Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France since the Eighteenth Century

Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France since the Eighteenth Century

Language: English

Pages: 560

ISBN: 0199671877

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Revolution and the Republic provides a new and wide-ranging interpretation of political thought in France from the eighteenth century to the present day. At its heart are the dramatic and violent events associated with the French Revolution of 1789 and the birth of the First Republic in 1792. For the next two centuries, writers in France struggled to make sense of these and subsequent events in French revolutionary history, producing a rich and perceptive analysis of the nature of republican government. But, as Revolution and the Republic shows, these important debates were not limited to the narrow confines of politics and to the writing of constitutions. Such was their significance that they occupied a central place in discussions about religion, science, philosophy, commerce, and the writing of history. They also shaped arguments about the character of France and the French nation as well as polemics about the role of intellectuals in French society. Moreover, they continue to be of importance in France today as the country faces the challenges posed by globalisation, multiculturalism, and the reform of the welfare state. Integrating the perspectives of intellectual history, political theory, social and cultural history, and political economy, Jeremy Jennings has written a study of political ideas that appeals to all those interested in the history of modern France and Europe more generally.

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series of largely theoretical justifications of local liberty and of what he did not hesitate to describe as federalism.85 In France, he commented, local power had always been regarded as a ‘dependent branch of executive power’, with the result that laws were badly implemented and partial interests were poorly protected. It was only proper, Constant argued by way of response, that issues of a purely local interest should be decided at local level. The various authorities–– commune, arrondissement,

accomplished with regard to liberty followed either directly or indirectly from the desire to establish an equality of rights.4 Next, civil equality did not entail political equality. The promise of equal participation in the formation of the general will was quickly withdrawn as constitutional theorists––with Sieyès foremost among them–– sought to reduce the political influence of the people with a variety of ingenious proposals, most notably the distinction between active and passive citizens.

Montlosier, future member of the Club Monarchique, concluded his Essai sur l’art de constituer les peuples ou Examen des opérations constitutionnelles de l’assemblée nationale de France with a forty-page outline entitled ‘Aperçu d’un projet de constitution’, replete with its own ‘Déclaration des droits de l’homme’.60 In this he had few kind words for the declaration of 26 August 1789. If, Montlosier argued, there were two types of revolution––one which followed the dictates of reason and of

protection of men and of their property. The prime example or ‘model’ of a ‘constituted society’ provided by Bonald was that of ancient Egypt. Here was a form of government incorporating a public religion, a monarchy respecting fundamental laws, and hereditary distinctions. It was to be contrasted with Asiatic despotism and with the unstable systems characteristic of classical Greece and Rome. If it had a modern equivalent, it was to be found among the German tribes that had destroyed the Roman

proclaimed, ‘has always wanted to set himself up as the legislator of religious society and of civil society and to provide a constitution for each of them: I believe it possible to show that man can no more give a constitution to religious and political society than he can give weight to a body or dimensions to matter.’37 In short, the constitution of society was as natural and as immune to human action as the physical constitution of man himself. As such all forms of political voluntarism––of

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