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Two The Making of a "Bourgeois Revolution"
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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?

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