liberal, found its most appropriate institutional form in something like the 1791 Constitution. Yet moderate bourgeois liberalism could not have been established against the resistance of court and nobility without mobilizing the common people (or the politically effective parts of it), nor could France have resisted counterrevolution and foreign invasion, or, for that matter, conquered most of Europe, without mobilizing forces that were neither bourgeois nor liberal.

Of course, Restoration historians, living in the memory of the Revolution, had no difficulty in seeing that it was pointless to suggest historical alternatives that had not been available. To quote Mignet again:

Perhaps it would be bold to assert that things could not have turned out differently; but what is certain is that, taking account of the causes that led to it and the passions that it used and aroused, the revolution was bound to take this course and lead to this result . . . . I shall hope to show that it was no longer possible either to prevent it or to guide it.[16]

Even if one regarded the results of the Revolution as decisive and beneficent, as Mignet did, there was no denying that these results had been achieved by a process that was at odds with middle-class liberalism and, in important ways, incompatible with its objectives. And the obscure dialectic of this interaction between the first and the second Revolutions, between 1791 and 1794, liberals and Jacobins, haunted analytical observers, of whom Marx is an excellent example,[17] if only because the second seemed essential to the success of the first, perhaps even because both were, in different ways, essential to each other. For, as virtually all Marxist revolutionaries agreed up to and including the overthrow of tsarism, where would proletarian revolution be without the infrastructure of bourgeois revolution on which it would arise?

In any case, it was only too evident that the history of the nineteenth century would continue to be dominated by the relationships between the heirs of 1791 and the heirs of Year II. What moderate Liberals like Guizot liked about the 1814 Restoration (and even more in the July monarchy) was that it legitimized the France of 1791—"revolution and legitimacy today have in common the fact that both are seeking to preserve themselves and to preserve the status quo "—and in doing so to establish that "frank cooperation" by means of which "kings and nations [sc. England] have extinguished those internal wars which are denominated revolutions."[18] What he blamed the reactionaries for was not so much the intention of restoring an old regime


which was beyond effective revival, but for bringing the masses back into a perhaps necessary but always dangerous and unpredictable action. For bourgeois France could only flourish under "free government." But "for the house of Bourbon and its supporters, absolute power is [now EJH] impossible; under them France must be free." Conversely, "Absolute power, amongst us, can only belong to the Revolution and its representatives, for they alone can (I do not say how long) retain the masses in their interest."

From the point of view of"the people," it was equally clear that the status quo needed to be changed and not preserved. For if the bourgeoisie had—I follow the socialist Louis Blanc's 1847 history of the French Revolution[19] —achieved its freedom, "the people" was only nominally free. Its revolution still had to be made, and the Jacobin Republic provided its obvious precedent and model.

How are we to explain this dramatic divergence between nineteenth-century assessments of the Revolution—including those of men within whose generation's memory it lay—and those of late-twentieth-century historians. Tempting though it is, it will not do to ascribe the downbeat accounts of modern "revisionist" scholars entirely to a political hostility to the French Revolution, or rather to it as ancestor and inspirer of modern Marxist revolutions. That such hostility plays an important part in shaping the attitude of several leading historians in France is not in doubt, even when they do not go as far as those reactionary publicists who have argued that the main thing for the bicentenary to commemorate is the counterrevolutionary rebellion of the Vendée, ancestor of gulag and genocide, if not the first of that grim species.[20] Even in the nineteenth century those who feared the revolutions of the masses were apt to play down their historic achievements of the Revolution, even when (like de Tocqueville) they welcomed the liberal part of its achievements—if only "this revolution, instead of being carried out by the masses on behalf of the sovereignty of the people, [had] been the work of an enlightened autocrat."[21] Those who feared and disliked democracy were apt to criticize the historic consequences of the Revolution, not so much because, given the terrible human and economic costs, they were so modest and could have been achieved with so much less disruption—retrospective cost-benefit calculations are characteristic of our own era—but because the effects of the Revolution were so negative and so great. As Goldwin Smith put it in an article of exceptional ill temper, it was a catastrophe, the greatest calamity to befall the human race, because it gave rise to "universal suffrage without intelligence" and created Jacobinism, which "is now as established a disease as the smallpox," whose infection "is beginning to cross the Channel."[22] However, it is worth recalling that even antirevolutionaries generally accepted much of the orthodox positive interpretation. For Tocqueville,


our history from 1789 to 1830, viewed from a distance and as a whole, affords, as it were, the picture of a struggle to the death between the Ancien Régime, its traditions, memories, hopes and men, as represented by the aristocracy, and the New France, led by the Middle Class.[23]

And even Goldwin Smith accepted that "the one great achievement of the Revolution, in the way of construction, is the peasant proprietory of France."

Nevertheless, leaving political parti pris aside, it must be accepted that many of the "revisionist" criticisms of the orthodox interpretation are both factually and conceptually legitimate. There was not, in 1789, a self-conscious bourgeois class representing the new realities of economic power, ready to take into its own hands the destinies of the state, eliminating the declining feudal aristocracy; and insofar as there was such a class in the 1780s, a social revolution was not its object, but rather a reform of the institutions of the kingdom; and in any case its conscious objective was not the construction of an industrial capitalist economy. Nor was this the result of the Revolution which, almost certainly, had a negative effect on the French economy, both because it severely disrupted it for several years and because it created a large bloc of politically significant citizens—peasants and pettybourgeois—whose interest it was to slow down economic growth. In any case the years of revolution and war gave the British industrial revolution an advantage over France which it did not lose until after World War II. And so on. That some of these observations were not new but part of traditional and orthodox historiography does not make the incompatibility between them and what became the orthodox concept of a "bourgeois revolution" any less. Nor can we dismiss factual criticisms by assimilating them to the counterfactual speculations or tacit historiographical preconceptions which have always inundated the debate on the Revolution. Could it have been avoided? Was the radicalization of the Revolution from 1791 on the result of the emergence of a bunch of Jacobin ideologues or a new type of revolutionary rhetoric or "discourse" rather than due to the logic of the Revolution's internal and external development? Was it all Rousseau's fault?

And yet, the gap between historical skepticism and contemporary conviction that an old era had ended and a new one had overthrown it, needs to be explained, for that belief itself became, with the French Revolution, a powerful historical phenomenon in its own right. Without it, how are we to understand the revolutions of the nineteenth century, and German liberals like the scholar Gervinus who declared on the eve of 1848:

Must a great people, seeking to break through to independent political life, to freedom and power, necessarily pass through the crisis of revolution? The double example of England and France comes close to compelling us to accept this proposition.[24]


There are, it may be suggested, two reasons why late-twentieth-century historians find it so hard to accept the reactions of nineteenth-century observers. One is that twentieth-century definitions of social classes do not seem to fit nineteenth-century realities, and for this the influence of Marxism is probably in large part responsible. If by bourgeoisie we understand essentially a class of profit-making business people, or even of industrial entrepreneurs employing hired wage-labor, then we shall certainly not rate their social importance and economic wealth in 1789 highly, especially if we insist on excluding entrepreneurs sprung from or absorbed into the aristocracy. If we suppose a proletariat to consist essentially of propertyless wage-workers in factory, mine, railroad, or similar establishments, we shall come to the correct conclusion, long used in argument by anti-Marxists, that most early "labor movements" contained very few proletarians, though this did not stop their members from assimilating themselves to "proletarians," even as modest German Bürger assimilated themselves to French and British bourgeois . The second reason is that, even insofar as such descriptions applied, subsequent development has been so much more massive and striking as to lead us to underestimate the contemporary impact of the relevant phenomena. Thus it seems evident to us that around the 1830s there had not yet been much industrialization anywhere. Britain was as yet far from being "an industry state," as (Sir) John Clapham pointed out long ago in the first volume of his monumental Economic History of Modern Britain .[25] Historians have argued that it is absurd to speak of the "Industrial Revolution" at this period. And yet it is undeniable that sometime in the 1820s intelligent men, sometimes with practical experiences of manufacturers, began to compare the changes in industry with the most dramatic transformation they could think of, namely the French Revolution; that words like industrialist and industrialism were coined to complement this concept of an "industrial revolution," and that predictions of the total transformation of society by means of this revolution began to be confidently made from a variety of ideological points of view. Rather than supposing that Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, the young Engels, or the ideologically very different Dr. Andrew Ure, Karl Marx's bête noire , were fantasizing, it seems more reasonable to see them as recognizing both the dramatic novelty of the industrial developments taking place, the high social "visibility," attested to by relays of continental visitors, of places like Manchester, and, above all, the unlimited potential of the revolution they embodied. Both skeptical historians and prophetic contemporaries were or are right, but both focus(ed) on a different aspect of the reality they record(ed). All the same, if we do not recognize what the contemporaries saw in that reality, we shall be unable to explain a great many important things about the period, as for instance why from 1840 on "a spectre was haunting Europe, the spectre of communism"—a statement for which there is ample


evidence outside the Communist Manifesto, or the presence of activists representing the "proletariat" in the Provisional Government of France in 1848, which, it will be recalled, considered for a moment whether the flag of the new French Republic should be tricolour—or red.

It is even more essential to recapture the contemporary perspective if we wish to understand how the French Revolution became a bourgeois revolution, and indeed the bourgeois revolution. Let us return to Mignet who summarized its achievements in 1824:

It replaced arbitrary power by law, privilege by equality; it freed men from class distinctions, the land from provincial barriers, industry from the handicaps of corporations and guilds, agriculture from feudal servitude and the oppression of tithes, property from the constraints of entail; and it brought everything together under a single state, a single law, a single people.[26]

On paper this tribute to social liberation, economic liberation, and institutional unification would have been acceptable to the prerevolutionary monarchy and elites and would certainly not have suggested to anyone that dominance of the middle class to which, as we have seen, Mignet himself ascribed the transformation.

Yet the "privilege" which the Revolution replaced was that of (noble) birth. The visible marks of class difference ("class distinctions") which it abolished were those which singled out aristocrats over members of the Third Estate. That enlightened nobles and rulers might themselves see such privileges and distinctions as unsustainable or undesirable cannot make the struggle against them socially neutral. Freemasonry, in spite of its attraction for enlightened aristocrats, could not be essentially an organization of landed nobles and gentlemen like, say, the Jockey Club, since its basis was precisely the absence of class distinctions within the craft. Moreover, while the decision to call the States-General in a particular manner certainly helped to turn 1789 politics into a struggle of nonnobles against aristocrats, this class struggle was already in being, as witness Beaumarchais's Marriage of Figaro , which, incidentally, and not fortuitously, turns on a specifically feudal privilege of lords, thus linking the case against "privilege" with the case for economic development, which in Mignet's view was benefited by its abolition.

Conversely, the "equality" achieved by the Revolution was, as we know, specifically not intended to be egalitarian or democratic. The Abbé Sieyès was not, in his famous pamphlet on the Third Estate, "pressing the social and political claims of all commoners," but only those of the group he called "the available classes of the Third Estate," that is, "the solid and unified group of professional men"[27] who were the only ones to get themselves elected as its representatives. The electorate of 1791, in Mignet's own words, was "restricted to the enlightened," who thereby "controlled all the force and power in the state," being "at the time alone qualified to control them because they


alone had the intelligence necessary for the conduct of government."[28] It constituted an open elite selected for talent, irrespective of birth (except inasmuch as physical and psychological constitution was believed to exclude all women from such talents), the talent being demonstrated by property and education. It did not discriminate against individuals from the aristocracy, but only insofar as they fulfilled the criteria of membership independently of their hereditary status. It excluded individuals from the lower orders but only insofar as they failed to make their way into its ranks. Indeed its object was, in Mignet's words, to "let all share in [rights] when they are capable of gaining them " (emphasis added). That most of them could not or would not make their way out of the "pays réel" into the "pays légal" did not invalidate the argument that "true equality" had as its "real hallmark admissibility, as that of inequality is exclusion" (Mignet).

But a stratum of people who owed their position in the social order not to birth or privilege but to individual worth, open to all suitable recruits, was what was then understood by a "middle rank," "middle class," "Bürgertum," or whatever name was given to the ensemble of indigenous[29] (urban) adults situated, by status and income, between the nobility above and the (manually) laboring classes below. Insofar as they distinguished themselves, or were distinguished, as a group—and this does not seem to have happened anywhere before the eighteenth century—it was precisely by the implicitly antiaristocratic but negative characteristic of individuality as distinct from membership of social group or ascribed community. The ideology of eighteenth-century Enlightenment formulated this as a program for a humanity progressing out of the darkness of the past. I doubt whether men of this kind saw themselves as a social class. They were rather a human type that was more frequently found in certain social contexts, and perhaps in certain family settings, for instance, in the German lands, in families of Lutheran clergy. They certainly did not see this social zone of individual merit as specifically identified with entrepreneurs in commerce and manufactures, even though most of these would probably be found in this zone or entered it once they were sufficiently successful. Still less did they conceive of economy transformed by industrial revolution. We seek in vain for such a perspective in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations . And there is no sign at all that members of such middle strata, however devoted to the ideal of a civil society of equal rights and chances for all[30] saw themselves as a ruling class or as challenging the political structure of old regimes. Indeed, one of the ideologically conscious strata of this kind, the German Bürgertum, consisted, until the midnineteenth century, largely of a body of men "bound by multiple links to the state of enlightened absolutism and of monarchical-bureaucratic constitutionalism"[31] and were, with all their liberalism, mostly loyal functionaries of their governments.

What the French Revolution did was to transform bodies of such people


into self-conscious "classes" with the ambition to reshape society as "ruling classes." In France this happened because in the course of events, which certainly nobody had intended to produce this result, three discoveries were made. First, it became clear that the program of enlightened reform and progress would not be carried out through the old monarchy but through a new regime, that is, not by reform from above, as men of goodwill had hoped, but by revolution. Second, it became clear that this program required a collective struggle of "the people" or Third Estate against the aristocracy, and that, for practical purposes those who represented the Third Estate and spoke for it—and hence who shaped the new France—were the classes disponibles of that Estate, men of the middle ranks of society. Finally, it became clear in the course of the revolution that within the former Third Estate "the people" and the middle stratum had seriously conflicting interests. The makers of the new regime needed protection against the old and the new threats—the nobles and the masses. It is not surprising that they should learn to recognize themselves retrospectively as a middle class and the events of 1789—1799 as a class struggle. Outside France it was merely necessary to learn the French lessons and apply them with the required local modifications to make a bourgeois revolution. It may be pointed out in passing that Marx himself used the term quite infrequently in his writings.

What is not in doubt is that this is how Liberals saw the Revolution after 1815. It is quite beside the point to show in the abstract, however convincingly, that nothing much had changed in the distribution of property, and that "in the end the Revolution benefited the same landed elite that had started it, though it had torn itself to pieces in the course of the upheaval." It is entirely misleading to suggest that the new rising bourgeois continued to "s'inserer dans une volonté d'identification à l'aristocratie," unless this merely means that arriviste French businessmen in France were as snobbish as that species was in practically all countries.[32] That is not how a De Tocqueville saw matters at the time. For him the 1830 Revolution was a triumph of the middle class so

definite and so thorough that all political power, every prerogative, and the whole government was confined and, as it were, heaped up within the narrow limits of this one class . . . . Not only did it thus rule society, but it may be said to have formed it.[33]

Who would have described France on the eve of the Revolution, or even in 1791, in such class terms? Would such a form of discourse have even been conceivable? The Revolution not only made it conceivable but logical.

This is all the more striking, since a specific sense of the middle strata as a single social group was neither natural—they are notoriously harder to define than other social strata, except in terms of vertical location—nor was


it, as we have seen, part of the prerevolutionary political vocabulary of the middle ranks. They were individuals , collectively united precisely by not being institutionalized "orders of society," high or low, communities or corporations, and separated from those above by rejecting privilege, from those below by personal merit, and by emancipation from ignorance and backwardness, that is, by the use of reason. To abolish all institutions intermediate between the citizen as an individual and Mignet's "single state, single law and single people" was an essential part of the Revolution's political transformations.

Consequently their essential mode of public action was the association of individuals freely joining together for whatever purpose, and the term association was to become one of the key words in the political vocabulary of nineteenth-century bourgeois society. How else were the members of the elites of reason and worth, or for that matter the enthusiasts for music or statistics, to discover one another or act together? This characteristic mode of organization of the men of middle rank, especially for purposes of social and cultural interchange and mutual moral and intellectual improvement, has been misinterpreted as something separate from the social selection of the membership of lodge, club, or "circle" and seen as a sort of independent theater of cultural and ideological discourse, in which Jacobin agitators and zealots could rehearse their fanatical dramas, prior to diverting the reform of France from its otherwise more moderate course.[34] But the political culture of club or lodge life was not necessarily radical or, even before the Revolution, particularly political—though the Revolution naturally made it more obviously so. Moreover, what made the radical ideologists into a political force was not the existence of forms of sociability favoring cultural revolution as such but the events of the Revolution itself. Before it they were not of much importance: "Many of those whom one might claim as heralding the Revolution [before 1789] turn out to be a rather mangy collection of intellectual drop-outs, cranks, and failures."[35] Still, individualism was not class organization.

And yet, a body of men defining themselves thus as the opposite of a social "class," namely as an assembly of individuals, found itself welcoming the new collective label.

But how far was this new self-conscious middle class a class of bourgeois in the capitalist sense? In the view of foreign, and certainly of German observers, as well as of Balzac, postrevolutionary France was a society in which, more than in any other, wealth was power and men were dedicated to the accumulation of it. Lorenz von Stein even devised a historical explanation for this. Under Napoleon, the crucial question of the Revolution, namely "the right of every individual to rise, by his own ability, to the highest position in civil society and state," was inevitably narrowed down to the right to


accumulate property, or to make a success in the army, since despotism excluded other forms of competition for public distinction. And so France became rich (once again, contemporaries seem less skeptical than historians)

because, precisely through falling under the despotism of the Empire, it entered the epoch when wealth constitutes power for each individual.

Of course this class had no independent share in power, and thus could not be—in the somewhat old-fashioned terminology of pre-1848 Germans—an "estate of the realm [ein Stand]," since it had accepted the Napoleonic dictatorship as the only protection against social revolution. But sooner or later it would naturally demand its share of power, and after 1815 it did so.[36]

Of course, as a class this new bourgeoisie was plainly not primarily, concerned with the industrial development of the national economy. But only a taste for teleology would lead us to expect this. The object of businessmen is not industrialization. It is to make money, and when industrial progress or tecnological innovation occur, they are the by-products of this process and not its purpose. As we now know, even in the Britain of the Industrial Revolution, the best way to become a millionaire was not to run a cotton mill but to be a risk-averse banker or merchant. Nor does the triumph of a liberal middle class guarantee the economic success of its country's national economy, except in circumstances that may be independent of its presence.

Nevertheless, it would be absurd to deny that the ideology of the Enlightenment inevitably made economic progress into a central aim of society, if only as a special aspect of human progress in general. And it was surely evident to followers—indeed even to opponents—of Adam Smith, that the best way to maximize economic progress was by means of an economy of private enterprise. As the liberal philosopher Victor Cousin wrote in 1828:

The destiny of man . . . is to assimilate nature as much as possible to himself, to plant in it, and in it to make appear, unceasingly, the triumph of man over nature, whose tendency was to encroach upon and destroy him, but which retreats before him, and is metamorphosed in his hands; this is truly nothing less than the creation of a new world by man. Political economy explains the secret, or rather the detail of all this; it follows the achievements of industry, which are themselves connected with those of the mathematical and physical sciences.[37]

At a time when (to quote Tocqueville again) "the particular spirit of the middle class" was about to "become the general spirit of government" in France, would this tribute to the power of political economy not have been naturally read as a manifesto for capitalist development?

It has not been the purpose of this chapter to challenge recent "revisionist" tendencies in the historiography of the French Revolution, except insofar as they represent not new research but ideological reinterpretation. Nor,


obviously, does it wish to defend the political or prophetic inferences that were drawn from the concept of the Revolution elaborated by its early nineteenth-century analysts; for instance, that all peoples "seeking to break through to independent political life, freedom and power" had to pass through such a revolution (Gervinus), that countries which did not do so could not become properly bourgeois or capitalist, that the proletarian revolution would follow the earlier supposed model, inasmuch as it would be also made by a class grown to maturity within the old system and demanding to break through its integument and take over power in its turn, or a variety of others. Such beliefs, derived at secondhand from the revolutionary experience, themselves were or became part of history, but they are not my concern here.

What this chapter has tried to show is that something which plainly forms the foundation of the classical view of the French Revolution as a social revolution, a "bourgeois revolution," and a central and decisive step in the evolution of modern society, emerged in the first postrevolutionary generation, and that this reading of the French Revolution and its consequences seemed more logical and realistic than the modern revisionist view that it was "haphazard in its origins and ineffectual in its outcome."[38] It seemed realistic to French liberals in three respects. First, because in 1830 it seemed evident that a middle class actually came to power. Second, the nineteenth century, moreover, seemed clearly to perpetuate and even to institutionalize the conflict between middle class and "people" or "masses" (later specified by some as "the proletariat"), which had not existed before 1789, but emerged between "1791" and "1794." Finally, above all, it seemed realistic because, as Tocqueville put it elegantly and eloquently, the Revolution

has entirely destroyed, or is in the process of destroying . . . everything in ancient society that was derived from aristocratic and feudal institutions, everything that was in any way connected with them, everything that had the least impress of them.[39]

And the canyon which the earthquake of the Revolution had opened between the old regime and the new society was evidently impassable, its profundity and width demonstrated, in France at least, beyond any doubt by the repeated failure to restore that old regime.

This was not a Sorelian "myth," even though the Revolution also generated and turned into such a mobilizing "myth" or set of "myths." It was an empirical generalization, based on how contemporary observers and analysts saw the history of France from 1789 to 1830, just as the concept of the "Industrial Revolution" which emerged during the same generation seemed to contemporaries an empirical generalization based on the observation of British cotton mills and ironworks. Both, of course, extrapolated the future from the past, since they were not concerned with historical analysis for its


own sake. Both therefore tended to emphasize what they saw as new and dynamic, rather than what they regarded as relics of the past due to move to the margins of social reality. Both are, for that reason, easily criticized. And yet, if we have to choose between modern revisionist historiography as a guide to nineteenth-century history, including French history, and the liberal analysts of the Restoration, is it so certain that Furet is more illuminating than Guizot, Mignet, and De Tocqueville?

