Do you agree with the idea that French revolution ushered in an era of a new political cultural explicate. Keith baker defines the term revolution as ‘a transformation of discursive practice of the community, a moment in which social relations are reconstituted and the discourse defining the political relations between individuals and group of radically recast. ’(3) According to Albert soboul, the French revolution is situated in the very heart of the history of the contemporary world.
A classic bourgeois revolution, it represented- by the uncompromising abolition of feudalism and the seigniorial regime- the starting point for the capitalist society and a liberal representative system in the history of France. Gary Kate has divided the recent historians of the French revolution into Marxist on the left, ‘neo conservatives’ on the right and ‘neo liberal’ in the centre. Marxist endorses the entire revolution . neo liberals supports the early, less violent stages of the revolution and neo conservatives deploring it together.
The Marxist interpretation on the French revolution can be summarized in the following manner: it was not simply a political struggle from (evil) absolute monarchy to (good) democratic republicanism but represented a deeper shift from feudalism to capitalism. The revolution was led by an alliance between a bourgeois elite and popular class, against the landowning nobility. Liberals or Whigs believes that French revolution was important to move the French and the European from a pre modern to a modern society. This fraction has been paralysed because of inter conflict.
The virtues of revolutionary change were the declaration of the right of man and citizens, abolition of feudalism, reorganisation of judiciary and administration. Neo conservatives projected the whole idea of revolutionary change as illiberal. The neo conservative thinkers have their own pet history of the French revolution. Jacob talmon says that the French state became a totalitarian democracy during terror. The history given by the Talmon was attacked by the liberal historians(7). Talmon and Furet’s history has much in common.
Both of them see a direct line from Rousseau though Sieyes to Robespierre. Both of them see the terror an essence of the revolution. Neo liberal historians argue that the revolution was primarily not a failure. They say that the revolutionaries destroyed the ancien regime and restructured the society that made the 19th century liberal state possible. According to them class should be defined not by political interests but by profession and social interests. Alphonse aulard was awarded the first chair of the history of the French revolution at the Sorbonne.
According to aulard the abuses of the monarchy was responsible and justifiable for the violent uprising of the 1789. The constitution of the 1719, according to aulard provided the monarchy with too much power. The revolution reached halfway because of people like Danton and other activists in Paris. Aulard says that it was their efforts which led to insurrection of 10th august 1792 and the declaration of France’s first democratic republic based on universal make suffrage. It was the peak point of the revolution according to aulard.
After the World War 1, another historian Albert matheiz, a student of aulard, gave his theory on the French revolution. He says that Danton was a corrupt bourgeois politician. He was in favour of Robespierre. He argues that the life of most Parisians was improved during the time of terror. Robespierre was not a dictator according to matheiz. He was the democratic politician who was working according to the demands of the workers. He also founded a society by the name of society of Robespierrist studies; this society also published their own scholarly journal, annales.
He also links the Bolshevik revolution to the French revolution. George Lefebvre (1874-1959), albert soboul (1914-1982) and Michel vovelle(b. 1933) were hugely inspired by the writings of albert matheiz. Crane brinton, a Harvard historian says that the revolution was constructed by ‘moderates ‘who fought the forces of the ancient regimes and constructed a government based on noble virtues of liberty and equality. He say that the Jacobins contained of rich and poor on the basis of tax records recording and they were bond together because of ‘a philosophy, an ideology, a faith and a loyalty. Alfred cobban brings in a view which was different then that of Marxist historians. He is doubtful about the fact that the revolution was led by a rising bourgeoisie. He also says that only 13% of the population that was involved in the revolution was of the merchant class or financier class. The leaders of the revolution came from the local, petty public officials and the likes, the people who had no connection with the regime. According to cobban the revolution was social in nature.
Francois Furet wrote an article denouncing what he called the revolutionary catechism by which Marxist historians explained the revolution. He presented a sophisticated theory of the revolution’s origins and character. By depriving the old corporate structure of the society of their power, according to this theory, the crown induced its subject to grant moral authority to the ‘men of letters’ he completed the analysis of the revolutions origins by describing the channels by which the new revolutionary ideology came to permeate French society. Furet says that the ideas of enlightened scholars such as jean-Jacques Rousseau were the nucleus of the revolution. Furet writes that, the revolution embraced a radical ideology of popular sovereignty so that any abuse of power could be excluded so long as it was achieved in the name of the people. (1) Roger Chartier calls for an ‘enlargement of perspective’ that included the analysis of other practices. It’s not sufficient to study ideology and instead he calls for ‘an approach in the terms of cultural sociology. ’ He expands the field of investigation by adapting the insights from Jurgen Habermas.
