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Four Cultural Upheaval and Class Formation During the French Revolution
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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.

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Four Cultural Upheaval and Class Formation During the French Revolution
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