State and Counterrevolution in France

Charles Tilly

Tocqueville almost got it right. In one of his most famous arguments, Alexis de Tocqueville asserted that the administrative centralization most observers attributed to the Revolution of 1789 actually occurred under the Old Regime. The Intendants and other royal officers installed by Louis XIII and his successors had, he thought, almost imperceptibly supplanted a oncedominant aristocracy. They had adroitly erected an effective, centralized structure while edging great lords and parlements out of administration and into mere politics. "If I am asked," wrote Tocqueville,

how it was possible for this part of the old régime to be taken over en bloc and integrated into the constitution of modern France, my answer is that the reason why the principle of the centralization of power did not perish in the Revolution is that this very centralization was at once the Revolution's starting-off point and one of its guiding principles. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that whenever a nation destroys its aristocracy, it almost automatically tends toward a centralization of power; a greater effort is then needed to hold it back than to encourage it to move in this direction. All the authorities existing within it are affected by this instinctive urge to coalesce, and much skill is needed to keep them separate. Thus the democratic revolution, though it did away with so many institutions of the past, was led inevitably to consolidate this one; centralization fitted in so well with the program of the new social order that the common error of believing it to have been a creation of the Revolution is easily accounted for.[1]

Almost right. At the top, French ministers and kings from Louis XIII onward cowed the haughty gouverneurs and grandees who had once administered much of provincial France and had frequently raised the standard of rebellion; great aristocrats became decorative adjuncts of royal officialdom.[2] The crown created a whole class of political entrepreneurs who organized


finances, raised revenues, supplied armies, manipulated royal justice, and controlled access to the sovereign but lacked a base of power separate from their own attachment to the monarchy. The accelerated sale of offices brought into being a tax-dodging rentier nobility that depended for its revenues on the credit and credibility of the state, as the state's exchange of corporate or municipal privilege for loans and grants formed and coopted monopolists.

The Intendants who made the transition from roving troubleshooters to fixed regional administrators under Richelieu and Mazarin spearheaded the process of centralization. In important ways, as Tocqueville thought, that centralized structure provided models and precedents for revolutionary changes. Yet Tocqueville misperceived, or misrepresented, the Old Regime system in two significant ways. First, the aristocracy did not abdicate; nobles old and new occupied dominant positions in the royal apparatus and control; they differed from their predecessors chiefly in suffering much greater supervision by the king's ministers, and in lacking private armies, fortified castles, and large clienteles.

Second, contrary to Tocqueville's monolithic portrayal, the prerevolutionary system remained incomplete; direct royal control generally ceased at the level of the urban region, the administrative, judicial, and fiscal territory assigned to a major city. The généralité, subdélégation , and élection belonged to the royal apparatus, but their officers had only limited power to penetrate communities and households.[3] They had even less in the pays d'Etat , where oligarchic assemblies had survived the royal assault on regional magnates. From that level downward the king's agents had to contend with landlords, priests, monks, municipal oligarchies, parlements, courts, and Estates that wielded considerable power to block royal will.

Indeed, the monarchy's practice of establishing or confirming privileges, monopolies, and offices in return for loans had strengthened the barriers between ordinary individuals and royal policy.[4] Despite hectoring by Intendants and the occasional dispatch of armed force in support of ignored decrees, privileged intermediaries executed—or deliberately failed to execute—royal directives in the light of their own interests. Only during the Revolution did these last barriers fall. With the Revolution's bold supplanting of privileged, chartered, and partly autonomous local authorities, France again led Europe in administrative transformation.

Yet Tocqueville's problem persists: To what extent, how, and with what political consequences, did the revolutionaries of 1789—1799 forward the centralizing effort of the Old Regime monarchy? In pursuing that question, this chapter (1) examines relations between the French Revolution and the longterm mutation of the French state, (2) underscores the critical part played by revolutionary and Napoleonic France in the transformation of European states (especially the transition from indirect to direct rule), and (3) empha-


sizes the connection between resistance to the Revolution and efforts of revolutionary leaders to improvise new forms of government in place of the ones they and their supporters had destroyed. In the process, it also (4) gives reasons for thinking that in the sphere of the state something like a bourgeois revolution did, despite all recent doubts, actually occur.

Between 1750 and 1850 most European states shifted from indirect to direct rule. Up to the eighteenth century, all but the smallest states generally relied on privileged intermediaries—nobles, priests, municipal oligarchies, officeholders licensed but no more than loosely controlled by the crown—to collect taxes, contract loans, recruit soldiers, administer justice, and carry on the rest of royal business at the local level. Citizens dealt rarely and reluctantly with supervised full-time employees of the national state. Indirect rule included a wide range of social arrangements: the tribute-taking relation of the sultan's court to local headmen in the Ottoman Empire, the holding of judicial, economic, and military power by great landlords in Poland, reliance on a faithful clergy in Sweden, concession of an enormous role in parish and county administration to English gentry and clergy Justices of the Peace, and survival of the Dutch Republic as a federation of fiercely competitive municipalities and their dependencies.[5]

By 1850 most such systems of indirect rule had disappeared from Europe. States had substituted their own officials for the patrons of old, tax farming and similar practices had almost vanished, elected legislatures connected the more substantial citizens to the national government, and census-takers brought royal inquiries to individual households, as national bureaucracies attempted to monitor and regulate whole countries and all their residents. To be sure, landlords and tycoons still wielded disproportionate power and bent the state apparatus to their own ends.[6] But now they used their considerable influence to intervene in an organizationally distinct national state instead of constituting one of its chief components.

More than anything else, the exigencies of war, preparation for war, and payment for war drove the transition from indirect to direct rule. War made the greatest difference because it expanded not only armies and navies but also fiscal administration, supply services, support for veterans, and national debt; those expansions, in turn, inflated the state's demands on its subject populations.[7] As rulers sought to man large national armies and navies by means of conscripts or volunteers from their own populations, and to pay for those armies and navies through domestic taxation, they encountered resistance not only from ordinary people but also from the intermediaries who had been rulers' sometime allies. In striving to overcome both kinds of resistance, monarchs built new administrative hierarchies that bypassed the old and reached into local communities, bargained out agreements that gave ordinary people rewards and rights the state had not previously conceded to them, and established means of monitoring and repression that drew them


willy-nilly into the administration of local life. In Great Britain, for example, the immense effort of the American, French, and Napoleonic wars produced a decisive enlargement of Parliament's powers, and thus indirectly of massed commoners' capacity to lay claims on the national government.[8]

French actions from 1789 to 1815 forwarded the general European transition from indirect to direct rule in two ways: by providing a model of centralized government that other states emulated, and by imposing variants of that model wherever France conquered. Even though many of the period's innovations in French government emerged from desperate improvisations in response to threats of rebellion and bankruptcy, their battle-tested forms endured beyond the Revolution and Empire.

What happened to France's system of rule during the revolutionary years? Before 1789 the French state, like almost all other states, ruled indirectly at the local level, relying especially on priests and nobles for mediation. From the end of the American war, the government's efforts to collect money to cover its war debts crystallized an antigovernmental coalition that initially included the parlements and other powerholders but changed toward a more popular composition as the confrontation between the regime and its opponents sharpened.[9] The state's visible vulnerability in 1788–1789 encouraged any group that had a stifled claim or grievance against the state, its agents, or its allies to articulate its demands and join others in calling for change.[10] The rural revolts—Great Fear, grain seizures, tax rebellions, attacks on landlords, and so on—of spring and summer 1789 occurred disproportionately in regions with large towns, commercialized agriculture, and many roads.[11] Their geography reflected a composite but largely bourgeois-led settling of scores. At the same time, those whose social survival depended most directly on the Old Regime state—nobles, officeholders, and higher clergy are the obvious examples—generally aligned themselves with the king.[12] Thus a revolutionary situation began to form: two distinct blocs both claimed power and both received support from some significant part of the population. With significant defections of military men from the crown and the formation of militias devoted to the popular cause, the opposition acquired force of its own. The popular bloc, connected and often led by members of the bourgeoisie, started to gain control over parts of the state apparatus.

The lawyers, officials, and other bourgeois who seized the state apparatus in 1789–1790 rapidly displaced the old intermediaries: landords, seigneurial officials, venal officeholders, clergy, and sometimes municipal oligarchies as well. "[I]t was not a rural class of English-style gentlemen," declares Lynn Hunt, "who gained political prominence on either the national or the regional level, but rather thousands of city professionals who seized the opportunity to develop political careers."[13] At a local level, the so-called Municipal Revolution widely transferred power to enemies of the old rulers; patriot coalitions based in militias, clubs, and revolutionary committees and linked to


Parisian activists ousted the old municipalities.[14] Even where the old power-holders managed to survive the Revolution's early turmoil, relations between each locality and the national capital altered abruptly. Village "republics" of the Alps, for example, found their ancient liberties—including ostensibly free consent to taxes—crumbling as outsiders clamped them into the new administrative machine.[15] Then Parisian revolutionaries faced the problem of governing without intermediaries; they experimented with the committees and militias that had appeared in the mobilization of 1789 but found them hard to control from the center. More or less simultaneously they recast the French map into a nested system of departments, districts, cantons, and communes, while sending out représentants en mission to forward revolutionary reorganization. They installed direct rule.

Given the unequal spatial distribution of cities, merchants, and capital, furthermore, the imposition of a uniform geographic grid altered the relations between cities' economic and political power, placing insignificant Mende and Niort at the same administrative level as mighty Lyon and Bordeaux.[16] As a result, the balance of forces in regional capitals shifted significantly: In the great commercial centers, where merchants, lawyers, and professionals already clustered, departmental officials (who frequently came, in any case, from the same milieus) had no choice but to bargain with the locals. Where the National Assembly carved departments out of relatively uncommercialized rural regions, the Revolution's administrators overshadowed other residents of the new capitals and could plausibly threaten to use force if they were recalcitrant. But in those regions they lacked the bourgeois allies who helped their confreres do the Revolution's work elsewhere and confronted old intermediaries who still commanded significant followings. In great mercantile centers such as Marseille and Lyon, the political situation was very different. By and large, the federalist movement, with its protests against Jacobin centralism and its demands for regional autonomy, took root in cities whose commercial positions greatly outpaced their administrative rank. In dealing with these alternative obstacles to direct rule, Parisian revolutionaries improvised three parallel, and sometimes conflicting, systems of rule: (1) the committees and militias; (2) a geographically defined hierarchy of elected officials and representatives; (3) roving commissioners from the central government. To collect information and gain support, all three relied extensively on the existing personal networks of lawyers, professionals, and merchants.

As the system began to work, revolutionary leaders strove to routinize their control and contain independent action by local enthusiasts, who often resisted. Using both cooptation and repression, they gradually squeezed out the committees and militias. Mobilization for war put great pressure on the system, incited new resistance, and increased the national leaders' incentives for a tight system of control. Starting in 1792, the central administration


(which until then had continued in a form greatly resembling that of the Old Regime) underwent its own Revolution: the staff expanded enormously, and a genuine hierarchical bureaucracy took shape.[17] In the process, revolutionaries installed one of the first systems of direct rule ever to take shape in a large state.

That shift entailed changes in systems of taxation, justice, public works, and much more. Consider policing. Outside of the Paris region, France's Old Regime state had almost no specialized police of its own; it dispatched the Maréchaussée to pursue tax evaders, vagabonds, and other violators of royal will and occasionally authorized the army to quell rebellious subjects, but otherwise relied on local and regional authorities to deploy armed force against civilians. The Revolutionaries changed things. With respect to ordinary people, they moved from reactive to proactive policing and information-gathering: instead of simply waiting until a rebellion or collective violation of the law occurred, and then retaliating ferociously but selectively, they began to station agents whose job was to anticipate and prevent threatening popular collective action. During the Revolution's early years, Old Regime police forces generally dissolved as popular committees, National Guards, and revolutionary tribunals took over their day-to-day activities. But with the Directory the state concentrated surveillance and apprehension in a single centralized organization. Fouché of Nantes became minister of police in the Year VII/1799, and henceforth ran a ministry whose powers extended throughout France and its conquered territories.[18] By the time of Fouché, France had become one of the world's most closely policed countries.

Going to war accelerated the move from indirect to direct rule. Almost any state that makes war finds that it cannot pay for the effort from its accumulated reserves and current revenues. Almost all warmaking states borrow extensively, raise taxes, and seize the means of combat—including men—from reluctant citizens who have other uses for their resources. Prerevolutionary France followed these rules faithfully, to the point of accumulating debts that eventually forced the calling of the Estates-General. Nor did the Revolution repeal the rules.

The French used their own new system as a template for the reconstruction of other states. As revolutionary and imperial armies conquered, they attempted to build replicas of that system of direct rule elsewhere in Europe. Napoleon's government consolidated the system and turned it into a reliable instrument of rule.[19] The system survived the Revolution and Empire in France and, to some degree, elsewhere; Europe as a whole shifted massively toward centralized direct rule with at least a modicum of representation for the ruled.

Resistance and counterrevolutionary action followed directly from the process by which the new state established direct rule. Remember how much change revolutionaries introduced in a very short time. They eliminated all


previous territorial jurisdictions, consolidated many old parishes into larger communes, abolished the tithe and feudal dues, dissolved corporations and their privileges, constructed a top-to-bottom administrative and electoral system, imposed expanded and standardized taxes through that system, seized the properties of emigrant nobles and of the church, disbanded monastic orders, subjected clergy to the state and imposed on them an oath to defend the new state church, conscripted young men at an unprecedented rate, and displaced both nobles and priests from the automatic exercise of local leadership. All this occurred between 1789 and 1793.

Subsequent regimes added more ephemeral changes such as the revolutionary calendar and the cult of the Supreme Being, but the early Revolution's overhaul of the state endured into the nineteenth century and set the pattern for many other European states. The greatest reversals concerned the throttling of local militias and revolutionary committees, the restoration of or compensation for some confiscated properties, and Napoleon's Concordat with the Catholic church. All in all, these changes constituted a dramatic, rapid substitution of uniform, centralized, direct rule for a system of government mediated by local and regional notables. What is more, the new state hierarchy consisted largely of lawyers, physicians, notaries, merchants, and other bourgeois.

Like their prerevolutionay counterparts, these fundamental changes attacked many existing interests and opened opportunities to groups that had previously had little access to state-sanctioned power—especially the village and small-town bourgeoisie. As a result, they precipitated both resistance and struggles for power. Jean-Pierre Jessenne's study of Artois (the department of Pas-de-Calais) uncovers a moderate version of the transition.[20] It reveals a region where before the Revolution nobles and churchmen held a little over half of all land as against a third for peasants, where 60 to 80 percent of all farms had fewer than 5 hectares (which implies that a similar large majority of farm operators worked part-time for others), where a quarter of household heads worked primarily as agricultural wage-laborers, where taxes, tithes, rents, and feudal dues took a relatively low 30 percent of the income from leased land, and where a fifth of rural land went on sale with the revolutionary seizure of church and noble properties—in short, where agricultural capitalism was well advanced by 1770.

In such a region, large leaseholders (fermiers) dominated local politics, but only within limits set by their noble and ecclesiastical landlords. The Revolution, by sweeping away the privileges of those patrons, threatened the leaseholders' power. They survived the challenge, however, as a class, if not as a particular set of individuals: many officeholders lost their posts during the struggles of the early Revolution, especially when the community was already at odds with its lord. Yet their replacements came disproportionately from the same class of comfortable leaseholders. The struggle of wage-


laborers and smallholders against the coqs de village that Georges Lefebvre discovered in the adjacent Nord was less intense, or less effective, in the Pasde-Chalais. Although the larger farmers, viewed with suspicion by national authorities, lost some of their grip on public office during the Terror and again under the Directory, they regained it later and continued to rule their roosts through the middle of the nineteenth century. By that time, nobles and ecclesiastics had lost much of their capacity to contain local powerholders, but manufacturers, merchants, and other capitalists had taken their places. The displacement of the old intermediaries opened the way to a new alliance between large farmers and bourgeoisie.

Jessenne tells us nothing about the political process by which direct rule descended on revolutionary France. For that, we must turn to such studies as Colin Lucas's vivid portrayal of Terrorist Claude Javogues, agent of the Revolution in his native department of the Loire.[21] Javogues was one of those ordinary people, cast into extraordinary circumstances by the Revolution, whose careful portrayal Richard Cobb has long urged on historians. Javogues stood higher on the ladder of wealth and power than Cobb's tailors and housemaids—he was a member of the Convention—but without the Revolution he would surely have ended his life in comfortable provincial obscurity. His close kin were lawyers, notaries, and merchants in Forez, a region not far to the west of Lyon. The family was on the ascendant in the eighteenth century, and Claude himself was a well-connected thirty-year-old avocat at Montbrison in 1789.

Four years later, Javogues was a hard-drinking, irascible, vociferous représentant en mission sent home to help organize the defeat of rebel Lyon and to reestablish the supremacy of the Republic in the newly created department of the Loire, whose capital was St. Etienne. The anonymous reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement (unmistakably, and inimitably, Richard Cobb himself) summed up Lucas's portrait of Javogues as agent of the Terror:

Here was this blustering bellâtre , foaming and roaring up and down his native Department, even biting people, the veins sticking out of his enormous, bulllike forehead, shaggy eyebrows, a revolutionary giant, nearly always with food in his mouth, frightening women out of their wits, pinching their bottoms and making coarse references to the size and spaciousness of part of the female anatomy, apparently living in an almost permanent state of rage.[22]

The Convention dispatched this raging bourgeois bull to the Loire in July 1793 and recalled him in February 1794. During those six months, Javogues relied heavily on his existing connections, concentrated on repression of the Revolution's enemies, acted to a large degree on the theory that priests, nobles, and rich landlords were the enemies, neglected and bungled administrative matters such as the organization of food supply, and left behind him a reputation for arbitrariness and cruelty.


Yet Javogues and his co-workers did, in fact, reorganize local life. In Lucas's account, we learn about clubs, surveillance committees, revolutionary armed forces, commissars, courts, and représentants en mission . We see an almost unbelievable attempt to extend the direct administrative purview of the central government to everyday individual life. We recognize the importance of popular mobilization against the Revolution's enemies—real or imagined—as a force that displaced the old intermediaries. We therefore gain insight into the conflict between two objectives of the Terror: extirpation of the Revolutions' opponents and forging of instruments to do the work of the Revolution. We discover again the great importance of control over food as an administrative challenge, as a point of political contention, and as an incentive to popular action.

Contrary to the old image of a unitary people welcoming the arrival of long-awaited reform, local histories of the Revolution make clear that France's revolutionaries established their power through struggle, and frequently over stubborn popular resistance. Most of the resistance, it is true, took the form of evasion, cheating, and sabotage rather than outright rebellion; it employed what James Scott calls "weapons of the weak."[23] Where the fault lines ran deep, however, resistance consolidated into counterrevolution: the formation of effective alternative authorities to those put in place by the Revolution. Counterrevolution occurred not where everyone opposed the Revolution, but where irreconcilable differences divided well-defined blocs of supporters and opponents.

France's South and West, through similar processes, produced the largest zones of sustained counterrevolution.[24] The geography of executions under the Terror provides a reasonable picture of counterrevolutionary activity. The departments having more than 200 executions included: Loire Inférieure (3,548), Seine (2,639), Maine-et-Loire (1,886), Rhône (1,880), Vendée (1,616), Ille-et-Vilaine (509), Mayenne (495), Vaucluse (442), Rhône (409), Pas-de-Calais (392), Var (309), Giroride (299), and Sarthe (225). These departments accounted for 89 percent of all executions under the Terror.[25] Except for the Seine and the Pas-de-Calais, they concentrated in the South, the Southwest and, especially, the West. In the South and Southwest, Languedoc, Provence, Gascony, and the Lyonnais hosted military insurrections against the Revolution, insurrections whose geography corresponded closely to support for federalism.[26] Federalist movements began in the spring of 1793, when the Jacobin expansion of the foreign war—including the declaration of war on Spain—incited resistance to taxation and conscription, which in turn led to a tightening of revolutionary surveillance and discipline. The autonomist movement peaked in commercial cities that had enjoyed extensive liberties under the Old Regime, notably Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Caen. In those cities and their hinterlands, France fell into bloody civil war.


In the West, guerrilla raids against republican strongholds and personnel unsettled Brittany, Maine, and Normandy from 1791 to 1799, while open armed rebellion flared south of the Loire in parts of Brittany, Anjou, and Poitou beginning in the fall of 1792 and likewise continuing intermittently until Napoleon pacified the region in 1799.[27] The Western counterrevolution reached its high point in the spring of 1793, when the Republic's call for troops precipitated armed resistance through much of the West. That phase saw massacres of "patriots" and "aristocrats" (as the proponents and opponents of the Revolution came to be called), invasion and temporary occupation of such major cities as Angers, and pitched battles between armies of Blues and Whites (as the armed elements of the two parties were known).

Historians have not disputed what happened in the West—especially south of the Loire—for fifty years or more. Even the militantly anticlerical Alphonse Aulard, writing eight decades ago, had the main sequence right:

The Vendean, Breton, and Angevin peasantry did not at first rise in support of royalty, but in support of their clergy and against military service. Strongly attached to their priests, they were opposed on general grounds to the application of the civil constitution of the clergy, and had attended the Masses of non-juring priests at farm-houses, in chapels, or in the forest . . . . Between March 10th and 15th a rising took place, to cries of Pas de milice! No enlistment! and almost immediately there was a cry for their former priests. It was these priests who stirred the peasantry to anger, and presided over the first acts of civil warfare, and the first massacres of republicans.[28]

Aulard's imputation of motives now seems naive, and no recent historian has so baldly stated the idea of the priests as agitators, but students of the Vendée still see that they must explain first the popular response to the Civil Constitution and then the reaction to the levée en masse of March 1793. Since the 1960s, furthermore, we have had a relatively clear idea of who participated on both sides, and when. The real controversies have concerned three issues: (1) whether similar class alignments set off revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries in the regions of sustained insurrection south of the Loire and in those of scattered but persistent Chouannerie (guerrilla warfare) to the north, (2) fundamental causes of the counterrevolution, and (3) intentions of the principal actors. On those important scores, alas, little is settled: If the old ideas of a gigantic counterrevolutionary plot led by nobles and of a peasantry blindly loyal to king and country have almost disappeared from serious accounts, historians still disagree vigorously over sufficient causes and deep intentions.

As it happens, the bicentennial-bound French have recently been debating the counterrevolution in a new light. A remarkable book by Reynald Secher, ominously titled Le génocide français [Genocide Among the French], has thus labeled the repression of the successive counterrevolutions


that broke out in the regions south of Nantes and Angers between 1793 and 1795.[29] "Genocide" means that the French state deliberately undertook to extirpate an entire people. Laurent Ladouce summarizes the terms in which Secher's book has entered public discussion:

Many "progressive" thinkers and historians still approve or justify the antireligious fervor of the revolutionaries. They are thus challenged by a recent discovery made by a 32-year-old historian, Reynald Secher. Secher presented a remarkable doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, subtitled "The Franco-French Genocide." His thesis demonstrates that the inhabitants of the Vendée region, after they surrendered to the Republic armies in 1793, were systematically exterminated in 1794 by order of the convention led by Robespierre. About 117,000 civilians—including women and children—were massacred, in order that the "race" of Vendeans be obliterated as a hindrance to the progress of the Revolution.[30]

Ladouce further remarks that when Secher appeared on the literary television show Apostrophes , his critics "did not deny what was contained in his book. They argued that the terrifying facts he exposed in his book were the logical and almost inevitable result of The Reign of Terror."[31]

If Secher had in fact established the massacre of 117,000 civilians, he would indeed have forced all historians of the counterrevolution to amend their analyses. As one of the author-critics who appeared on that fateful television broadcast with Reynald Secher, however, I deny both that we conceded his facts and that he has established them by means of precise reasoning and solid documentation. Michel Vovelle comments bitterly on the controversy:

A whole literature is forming on "Franco-French genocide," starting from risky estimates of the number of fatalities in the Vendean wars: 128,000, 400,000 . . . and why not 600,000? Despite not being specialists in the subject, historians such as Pierre Chaunu have put all the weight of their great moral authority behind the development of an anathematizing discourse, and have dismissed any effort to look at the subject reasonably.[32]

Clearly Secher's claims deserve close attention.

