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One Mars Unshackled: The French Revolution in World-Historical Perspective1
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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.

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One Mars Unshackled: The French Revolution in World-Historical Perspective1
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