He do not believe that the forms of intellectual sociability or the institution of public sphere themselves produced democratic or radical ideas. (4) According to baker, the revolution’s free fall into rousseauian democracy was not the product of 1792-3, when the nation was at war, but was the result of deliberate decisions made by the national assembly as early as the summer of 1789. According to baker the terror occurred not only because of what happened in 1792 or 1793, but because of the way in which political power and violence had been reconceptualized in 1789(6).
For baker the relationship between ideas and events is not as straight forward as often suggested. Baker always criticises the historians for treating the ideas as they were capable of influencing actions. According to him the perceived influence of ideas on events is an illusion. He says that the proper object of the intellectual history is therefore the way in which people have used particular kind of statements to make particular claims. These ways of instruments, of making claims baker calls ‘discourse’. (2) One of the recent significant trends of the French revolution is of the women’s and gender history.
Joan Scott believes that feminists beginning with Olympe De Gouges have been handicapped by the political terms that defined liberation as the right of ‘man’. She challenged the exclusion of woman from the right of man, she argued on the basis of features of that woman alone possessed or was though to possess. Scott observed that citizens were seen as an active, free, rational and concerned with public good, attributes typically associated with men, while woman were defined preoccupied with private or domestic concerns and also emotional and dependent.
It was American feminists because of whom history started taking into account the fate of women in history in the year 1979; three American feminists published a collection of documents discussing the women in the French revolution. The new research made us realize that woman also paid a huge role in the French revolution. Benefiting from the advances made in other fields, historians have become interested in how the revolutionaries refashioned the gender role for both man and woman and how ideas regarding manhood and womanhood influenced the way revolutionary statesman conceived of the new regime(8).
Lynn hunt is one the best feminist historian that one could think of in this regard. In her study she explores why the Jacobins replaced Marianne with Hercules as the anthropomorphic symbol of French nation. Revisionist and the new feminist scholar’s shares two essential attitudes about the revolution: both groups think that the revolution marked one step backward in the woman’s right and both gave credence to the ideas of Rousseau- it was his idea that gave rise to the new notion of female domesticity(9). Religion and revolution is also a part of this debate.
One of the major historians in this regard is Dale Van Kley. In his article, ‘church state and the ideological origins of the French revolution: the debate over the general assembly of the gallican clergy in 1765’, he argues that many of the political ideas that would characterize the revolutionary and the post revolutionary period developed in the pre-revolutionary disputes between believing Catholics over the proper organization of the French church. His interpretation of the religious roots of the revolutionary and the post revolutionary political thought emphasizes continuities.
Another historian Mona Ozous explains the phenomena of revolutionary festivals. She says that the revolutionaries after attacking the traditional catholic worship as ‘fanatical and supportive of tyranny, understood the need to replace the old form of religious life with new doctrine and symbols and above all rituals. She believes that the revolutionary festivals provide the sense of scared that Catholicism had previously furnished. She emphasizes that the revolutionary festivals manifested the sense of inauguration and beginning (5).
She says in the rituals of the new festival people found a conviction that the humanity was moving from a unhappy past to an entirely new period of history. She also considers Freud in her analysis of the revolutionary festivals. Freud understood festivals as moment of transgression. Points at which the normal rules governing social behaviour were violated. Freud has been criticized by Ozous. END NOTES: 1) Conceptualizing the French revolution: problems and methods. Page number 3. 2) Conceptualizing the French revolution: problems and methods. Page number 10. ) Conceptualizing the French revolution: problems and methods. Page number 13. 4) Conceptualizing the French revolution: problems and methods. Page number 15. 5) Conceptualizing the French revolution: problems and methods. Page number 20. 6) The French revolution: introduction by Gary Kates. Page number 8. 7) The French revolution: introduction by Gary Kates. Page number 10. 8) The French revolution: introduction by Gary Kates. Page number 13. 9) French revolution: introduction by Gary Kates. Page number 15. Dimple Bhati 279 History hons 3rd year b