What did Secher do? First he completed a thoughtful, modest Third Cycle thesis (rough equivalent of an American Ph.D.) about the revolutionary experience of his own village, La Chapelle-Basse-Mer, not far northeast of Nantes.[33] In the published version of the thesis, he adopted arguments I had proposed twenty-five years before, and others had confirmed since then: that conflicts within communities generalized into a region-wide confrontation of an antirevolutionary majority based in the countryside with a prorevolutionary minority having particular strength in the cities; that the split began to form with the application of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and the oath to support it, in 1790–1791; that from then on local conflicts grew ever


graver and alignments more sharply defined, with the choice between priests who rejected and those who accepted the ecclesiastical oath providing the most salient issue; that the conscription of March 1793, with the attendant question of military exemptions for Republican officials and National Guard members, broadened the antirevolutionary coalition and brought the young men into action.[34]

Secher illustrated these widely accepted points with copious quotations from the archives, interpreted them as establishing the incomprehension and ideologically driven zeal of revolutionary authorities, and ended with a decisively negative balance sheet for the Revolution. He described the bloody repression of counterrevolutionary La Chapelle-Basse-Mer but did not pronounce the fateful word "genocide." Aside from taking a distinctly antirevolutionary tone and stressing the defense of threatened religion somewhat more than other recent historians, Secher cast his village study in conventional terms.

With Le génocide français , Reynald Secher took a more daring line. Le génocide , his thesis for the Doctorat d'Etat, began with a generalization of the standard arguments to the whole region of counterrevolution south of the Loire, the departments of Vendée, Sèvres, Inférieure, and Maine-et-Loire. Although La Chapelle-Basse-Mer served him repeatedly as a reference point, Secher illustrated the arguments with wide citations of national and regional archives. (My confidence in Secher's scholarship faltered, however, when I noticed that, with minor changes of wording and without citation of my work, he had copied at least two passages, including the references to archival sources, from my earlier book. Clearly someone should check Secher's other claims to have consulted the archives.)[35] Even his graphic account of repression, with Republican armies burning, smashing, and killing as they marched from village to village, however, drew on sources that were widely known to historians of the Vendée a half-century ago. Maniacal Carrier, who drowned boatloads of suspected counterrevolutionaries in the Loire, and ruthless Turreau, whose "infernal columns" of Republican troops undertook to level the whole region, have long burdened narratives of the counterrevolution.

Secher broke with conventional historiography, nevertheless, in assessing the damage done by revolutionary repression. On the basis of almost no evidence, Secher portrayed the prerevolutionary Vendée as more prosperous than the rest of France—the better to emphasize the devastation wrought by war and repression. He then used dubious methods to estimate the losses of population and housing attributable to the counterrevolution and its repression. In La Chapelle-Basse-Mer , he had established the minimum number of fatalities by using a parish register in which the local priest listed 421 residents (of a population of about 3,230 in 1792) killed by Republican forces between 1793 and 1797, and had argued from the trend in registered births


between 1789 and 1800 that the total loss of population was actually on the order of 700 to 770.[36] For housing losses, Secher used a procedure that inflated the value, if not the number, of missing houses.

Le génocide generalized those procedures. For housing, Secher used claims residents filed in 1810–1811 to receive compensation from the government for dwellings destroyed during the counterrevolution. An applicant stated the dwelling's value before its razing, reported whether it had been rebuilt, and gave its present value if rebuilt. In an unstated number of communes spread across the counterrevolutionary region, Secher implausibly took the claimed predestruction value as his measure of financial losses and used the total number of houses existing at the time of the claims (fifteen to eighteen years after the counterrevolution's height) as a base for calculating the proportion of all housing destroyed. By these doubtful means he estimated that the counterrevolutionary region lost 18 percent of its dwellings and 19 percent of its housing value.[37]

For population loss throughout the region, Secher counted the total number of births recorded in the parish registers of an unstated number of communities distributed across four departments in 1780–1790 and 1801, computed an annual average, multiplied it by twenty-seven, then subtracted the later figure from the earlier. The procedure relies on three unjustifiable assumptions: (1) a constant birth rate of about thirty-seven per thousand population, (2) no net migration, (3) a net population loss entirely due to excess deaths in the counterrevolution and its repression. In France as a whole, fertility began a sharp decline around 1790.[38] Best estimates of crude birth rates in the four departments actually run:[39]



















Thus the region as a whole had fertility levels that were declining, and lower than those of France as a whole, during the later years of the Revolution. Most likely they were already declining during the 1790s.

In a region where fertility was beginning to decline significantly, where thousands fled the turmoil, and where marriage frequencies almost certainly dwindled, all three of Secher's assumptions cast doubt on his results' validity. They attribute the region's entire population loss to massacre and then inflate that loss by underestimating the population at the period's end. They fail, finally, to make any allowance for deaths inflicted by counterrevolutionaries. By means of these faulty procedures, Secher estimated that "117,257 people disappeared between 1792 and 1802–14.38 percent of the population."[40] Pierre Chaunu then glossed the estimate as "120,000 dead in a fiftieth of the [French] territory during about eighteen months" and con-


cluded that "A desperate rebellion provoked by the attempt to force these people to serve a profane cause . . . led to the premeditated genocide of a people."[41] He thus froze a series of analytic errors into an ostensible historical fact. According to a recent review of the Revolution's cost:

Estimates of the number of vicitims vary sixfold: At least 100,000, at most 600,000. The 117,000 dead mentioned by Reynald Secher included only the departments of the Vendée militaire . The highest number comes from Pierre Chaunu, speaking as a master demographer . . . and including Blues and Whites, those dead by sword, hunting rifle or military gun, victims of illness and of famine in that burned-out country, people summarily executed, and those who died from wounds when no one could treat them: civil wars are inexorable.[42]

The author, René Sédillot, then opts for a "median" estimate of 400,000. A mistaken interpretation has entered history—at least as argued by critics of the Revolution.

Let me be clear: At times, both "patriots" and "aristocrats" deliberately massacred defenseless civilians in the Vendée. The Terror claimed more lives in Inférieure than in any other department.[43] The Convention's agent Carrier did, in fact, write from Nantes that "90 of the people we call refractory priests were locked up in a boat on the Loire. I have just learned, and the news is quite certain, that they all died in the river."[44] From January to May 1794 the "infernal columns" of General Turreau did, indeed, march through the counterrevolutionary zone burning, looting, smashing, and shooting. Thousands died in the Vendée. No one disputes those facts. The questions concern whether destruction occurred on the scale that Secher argues, whether the facts justify the term genocide , whether the very logic of the Revolution required the degree of destruction that actually occurred, and whether France would have been better off without the Revolution. My own answer to each of these questions is no. But any answer rests on a set of moral and political judgments that are inherently contestable.

Without attempting to arrive at definitive answers to the probing questions, we can see that the West's counterrevolution grew directly from the efforts of revolutionary officials to install a particular kind of direct rule in the region: a rule that practically eliminated nobles and priests from their positions as partly autonomous intermediaries, that brought the state's demands for taxes, manpower, and deference to the level of individual communities, neighborhoods, and households, that gave the region's bourgeois political power they had never before wielded. In seeking to extend the state's rule to every locality, and to dislodge all enemies of that rule, French revolutionaries started a process that did not cease for twenty-five years. In some ways, it has not yet ceased today.

In these regards, for all its counterrevolutionary ferocity, the West con-


formed to France's general experience. Everywhere in France, bourgeois—not owners of large industrial establishments, for the most part, but merchants, lawyers, notaries, and others who made their livings from the possession and manipulation of capital—were gaining strength during the eighteenth century. Throughout France, the mobilization of 1789 brought disproportionate numbers of bourgeois into political action. As the revolutionaries of Paris and their provincial allies displaced nobles and priests from their critical positions as agents of indirect rule, the existing networks of bourgeois served as alternate connections between the state and thousands of communities across the land. For a while, those connections rested on a vast popular mobilization through clubs, militias, and committees. Gradually, however, revolutionary leaders contained or even suppressed their turbulent partners. With trial, error, and struggle, the ruling bourgeoisie worked out a system of rule that reached directly into local communities and passed chiefly through administrators who served under the scrutiny and budgetary control of their superiors.

This process of state expansion encountered three huge obstacles. First, many people saw opportunities to forward their own interests and settle old scores open up in the crisis of 1789. They either managed to capitalize on the opportunity or found their hopes blocked by competition from other actors; both categories lacked incentives to support further revolutionary changes. Second, the immense effort of warring with most other European powers strained the state's capacity at least as gravely as had the wars of Old Regime kings. Third, in some regions the political bases of the newly empowered bourgeois were too fragile to support the work of cajoling, containing, inspiring, extracting, and mobilizing that revolutionary agents carried on everywhere; resistance to demands for taxes, conscripts, and compliance with moralizing legislation occurred widely in France, but where preexisting rivalries placed a well-connected bloc in opposition to the revolutionary bourgeoisie, civil war frequently developed. In these senses, the revolutionary transition from indirect to direct rule embodied a bourgeois revolution and engendered a series of antibourgeois counterrevolutions.

Cultural Upheaval and Class Formation During the French Revolution

Patrice Higonnet

Was the French Revolution a social revolution? The answer obviously depends on what the word social means. But in one way or another, generally received common sense will surely answer, yes. Isn't history "a seamless web?" Doesn't the French Revolution, from its very complexity, have to be defined as a social, or perhaps even a "socioeconomic," dysfunction? Our answer, informed by a driving sense of the uniqueness of the French Revolution, will be categorical. The French Revolution was not a social revolution. Its first cause was neither economic nor social, in the classical sense of either word. Its motor was instead the complicated cultural transformation of the country's possessing, administrative, and educated elites in the preceding century. The politics of 1789–1799 had as their origin the prerevolutionary restructuring of ancient assumptions on the nature of the public and the private. Restated, this is to say that the first cause of the Revolution lay in the elites' renewed definitions of both the empowered self and the empowered nation. Particularly important also was the nature of the politicized relationship that the elites assumed would soon regulate their regenerated universe.

This "problématique" can be considered under various headings, the nature of the Republican idea in France, its origins before 1789, its decay during the decade of Revolution, and its effect on French politics from Bonaparte to Pétain.


For nearly a thousand years, French society had revolved—in theory certainly and in growing reality as well—around the notion of ordered and in-


termediary bodies (privileged guilds, estates, corps, parishes, regions, clients, families). As Delamare wrote in his Traité de Police of 1705:

l'homme est tellement né pour la société, qu'il en fait son objet favori & sa principale satisfaction. là vient que dans l'ordre de la nature, non content de ce premier lien qui ne fit de tout le genre humain qu'une grande société, il a recherché avec empressement des unions plus étroites, d'où se sont formés dans la suite les familles, les Villes, & les plus grands Etats; & dans chacun de ces Etats, des societez encore plus intimes, par les emplois & les professions particulières.[1]

In the middle decades of the seventeenth century, however, the social and administrative elites of the French nation began to rethink the shape of their collective life. By the 1780s, for reasons that are still opaque but which we will try to address, two poles had come to focus their energies on this score: first, meritocratic individualism, about whose nature and merits they were seemingly quite clear; and, second, what might be called, for want of a better term, "public life," a realm whose scope had widened steadily since the creation of the "Old Régime" in the mid-seventeenth century, a great transformation that holds our particular attention since that same trajectory from the corps to the nation has been widely reversed in our own times.

Nature, reason, humanity, civisme , sacrifice, people, and nation were varyingly used at various times to approximate this communitarian social nebula.

The terms private and public , which had had relatively little relevance only decades before, gradually acquired overwhelming cultural centrality. Montesquieu's popularity in France during the 1780s derived from his individualistic denunciation of arbitrary rule and not, as it did in America, from his defense of intermediary bodies or from his concern for the benefits of mixed government. The venality of offices, which had been allowed in the minds of Frenchmen by the collapse of the public and the private, was universally decried, even by the parlementaires whose social existence depended on it. Meritocratic academies gained at the expense of painters' guilds. Intellectualized, Parisian, and "ungendered" salons—where divisions of status were, if not ignored, at least suspended—waxed as the model of court life as Versailles waned. Privilege, heretofore a kind of private law, now became synonymous with abuse. The state itself, under the indirect aegis of the physiocrats, gave the (fitful) signal for an attack on feudalism and corporatism, especially in Paris. Of similar relevance to the rise of the new and "areligious" ethic of the private and the public were many newly introduced institutions: masonic lodges, for example, with their coded, neoparliamentarian rules of order; "lycées"; and "sociétés de pensées," where nobles and nonnobles found common cultural ground. Reference should also be made, though this is less clear, to the educational institutions of the times, some of


whose programs and personnel were renewed in the third quarter of the century.

These new foci of social life, then, were the staging areas for transformed definition of the public and the private, and for new patterns of sociability and thought. Their effect was felt in the near and distant corners of social life, in the explicit redefinition and secularization of public fêtes, for example; or in the increasing reluctance to consider Protestants and Jews as members of subprivileged groups rather than as individuals entitled by nature and reason to freedom of opinion.

A less important but perhaps more symbolic consequence of this reordering of priorities was the enlightened interest in pornography, which can be defined as the intimate and illicit made outrageously and illicitly public, as the interface between unrestrained individual desire and undefined natural circumstance. Sade's fantasies have suggestive relevance to the structure if not the content of Jacobin thinking on the relationship of nature to man and "others."[2]

A similar if inverted effect of this same reordering found expression in the conceptual opposite of pornography, that is to say, in a new and highly gendered literary genre, the epistolary novel. In La Nouvelle Héloïse and Les Amants de Lyon , the private and exemplary letters of a blameless woman were made public for the edification of the public, but only after the heroine's more or less suicidal and wholly apolitical death. Here, womanly selfsacrifice allowed the licitly private to be made licitly public as well.

The effect in eighteenth-century France of the invention or development of secularized privacy (an ancient English locution that to this day has no strict equivalent in the French language) can best be traced in the recently rewritten history of women in eighteenth-century France. The traditional political and public role of females (as queens, royal mistresses, or, more humbly, as vicarious voters in elections to the second estate in 1788–1789) was recoded, devalued, or even eliminated. Women (and children, whom they were held to resemble psychologically and physiologically, in the pitch of their voices, for example) were removed from the public eye and placed at the center of private life. Quite typically, Diderot, in the Encydopédie , considered citizenship as an exclusively masculine concern:

on n'accorde ce titre (de citoyen) aux femmes, aux jeunes enfants, aux serviteurs que comme à des membres de la famille d'un citoyen proprement dit; mais ils ne sont pas vraiment citoyens.[3]

This redefinition of feminized, private life had very wide effect. It spilled over into matters as varied and numerous as how and where men and women should work; children's literature and birthday celebrations; a concern for domestic comfort; for better heat and better smells; for women's bodies and


the joys of sex; and for the virginal white muslins with which women were ordinarily enrobed, both in the paintings of the counterrevolutionary painter Vigée-Lebrun and in David's elaborate settings of revolutionary fêtes. The sustained antifeminism of nearly all revolutionary leaders, from Chaumette to Robespierre and Amar (with some conspicuous exceptions, especially of Condorcet, a child of Reason more than of Nature, and the heir of Poulain de la Barre's Cartesian reasonings) finds its first and most obvious origin in the widely shared belief that the private sphere of woman could not be fused directly with the public life of men. It is curiously expressive that revolutionary anticlericalism should have had as one of its rhetorical motifs the forced marriage of heretofore culturally androgynous Catholic priests, a ceremony that might involve his entering a closed confessional in priestly (and womanly) robes in order to emerge from it reborn, régénéré , since attired in the manly—and public—uniform of the national guard.

The puzzling extent of the revolutionaries' antifeminist (and anticlerical) aggressiveness allows us also to apprehend the deep insecurities created in the minds of men by this Great Transition in the reshaping of sexual roles.[4] Public men and public women were set at the two extremes of a new ethic whose requirements had only been uncertainly interiorized by both men and women.[5] Marginal groups would pay the price of that insecurity in the years to come.

In similar if converse fashion, the rise of a new conception of the secularized public good (and of the "nation" as its prized institutional locus) found expression in the desire to depersonalize power and in the attendant desacralization of the monarchy, after 1750 especially. Architecturally, the newly discovered majesty of the public sphere was given physical expression not in palaces, as before, but in impressive, geometrically shaped and balanced squares (the first of them being in Paris, the Place des Vosges conceived in the reign of Henry IV; the last, the Place de la Concorde in 1754) and in the spacious, ordered cours and allées of Paris and many provincial cities like Nancy, Bordeaux, and Rheims, a spatial model so successful that it was soon copied all over Europe by would-be-modernizers from Lisbon to Copenhagen.

Though nationalism as a term was not coined until the revolutionary and imperial armies of the Grande Nation had made their aggressive effect painfully obvious from Madrid to Moscow, the reality of French nationalism and of militarized patriotism was everywhere visible long before 1789. The War of American Independence was very well received in Paris: "They tell me," wrote a delighted John Adams, "it is the first Time the French Nation ever saw a Prospect of War, with Pleasure."[6] It was popular in part as the first major conflict that the crown financed nearly exclusively from loans and not from taxes. But nationalism was yet more relevant to the zeal aroused by the struggle against perfidious Albion. Paradoxically, Britain was at once an


accepted social and economic model and the national enemy, so that masculine suicide—at times defined either as an individuated gesture, as "l'acte le plus libre," as a Catonian gesture of empowered and national self-sacrifice—was also (and contradictorily) held to be an "English disease." The nation became a standard unit of social measurement with the development of statistics and of social analysis.

Many, and perhaps even most, nobles were unable to resist this cultural shift: unable to persist in the view that theirs was an immanent unit in an integrated society of traditional Orders. Some aristocrats did stumble backward onto the wholly factitious theory of the distinct, Frankish racial origin of the noble-born. But the more representative response of nobles was, optimistically, to reconsider the role of the French nobility as a nationally useful and mercantile group, or as a remilitarized fraternity of trained and skilled officers whose self-appointed task would be to defend the fatherland more efficaciously and more professionally as well.

The nation became a standard point of cultural reference: a new feeling for national and public life found expression in the growing and archival interest for the historial origins of the French state, of French chivalry, and of the French or Frankish races. Latin now seemed less important than the national French language to these "moderns" who nurtured a thriving and corresponding disdain of local dialects. Many schemes of national education were floated here and there, one of them by an otherwise highly reactionary parlementaire, La Chalotais. By the time of the Revolution, the French had even developed a national musical canon, a repertoire of often-performed works which emphasized patriotic continuity rather than mere esthetic novelty.

It is critical to understand that this new and enlightened, private/public polarization of "a-religious," elitist sensibility was not perceived by its votaries as being conflictual. Sensibility, it may be useful to add, is more appropriate to describe the situation of prerevolutionary France than is the term ideology . Like social classes whose yearnings they express, ideologies ordinarily presuppose conscious and antagonistic allegiances. But to the contrary, the sensibility of the French prerevolutionary elite actively assumed the effortless social and political reconciliation of universally acknowledged principles.

Commentators who reflected on the gradual, meliorist emergence of the (feminized) private and the (masculine) public easily assumed that this newly discovered ecumenism was embedded in the books of Nature and/or Reason which previous generations had only falteringly and partially deciphered. Heuristically, many schools of thought might be harnessed to justify these new categories of social thought: Cartesian innovations as well as the more traditional principles of natural law were easily adapted to current needs. The new cultural arrangements, it was thought, needed only to be


conceptualized in order to realize themselves in practice. Revealingly, many thinkers were indifferent to the political context that would best realize their schemes. Before the 1780s, there was not much to choose, it seemed to many, between the rule of parliaments or of enlightened despots.

The social costs of the new ethic were drastically underestimated by meliorist "philosophers" who perceived the past as a record of failures never to be repeated. Nearly to a man (few of them were women), the philosophes assumed that the new social model would make existing social distinctions irrelevant or, at least, transparent , to use a term that has been appropriately used to describe Rousseau's seminal interpretation of man's ideal social condition. Indeed, during the 1780s it was widely held (in Paris) that the inhabitants of the newly emancipated, thirteen colonies, regenerated by independence and—as Brissot was to explain in 1792—by virilizing war, had already succeeded in reaching this Republican and fraternal goal. Americans, they concluded, had brought forth in their wilderness near-perfect replicas of the ancient republics.

A suggestive parallel can also be drawn between the expectation of civic harmony-to-come, which they assumed would soon characterize French public life, and the harmony that many French couples expected to find immediately, in their current, private, and maried life. Significantly, the political involvement of wives and husbands during the Revolution was often intertwined. On the side of the Revolution, the Rolands, Desmoulins, Roberts, and Condorcets, come to mind, as do also Pauline Léon and the enragé, Leclerc; the analogs on the right are Charette's Vendéan "amazons" like Mme. de Bulkeley and Thérèse de Moëllien, or, for that matter, the king and queen. In the apt words of Dominique Godineau, "l'existence de couples de militants est une donnée du mouvement populaire parisien."[7]

It is in this central assumption of social and cultural, private and public harmony (and in its failure) wherein lie the origins and the failure also of "l'esprit révolutionnaire." Jacobinism, which was to be the ideologized and politicized essence of that sensibility, pointedly harked back to lost ideals of classical antiquity. It was, in Benjaminian terms, a political phantasmagoria, a utopia that dreamed the future as the reincarnation of an imagined, classless, and harmonious past.

In the mind of the revolutionary elites, liberty (or the modern freedom of the individual) and equality (a common and classic access to the allencompassing politics of the commonwealth) were to be conciliated by Republican fraternity, in our own times a risible public slogan, but a critical concept for Frenchmen and women at the time: "la République," Roland was to explain in September 1792 to the newly arrived Conventionnels , "est une seule et même chose que la fraternité."

To use the terms but not the argument of Albert Hirschman's excellent book, public interest was not displaced by private greed or passion. To the


contrary, the two were aggressively perceived as separate halves of a complementary dynamic. For Montesquieu, the apparent inequality of meritocratic reward was actually a proof of equality, provided that all men were equally free to develop their varying abilities. Likewise, the giving of alms plain and simple was a poor idea since it discouraged individual endeavor. But the final effect of that wiser kind of charity that required the poor to become productive individuals would be to raise the disadvantaged to a suitable standard of civic equality.

In a more noble register, Lafont de Saint-Yenne, the first modern art critic, urged French artists to imitate Roman models, because in that ancient Republic, "every private person having his part in governance [of the state], the good constitution of the State became his private and personal interest."[8] Many philosophes were quite conscious of the wide gap that was implied by the simultaneous defense of property and of civic humanism; but they generally assumed that this difference could be transcended by the creation, in Rousseau's words, of an "égalité morale et politique." The voluntarist politicization of difference was to be a path not to conflict but to be unprecedented cultural integration.

Rousseau, the universally famous and solitary "Armenian" hermit of the Ile Saint-Pierre, the most representative figure of his age, a man whose life and works were to be a model for revolutionaries great and small, male or female, conceptualized this universalist ethic as the General Will, a masculinist moral universe within which an empowered and sovereign citizen might commune with his neighbors through the civil religion of a revived polis.

The Social Contract , it is true, was not widely read; but thousands of men—and women, especially—wept over the analogous message of La Nouvelle Héloïse . They communed with Saint-Preux, the suicidally prone, narcissist, self-obsessed and sensual hero of this epistolary novel who had managed to find a place in the patriarchal, fraternal family that revolved around his beloved Julie. In Rousseau's world view, man's nature, though not invariably communitarian and good, was nonetheless distinctly pliable. Man, if touched by social rather than divine grace, could—with the help of his fellow men—make himself good. Saint Vincent de Salles had explained, in the previous century, that the purpose of a Christian education was to break the sinful nature of the individual child. Rousseau proposed instead to nurture the child's desire to love and to be loved by others: "the vices and misfortunes of children," he reminded the subjects of the French king, "are chiefly the effect of the unnatural despotism of the father."

Public and private were everywhere held by the prerevolutionary elites to be in potentially consensual, antiauthoritarian, neo-Republican accord. So was it, for example, that the first and appointed task of contented women in the home was voluntarily to begin to shape through principle and affection the sensibility of future civic-minded or even Republican, fraternal, and pub-


lic figures. The sudden popularity of the rosières , or "queen of virtue," much praised by Target, the first lawyer of his day,[9] was expressive of this new and integrated private/public perception. Personal integrity and the upholding of public morality were enmeshed as the integrated, cardinal principles of the day. And in a higher (and later) register, the mutuality of the private and the public were to be reproduced in the (universalist) Declaration of the (private) Rights of Man of August 1789, which emphasized less the specific and inherent, imprescriptible rights of the citizen, than his total empowerment in the context of the nation-state. It was indeed this simultaneously naturalized and nationalized quality that in the eyes of its makers essentially differentiated the French statement from its inferior and more positivistic, Virginian antecedents.

In a lower but more immediate key, the craving of the reading public for a collapse of public and private values was inversely evinced in its horrified fascination for tales of courtly and monarchic corruption. The Diamond Necklace affair was the cause célèbre of the 1780s. Countless revolutionary politicians would also learn, in time, to fear politically crippling accusations of corruption, of having placed their private gain before the public weal. In this context, Danton and his foil Robespierre immediately come to mind. Only a genuinely base man, replied Robespierre to the Girondin Louvet in November 1792, could refuse to see that his entire sense of self must have the national good as its purpose. Ortega y Gasset aristocratically derided Joseph Chénier's denigration of Mirabeau: "Je considére qu'il n'y a pas de grands hommes sans vertu."[10] But this was to miss the point of Chénier's unspoken and wholly representative argument.

Before 1789, the detailed contours of the constitutive private and public elements of the new French collective identity were carefully annotated. On one side, rigidly moralizing distinctions were developed between positive and negative definitions of private life, that is to say, between those shapings of privacy that did dovetail with the public good and those which failed that acid test.

The physicality of breastfeeding was pleasing. Female sexuality in marriage was likewise much praised: the Desmoulinse's double-bed was for them and others the symbol of an emotionally and politically collaborative marriage. For Choderlos de Laclos, the author of the celebrated (and ironically epistolary) Liaisons Dangereuses , the sexuality of women could not be denied (as was made obvious in countless statements ranging from novels to "sexuated" representations of male and female skeletons); but within happy, mutually satisfying marriages this potent force of nature might well be tamed. (Choderlos was a prerevolutionary partisan of divorce, which was to be legislated in September 1792.)

Simultaneously, however, perverted female sexuality (i.e., a private yearning that sought fulfillment irrespective of the public good) was much


feared. Lesbianism now suddenly seemed far more threatening than male homosexuality, which in the recent traditionalist past had still been punished by burning at the stake. Dr. Tissot's criticism of female onanism, or tribadisme as it was then known, was warmly stated.

Republicanism for men, by contrast, often verged on homosexual, masculine friendship. In David's Oath of the Horatii , it united masculinized citizens in militarized and fraternal amity, just as it relegated women to the bosom of familial love, ordinarily inscribed in the devalued, bottom-righthand corner of vast canvasses. In the Year II, Romme, the self-sacrificing and fraternal "martyr de prairial," insisted on marrying any widow of a fallen and revolutionary soldier who might be assigned to him by his Parisian Section: this highly subjectivized but self-sacrificing Jacobin aimed to commune with both the Nation and an unknown, fallen, comrade through a female body, now become like other material and social forms, a "transparent" and almost irrelevant object.

In this same context of sexualized politics, Marie Antoinette, her prerevolutionary reputation, and the obscenities of her trial readily come to mind also, as does, on the other shore, the relatively unimpeded progression of Cambacérès and Fiévée from Republic to Empire and the more checkered career of Chaumette during the Revolution.[11]

Similar distinctions, positive and negative, were applied to the public side of the reconceptualized vision of sociability as well. Aged, country nobles who had grown poor in the unrewarded service of the state were much praised. Court nobles were by contrast despised, and this same distinction of "corrupt court and worthy country" was widely held, even in 1789–1790—even by Brissot, a man who lived from the crumbs he snatched from the tables of the titled great, and even when the more worldly and younger nobles of Paris and Versailles had repeatedly shown themselves to be the manifestly more liberal at the Estates-General than their troglodytic country cousins. In that same mode, it is worth noting that in 1793–1794, the most victimized of all nobles—both male and female—were parliamentary aristocrats, that is to say the most enlightened and wordly patrons of arts and letters. It did not matter that many of these often-enlightened jurists were as private persons (like Hérault de Séchelles and Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau) personally liberal. In the lottery of execution, their established reputation of indifference to the public good was an insurmountable handicap.

In short, by 1789, in many noble and nonnoble minds alike, the newer categories of private and of public (like those that defined the male or female) took precedence over the older distinctions of estates and corps as the structuring elements of l'imaginaire social . Rousseau, Thomas, Diderot, Mme. d'Epinay, and countless others pondered the question of woman's nature. And implicit in the background of the frequently raised question, "What is woman?" was, as has been said, the more dreaded if silent theme, "What is


man?"[12] Where did his self begin and end? Could it fully express itself in privatized social life? The emphatic declaration of man's rights and responsibilities in August 1789 can be read as an answer to hidden, unstated questions of gender as well as to the more explicit dilemmas of public politics.


The question inevitably arises of the social and economic origins of this new and soon to be politicized cultural world view. Was 1789 the more or less efficient machine de guerre of the nascent and irresistible French bourgeoisie, a frustrated, increasingly prosperous and antinoble group with a narrow if distinct cultural and economic configuration? Or was it instead a broader cultural upheaval, staged by a wide and educated public with divergent interests and materially unreformed origins?

To go one step further, can the Revolution be conceived as the well-nigh doomed effort of a socially heterogenous elite to institutionalize (in the face of historical legacy and popular resistance) a radically new and complementary, highly volatile and even self-destructive view of the private self and the social self? Generations of Marxist historians assumed that revolutionary politics were the necessary effect of antecedent social and economic change. Many historians would now wish to turn that assumption on its head: revolutionary politics failed precisely because the culture of the elites did not supply a solid material foundation.

The supposed material origins of Enlightenment thought are well known. Who would choose to ignore the strains caused by population growth or minimize increases in the volume of trade with the development of a comprador economy, on the Atlantic coast especially? Of relevance also are the rise of the national debt and the increased circulation of money. Many other factors of this type have been closely investigated: that is, the stabilization of the currency after 1724; improved communications under the aegis of the state and its trained employees; the gradual displacement of sharecropping by leaseholding (in Babeuf's Picardy, at least); incipient regional specialization and industrialization; the standardization of prices within an incipiently national market; introduction of new crops; and so forth. A century of excellent and relentless research allows an impressive extension of this point of view. Much is to be learned also from the material evolution of the French nation's constituent groups: pressed for funds, many nobles, parlementaires especially, did their best to revive lapsed and antique feudal dues. French peasants suffered especially: more numerous, unwilling or unable to go abroad or to leave the land for cities where the demand for labor was low, many of them were caught in a cruel bind between rising prices and an essentially unchanging productivity. Beggary was widespread, and much feared, in prerevolutionary urban and rural France.


But few historians of the Revolution would choose today to make of these transformations the determining base of some epiphenomenal cultural or political superstructure. The older arguments will not hold. The rhythm of cultural change far outstripped that of its material analog: in the main, France in 1789 was still as it had always been, a collection of "immobile villages." Unlike London, Paris was primarily an administrative center that grew relatively little in the eighteenth century, and which remained more focused on the production of luxury goods than on modern industry or international commerce. The creation of the Bank of England in 1694 antedates that of the Bank of France by more than a century. The relative immaturity in the eighteenth century of French private and state finance (and the attendant importance of foreign Protestant and Swiss bankers like those honest brokers, Necker and Clavière) needs no emphasis. Their presence speaks loudly to the relative financial backwardness of the French economy.

It is of great consequence that the French bourgeoisie, much of it marked by Jansenism, was, like the great majority also of French working people, visibly uninterested in the capitalist applications of the laws of supply and demand. Unlike the American and English political elites of the times, the French revolutionary political class had its roots in the professions, in law above all else, and not in business. The mercantile interest was socially marginal in France before 1789, and politically marginal after that as well in the nation's Assemblies, after 1791 especially.

Economic travails were often the catalyst of political radicalization after 1789, and especially for the urban poor; but they were never its first cause. The execution of the king was, for example, more relevant to the surge of the enragés in the spring of 1793 than was the competition of the army and the urban poor for scarce and more expensive food.

It is for reasons of this kind ultimately futile and even misleading to find the origins of cultural change in the material transformations of French society. Material change coincided with the cracking of the cake of custom, but it was more a sign than a cause of that event. The cardinal principles of the French Enlightenment have to be understood as a terminus ad quem, as the "vectors of new perceptions of reality,"[13] rather than as the mere consequence of some deeper cause. In the postrevolutionary words of Roederer, the institutions of the Ancien Régime were more injurious than they were onerous. A century of materialist explanation needs to be reinterpreted and transcended.

Unfortunately, historians who agree that the origins of the Revolution were more cultural than material have also found it extremely difficult to discuss these origins in a convincing way. The counting of books is a disappointing lode. Ideologically undiscriminating tabulations—which are of necessity sterile intellectually—ordinarily reveal the surprising (and of course deceptive) conservatism of the reading public.


An emphasis on the seamier side of the Enlighterment (that is to say, the reification rather than the interpretation of pornography) is likewise problematic, especially when a historiographical choice of this kind is, as it were, "institutionalized": it is highly conjectural to hypostasize the existence of a French Grub Street, of a supposed self-conscious milieu of scribblers and pamphleteers, many of whom in actual fact were either courtiers or the isolated hired pens of high-flying polemicists. Developed networks of information certainly existed even before the Revolution: on September 19, 1783, over a hundred thousand Parisians, forming perhaps the largest crowd that had ever been seen in France, knew that they should go to Versailles in order to witness the ascent of Montgolfier's hot-air balloon. To ignore the journalistic mediatization of information during the French Revolution would be very unwise: Hébert, Roux, Marat, Brissot, Desmoulins, Robespierre, and Mirabeau were all journalists of a kind. The creation of a typographical school run by women and for women is surely one of the most indicative faits-divers of the Revolution. But the torrent of the French Revolution cannot be plausibly presented as the subcategory of frustrated prerevolutionary journalistic ambition. Marat's Plan de Législation Criminelle of 1779 was certainly incendiary, but as his doctrinaire and Marxist biographer, Massin, interestingly points out, Marat was then at the height of his social success, and the radicalization of his polemical ideas owed more to the recent successes of America's revolutionaries than to his private concerns.

Far more critical in the background of cultural change than these pamphleteers was the emergence in enlightened France of "public opinion" as an accepted point of reference. The Republic of letters, it has often been suggested, was an antecedent of republicanism sans phrases. But public opinion was understood by all (including the hired hacks who tried to influence it through scurrilous text and image) to be the expression of the nation's renewed elite, and not of its marginal members at all. Symbolically, the first apologist of this "reine du monde" was Necker, minister to the king, a religious man who remained, in the end, more a partisan of enlightened despotism than of parliamentary monarchy sans phrases.

Institutional and political antecedents also appear promising as a possible cause of deep-seated cultural transformations. High on that list are the modernizing effects of the Ancien Régime itself, its leveling effect on "feudalism," a development whose consequences are well known to the readers of Tocqueville. The names of Lebrun, a client of Maupeou in the early 1770s who became second consul in 1799, and that of the future Baron Louis (in the 1780s a friend of Calonne and, many years later, himself a minister of finance) are eloquent symbols of the modernizing and official continuity that links the so-called Old Regime to the admittedly streamlined Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic state. The Bourbon monarchy did not succeed in modernizing French social institutions, but it did a great deal to make older arrangements obsolete.


More critical yet as possible causes for the rise of a new private and public vision of the common good are explanations that center less on the external forces (be they material, cultural, or political) that attacked traditional corporatism in France, than on the internal decay of that ancient system.

For a variety of reasons, many of them related to the French state's incessant need for money, the prestige of judicial and administrative traditionalism vanished as its scope increased. In some sense, traditionalist institutions in monarchic France simply collapsed under their own weight. (In Spain, a "backward" country, professional corporatism was by 1789 much more lightly felt than in France: women there had been given the right to enter any profession of their choice already in 1784; the venality of offices was unkown south of the Pyrénées; and outside of Catalonia, the institutions of provincial particularism were as a rule politically inconsequential.)

Behind the decay in France of corporatism and monarchic traditionalism was also to be found the self-destructing bent of its constituent institutions. Feudalism, as Tocqueville emphasized, no longer fullfilled any useful purpose. Its judicial and financial vestiges were bitterly criticized by many noble and official publicists. Guilds likewise neared collapse under the strains of internal rivalries. The momentary unpopularity of a church that rejected both tolerance and millenarian zeal has often been described but needs to be emphasized: the French in the 1780s were a religious people whose religiosity was dangerously incapable of finding expression in a church that had simultaneously rejected popular millenarianism and the enlightened individuation of religious forms. The humiliation of Jansenism, for example, was still deeply felt in 1789, as was to be attested by the careers of Grégoire and Lanjuinais. The Catholic church on the eve of the Revolution was a troubled institution, more torn by doubts than at any time since the Reformation: perhaps as many as twenty thousand clerics abjured their priesthood in 1793–1794, and three thousand of them chose to marry.

The weakness of the monarchy and the decline of its patriarchal myth in an age of incipient nationalism were also critically relevant to the rise of a countervailing political ethic. Though France in 1685 brought the idea of absolute monarchy to its European zenith, the prestige of enlightened despotism as a method of government was weaker in late eighteenth-century France than in any other continental country. By the 1780s, and perhaps long before, literate Frenchmen had given up on the idea of "reform from above." The servants of the French king were no more efficacious than their master: unlike its Prussian analog, the French bureaucracy was incapable of sustained and independent political action. Important also were diplomatic difficulties and the inability of the French state to maintain armed forces commensurate with its international goals.

Nationalist passions can likewise be seen as both a cause and effect of change. The growing prestige (and masculinization) of public life heightened the sense of nationhood. Nationalism in turn reinforced the new categories of


the private and the public. The elite of the French nation, with its eye on Britain's domestic economic achievement and her mortifying, worldwide military successes, resented the inability of the Bourbon state to marshal the energies of the French people. As has been remarked, the subjects of Louis XV and of his grandson had a lively—and grating—sense of French economic backwardness and of Britain's military, industrial, commercial, financial, and imperialist superiority. Bonaparte spoke knowingly when he said that the victory of Fontenoy had given the French monarchy an extra forty-five years of life, but it did no more than that.

The fit between domestic and international concerns was tight: the failure of the crown's bureaucracy to enact institutional modernization at home dovetailed in the public mind with its failure to impose its will on foreigners, as was seen in Holland especially in 1787. The waning prestige of this "visible hand," the decay of the mercantilist/absolutist state, crystallized the rising appeal in the minds of French men and women of new sensibilities, soon to become demanding systems of ideology. Some of these, like physiocracy, emphasized individualistic economic effort. Others, in the works of Mably for example, emphasized communitarian values. But all of them were ecumenical visions that assumed the possible creation of a transparent state, of an "invisible hand," that might effortlessly express the will of a united people.


Revolutionary politics can also be explained in this same cultural and institutional framework, as an unprecedented and unrepeatable drama, a unique if ominous performance whose backdrop was the unstable reshaping of the nation's collective identity before 1789.

The political trajectory after 1789 of the nation's possessing notables and of their intellectualized clients—some rich, some poor—all of them moving in uneasy and shrinking accord with the plebs of Paris, cannot be explained as a "superstructural" event. Revolutionary politics were not some impoverished effect that corresponded mechanically to some neatly labeled layering of capitalist society. (The sequence, we might add, ordinarily runs,

1. organicist, landowning nobles;

2. high, "grand-bourgeois" Feuillant constitutionalist;

3. upper-middle-class Voltairean Girondins;

4. middle-class Rousseauist Jacobins; and

5. the anticlerial plebs, itself split between (5b ) the Hébertist petite-bourgeoisie and (5c ) the more populist and democratic enragés.)

Pedagogically useful as this nomenclature may at first appear, it is however more sensible to envisage the events of the 1790s without reference to some supposed prerevolutionary structure of class. Politics were the signs of the decomposition of an initial cultural and political consensus that was


centered on an unstable vision of the self and society. It may well be that without accidents of routine politics (war, shortages, betrayals) the claims of revolutionary unanimism would not have unfolded as characteristically as they did. But in revolutionary times, difficulties of some kind are bound to emerge. Some revolutions succumb to unforeseen events, and others not. What matters in the end is more the inner logic of political assumptions than the nature of the serendipitous happenings that catalyze its emergence.

L'esprit révolutionnaire matters more than the events that brought it forward, and this spirit eventually proved to be unstable, violent, and tyrannical. Although the right of all (male) citizens to pluralist self-expression was theoretically recognized in the Constitution of 1791 (just as the more dramatic right to insurrection was likewise to be enshrined in the unapplied Constitution of 1793), the more fundamental vision shared by all the revolutionaries was that of a united, romanized cité in which regenerated individuals might find self-fulfillment as citizen—warriors struggling to maintain a unanimous and wholly politicized nation—state.

In the words of Le Chapelier, who was to be in rapid succession a founder and a bitter enemy of Jacobinism, "ll n'y a plus de corporations dans l'Etat; il n'y a plus que l'intérêt particulier de chaque individu, et l'intérêt général."

Regenerated by liberty, French men and women, though in fact hardly prepared to give up the day-to-day benefits and security of a corporatist world order, thought themselves on the verge of a new epoch: "L'ídée du bonheur," Saint-Just was to explain in 1794, "est neuve en Europe." Emancipated from the theoretical constraints of corporate life but unafraid of class tensions whose full impact they could not yet apprehend, the French gave unbridled scope to their social imagination, and to their lyric enthusiasm. At the stroke of a pen, law codes were abolished and new territorial arrangements drawn up. Language, religion, education, marriage were all to be reformed. Everything seemed possible for the better in 1789, and, as it happened, for the worse in 1794.

In the minds of its framers, the new revolutionary and universalist state was ultimately to guarantee the natural rights of all men (as against the American system of 1787 whose purpose was to defend the positive rights of enfranchised men). At the same time, the French obsession on the unity of the state's political purpose gradually but inexorably eroded a concern for the civic rights of individual citizens.

At first, in 1789–1791, civil society seemed more important than the state but, by 1793–1794, the revolutionary definition of sovereignty placed civil society at the mercy of the state, very much as Bodin had advised should be so and as Hobbesian or Ludovician, monarchic absolutism had also assumed to be true.[14] By placing the nation between the citizen and the exercise of his natural rights, the French possessing class in August 1789 set the stage for that very decomposition of individual liberties that it most feared.

In the first months of the Revolution, the new individualist and univer-


salist ethic (l'esprit révolutionnaire) with its mix of the private (symbolized by women) and of the public (the realm of the warrior-citizen) found an almost universal audience among the members of the French educated and possessing class, some of them nobles, and others not. Politically, after the initial difficulties of June and July 1789, "right" and "left," that is to say, at this point, both monarchists and constitutionalists, whether nobles or nonnobles, whether owners of feudal dues or enlightened reformers (many people in fact cumulated these two roles), were in basic accord on the practicalities of reform. The defeated and "unmasked" parlements had lost all credibility. The liberality of the nobles' cahiers de doléances is well known. It seems highly likely that most of the noble-born were in August and September of 1789 resigned or, in thousands of cases, even enthusiastic about the new order of politics.

In the early fall of 1789, right and left (somewhat misnamed in this early context since these terms arose only in 1792 when the earlier equilibrium of 1789 had broken down) differed only in the emphasis they gave to the constituent part of the newly politicized cultural synthesis: some of the actors in 1789–1790 were more eager to ignore the past in order to develop both the new individuated rights of private persons and of the universalist, Grande Nation. Others thought it prudent to meld their novel sense of what the public/private should be with the rhetorical legacy of the Ancien Régime. But nearly everyone looked for some compromise between the old and the new systems, between the legacy of the past, of king, church, and nobles (when taken as private persons), and the integrated values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Preferences were not everywhere the same, but the numbers of genuinely reactionary, organicist emigrés could in 1789 be nearly counted on the fingers of one hand. In 1789–1790, conservatives—like Cazalès and Royou—were Enlightenment figures of a kind who accepted the need for institutional reform and popular consultation.

And on the side of change, during these same early years, even ardent Jacobins were convinced monarchists, amis de la Constitution , respectful of religion and tepid in their application of the new legislation on the abolition of feudal dues. "Revolutionizing" Republicans in 1790 were as scarce as were the organicist conservatives. Louis XVI was probably more popular in 1789–1790 than any French monarch had ever been. In short, the cleavage of politics in 1789–1790 was set first within the new and ecumenical definition of private/public culture, of individualism effortlessly entwined with communitarian forms; and second within the monarchic legacy of French history.

Only later did dissenting actors set themselves outside that double context. It was only with the breakdown of consitutional monarchy in 1791–1792, and only then, that the initial arrangements broke down on two fronts. The right—prompted as it was by the civil constitution of the clergy, the abolition of nobility, and the humiliation of the monarch—did indeed regress


to religious integrism on a trajectory that would soon lead it to political organicism. And the popular left simultaneously advanced from a rejection of individualism in economic life toward an embryonic and organicist consciousness of class that was best expressed by Babeuf in 1796.

But in early 1790, no one even remotely suspected that either one of these upheavals was in the making. In Sieyès's initial and highly representative world view, the nation-state (wholly sovereign to be sure, but—for the moment and practically speaking—nearly invisible) and its empowered citizens were not to be separated by any kind of institution of any kind. Jews (from Bordeaux) were given complete equality as private individuals and resolutely denied a collective existence as "a nation within the nation." The situation of nobles and of the nobility was similarly envisaged. The French state was to be at once universal and invisible: it might monopolize the realm of collective representation but, practically speaking, it was to remain a cipher. Sieyès even argued against the suppression by the state of tithes.

Existing material arrangements, including even many feudal dues, were not immediately affected by the assertion of the new individualist-universalist state. As Sieyès, again, explained in September 1789, France was not and could not yet be a democracy. The material ordering of civil society was, in the main, left untouched, even though the subjects of the French king were now declared to be the citizens of a fraternal state. With the Le Chapelier law, as shall be seen, the revolutionary state agreed merely to enforce contracts whose individuated terms it had no right to shape. It would likewise eventually passively agree to dissolve the marriages of childless and consenting adults on their request. Significantly, the Jacobin clubs, which claimed to embody a hegemonic Public Opinion, simultaneously presented their associations as groups of atomized individuals whose natural, selfevident task was merely to be the mouthpiece of a preexisting, single, public, and national will.

By the summer and fall of 1791, however, Jacobins moved away from the first part of their initial stance. Their desire to find a compromise between the old and the new atrophied and died. They had wished at first to nationalize church and king, just as they had been eager to compensate the owners of abolished feudal dues. But after the king's flight to Varennes in June 1791 which was after the fact condoned by many Constituent deputies, the Jacobins realized that they alone truly expressed the sovereignty of the people. The clubs would have to supplant the Assembly politically in order to transform society, institutionally and culturally, through censorship and, if need be, Terror.

But the second facet of their world view remained unchanged. To the bitter end, Jacobins were to be resolute in their determination to uphold their vision of the empowered, politicized male citizen within an empowered and wholly sovereign nation. Jacobinism was first and foremost the ideologized


and Janus-faced quintessence of l'esprit révolutionnaire, at once bourgeois and universalist.

The Jacobins never wavered in their opposition to "factions" and to selfish and sectarian, feminized aristocracies (not to be confused with nobles). Jacobins were unbending in their defense of civic equality whose claims were still lightly felt in 1789–1791. Political parties were wholly foreign to their way of thinking, and the clubs persistently presented themselves not as a particularist association at all, but as the united hierophants of mankind. In the subsequent words of Saint-Just, Jacobins were later to become a conscience publique , the apostles of a national will that had proved to be less self-conscious than they had at first assumed.

Uncompromisingly national and unbendingly individualistic, Jacobins were also, and of necessity, rigidly antipluralist. The original, federal and Madisonian American solution of 1787, which also sought to blend private interest and public good, did not and could not have many echoes in the Grande Nation. Surprisingly, the Federalist Papers were translated into French by a friend of the painter David in 1792. (Madison, Hamilton, and Gay were even awarded honorary French citizenship in 1793!) But Louis Sébastien Mercier, a polymath linguist, a member of the Cercle Social, and a former Conventionnel , wrote of these essays that they had been hopelessly misunderstood by the Montagnards. They had failed to see, he explained, that this American text

est précisément un ouvrage contre le fédéralisme, en ce qu'il tend à ramener toutes les parties d'un état à l'unité de gouvernement, cette unité que Brissot vouloit, ainsi que nous tous, qui avons signé la proclamation aux départements pour la sûreté extérieure de la France et pour son union interne.[15]

But however statist and antipluralist they might be, the Jacobins nonetheless remained equally adamant in their defense of private property. Their universalism was at once boundless and dramatically circumscribed. Property, like women, was for them a private concern that could not be politicized. These embattled citizens were the mortal foes of the redistributive loi agraire . As private persons, the Jacobins were avid purchasers of biens nationaux but, revealingly, this desire to profit privately from the Revolution did not affect the Jacobins' conviction of being in good faith. These defenders not just of private property but of the local entrepreneur's right to rule in his own factory, these resident and ensconced officers of localized national guards, were also dedicated patriots, eager to equip—and at their own expense—those poorer citizens who had sacrificially volunteered to join the nation's warring armies. Jacobinism was fueled not only by the militant defense of private property and the strident denuciation of an impossible equality of wealth, it was ennobled also by the eulogistic glow of civic virtue. A good citizen might very well be a patriarchal and propertied father.


The critical theme of regeneration bridged for them the gap between selfishness and responsibility, both within the family and within the state.

Only regenerated and politicized citizens, they now fully understood, might uniformly realize their purified self in the state, regardless of their varying private situations as owners (or nonowners) of property. Empowered by an amour de soi that was purged of amour propre , regenerated Frenchmen would eventually form a regenerated France: "J'ai osé concevoir," wrote Lepelletier (a noble-born Jacobin) of a school designed to train the revolutionary male elites, "une plus vaste pensée [than that of mere instruction]."

[Et] considérant à quel point l'espèce humaine est dégradée par le vice de notre ancien système social, je me suis convaincu de la nécessité d'opérer une entière régénération et, si je peux m'exprimer ainsi, de créer un nouveau peuple.[16]

And should regeneration not suffice to create that sense of the private self that could realize itself fully in the public sphere, the Jacobins, unable and unwilling to reshape property relations, vigorously worked to establish equality in other realms, in education, in the ability to speak a national and equalizing language, and in the reshaping also of space and time. As Romme wrote:

Le temps ouvre un nouveau livre à l'histoire; et dans sa marche nouvelle, majestueuse et simple comme l'égalité, il doit graver d'un burin neuf les annales de la France régénérée . . . . L'ère vulgaire rut l'ère de la cruauté, du mensonge, de la perfidie, de l'esclavage; elle a fini avec la royauté, source de tous nos maux.[17]

The widely accepted revolutionary call to define as complementarily heroic both individualism and the public good (a mix that I have elsewhere described as "bourgeois universalism") found many applications in revolutionary France. It took on rhetorical substance in the prosodies and orchestrations of revolutionary fêtes, where extremely complicated scores involved the contrapuntal performances of choristers and highly trained soloists, all of them echoes of the nation's united will. The thirst for unanimity appeared also in the civic and Pantheonic cult of great and immortal individuals: bodies might turn to dust, but the people's remembrance of Barra and Viala, of Lepelletier, Chalier, and Marat could never be erased.

The collective apotheosis of the politicized and masculine self likewise explains in large part the public display of wounded bodies, the worship of fallen heroes, and the widespread fascination for the communitarian suicide of would-be legislators. Voluntary death, described by the Montagnard Conventionnel Lequinio as "l'acte le plus libre," was everywhere perceived, from royalist right to the populist, Babouvian left, by all actors of the revolutionary drama, as both the supreme assertion of the Faustian self and as a triumphant act of civic education. Even Pâris, the royalist assassin of Le Peletier who had voted the death of Louis XVI, mimetically killed himself. Republi-


can schoolchildren were given as their models the voluntary deaths of Barra and Viala, the exemplary and fallen child heroes of revolutionary war and civil war. (A festival to commemmorate the death of Barra had been scheduled for 10 Thermidor.) Staged and exemplary suicide was a model of death and becoming that appealed to Girondins like Condorcet or Mme. Roland (who did not actually kill themselves) and to Buzot, Roland, Clavière, and Pétion who did; to Montagnards like Saint-Just and Robespierre, who waited for execution, and to Lebas or the "martyrs de prairial" who chose to take their own lives; to Babeuf who stabbed himself in the dock at Vendôme, and to Doctor Bach who chose to end his days mutely at the foot of Liberty's statue on the Place de la Révolution, shortly after Bonaparte's successful and liberticide, military coup.

So was it also that Charlotte Corday's suicidal and deeply irrational murder of Marat (a figure whose private life was itself consumed by revolutionary struggle and who had threatened to fire a bullet in his brain on the very floor of the Convention) should have been particularly troubling for the dedicated, male revolutionaries of the day: Corday's Plutarchian and politicized determination inverted their deepest public expectations, just as Marat's vulnerable, exposed, naked and bathing body inverted centuries of iconographic clichés. (The Républicaines Révolutionnaires, who more than any others orchestrated Marat's burial, insistently carried his tub in their processions.)

Corday's was a sacrificial and heroic gesture: this, the Jacobins could easily understand. But the death and transfiguration of this young woman also formed and, to their intense dismay, became an archetypally masculine statement. Corday's desire to save republican France from Marat was doubly defiant, politically and sexually. It is hardly coincidental that after her execution, Corday's body was anatomically examined, in David's presence, in the hope that she might not have been a virgin: the idea of a doubly public woman would have been more easily encompassed.

The Jacobin's expected fusion of the private and of the public explains also the deeper nature of the d'Allarde and Le Chapelier laws in the late spring of 1791, laws that abolished all associations and therefore served, as Marx correctly explained, to clear the decks of French society for the elaboration in the next century of individualistic capitalism and industrialization.

In some obvious sense, of course, the motivation of this legislation lay in the plain defense of the manufacturer's immediate interest: banal strikebreaking is a meaningful aspect of the story. But the deeper point of these laws related instead to the expectation that the invisible hand that governed social relations would effortlessly reconcile the private and the public good in business and in industry as it had already done in high politics and in the family. Symbolically, Desmoulins opined in 1791 that this abolition of


the guilds would thrill the poor: "Il y aura des illuminations dans les mansardes."[18]

An analogy can be drawn here between the expected complementarity of monetized life, which Le Chapelier assumed would soon take shape, and the meritocratic fraternity of military life. Heroic authority was in its original intent exemplarily democratic. The careers of Napoleon's future marshals after 1800 started from the belief in 1793 that the unquestioned lead of elected officers would reinforce the fraternal democracy of military life.

That industrialism, Bonapartism, and a sexist Code Civil emerged as the unforeseen consequences of revolutionary individualist/universalist action is not to deny the thoughtfulness of the Jacobins' original impulses.

The year 1789 was a unique (and thrilling) moment of cultural and political optimism, a bonne nouvelle , coming as it did at the unfettered and libertarian, liberating intersection between the old and new structurings of French social life; that is to say, at a unique moment never to be repeated, when the constraints of "traditionalism" had lapsed, and when those of bourgeois modernity were not yet felt: Jacobinism was an ilusión , in the two senses of that Spanish word.

But these new constraints did surface, of course, and with a frightful vengeance made worse for initial misunderstandings. The ferocity of 1794 gives us the measure of the headiness of 1789, when "to be young was very heaven."

Inexorably, as events revealed the heretofore unsuspected extent of egoism and aristocratie , the sphere of the public began to devour the realm of what was to have been private. With the Club des Citoyennes Républicaines Révolutionnaires, women struggled to emerge into the public sphere. With the maximum, the sanctity of private property was questioned by the sansculottes. The Jacobins had brought into being that which they most feared.

Revolutionary praxis shook Jacobinism to its foundations. In their initial conceptions, especially as regarded the rights of private property, the Constituents had assumed, in their practice at least, that civil society was to be an immanent form. The purpose of politics was to make possible the transcendence but not the transformation of social forms, once feudalism had been abolished.

Nonetheless, the logic of the Jacobins' argument on the nature of the public good and of its relationship to private virtue, gradually led the Constituents or their Jacobin successors dictatorially to place a still unvirtuous (and rebellious) society at the disposal of the state that they now controlled.

The Jacobins soon found themselves to be the unwitting instruments of social and economic changes with which they could not cope; but even before these appeared, the first of the structural problems that sapped the dictatorialized, individualist/universalist synthesis of the propertied revolutionaries


was, very simply, the hopeless irrelevance of their vision of state and society to the lives and sufferings of most French men and women.

Jacobin cultural construct might please educated, enlightened, and propertied individuals—most of them, obviously, bourgeois, but many of them nobles (like Lafayette, the Lameths, Talleyrand, Condorcet, the Le Pelletiers [one a murdered Montagnard, the other a Babouvist], Antonelle, Hérault, Barras, Soubrany, and countless others). But in spite of this, Jacobinism bore little relevance to the daily life of ordinary people, if only because the constitutionalists quickly excluded millions of "passive" citizens from their universalist pact. Indeed, it is a measure of the unpopularity of traditional corporatism and the Old Regime (as it is also of the Patriotic party's control of word and image) that, in May and June 1789, the deputies of the Third Estate who represented the interest of a fraction of the nation's population should have effortlessly succeeded in presenting themselves as the spokesmen of a united and embattled people.

The appeal of the new ethic was very narrow. Most French peasants (and according to William Reddy, much of the French bourgeoisie as well!) were deeply suspicious of the laws of the market. Their rationality was focused on the private survival of their family as a group, rather than on their public prosperity as producers. Bourgeois individualism and republican universalism, defined as they were in relationship to property, held an especially small promise for women and especially for peasant women (surely a third of the nation's inhabitants) who proved to be the least prorevolutionary of all French social groups, as well they might be since now doubly disenfranchised as both females and nonowners of property. Even propertied and enlightened women were very ambiguously situated to the calls of republican public life—as Mme. Roland would discover—since their role was to support it from afar: "Restez à vos places," explained Amar to the Citoyennes Républicaines Révolutionnaires, "ne sortez point de vos demeures . . . . Il ne faut pas qu'un ménage reste un seul instant désert."[19]

More troubling yet were the many politically unforeseen and problematic implications of republican universalism. Conceived as negation, and for that reason practically defined less in its own right than as the antithesis of the principles of the Ancien Régime, revolutionary universalism created unexpected difficulties for itself at every step. The inclusion of Jews and of Protestants especially had certainly been one of its stated goals before 1789; but very few universalist public figures before that date had given sustained thought to its implications for the freed gens de couleurs in the colonies, not to speak of black slaves. Indeed, the universalist message, as Jacques Revel has pointed out, created political problems where none had existed before, with speakers of dialects for example, or with Jews, again, who had been a fragmented and unimportant corps before 1789 but now became a more homogeneous "nation within the nation." Freemasonry was an eccentricity


that a sated and avuncular Ancien Régime could easily tolerate. Catholicism was a universalist system that revolutionary Jacobinism was bound to deny.

But the acid test of the Jacobins' universalist zeal was of course in the answer they gave to the wholly unexpected claims of the urban poor, and more particularly of the politicized Parisian poor, male and female, who were given unprecedented prominence by their ability to coerce a recentralized French state, by the factional instability of revolutionary politics, by the eroding effect of depreciating paper currency in 1793, and by the ensuing competition for bread between Paris and the army in that same year.

Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Here was the cleavage that was to define the French bourgeoisie after 1794, and which in 1792 already—after the September massacres especially—began to separate the formerly united and revolutionary party. In late 1792–1793, the patriots of 1789 split in two. On the losing side were the warmongering Girondins, ensconced in power, who had seen the handwriting of class on the wall and who were now desperate to stop the Revolution in order to preserve it. Many of them were lawyers and, in order to justify their stand, these jurists easily rediscovered the words of freedom and choice (and free enterprise) which they had so recently forgotten. Principle was to be sure at the heart of their politics but only in the sense that the Girondins genuinely wished eventually to save a Revolution that they identified with their place within it. In order to reach that greater and more distant goal, the short-run opportunism of the Girondins was boundless. Their transparent calculations gave great offense.

Arraigned against them were their former brethren, the opposing and more principled Montagnards who, despite the reality of sans-culotte demands, persisted in their still-powerful if increasingly irrelevant universalist vision of a harmonious public good. Here was an idealistic goal whose pursuit after the September massacres now implied the endorsement of horrendous popular violence. In the spring of 1793, the uncertain but republican deputies of the Plaine settled the issue between the two groups by choosing for the more determined Mountagnards.

Contrary to what most Marxist and even anti-Marxist historians have supposed, the Jacobin "patriots"—Girondins and Montagnards—had originally been all of one mind, and in the main of one social origin as well. Many of them had been close friends (Marat and Brissot, Robespierre and Desmoulins). In 1793, what distinguished Robespierre from Brissot was less a difference in the origins or nature of their political and universalist/ individualist culture, than the timing of their ultimately similar responses to the threat from below. Robespierre's hostility in the fall of 1793 to the dechristianization that was urged by the sans-culottes clearly echoed the Girondins dismay after the September massacres of 1792. And looking forward, the Incorruptible's denunciation of Chaumette and Fouché likewise prefigured the Thermidorean reaction of 1795.


The gap in 1793 between former and current Jacobins (i.e., Girondins and Montagnards) basically occurred because the Revolution failed in ways that none had expected could occur since their first and united animosity had been overwhelmingly focused on the destruction of the Old Regime. In principle, all Jacobins from Barnave to Saint-Just were in rough agreement: all of them had started in 1789 from the assumption that in their great crusade, private and public goals could easily be fused. Nearly all of them were hostile to the involvement of women in politics. None of them were particularly sympathetic to money or modern industry: Sieyès did admire Adam Smith's exposition of the advantages that might accrue from the division of labor, but went on to apply that principle not to social life but to politics (Rousseau had been wrong; deputies like himself, he thought, fully represented the nation at large; the task of voters was to vote, and that of representatives was to represent).

The inability of the propertied revolutionaries of all hues to resolve the gap between their universalist vision of transparent social forms and the reality of Parisian popular life strikes us with hindsight as having been little less than inexorable. We see the inevitability of the debate between Montagne and Gironde on what should be done with the Parisian sans-culottes. But to the participants, that same gap came as a complete surprise. That the Revolution would only be able to go forward with the help of the self-assertive Parisian plebs was something that few observers had foreseen, even in the summer of 1792.

In May and June 1793, with the help of the sans-culottes and of their enragés spokesmen and women (on whom he turned at once), Robespierre made good his universalist claims against the Girondins. In October 1793, women's societies were shut down. Vendean counterrevolution was destroyed. The nation in arms repulsed its foreign enemies. But Robespierre's system was deeply at odds with itself. The problem of Jacobinism was less in its ability to crush its opponents than in resolving its own contradictions. It was possible to institutionalize momentarily both the death penalty for partisans of the Loi Agraire and the decrees of Ventôse, which, in the version of Saint-Just, held out the possibility of land redistribution. But it was impossible to reconcile durably the conflicting goals that Jacobinism desperately sought to unite.

In 1789–1791, the various conflicting pieces of the Jacobin world view were easily fitted into a seamless whole. In 1793–1794, these arrangements decomposed. Jacobins as private persons continued to purchase biens nationaux while eulogizing the poor whom they simultaneously terrorized; but their professions of faith that had met at first with nearly universal approval gradually came to elicit nearly universal detestation. In late March 1794, Robespierre managed to execute the Hébertists who wished to use the sans-culottes to push the Terror forward. In early April, he executed


the Dantonistes who wished for the Terror to stop. But by this time, Robespierre had few friends left. In the words of Saint-Just, the Revolution was "frozen."

In 1789–1791, even prudent social conservatives like Barnave, Lameth, and Mirabeau had been Jacobins, but in the hour of their trimuph, in 1794, Jacobins were very thin on the ground. Even before the fall of Robespierre in July, attendance in the clubs fell off. Jacobinism had been an irresistible political movement in 1791–1794, but it nearly vanished, and without much struggle, in late 1794–1795. Robespierre's system was less overthrown than it was unable to stand the weight of its contradictions: in the unstable Jacobin ideology of 1793–1794, the vision of the public good could no longer encompass both the defense of individualist property on the right, and the sansculottes' growing material and communitarian claims on the left.

Though by no means impossible in theory, this mix had become practically impossible in the spring of Year II. The differences that the philosophes had indolently thought republican politics might sublimate had in actual fact become wholly impossible to manage. Recourse to violence and Terror now came instinctively to frustrated statesmen who as private persons may well have been shocked by the physicality of violence and physical punishment, but whose first political concern had become the destruction of their myriad and ever more numerous enemies.

Inexorably, tragically, and to the dismay and even disbelief of its votaries, the Jacobin phantasmagoria had become an oppressive and murderous nightmare. In Vergniaud's words, the Revolution, like Saturn, devoured its own firstborn.

Taine conceptualized Jacobinism as the collective aspiration of revolutionary psychopaths, but it is more fruitful to see the clubistes , or many of them at least, in Derridian terms as the "sites" of conflicting forces whose deeper structures they could not grasp. True, many Jacobins, like Brissot, were consciously and outrageously manipulative; but contemporary accounts of conscious motivation are of curiously limited use in the understanding of French revolutionary politics. They do convey powerfully the amazement of admiring or horrified spectators; but it often happens that their frequently personalized accounts (Marat's cruelty, Robespierre's intransigence, Danton's audacity) are conceptually impoverished.

In any instance, by 1795, most Jacobins had come to regret their past. Men can learn from their mistakes. After 1794 (with the exception of the more obdurate, and much to be admired, communitarian "Martyrs de prairial," who were executed in 1795) all of the bourgeois patriots gradually realized that their private/public phantasmagoria had failed. As François Furet has aptly written, on 9 Thermidor, society recaptured politics. Going one step further, one might see in the drama of Robespierre's fall the birth pang of French civil society in modern times. Social fact, now conceptualized


as an entity in its own right, triumphed over utopian hope. The revolutionary definition of legitimacy (i.e., the simultaneous pursuit of the rights of man in a universalist and even terroristic state) lost all significance, and the Thermidoreans were left with their threadbare claims as wielders of established and Republican legality,[20] a much-eroded concept that they themselves continued to violate in a tragicomic series of militarized coups from 1797 to 1799.

After having fallen away, bit by bit, from Jacobin orthodoxy in 1792–1794, the revolutionaries gradually reentered, bit by bit, in 1795–1797, a new and decidedly conservative Thermidorean consensus that merely parrotted the heroic republicanism of Year II.

In 1791, on Robespierre's motion, the deputies of the Constituent Assembly had selflessly (and uniquely) declared themselves ineligible for reelection; in 1795, the Conventionnels selfishly ruled that two-thirds of their number would have to be included by the voters in the new assembly. Inevitably, the enemies of Robespierre, himself much hated, also lost whatever popular audience Jacobinism may have had—and beyond the limits of southeastern France that audience had never been too large. A politicized fear of the demanding poor now became the generalized catalyst of middle-class, nationalistic, and persecutory, anti-clerical republican politics, a system that desperately tried to stake an ever-shrinking, propagandistic middle ground, between royalist aristocrats on the right and impenitent buveurs de sang or anarchistes on the left. As a title, De la Force du gouvernement et de la nécessité de s'y rallier of 1795 is Benjamin Constant's unwitting and comic masterstroke.

The Thermidoreans' reassertion of social structures as the matrix of political action, or, restated, the claims of bourgeois civil society to construe the nature of private contracts as it saw fit, had many lamentable effects for all socially marginal groups, especially after the seizure of power by that modern and unprincipled condottierre, Napleone de Buonaparte: slavery was reimposed; husbands whose wives committed adultery in their legal domiciles acquired the legal right to murder delinquent couples should they be found in flagrante delicto. In any dispute, the word of the employer was always to matter more than that of his employee. Property became the focus of the Code Civil: employers managed it; workers did not have it; wives entrusted it to their husbands.

Overall, the historical loss was great, but the diminution of the public sphere did have one positive effect, namely the tentative expulsion of Terror and of murderous violence from routine politics.

The institutionalization of social transparency in May-June 1789 (that is to say, the breakup of a society of Estates) marked the instantaneous escalation of both popular and middle-class violence: a great gap distinguishes the classic, church-king popular violence of the Réveillon riots in April 1789 from the ghastly decapitations and eviscerations that occurred in July 1789 after the fall of the Bastille. Barnave's celebrated "ce sang était-il si pur?" of


this same epoch also comes to mind. It is hardly fortuitous that the most egregious instance of popular violence—the September massacres—and of the middle-class violence—the Terror—should have coincided with the sudden and renewed, desperate assertion of republican classlessness, with its attendant collapse of traditionalist restraints.

So was it also, if from the other shore, that the reassertion of punitive social forms in 1795—now become those not of ancient Estates and order, but of modernizing social class—marked both the abrupt end of popular violence and the simultaneous, militarization and legalistic codification of republican violence.

The same collapse of accepted social categories that had made possible the lyricism of 1789, also transformed mild and ordinary individuals into persecutory tribunes, whose ability to punish was deployed by their detestation of anticivic "factions" and conspiracies. Good and evil were mixed without precedent in the minds of the Jacobins.

The destruction of restraints made ennobling heroism and self-sacrifice possible, but so did it simultaneously engender debasing cruelty. Marat's personality speaks to this bizarre mix of motives: kind in his personal relations, Marat protected some of his political enemies (like Lanthenas and Théroigne de Méricourt), and, as has been said, the man was deeply admired by the Républicaines Révolutionnaires of Claire Lacombe. But Marat was also the pathological apologist of blind execution, the apologist of the September massacres, a man who could and did arouse murderous and irresistible hatred.

The lifting in the summer of 1789 of man's mind-forged manacles was not without its costs. The revolutionaries had fully intended to banish not just violence but madness and "un-reason" from their regenerated universe, as Barère explained in Messidor of the Year II. During the Terror, however, the guillotine became a worshiped fetish, and recourse to it, a magical solution: "quand il y avait la guillotine, il y avait du pain. Et maintenant, il n'y a plus de pain."

From 1789 to 1794, ambiguities of motivation—and of morality—(like those of Marat) were common coin: in a now-celebrated pamphlet entitled Français, encore un effort! , the Marquis de Sade puckishly urged liberated Frenchmen to legalize rape and murder. After 1795, however, androgynous statements of this type became exceptions to a renewed rule of prosaic government. The decline of the Revolution's romantic imagination was also a signal for a return to law and order, however inadequate it may have been.

To paraphrase the words at once witty and profound of Marc Richir, the bourgeoisie did not (in 1789) make the Revolution. It was the failed universalist Revolution of 1793–1794 that brought into being a particularist, lawabiding, and unimaginative middle class that even privileged writers (Constant, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Baudelaire) instinctively knew to hate.


It was the varyingly perceived understanding of conceptual contradiction that sequentially forced the Jacobins of 1789 to give up, one by one, their shared and earlier vision of unshackled private interests effortlessly reconciled to unrestrained public good.


Finally, the politics of the French Revolution also mark the beginnings of the history of modern France. We read forward to the Revolution from the shape of republicanism broadly defined under the Old Regime. We read forward from the revolution to the French civil wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The most distinctive effect for France of the Revolution was to disjoin its political and social trajectories for a century and a half. The iconographically varied and ubiquitous political discourse of the Jacobin Revolution, with its fascinating and, by now, much-studied representational wealth and extravagance, became a self-referential and hegemonic universe of discourse. What it did not include (that is to say, the particularisms of region, class, and gender) could not be spoken.

The most important if invisible effect of this success was to make impossible in France the political representation of the corporate values that continued to underpin much of French daily life. A great deal is implied by Napoleon's basic inability to withdraw ordinary rights of citizenship from even his weakest subjects, namely, Jews, whose outmoded, particularist, and even privatist customs he so disliked. And the Restoration was no more able to achieve on behalf of the landowning nobility as a whole what Napoleon had tried to impose on the Jews, a distinct social existence recognized by law.

To the dismay of the ultramontanes like the young Lamennais, the church under Charles X, though privileged within the post-revolutionary state, was hardly favored as a freestanding entity. The grandmaster of the post-Napoleonic university might well be a cleric, but control of education was never handed over to the church, pure and simple. And the officialized inability of the restored, neotraditional monarchy of "Charles the Simple" to recreate a corporatized France was echoed in the internalized assumptions of even those Frenchmen who ought to have been most sympathetic to its organicist world view: surprisingly, most noble-born electors in 1830 voted against the ultracisme of Charles X. Louis-Philippe, like the royalist dukes of 1871 who founded the Third Republic, could only function politically by stealing other people's leftist clothes, which they often tried to do, but with no durable success.

Though the defense of "leftist" or communitarian values in French republican doctrine was after 1795 feeble to a degree (the near travesty of Renouvier's solidarisme comes to mind), the revolutionary interdict of 1789–1791


on the political representation of "rightist" or corporate values, of church, monarchy, and nobility, remained by contrast durable and strong. The year 1789 did not durably transform the material face of the French nation, but it most certainly set its political agenda by making impossible the expression of traditional corporatism in France and to a degree that has no analog in any other European nation of the time.

The spectacular variety and richness of life within the borders of an entity called France found its principal and impoverished public image in the flattened and distorting mirror of a centralized, distant, and bureaucratic state. An esthetic analog would have been to make of official and historicizing, lêché painting the only tolerated mode of expression for the French pictorial imagination, to make of Delaroche or Gérôme, rather than Manet or Degas, the first painters of "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century." The bureaucracy of the Ancien Régime had been concerned to raise the power of the king, but the revived centralism of the French state in the nineteenth century had as its effect to reduce particularisms and culturally to assimilate a socially atomized population.

Commodity fetishism, wrote Walter Benjamin, couples the living body to the inorganic world. The stultifying memory of Jacobinism fastened the richness of French life to a passéiste and sterile understanding of the French Revolution, an understanding that resurfaced historiographically as "the Social Interpretation of the Revolution."

Equality before the law was obviously a critical conquest (and one that would elude American blacks until our own time). The French and Republican definition of civil rights was conditional in its dependence on the nation, but it was in other respects genuinely universalist. At the same time, of course, the costs of transforming "peasants into Frenchmen" was very high, as was also the "domestication" of women.[21] From 1870 to 1918, France was (with Switzerland and San Marino) Europe's only durable Republic. But this unusual triumph was not without its many shadows. The republican left did triumph over royalist right in France, but late-nineteenth-century French republicanism, regardless of its good intentions, found it strangely difficult to make room for the "neocorporatist," particularist interests of the working class: men make their history, wrote Marx, but they do not make it as they please: "the traditions of all the dead generations," he concluded, "weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

Without doubt, the numerous institutional achievements of the Third Republic were of lasting and liberating substance: the recognition of syndicalism in 1884, the encouragement of the peasant cooperative movement, the general extension of primary and secondary education to women (all of which were bitterly opposed by the right) were significant landmarks of popular empowerment. A juxtaposition of republican France and Wilhelminian Germany speaks mountains. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in the


end, the Republic's voice was not one of those it chose, for its own reasons, to protect. The function if not the ostensible purpose of the republican scholarship system (of whom Daladier was a typical product) was more to coopt popular talent into the bourgeoisie than to provide a voice for the nation's popular majority.

The evolution of industrial capitalism in France was, by Anglo-American standards, unusually slow. The history of department stores is more relevant to the history of French capitalism than was the creation of mines and factories. But in spite of this muted and facilitating tempo in the realm of things, in spite of its emphasis on capitalism as a system of consumption rather than of production, the progression in France from liberalism-to-welfare-state in the realm of politics was unusually painful and disputed and, revealingly, when it finally occurred, Catholics on the right played a greater role in its inception than did the Socialists on the left.

In a parallel (non)development, the political emancipation of women was more quickly achieved in Britain than in France.

The Republic's premier Radical Socialist party certainly managed to ensconce itself after 1870 in the loyalties of a republicanized French peasantry that was close in spirit to the "petite-bourgeoisie" of urban France, but the existence of this popular audience in the countryside did not affect the social and procedural conservatism of its chosen representatives. Ominously, the obsessive assertion by French liberals of the nation as the only legitimate political and social entity, implied that the doctrines of the moderate left could never hope to secure in France the durable allegiance of the urban working class.

On the one hand, race, as a working political concept, was excluded from postrevolutionary discourse in France: though French more than German civil society seemed to be in 1895 a promising seedbed for anti-Semitic horrors, national French racialist complicity in the Holocaust was not as horrendous as might have been imagined: foreign Jews were disgracefully abandoned to their fate by the Vichy regime, but Jews of French nationality were fitfully protected. The French Revolution and its concept of citizenship, though socially limited, was not a cipher. In that protective and important sense, the French Revolution was an undoubtedly progressive event.

On the other hand, sex and class, like race, were also excluded by the ruling republicans as matrixes of political action. The strikingly mixed legacy of the French Revolution was to make of class and gender the cornerstones of a repressive social life (i.e., to engrave the feared memory of 1792–1795 when male and female sans-culottes had dared to raise their voices) and to deny the relevance of these concepts to public political life (i.e., to reinscribe in the nineteenth century the universalist, classless memory of 1789, but in the eviscerated and readjusted form that had served the socially conservative goals of the Directory in 1795–1799).

The failure of the fraternal Revolution split French society into social


fragments that its anticorporatism was designed precisely not to heal, and this fragmentation ran deep. The ecumenical feelings of 1789 did not last. But the reverse most certainly could be said of the bitter class memories of 1792–1795 and of the attendant near-panic of the possessing class. The failed political application in 1793–1794 of an antecedent cultural and universalist upheaval engendered a divisive social earthquake that drastically altered French and even European social life for nearly two centuries to come.

Struck by the violent resolution in 1793–1794 of its innermost cultural contradictions, deeply alarmed by the anti-individualist drift of Jacobin communitarianism, the French possessing class that had accepted republicanism in 1792 developed, after 1800, a new and countervailing detestation of any politicized communitarian statement, however feebly generous it might be. The Rousseauistic and literary urge to privatize the experience of women now found explicit institutionalization in law and politics. (French women were not granted the vote until 1945.) The day-to-day fear of the urban poor that the French elite had begun to experience in the practice of daily life before 1789 but which could not be fully articulated at that time, was, with the failure of the French Revolution, violently stated in 1795 as the bourgeois detestation of the buveurs de sang, soon to become in the 1840s the celebrated "classes laborieuses, classes dangereuses."

In some material sense, by retarding French economic growth and by strengthening the hold of two precapitalistic groups—the landed, professional middle class and the peasantry—the great Revolution of 1789 did momentarily arrest the drift toward a modern society of classes. The inability of peasants (those celebrated potatoes in a sack) to think in class terms is well known, as is Robespierre's detestation of banks and money. But in the larger scheme of things, the French Revolution dramatically sharpened class and gender lines. The terroristic breakdown of the Revolution deployed class consciousness in France as would never have occurred in a more placid context. If one of its short-run effects was to reduce the condition of women to a level that in many significant ways was inferior to the one they had enjoyed in the last decades of the Old Regime, so was one of its long-run effects to set the stage for the republican massacres of the weak in 1848 and 1871. "La République is very fortunate," mused Louis-Philippe in exile. "It can afford to shoot the people."

The French Revolution created the bourgeoisie and, countervailingly, so did it help to create a doctrinally intransigent working class. From the seed of sans-culottism, and largely by reaction, working-class consciousness emerged as well. After the dramatic precedent of 1789, the theater of politics spontaneously produced the fruitless revolutions of the left in June 1848 and March of 1871. Proudhonism yielded to Marxist theories of class war and revolutionary violence. History, wrote Jean-Paul Richter, is the "Place La Morgue where everyone seeks the dead kinsmen of his heart."



Was the failed, terrorist, and class-bound denouement of the Revolution a fated event? Was Jacobinism doomed to failure? Ought we to speak of causes rather than of mere origins? The temptation to conclude affirmatively on this issue is quite strong. To be sure, in the newly created United States, some compromise was reached in much the same years between the Radical Whigs' communitarian ideology of virtue and the fearsomely individualist and capitalist nature of American social life. But the newly independent Americans were a profoundly religious people with a sharply defined communitarian, Golden Past that they yearned to recreate in a secularized republic. They were, after their war of Independence, convinced antimonarchists, with no historical reason to fear the variegated and unpredictable implications of pluralistic liberalism. Almost miraculously, the shape of American history during the last decades of the eighteenth century made possible in that new country the very synthesis of private gain and public good that proved to be so illusive in France.[22]

The ingredients of political catastrophe in the Grande Nation were by contrast very numerous, ranging as they did from a fabled and Tocquevillean incapacity for self-government to an atavistic neoreligious yearning for ideological, social, and political unity. These were great liabilities, compounded as they were by the incomplete nature of French economic change in the eighteenth century: the foundations of economic individualism in France were too weak to check after 1791 the drift toward holistic and terroristic virtue. Had the French Revolution been a social revolution, whose political discourse corresponded to some social bedrock, the ideological dérapage of revolutionary politics could hardly have occurred as it did. But it was, as it were, an antisocial revolution whose trajectory hinged on the inner logic of Jacobin ideology, and on the unavoidable if gradual realization of its inner contradictions.

Thermidor, as has been said, was aptly described by François Furet as the revenge of social forces over politics. We can extend this insight to prerevolutionary France as well. Jacobinism failed because its connection to the fabric of French social life was too weak. The origins of Jacobinism, of l'esprit révolutionnaire, were in a prerevolutionary cultural upheaval whose connection to new commercial and economic forms had been peripheral or even negative. More relevant to its genesis were ultimately ephemeral institutional mutations. The origins of Jacobinism were not in the development of capitalism within the framework of the Old Regime but in the categorical (and unstable) cultural rejection of traditionalist institutions by the propertied elite.

Simultaneously meritocratic and nationalist, the enlightened reader could no longer make his peace with the historicist particularism of the Old Re-


gime, but he was not, for all that, prepared to construct a pluralist polity. The breakdown of revolutionary Jacobinism is implied by the divided, schizophrenic nature of antecedent French and enlightened thought, which was unable to sort out the rights of the individual from the responsibilities of the citizen. Its failure was embedded also by the setting of this mixed political culture in the tolerant but deceptive social void of a decaying Ancien Régime, when the older constraints of corporatism no longer seemed necessary but where the newer tensions of a society of class had not yet appeared.

Carlyle was right, then, if for the wrong reasons. In the late 1780s, the French Ancien Régime was, just as he wrote, doomed to bloody death. But the Revolution was to be no more able to avoid bloodshed and self-destruction than the Ancien Régime had been able to adapt itself to the needs of modern life.

Jews into Frenchmen: Nationality and Representation in Revolutionary France

Gary Kates

On 2 January 1792 in the center of the northeastern French town of Nancy, recently elected political leaders gathered to officiate at a new kind of patriotic ceremony. Standing before the town council were fourteen of Nancy's most notable Jews, including the Grand Rabbi, ready to swear an oath of allegiance to the young regime. "The oath that we are about to take," announced Berr Isaac Berr, the lay leader of the local Jewish community, "makes us, thanks to the Supreme Being, and to the sovereignty of the nation, not only men, but French citizens." Never again, they believed, would French Jews be the victims of persecution because of their "religious opinions." Berr, however, made it perfectly clear that he did not believe emancipation meant assimilation. "Each of us will naturally follow the religion of his father," he remarked to his gentile countrymen. "Thus, we can be loyally attached to the Jewish religion and be at the same time good French citizens. Yes, Messieurs, that's what we will become. We swear it to you."[1]

In his response to this avowal, the mayor of Nancy happily welcomed Berr's remarks and declared what he thought to be the fundamental rationale behind Jewish emancipation: "Society must never investigate the beliefs of a citizen. Whatever the form he uses to honor the divinity does not matter so long as he obeys the Laws and serves his country." Then the mayor read the oath, which proclaimed the Jews' loyalty to the nation, to the laws, to the king, and to the Constitution. Each of the Jews responded: "I do swear."

Meanwhile, at Bischheim-au-Saum, a village near Strasbourg, Jews had a more difficult time convincing municipal leaders that they were worthy of emancipation. The town council kept putting off at least five eminent Jews who wanted to take the oath by declaring that every oathtaker must cross himself. That was the only way, the council insisted, that they could be sure


that the person was telling the truth. The Jews refused to cross themselves, arguing that it was a violation of their newly won religious freedom. In March 1792, negotiations broke down over this point until both sides appealed to the departmental Directory, a regional authority that spoke on behalf of the central government. The Directory agreed with the Jews, stating that the law required "simply the obligation of taking the civic oath, without prescribing either the form nor the manner in which it will be made." The Directory ordered the town to go ahead with its ceremony.

Because of the controversy, thirty local national guard troops were assigned to the ceremony, which was finally set for 18 April. As the ceremony was beginning, however, there were cries from the crowd, particularly from the national guardsmen, for the Jews to remove their hats. The Jewish leaders refused to do so, claiming that one should never make an oath in God's presence without covering the head. The crowd, of course, argued the reverse, and the municipality was forced to cancel the event, lest it turn into a riot. Once again both sides appealed to the Directory, and once again the Directory sided with the Jews, accusing the town council of obstructing the law. Finally, on 30 April, at the insistence of the Directory, the five most prominent Jews of Bischheim succeeded in swearing allegiance to their country, thereby winning their full political rights.

These ceremonies, the result of the law passed by the Constituent Assembly on 27 September 1791 which granted full political rights to Ashkenazic Jews, allow us to examine the ways in which Jewish emancipation was received at the local level. We find leading Jews stubbornly determined to acquire full political rights and equally determined to maintain their religious identity. At the same time, we see French revolutionary leaders insisting on the principles of equality before the law and religious freedom, even at the risk of offending local constituencies. Consequently, ever since these early days of the French Revolution, Jewish emancipation has been seen as something of a watershed in both French and Jewish history. For the French, the law meant that their country was the first modern European nation-state to offer Jews political equality. For the Jews, emancipation meant the beginning of their "Haskalah," the end to the ghetto and centuries of forced separation from gentiles. For both French and Jews, then, Jewish emancipation signaled an entirely new kind of epoch: secular, free, and tolerant.

Yet now, in the midst of the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution, it has become increasingly difficult to see the emancipation movement in such a sanguine light. The tragic events of our own century have made emancipation at best problematic, and perhaps even irrelevant. From the Dreyfus Affair to the Holocaust, the overriding theme of European Jewry has been its destruction, not its liberation. Berr Isaac Berr pledged that his people would survive as Jews, because it is natural for people to follow "the religion of their fathers." But except for a few very rare families,


few French—indeed, few European—Jewish families today can trace their genealogy back to the eighteenth century. Those Jews who did not assimilate were murdered or, if they were lucky, were forced to flee Europe. For many in the generation who lived through the Holocaust, the destruction of European Jewry in this century has made eighteenth-century Jewish emancipation seem like a tragic farce.

Among the most eminent of this generation who share that perspective is Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg. Holder of a Distinguished Chair at Dartmouth, former head of the World Zionist Congress, regular contributor to the "Op-Ed" page of the New York Times , as well as to the New York Review of Books , Rabbi Hertzberg has established himself as one of the most prominent intellectuals in the American Jewish community, and his book, The French Enlightenment and the Jews: The Origins of Modern Anti-Semitism ,[2] quickly became the definitive discussion of the subject. Its argument is original and disturbing. Until Hertzberg, most writers held the view that modern anti-Semitism was a right-wing phenomenon that surfaced during the late nineteenth century in opposition to the liberal ideas usually associated with the French Revolution. But Hertzberg turned that contention upside down: twentieth-century antiSemitism, he claimed, is not in conflict with French revolutionary ideology but in fact stems from it. "Modern, secular, anti-Semitism," he wrote, "was fashioned not as a reaction to the Enlightenment and the Revolution, but within the Enlightenment and Revolution themselves."[3] For Hertzberg, Jewish emancipation was the first step in the long march to Auschwitz.

Hertzberg did not simply claim that those who opposed emancipation were anti-Semitic but argued further that even the proemancipation legislators contributed to modern anti-Semitism: they saw emancipation as the only way to assimilate the Jew and rid France of its "Jewish problem." Once Jews lost their communal autonomy and faced the centralized state as individual Frenchmen, Hertzberg claimed, their days were numbered. The hostility of the Jacobins to all religious expression during the Terror offered Hertzberg the proof that he needed.

Hertzberg's argument managed to combine the ideas of three influential Jewish intellectuals: Hannah Arendt, Jacob Talmon, and Asher Ginzberg (better known as Ahad Ha'am). From Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism , Hertzberg gleaned two fundamental concepts: first, that in the modern age the revolutionary left and the radical right are equally repressive. Since revolutionary change most often depends on the coercive power of the centralized state, its impact on the individual is bound to be tyrannical. Second, Arendt claimed that anti-Semitism had played a crucial role in recent European history. "Political developments have driven the Jewish people into the storm center of events," she wrote. The way that Europe treated its Jews could be taken as a bellwether of the quality of European political culture.[4]

Arendt had specifically noted that these features were true only for the


contemporary world. She pushed back her analysis to the last decades of the nineteenth century, but no further. Although elsewhere Arendt was later highly critical of the French Revolution, nowhere did she accuse the Jacobins of establishing a totalitarian or anti-Semitic state.[5] For her, modern racial anti-Semitism was novel and distinct from older attitudes, preventing any explanation of the Holocaust from reaching back as far as the eighteenth century.

Jacob Talmon's Origins of Totalitarian Democracy provided that continuity for Hertzberg. In Jacobinism, Talmon discovered "a vision of society of equal men re-educated by the State in accordance with an exclusive and universal pattern."[6] Like Arendt, Talmon considered the radical left to be as repressive as the right. The Jacobins had acted fanatically, he believed, systematically violating individual liberties on behalf of a messianic ideal. But while Talmon attacked the liberal ideals of the revolutionary left, he ignored Jewish emancipation altogether.

Both Arendt and Talmon, then, sought to discredit the revolutionary left and provide a historical model that justified a more moderate approach to political change. Moreover, like Hertzberg, Arendt and Talmon were both dedicated Zionists, committed in their personal lives to developing an authentic Jewish political culture. Arendt had worked for Youth Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Palestine) programs before World War II and had published articles during the 1940s on Zionist strategy. Talmon moved to Israel after an education in Britain and taught for years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Both, in short, were highly suspicious of the emancipation process as well as the promises of the revolutionary left. But neither of them blamed modern anti-Semitism on the French revolutionary emancipators.[7]

For the notion that the emancipation process itself lay at the root of modern anti-Semitism, Hertzberg drew on the writings of Ahad Ha'am (1856–1927), the Zionist "secular rabbi" who first began to write in his native Russia during the 1880s and finally moved to Palestine in 1921. Ahad Ha'am had directly attacked France and French Jews for their faith in political emancipation, charging that the Jews' so-called freedom was little more than a mirage. "Their condition may be justly defined as spiritual slavery under the veil of outward freedom ," he wrote in 1891 (emphasis added). "In reality they accepted this slavery a hundred years ago, together with their 'rights'; but it is only in these evil days that it stands revealed in all its glory." Ahad Ha'am condemned Jews for giving up their separate national identity not so much because he distrusted France, but rather because he did not believe that Jews could maintain a religious identity of any significant value in an epoch in which the broader culture had become almost completely secular. Accepting even the best of circumstances for the emancipated Jew, Ahad Ha'am insisted on asking a nagging question: Why would French Jews choose to remain Jewish "for the sake of certain theoretical beliefs which they no longer


hold, or which, if they do really and sincerely maintain them, they might equally hold without this special name, as every non-Jewish Deist has done?"[8]

It is a tribute to Hertzberg's rhetorical skills that he was able to combine distinct arguments from these three thinkers into a powerful interpretation that blamed the tragic events of the twentieth century on the French revolutionary emancipation process itself. "It is strange that he did not even mention the Jewish question during the Revolution," Hertzberg wrote of Talmon.[9]

Here there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Revolution was "totalitarian." Almost all of those who helped to emancipate the Jews, from Grégoire through Robespierre, had in mind some vision of what they ought to be made to become. Talmon's critics may be correct in maintaining that the main body of the revolutionaries, the political center, were willing to leave men to be themselves within the new political order. It was these very people, however, who made demands not only on the public behavior but also on the inner spirit and religion of the Jews. Here the Revolution appeared at its most doctrinaire.

Hertzberg put the blame for modern anti-Semitism on the proemancipators themselves, especially on left-wing deputies who hoped to push France in a more democratic direction. Behind such logic is a clear Zionist agenda. Since the Haskalah, when Jews emerged from their communal autonomy, Western nation—states have faced essentially three choices with regard to their Jewish communities: integration, expulsion, or destruction, or encouraging the establishment of a separate Jewish state. Clearly the French revolutionaries chose the first alternative and, in fact, never seriously contemplated any of the others. The novelty of Hertzberg's argument is that he discredits integration by associating it with expulsion or destruction. Insofar as the French expected Jews to assimilate into French society and culture, they had no respect for Judaism or the Jewish people, he charges. Emancipation was just another way for the French to get rid of their Jews. In this view Zionism was and remains the only response to modernity that is good for Jews.

The problem with Hertzberg's argument is not with his ideology; the notion that Jews are a nation entitled to their own state is certainly legitimate. Rather, it is Hertzberg's understanding of history that is problematic. His interpretation of the French Revolution is highly reductionist. He conflates different phases of the Revolution together, assuming that the achievements of the liberal Constituent Assembly were merely a prelude to the Terror; Hertzberg ignores the differences between the democratic movement of 1790–1792 and the sans-culottes movement of 1793–1794.[10] Worse, by pulling the debates over emancipation out of their proper political context, he distorts the views of the proemancipators as well as the antiemancipators,


who were, obviously, more concerned about the fate of France and her revolution than with Jewish national destiny. Finally, Hertzberg's analysis does an injustice to the Jews themselves. Berr Isaac Berr and hundreds of others who took the loyalty oaths required for full emancipation were not simply fools deceived by their countrymen but patriots who were exploiting a historic opportunity.

Despite these flaws in his analysis, Hertzberg has focused on some genuine historical problems concerning Jewish emancipation which still require attention: given that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was passed in August 1789, why did French Jews have to wait two years before being offered full political rights? Why did the proemancipators equate emancipation with assimilation? Why did they have so little respect for the integrity of an autonomous Jewish identity that they expected Jews to dissolve their official communal institutions?

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Jewish emancipation is that it happened at all. French Jews, in fact, constituted only a tiny fraction of French society. Moreover, they were concentrated into relatively few towns. Some 3,500 Sephardic Jews lived in and around Bordeaux, 30,000 Ashkenazic Jews lived in Alsace and Lorraine, and perhaps 500 others lived in Paris. Nor was their participation in the Revolution particularly noteworthy. There were no Jews, to my knowledge, elected to any of the national assemblies during the Revolution. And outside of the debate over their own fate, it is difficult to think of one Jewish writer, journalist, or political activist who played more than the most minor role. It is likely that the vast majority of Frenchmen, including those deputies sitting in the Constituent Assembly, had never met even a handful of Jews, if that many.

These facts have led Eugen Weber to argue that "the Jewish question was a Jewish question," that is, of interest only to Jews. "Most normal French," he asserted to a rather dismayed audience at a 1985 conference on the history of Jews in France, have not cared about Jews and don't care to think much about them now. Outside of Alsace, "the French thought about Jews hardly at all. They had other fish to fry."[11] But surely Weber was exaggerating. Otherwise, how do we explain the inordinate amount of attention given to the Jewish issue by the French revolutionaries? No agenda has ever been more full than was the Consitutent Assembly's. It had to deal with such crucial issues as the constitution, taxation, the reorganization of the church, and an increasingly recalcitrant king, not to mention their own internal disputes and factions. Many other pressing issues, such as women's rights, were ignored. Certainly it was not imperative that the Constituent Assembly deal with the Jewish question; and at least some deputies did not think it was worth it. "We have even more important matters to deal with," exclaimed the moderate leader Guy Target during one of the debates:


What we say in regard to the Jews affects only a part of society; but to establish a judiciary, to determine the size and manner of the French army, to establish a financial system, here are three issues that interest the entire kingdom, and which require immediate action.[12]

But the Jewish question did not go away. Leaders of the National Assembly kept returning it to the agenda. Even the Paris municipal legislature considered Jewish emancipation very important, though there were only five hundred Jews living in the capital. At one point during the early weeks of 1790, nearly every one of Paris's sixty district assembiles debated the issue and, by an overwhelming majority, urged the National Assembly to fully emancipate all Jews.[13]

Thus Target was off target on one major point: few people treated the debate on the Jews as concerning only "a part of society." Non-Jews chose to address this issue because the emancipation debate was not really about the Jews at all. Since there were so few Jews in France, and since they played little role in the Revolution, they were easily turned into symbols of something else. Various groups and writers, including the Paris Communal Assembly and the national Constituent Assembly, used the issue to test what was then perhaps the most fundamental political question: Would the promises inherent in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen translate into equal political power for all Frenchmen, regardless of status, or would those leading the Revolution stop short of democracy by limiting the political power of certain kinds of people? The debate over Jewish emancipation was thus a debate over what it meant to be a French citizen.

In fact, it has been argued that French Jews did not need emancipation, at least no more so than any other group in France. Although we think of the era before the French Revolution as a bleak period in Jewish history, the status of the Jew was much better in France during the last decades of the Old Regime than in most other European countries. Old Regime society was corporate and particularistic. The law recognized individuals only insofar as they held membership in a legal group. A tailor needed the protection of his guild, a priest his religious order, a merchant his town corporation, and so on. In this respect, Jews were considered legitimate subjects of the king if they were attached to a legally recognized Jewish community. Political life usually consisted of each separate group gaining its own privileges from the royal government at the expense of every other group. As Salo Baron noted sixty years ago, throughout the eighteenth century French Jews were particularly adept at securing special laws for their communities. "Even then they belonged to the privileged minority which included nobles, clergy and urban citizenry."[14] This is perhaps an exaggeration but, at least in terms of legal advantages, the political status of most Jews was greater than that of most


peasants. Jewish communities prospered at the pleasure of the royal government and often against the muffled shouts of the peasants who, especially in Alsace and Lorraine, were hostile to Jews. Despite local bigotry, by the eve of the Revolution royal reformers such as Malesherbes were calling for further reform. So long as the central government continued its policy of protecting Jewish interests, French Jews could reasonably expect to be optimistic about the future.

But the French Revolution threw the status of the Jews into confusion. Without their privileged and autonomous communities, Jews were vulnerable to the passions of the local peasants and small shopkeepers. If the new French government became decentralized, Jews might even stand to lose much more than they might gain by the new changes. The Constituent Assembly first discussed the Jewish question on 28 September 1789 because northeastern French Jewish communities had asked for protection from popular violence that had broken out during the summer. The moderate leader Stanislas Clermont-Tonnerre and the radical priest Henri Grégoire urged the Assembly to adopt the following decree:

The Assembly decrees M. the President to write to the public officials of Alsace that the Jews are under the safeguard of the law and require of the king the protection that they need.[15]

This bill passed with no opposition, and its importance should not be minimized. On the one hand it continued the policies of the old central government of protecting Jews against local persecution and, in that sense, represented no great change for Jews. But insofar as it brought Jews under the same laws as everyone else, it gave them a high degree of civic equality. This was very close to de facto emancipation. Why, then, did it take the Assembly another two years (and hours of tumultuous debate) to go any further?

At about the same time, the Assembly was working out the electoral laws that would operate under the new constitution. Although the Assembly pledged that the constitution and its laws would apply equally to all citizens, they nonetheless made a fundamental distinction between two kinds of citizens: Active and Passive. Both kinds of citizens were treated equally under the law and held the rights guaranteed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The difference between them was that only active citizens could vote and hold public office. The most important qualification for active citizenship was wealth: one had to pay a direct tax that amounted to three days' wages for an average worker. In addition, there were gradations of active citizenship. For example, only those who paid an annual tax of about fifty-one livres—a sum well out of reach of most Frenchmen—were eligible for seats in the National Assembly.

Hertzberg and others have ignored the fact that the 28 September 1789 decree effectively transformed Jews into passive citizens. From that day on,


no one in the Constituent Assembly denied Jews the basic rights guaranteed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; all agreed, for example, that Jews ought to be free to observe their own religious opinions and should not be forcibly converted. The issue, then, became not one of religious freedom, but rather of the extent to which Jews were qualified to be active citizens. In other words, Hertzberg's claim that "the battle for the Emancipation very nearly failed" needs to be radically qualified: what nearly failed was the attempt to secure the rights of active citizenship for Jews.[16]

Thus when we turn to the debates concerning Jewish rights that took place at the Constituent Assembly on 23–24 December 1789 and 28 January 1790, we find that the bill in question focuses on aspects of active citizenship:[17]

That non-Catholics, who will have otherwise fulfilled all the conditions prescribed in previous decrees for becoming an elector and eligible [for public office] could be elected to all ranks of administration, without exception.

In December this bill passed only when Jews were specifically excluded from it. One month later, a similar bill gave the rights of active citizenship to the Sephardic Jews of Bordeaux and Avignon. But a majority of the Assembly refused to "emancipate" the Ashkenazic Jews of eastern France. Why?

Opposition to offering Jews the rights of active citizenship came from three overlapping groups. First were a small core of deputies from Alsace, most notably Jean-Francois Reubell. They clearly echoed the popular antiSemitism of their region, reflecting a fear of Jewish financial power and, above all else, of usury. Because Jews were concentrated primarily in this part of France, these attitudes were isolated, and this group alone could not have persuaded a majority of their colleagues to vote against Jewish active citizenship.

A second and larger group consisted of clergymen and friends of the church who saw French nationality in religious terms. What concerned the Abbé Maury, for example, was the notion that emancipated Jews could be elected to positions of leadership in what he assumed should be a Christian nation. He thought the prospect of a Jewish judge pronouncing justice on a Christian defendant absurd; for him, the law derived from the sovereign will of a people, 99 percent of whom were Christians. But this did not mean that Maury wished to expel the Jews:

They must not be persecuted. They are men; they are brothers; and it is an anathema to even consider talking about intolerance. You have already recognized that nothing should be done about their religious opinions, and since then you have assured Jews the broadest protection.[18]

In short, even Maury, among the Constituent Assembly's most conservative and "theocratic" deputies, recognized the importance of the September 1789


decree and was not offended by the idea of Jews living in France as passive citizens; rather, what disturbed him was the possibility of being ruled by them.

Finally, a coalition of conservative deputies wanted to exclude Jews from political life because their goal was to restrict active citizenship to as small a group as possible. These deputies, such as Prince de Broglie, hoped to transform active citizenship into a new kind of aristocracy. Jews, Protestants, actors, urban workers, sans-culottes—anyone who was not of the highest class, they felt, should be denied the right to vote and hold office.

These three groups also had in common the belief that French Jews, especially the Ashkenazim in eastern France, constituted a separate nation within France. The differences in language, dress, marriage, and obviously religious rituals made the Jew as different from the Frenchman as an Englishman or Dane. "The Jews collectively are a corps de nation separate from the French," charged Reubell. "They have a distinct role. Thus they can never acquire the status of an Active Citizen."[19] When all was said and done, this was the most effective argument of the antiemancipators, successful enough to retard full emancipation until the final days of the Constituent Assembly.

The concept of nationality was extremely important in French revolutionary ideology precisely because it replaced the idea of subjects kept apart by privilege with the notion of citizens brought together through their common national identity. For its leaders, the French Revolution was precisely the act of the French nation repossessing the sovereign state from king and aristocracy. The "people" and the "nation" were often, but not always, considered the same thing. When the people acted according to their self-interest, they were merely a collection of individuals. But when the people shared a common interest, their actions were perceived as expressing the national will.

This definition of nationality, so important for the development of political ideas during the Revolution, is most clearly seen in Sieyès's popular pamphlet, What Is the Third Estate? In it, Sieyès described three stages of national development. At first there are a great number of isolated individuals who wish to unite, but they do not yet recognize a common interest. "The second period is characterized by the action of the common will . . . . Power exists only in the aggregate. The community needs a common will; without singleness of will it could not succeed in being a willing and acting body." This was the point at which the Revolution occurred. Finally, Sieyès distinguished a future "third period from the second in that it is no longer the real common will which is in operation, but a representative common will."[20]

Drawing heavily upon Rousseau, Sieyès's ideas were radical because they negated the political legitimacy of all corporate bodies. The Revolution dissolved them all, leaving in their place individuals whose rights were protected by their membership in a nation-state. In this sense "the Jewish question" boiled down to the following problem: Did Jews constitute a nation


distinct from the French (and thus were not part of the new sovereign body)? Or were Jewish communities essentially autonomous corporations, like any other in the Old Regime? This was the essential issue that divided proemancipators from their opponents. The antiemancipators believed that during the Old Regime, Jewish communities constituted both corporations and a separate nation. Therefore although the Revolution had dissolved corporations, it still left the nationality problem unresolved. Antiemancipators, such as the Abbé Maury, therefore proposed something of a compromise: in return for the elimination of Jewish corporate autonomy, Jews ought to be given the basic rights of passive citizens. But insofar as their nationality makes them distinct from the sovereign, they should be refused the rights of active citizenship.

The proemancipators constructed their argument around the notion that the Jews of France did not constitute a separate nation but merely a corporation, which, like other corporations, was in dire need of "regeneration." Clermont-Tonnerre offered the best-known version of this position: "One must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation, and give everything to the Jews as individuals . . . . It would be repugnant to have a society of noncitizens in a state, and a nation within a nation."[21] Commenting on the debate, future Girondin chief Jacques-Pierre Brissot predicted that those Jews who were given the rights of active citizens would "lose their particular characteristics." Their "admission to eligibility will regenerate them."[22]

Arthur Hertzberg is correct to see in the proemancipation position the call for an end to Jewish distinctiveness. But he is mistaken in his assertion that this position was the seedbed for anti-Semitism or totalitarianism. The necessity for some kind of "regeneration" stems from the French revolutionary conception of representation. In some representative systems, the deputy is supposed to represent the interests of the majority of voters who elected him. But during the French Revolution, to quote Sieyès again, "every deputy is representing the entire nation."[23] In contrast to the United States, in which legislators represent different interests and constituencies, the French expected their leaders to search only for the one true will of the nation. Any group of deputies who openly represented a particular interest or constituency separate from the national will was considered a dangerous faction. Thus no significant differences could be allowed to arise between a deputy and his constituency, much less between the deputies themselves.

This concept of representation had important implications for the Jews of France. Since granting rights of active citizenship to Jews would make them eligible for various offices, the possibility arose that a Jew could represent a nation that was overwhelmingly Christian, when most of those Christians were ineligible to hold political office. How could a Jewish elector, for example, participate in an election for a bishop (such elections began in late 1790)? Proemancipators such as Sieyès and Grégoire resolved this dilemma


by arguing that the Jewish politician should think only about the welfare of the entire nation, relegating his Jewish life strictly to the private sphere. In order for him to adequately represent the true interests of his nation, his own Jewishness, while remaining personally important to him, must have no political significance.

The Ashkenazic Jews did not win their full political rights until the final days of the Constituent Assembly in September 1791. By then the political mood of the country had changed drastically. Many aristocratic deputies had become disgusted by the pace of revolutionary change, and they were fleeing the country. The moderate leaders were less convinced that the king would abide by the new constitution, and they feared that power would fall into the hands of radical republicans. In this new political context, granting Jews the rights to active citizenship no longer seemed so dangerous. Thus when the popular leader Adrien Duport urged his colleagues to "declare relative to the Jews that they can become French Active Citizen," they decreed that all Jews must have the same rights to "becoming Active Citizens" as any other citizen. Thus "emancipation" was equated with active citizenship, while passive citizenship had long ago been assumed by everyone.[24]

These debates over Jewish emancipation do not reveal an anti-Semitic or even a mean-spirited Constituent Assembly. The hypothesis that emancipation itself provided the seedbed for later tragedies turns out to have been based on a distorted view of French revolutionary politics. Insofar as the Jews were concerned, the early French revolutionaries basically carried on the liberal policies of the preceding government. Anti-Semitism was a local affair, confined to northeastern France. The political status of French Jews changed between 1789–1791 because Frenchmen themselves were transformed from subjects of a kingdom to citizens of a nation. If the Constituent Assembly spent many noisy hours over the fate of the Jews, it was because "the Jewish question" raised issues fundamental to their own identity: it helped to define the secular character of the state, the meaning of active and passive citizenship, the nature of representation, and the place of corporate bodies within the new regime. It also gave radical and moderate politicians an issue they could use to fight the power of the church and the aristocracy.

More fundamentally, the debates over Jewish emancipation reveal not a Jewish problem but a problem the French had defining nationality and representation. Unlike the newly created United States, the French did not conceive of representation in terms of separate interests; only a unitary national will could be the ultimate political expression of French sovereignty. This approach impeded the development of a "loyal opposition," as well as of party politics, and it led France away from political stability. Hertzberg may be correct that this kind of democracy is not good for Jews; indeed, it may not be good for anyone. But this is a political problem and has little to do with anti-Semitism.


Zionist critics distrust the emancipation process because they correctly believe that it represented a renunciation of an autonomous Jewish national destiny. But it is wrong to blame emancipators like Clermont-Tonnerre and Grégoire for what would happen to Jews 150 years later. Worse, it makes fools of those Jews who, since Berr Isaac Berr, have believed in the integrity of the diaspora. In fact, the French Revolution offered French Jews a historic opportunity. Emancipation gave every Jew the choice of being Jewish. Participation in the Jewish community was no longer a legal obligation but became instead a moral duty. Only in this context could Jewish identity become a matter of intense personal concern.

The French Revolution as a World-Historical Event

Immanuel Wallerstein

The significance or importance of the French Revolution has usually been analyzed in one of two ways: as an "event" in French history which has its course and consequences; or as a phenomenon that had a specific influence on the history of other countries. I wish in this chapter however to view the French Revolution as a world-historical event in the very specific sense of its significance and importance in the history of the modern world system as a world system.

As we know, the literature on the French Revolution of the last thirty years has reflected a gigantic intellectual battle between two principal schools of thought. On the one side, there has been the so-called social interpretation, of which Georges Soboul has been the central figure and which traces its lineage to Lefebvre, Mathiez, and Jaurès. This viewpoint has built its analysis around the theme that the French Revolution was essentially a political revolution of the bourgeoisie who were overthrowing a feudal Ancien Régime.

A second camp has emerged in "revisionist" criticism of the social interpretation of the French Revolution. This second camp has no accepted collective name. The two leading exponents of this view have been first Alfred Cobban and then François Furet. This camp rejects the concept of the French Revolution as a bourgeois revolution on the grounds that eighteenthcentury France can no longer be meaningfully described as "feudal." Rather, they suggest that it can better be described as "despotic" and the French Revolution seen as a political explosion of antidespotic libertarian demands.[*]


The key difference this makes in the analysis of the actual events revolves around the interpretation of the political meaning of the insurrection of 10 August 1792. For Soboul, this insurrection was a "second revolution" ushering in a democratic and popular republic. For Furet, it was exactly the opposite. It was the closure of the path leading to the liberal society. It was no doubt a second revolution, but one that represented not the fulfillment of the first but its dérapage . Thus, for Soboul, Robespierre and the Mountain represented the most radical segment of the French bourgeoisie and therefore a force for liberation; for Furet, Robespierre and the Mountain represented a new (and worse) despotism.

In this debate the lines are clearly drawn and are certainly familiar ones in terms of twentieth-century European politics. Indeed, as has often been said, this debate is as much an argument about the Russian Revolution as it is about the French Revolution. It is important nonetheless to see what premises are shared by the two camps in rhetorical battle. They both share a model of history that is developmental and which assumes that the units that develop are states. (The Atlantic thesis also shares this model.) For the social-interpretation school, all states go through successive historical stages, the most relevant transition in this case being that from feudalism to capitalism, from a state dominated by an aristocracy to one dominated by a bourgeoisie. Ergo, the French Revolution is simply the moment of dramatic or of definitive transition, a moment that was however both necessary and inevitable. For the "liberal" school, the process of modernization involves the renunciation of a despotic state and its replacement by a state founded on liberal principles. The French Revolution was an attempt to make this (not inevitable) transition, but one that was abortive. The drive to freedom remained latent in the French polity and would be resumed later. For Soboul, since the Revolution was bourgeois, it was the point of departure for liberal democracy in France. For Furet, after the dérapage, the Revolution became itself an obstacle to liberal democracy.

It is interesting to see, therefore, how each side treats the long war with Great Britain that began in 1792 and continued (with interruptions) until 1815, that is, long past the Jacobin period. For Soboul, the war was essentially launched from abroad by the French aristocracy who, losing the civil war, were hoping to recoup their position by internationalizing the conflict. For Furet, the war was desired by the revolutionary forces (or at least by most of them) as a way of pursuing the revolution and strengthening it.

No doubt one can make a plausible case for each of these explanations of the immediate origins of the war. What is striking is that there seems to be, in these analyses, no consideration of whether or not a Franco-British war might have occurred at this time in the absence of anything resembling an internal French revolution. After all, there had been three successive major


wars between Britain (or England) and France over a period of a century, and from the perspective of today we might think of the 1792–1815 wars as simply the fourth and last of these major wars in the long struggle for hegemony in the capitalist world-economy.

I shall briefly summarize here an analysis expounded at length in the first two chapters of volume 3 of The Modern World-System (1989) without the supporting data found in the book.[1] I do this merely as background for the argument I wish to make about the ways in which the French Revolution as a world-historical event transformed the world-system as a world system. I start with the assumption that the capitalist world-economy existed as an historical system since the "long" sixteenth century with boundaries that from the beginning included England and France, and that therefore both countries had been functioning for all this time within the constraints of a capitalist mode of production and had been members of the interstate system that emerged as the political framework of the capitalist world-economy.

Such a "world-systems perspective" leaves little room for the most fundamental assumptions of the two main scholarly schools concerning the French Revolution. The French Revolution could not have been a "bourgeois revolution" since the capitalist world-economy within which France was located was already one in which the dominant class strata were "capitalist" in their economic behavior. The "capitalists" in that sense had no need of a political revolution in particular states in order to gain droit de cité or to pursue their fundamental interests. This of course does not exclude the fact that particular groups of capitalists might have been more or less happy with the public policies of their states and might have been willing, under certain conditions, to consider political actions that ended up by being in some sense "insurrectionary," thereby changing the structures of given state institutions.

In contrast, the world-systems perspective gives equally little place to the underlying assumption of the revisionist school (or schools), who take as central a putative macro-struggle between the advocates of political despotism and the advocates of political liberalism within each state, and see a sort of vector of modernity in the drive for liberalism. "Liberalism" in a worldsystems perspective is seen rather as a particular strategy of the dominant classes utilizable primarily in core zones of the world-economy and reflecting among other things a lopsided intrastate class structure in which the working classes are a much lower percentage of the total population than in peripheral zones. At the end of the eighteenth century, neither England nor France yet had effective "liberal" institutional structures, and neither would have them for another century or so. The dérapage of 1792, if that is what one wants to call it, had no greater long-run significance than what might be thought of as the parallel dérapage of 1649 in England. Seen from the


perspective of the twentieth century, Great Britain and France are not significantly different in the degree to which "liberal" political institutions prevail in the two centuries. Nor are they significantly different from say Sweden, which had no dramatic set of events comparable to the English or French Revolutions.

What can be noted about England and France is that, once Dutch hegemony in the capitalist world-economy began to decline in the midseventeenth century, these two states were the competitors for the hegemonic succession. The competition could be seen in two principal arenas: in their relative "efficiencies" of operation in the markets of the world-economy, and in their relative military-political strengths in the interstate system.

In this long competition, 1763 marked the beginning of the "last act." The Peace of Paris marked Great Britain's definitive victory over France on the seas, in the Americas, and in India. But, of course, it simultaneously laid the bases for the acute difficulties that Great Britain (and Spain and Portugal as well) were to have with their settler populations in the Americas, and which led to the process of settler decolonization that originated in British North America and spread everywhere.

We know that the American War of Independence attracted eventually a French involvement on the side of the settlers which, in the 1780s, greatly aggravated the fiscal crisis of the French state. To be sure, the British state also faced great budgetary dilemmas. But the 1763 victory made it easier for the British to resolve these difficulties in the short run than for the French state. Witness, for example, the role of "Plassey plunder" in relieving British state indebtedness to the Dutch.

The French state found it politically impossible to solve their fiscal problem through new modes of taxation and had no access to the equivalent of Plassey plunder. This explains their willingness to enter into the AngloFrench Commercial (Eden) Treaty of 1786 to which the French king agreed in good part on the grounds that it would create new sources of state revenue. Its immediate impact was in fact economically disastrous and politically unnerving. The cahiers de doléance were full of complaints about the treaty.

If one looks at the comparative efficiencies of French and British agricultural and industrial production in the eighteenth century, it is hard to make a case for any significant British lead. As of 1763, the French were if anything "ahead." But despite the fact that the economic realities were very similar, at least up to the 1780s when Britain was perhaps doing a little better, it is true that there was an (incorrect) perception in France after 1763 of France "falling behind." This was probably an illusion whose elaboration became a rationalization for the military defeat of 1763. There seems to have been a similar illusion prior to 1763 among the English that they were "behind" France, an illusion apparently effaced after 1763. In any case, this


sense on the part of the French-educated strata helped also to create the justification for the Eden Treaty.

When the king convened the Estates-General, the general atmosphere (the defeat of 1763, the fiscal crisis of the state, the error of agreeing to the Eden Treaty, all compounded by two successive bad harvest years) created the political space for the "runaway" situation we call the French Revolution, a "runaway" situation that basically did not end until 1815.

One could say that the period 1763–1789 in France was marked by an unwillingness of French elites to accept defeat in the struggle for hegemony with Great Britain, exacerbated by a growing feeling that the monarchy was unwilling or unable to do anything about the situation. The wars of 1792–1815 were therefore part of the fundamental logic of the French revolutionaries, seeking to restructure the state so that it would be capable of finally overcoming the British foe.

From the strictly relational perspective of the Franco-British struggle in the interstate system, the French Revolution turned out to be a disaster. Far from permitting the final recouping of the defeat of 1763, France was beaten militarily more definitively in 1815 than it ever had been, because this time the defeat was on land, where French military strength lay. And far from allowing France to overcome the previously largely fictive economic gap with Great Britain, the wars created this gap for the first time. In 1815 it was true to say, as it had not been in 1789, that Great Britain had a significant "efficiency" lead over France in the production of goods for the world markets.

But were there not at least significant internal economic transformations in France as a result of the Revolution? When the dust settled, it turned out that the transformations were less startling than is often asserted. The larger agricultural entities for the most part remained intact, although no doubt there was some change in the names of the property owners. Despite the presumed "abolition of feudalism," such constraints on "agricultural individualism" (to use Marc Bloch's phrase) as vaine pâture and droit de parcours survived until late in the nineteenth century. The yeoman class (such as the laboureurs ) emerged stronger than before, but largely at the expense of the smallest producers (such as the manoeuvriers ). The agricultural reforms were at times noisy, but they fit into a slow steady curve of parallel change in much of western Europe over several centuries.

As for industry, guilds were abolished to be sure. And internal tariffs disappeared, thereby creating a larger unfettered internal market. But let us not forget that before 1789 there already existed a zone without internal tariff barriers, the Five Great Farms, that included Paris and was approximately the size of England. The Revolution did of course revoke the Eden Treaty and France once again, quite sensibly, returned to protectionism. The state


did acquire a new administrative efficiency (the linguistic unification, the new civil code, the creation of the grandes écoles ), which no doubt was very helpful to France's economic performance in the nineteenth century.

But from a strictly French point of view, the balance sheet of the French Revolution is relatively meager. If it was the "exemplary" bourgeois revolution, this doesn't say much for the value or the force of such revolutions. As a struggle against despotism, we have the word of the theorists of this position that it did not turn in a stellar performance. Of course, we could celebrate it on Tocquevillian grounds: the French Revolution was France's fulfillment of its state-creation, the achievement of bureaucratic centralization that Richelieu and Colbert sought but never quite completed. If so, one might understand French celebration of this event as the incarnation of French nationalism, but what should the rest of us celebrate?

I believe there is something for the rest of us to note, and perhaps to celebrate, if somewhat ambiguously. I believe the French Revolution and its Napoleonic continuation catalyzed the ideological transformation of the capitalist world-economy as a world-system , and thereby created three wholly new arenas or sets of cultural institutions that have formed a central part of the world-system ever since.

We must begin with the perceived meaning of the French Revolution to contemporaries. It was of course a dramatic, passionate, violent upheaval. In what might be called its primary expression, from 1789 (the fall of the Bastille) to 1794 (Thermidor), the Great Fear occurred, "feudalism" was abolished, church lands were nationalized, a king was executed, and a Declaration of the Rights of Man was proclaimed. This series of events culminated in a Reign of Terror, which finally ended with the so-called Thermidorian Reaction. Of course, dramatic events did not cease then. Napoleon came to power and French armies expanded throughout continental Europe. They were greeted originally in many areas as carriers of a revolutionary message, and then came to be rejected later in many areas as bearers of a French imperialist drive.

The reaction everywhere in Europe among the established authorities was one of horror at the undermining of order (real and potential) represented by the French revolutionary virus. Efforts to counter the spread of these ideas and values were implemented everywhere, and most notably in Great Britain where a very exaggerated view of the strength of possible sympathizers led to an effective repression.

We should note in particular the impact of the French Revolution (including Napoleon) on three key zones of the "periphery" of the world-system: Haiti, Ireland, and Egypt. The French Revolution's impact on St.-Domingue was immediate and cataclysmic. The initial attempt of White settlers to capitalize on the Revolution to gain increased autonomy led rapidly to the first


Black revolution in the world-system, a Black revolution which, over the succeeding decades, all other players (Napoleon, the British, the White settler revolutionaries in the United States and in Latin America) sought in one way or another to destroy or at least contain.

The French Revolution's impact on Ireland was to transform what had been an attempt by Protestant settlers to gain autonomy (as had the analogous group in British North America) into a social revolution that for a time drew together both Catholics and Presbyterian Dissenters into a common anticolonial movement. This attempt, hitting at the very heart of the British state, was turned aside, undermined, and repressed, and Ireland was all the more closely integrated with Great Britain by the Act of Union of 1800. The result however was to create an endemic internal political issue for Great Britain throughout the nineteenth century, its equivalent mutatis mutandis of the U.S. political issue of Black rights.

In Egypt, the Napoleonic invasion resulted in the emergence of Egypt's first great "modernizer," Mohamed Ali, whose program of industrialization and military expansion seriously undermined the Ottoman Empire and almost established a powerful state in the Middle East capable eventually of playing a major role in the interstate system. Almost, but not quite—Mohamed Ali's efforts were eventually successfully checked, as were all similar efforts in the periphery for a century.

To all of this must of course be added the settler decolonization of the Americas. No doubt, this was not the doing (alone) of the French Revolution. The American War of Independence predated the Revolution. But its sources lay in the same post-1763 restructuring of the geopolitics of the world system, and it made appeals to the same Enlightenment doctrines to legitimate itself as did the French Revolution. The Latin American independences of course then came in the wake of the same geopolitical restructuring, reinforced by the successful models of both the American and French Revolutions, plus the devastating political consequences of Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 and the abdication of the Spanish monarch.

All in all, it added up to a political whirlwind of a kind that had never been known before in the modern world. Of course there had been previous periods of turmoil, but their impact had been different. The English Revolution no doubt shared many features with the French Revolution—in England. But its effect outside of England was quite limited, in large part because there was no "Napoleonic" conquest associated with it. And no doubt the Reformation-Counterreformation turmoil was every bit as wrenching as the French revolutionary turmoil. But it was not focused around issues of political order, and the ultimate outcome, although involving real political restructuring, seemed not to raise questions about the political legitimacy of rulers and governmental structures per se.

I think the bourgeoisie, or if you prefer the capitalist strata, or if you prefer


the ruling classes, drew two conclusions from the "French revolutionary turmoil." One was a sense of great threat, not from what might be done by the Robespierres of the world, but from what might be done by the unwashed masses who seemed for the first time to be contemplating seriously the acquisition of state power. The French Revolution proper had several times almost "gotten out of hand" not because some "bourgeois" were seeking political changes but because some "peasants" or some "sans-culottes" or some "women" began to arm themselves and to march or to demonstrate. The Black slaves of St.-Domingue did more than demonstrate; they actually seized state power, a political development that turned out to be even more difficult to contain and turn back than the rebellions in France.

These "uprisings" might of course be assimilated analytically to the recurring food riots and peasant uprisings of prior centuries. I believe the world bourgeoisie perceived something different was occurring, that these "uprisings" might better be conceived of as the first truly antisystemic (that is, anti-capitalist-system) uprisings of the modern world. It is not that these antisystemic uprisings were terribly successful. It was simply that they had occurred at all, and that therefore they were the harbinger of a major qualitative change in the structure of the capitalist world-system, a turning point in its politics.

The world bourgeoisie thereupon drew, I believe, a second and very logical inference. Constant, short-run political change was inevitable, and it was hopeless to maintain the historical myth used by previous world-systems and indeed even by the capitalist world-economy up to that point, that political change was exceptional, often short-lived, normally undesirable. It was only by accepting the normality of change that the world bourgeoisie had a chance of containing it and slowing it down.

This widespread acceptance of the normality of change represented a fundamental cultural transformation of the capitalist world-economy. It meant that one was recognizing publicly, that is expressively, the structural realities that had in fact prevailed for several centuries already: that the world-system was a capitalist system, that the world-economy's division of labor was bounded and framed by an interstate system composed of hypothetically sovereign states. Once this recognition became widespread, which seems to me to have occurred more or less in the period 1789–1815, once this discourse prevailed, three new institutions emerged as expressions of and responses to this "normality of change." These three "institutions" were the ideologies, the social sciences, and the movements. These three institutions comprise the great intellectual/cultural synthesis of the "long" nineteenth century, the institutional underpinnings of what is sometimes inaptly called "modernity."

We do not usually think of ideologies as institutions. But this is in fact an error. An ideology is more than a Weltanschauung . Obviously, at all times and places, there have existed one or several Weltanschauungen that have deter-


mined how people interpreted their world. Obviously, people always constructed reality through common eyeglasses that have been historically manufactured. An ideology is such a Weltanschauung, but it is one of a very special kind. It is one that has been consciously and collectively formulated with conscious political objectives. Using this definition of ideology, it follows that this particular brand of Weltanschauung could only be constructed in a situation in which public discourse accepted the normality of change. One needs to formulate an ideology consciously only if one believes that change is normal and that therefore it is useful to formulate conscious middle-run political objectives.

Three such ideologies were developed in the nineteenth century—conservatism, liberalism, and Marxism. They were all world-systemic ideologies. It is no accident that conservatism was the first to emerge institutionally. It is clear that the new recognition of the normality of change posed urgent dilemmas to those of a conservative bent. Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre saw this clearly and quickly. They saw they needed to make an intellectual case for the slowest possible pace of change. But more importantly, they realized that some kinds of change were more serious than others. They gave priority therefore to preserving the structures that in turn could serve as brakes on any and all precipitate reformers and revolutionaries. These were of course the structures whose merits conservatives lauded: the family, the "community," the church, and of course the monarchy. The central motif of conservative ideology has always been "tradition." Traditions are presumed to be there, and to have been there for an indefinitely long time. It is argued that it is "natural" to preserve traditional values because they incarnate wisdom. Conservative ideology maintains that any tampering with traditions needs a strong justification. Otherwise, disintegration and decadence follow. Hence conservative ideology is the incarnation of a sort of Cassandra-like cultural pessimism, inherently defensive in nature. Conservatives warn against the dangers of the change that now has become considered normal. The short-run political implications may vary enormously, but in the middle run conservatism's political agenda is clear.

Liberalism is the natural ideology of normal change. But it needed to become an ideology only after conservatism had emerged. It was English Tories who first called their opponents "liberals" in the early nineteenth century. To be sure, the idea of the individual's right to be free from the constraints of the state has a long history that predates this moment. The rise of the absolutist state brought in its train the advocates of constitutional government. John Locke is often considered the symbolic incarnation of this line of thought. But what emerged in the nineteenth century was liberalism as an ideology of consciously enacted reform, and this did not really exist in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. This is also why I believe the oftcited difference between early nineteenth-century "minimal state" liberalism


and late-nineteenth-century "social state" liberalism misses the point. The exponents of both had the same conscious political agenda: legislative reform that would abet, channel, and facilitate "normal change."

Marxism then came along quite late as the third ideology of the nineteenth-century world. Perhaps some would prefer to think of socialism as the third ideology. But over time the only variety of socialist thought that became truly distinguishable from liberalism as an ideology was in fact Marxism. What Marxism did, as an ideology, was to accept the basic premise of liberal ideology (the theory of progress) and add to it two crucial specifications. Progress was seen as something realized not continuously but discontinuously, that is by revolution. And in the upward ascent to the good or perfect society the world had reached not its ultimate but its penultimate stage. These two amendments were sufficient to produce an entirely different political agenda.

It should be noted that I have not discussed the social bases of these different ideologies. The usual explanations seem to me too simple. Nor is it at all clear that the emergence of these three ideologies depended on specific social bases, which is not to say that there has been no historic correlation between social position and ideological preference. What is important is that the three ideologies were all statements about how to deal politically with "normal change." And they probably exhausted the range of possibilites for plausible ideologies to be institutionalized in the nineteenthcentury capitalist world-economy.

Political agendas are only one part of what one needs to deal with "normal change." Since these agendas represented concrete proposals, they required concrete knowledge of current realities. What they needed in short was social science. For if one didn't know how the world worked, it was difficult to recommend what one might do to make it work better. This knowledge was more important to the liberals and Marxists since they were in favor of "progress," and thus they were more prone than the conservatives to encourage and frequent social science. But even conservatives were aware that it might be useful to understand reality if only in order to conserve (and restore) the status quo (ante).

Ideologies are more than mere Weltanschauungen; social science is more than mere social thought or social philosophy. Previous world systems had had social thinkers, and we still today benefit by reading them, at least some of them. The modern world-system was of course the heir of a so-called Renaissance of (especially) Greek thought and built on this edifice in many ways. The rise of the state structures, and in particular of the absolutist state, led to a special flourishing of political philosophy, from Machiavelli to Bodin to Spinoza, from More to Hobbes and Locke, from Montesquieu to Rousseau. Indeed this was a stellar period in the production of such thought, and nothing quite matches it in the post-1789 era. Furthermore, the middle and


late eighteenth century saw the emergence of work in economic philosophy almost as rich as the political philosophy: Hume, Adam Smith, the Physiocrats, Malthus. One is tempted to add: Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx.

But none of this represented the institutionalization of social science. Social science, as it came to be defined in the nineteenth century, was the empirical study of the social world with the intention of understanding "normal change" and thereby being able to affect it. Social science was not the product of solitary social thinkers but the creation of a collective body of persons within specific structures to achieve specific ends. It involved a major social investment that was never previously the case with social thought.

The principal mode of institutionalizing social science was by differentiation within Europe's traditional university structure which, by 1789, was virtually moribund. The universities, which at that point in time were scarcely vital intellectual centers, were still largely organized in the traditional four faculties of theology, philosophy, law, and medicine. There were furthermore relatively few universities. In the course of the nineteenth century, there occurred a significant creation of new chairs, largely within the Faculty of Philosophy, to a lesser extent within the Faculty of Law. These chairs had new names and some of them became the forerunners of what today we call "departments."

At first it was not clear which "names" of putative "disciplines" would prevail. We know the outcome, however. By the end of the nineteenth century, six main "names" had survived and more or less become stabilized into "disciplines"—anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, and sociology. They had become institutionalized not only within the university system, now renewed and beginning again to expand, but also as national scholarly associations, and in the twentieth century as international scholarly associations.

The "naming" of the disciplines—that is, the structure of the presumed division of intellectual labor—reflected very much the triumph of liberal ideology that was (and is) the reigning ideology of the capitalist worldeconomy. This also explains why Marxists were suspicious of the new social science, and why conservatives have been even more suspicious and recalcitrant.

Liberal ideology involved the argument that the centerpiece of social process was the careful delimitation of three spheres of activity: those related to the market, those related to the state, and those that were "personal." The last category was primarily residual, meaning all activities not immediately related to the state or the market. Insofar as it was defined positively, it had to do with activities of "everyday life"—the family, the "community," the "underworld" of "deviant" activities, and so forth. The study of these separate spheres came to be named political science, economics, and sociology. If political science was the last name to be accepted, it was primarily the result


of an archaic jurisdictional dispute between the Faculties of Philosophy and of Law, and not because the operations of the state were deemed less worthy of study. All three of these "disciplines" developed as universalizing sciences based on empirical research, with a strong component of "applied science" attached to them.

Parallel to this, the "name," history, was manifestly redefined. This is the great transformation represented by the work of Ranke. Ranke's great critique of what had been previously produced under the "name" of history is that it was too "philosophical," insufficiently "historical." This is the import of writing history wie es eigentlich gewesen ist . History had really occurred. What had happened could be known, by turning to the "sources" and reading them critically. The history that now became institutionalized was rigorously idiographic.

Three things are to be noted in the emerging institutionalization of these four so-called disciplines, as they developed in the nineteenth cnetury. First, they were concerned primarily, almost exclusively, with a few core countries of the capitalist world-economy. Second, almost all scholars worked on materials concerning their own country. Finally, the dominant mode of work was empirical and concrete, even though for the three so-called nomothetic disciplines (economics, sociology, political science) the object was said to be the discovery of the "laws" that explained human behavior. The nationally based, empiricist thrust of the new "disciplines" became a way of circumscribing the study of social change that would make it most useful for and supportive of state policies, least subversive of the new verities. But it was nonetheless a study of the "real" world based on the assumption that one could not derive such knowledge deductively from metaphysical understandings of an unchanging world.

The nineteenth-century acceptance of the normality of change included the idea that change was only normal for the civilized nations, and that it therefore was incumbent on these nations to impose this change on the recalcitrant other world. Social science could play a role here, as a mode of describing unchanging customs, thereby opening the way to understanding how this other world could be brought into "civilization." The study of the "primitive" peoples without writing became the domain of anthropology. The study of the "petrified" peoples with writing (China, India, the Arab world) became the domain of Orientalism. For each field the academic study emphasized the elements that were unchanging but was accompanied by an applied, largely extra-university domain of societal engineering.

If the social sciences became increasingly an instrument of intelligent governance of a world in which change was normal, and hence of limiting the scope of such change, those who sought to go beyond the limits structured by the world bourgeoisie turned to a third institution, the movements. Once


again, rebellions and oppositions were not new. They had long been part of the historical scene, as had been both Weltanschauungen and social thought. But just as Weltanschauungen now became ideologies and social thought became social science, so did rebellions and oppositions become antisystemic movements. These movements were the third and last of the institutional innovations of the post-1789 world-system, an innovation that really emerges only after the world revolution of 1848.

The essential difference between the multiple prior rebellions and oppositions and the new antisystemic movements was that the former were spontaneous, short-lived, and largely uncoordinated beyond the local level. The new movements were organizations, eventually organizations with bureaucracies, which planned the politics of social transformation. They worked in a timeframe that went beyond the short run.

There were to be sure two great forms of such antisystemic movements, one each for each main theme of the "French revolutionary turmoil" as it was experienced throughout the world-system. There were the movements organized around the "people" as working class or classes, that is, around class conflict, what in the nineteenth century came to be called first the social movement, then the socialist movement. And there were the movements organized around the "people" as Volk , as nation, as speakers of a common language, what came to be known as the nationalist movements.

This is not the place to recount the arduous but effective institutionalization of socialist and nationalist movements as state-level organizations seeking state power within the states in which they were located or which they intended to establish. It is the place to note that, despite their appeal to "universal" values, the movements as they were constructed were all in effect state-level structures, just as the social sciences, despite their appeal to "universal" laws, studied de facto phenomena at the state level. Indeed, it was only the ideologies, of the three new "institutions," that managed to institionalize themselves somewhat at the world level.

What then can we say has been the true legacy of the French revolutionary turmoil? It clearly transformed the "cultural apparatus" of the worldsystem. But it did so in an extremely ambiguous way. For, on the one hand, one can say that it permitted the efflorescence of all that we have come to associate with the modern world: a passion for change, development, "progress." It is as though the French revolutionary turmoil allowed the worldsystem to break through a cultural sound barrier and permit the acceleration of the forces of "change" throughout the world that we know occurred.

But, on the other hand, the French revolutionary turmoil, by creating the three great new institutions—the ideologies, the social sciences, the movements—has created the containment and distortion of this process of change and simultaneously has created the blockages of which the world has become


acutely conscious in the last twenty years. The post-1789 consensus on the normality of change and the institutions it bred has now at last ended perhaps. Not in 1917, however, but rather in 1968.

If we are to clarify our options and our utopias in the post-1968 worldsystem, perhaps it would be useful to reread the trinitarian slogan of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity. It has been too easy to pose liberty against equality, as in some sense the two great interpretations of the French Revolution have done, each interpretation championing if you will one half of the antinomy. Perhaps the reason that the French Revolution did not produce either liberty or equality is that the major powerholders and their heirs have successfully maintained that they were separate objectives. This was not, I believe, the view of the unwashed masses.

Fraternity meanwhile has always been a pious addition, taken seriously by no one in the whole long post-1789 cultural arena, until in fact 1968. What the "normality of change" has been interpreted, by all and sundry, to mean has been the increased homogenization of the world, in which harmony would come out of the disappearance of real difference. We have of course discovered the brutal fact that the development of the capitalist worldeconomy has significantly increased the economic and social disparities and therefore the consciousness of differences. Fraternity, or to rename it in the post-1968 manner "comradeship," is a construction to be pieced together with enormous difficulty, and yet this fragile prospect is in fact the underpinning of the achievement of liberty/equality.

The French Revolution did not change France very much. It did change the world-system very much. The world-scale institutional legacy of the French Revolution was ambiguous in its effects. The post-1968 questioning of this legacy requires a new reading of the meaning of the popular thrusts that crystallized as the French revolutionary turmoil.

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