French Revolution

  • The French Fascination with the Cadavers of the Bastille

    by Nicole Bauer

    The prison held a symbolic place in the minds of antiroyalists that exceeded its actual significance; the themes of gothic horror were reflected in political tracts that denounced the horrors of imprisonment there. 

  • Thoroughly Modern Maxie: Robespierre and His Legacy for Democracy Today

    by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

    "If Robespierre was not by nature a murderous despot, who was he and what does he have to teach us – especially at a time, like that of the French Revolution, when progressives and liberals are divided about how to prioritize the rights of minoritized groups?"

  • The End of the Terror

    by David A. Bell

    Colin Jones's book examines the events of one day, but poses big questions about popular will and the legitimacy of the state. 

  • Lafayette as "The Nation’s Guest" (1824-1825)

    by Mike Duncan

    When Lafayette returned to America in 1824, he found the new nation already torn between his beloved ideal of liberty and the entrenched institution of slavery. HNN presents an excerpt from Mike Duncan's new book "Hero of Two Worlds." 

  • The Difference a Day Makes: Robespierre's 9 Thermidor

    by Colin Jones

    The eventful 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794) is seen as a pivotal day for French Revolution. Colin Jones digs deep into the archival documentation of the day and argues that the day's significance is real but misunderstood. 

  • The French Revolution Offers a Critical Lesson as the U.S. Returns to Normal

    by Christine Adams

    The aftermath of the French Reign of Terror shows that prematurely embracing a "new normal" after traumatic political violence leads to unsustainable peace, especially when that normalcy amounts to the upper classes reclaiming privilege and pleasure. 

  • January 6, 2021: A Day of Populist Transgression

    by Robert A. Schneider

    The Capitol riot included a small core of actors bent on destruction, with many more along for the ride reveling in a moment of transgression. In this way, it was a microcosm of the Trumpian movement that, now unleashed, will be difficult to contain.

  • 4 Cautionary Tales from the French Revolution

    by Christine Adams

    A historian of revolutionary France argues that the period presents cautions about the prevalence of disinformation, the potential of rhetoric to incite, the folly of blaming singular figures for broad trends and movements, and the cynicism that flows from efforts to undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutions. 

  • Understanding Modern Violence Through the Lens of the Reign of Terror

    by Jack Censer

    One of the most stimulating books I have read in some time is Sophie Wahnich’s In Defense of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution (published in 2003, but in English 2012). But it’s not the writing (which is murky) or its purpose (with which I generally disagree) but its viewpoint on Terrorism that can be instructive.In fact, this little book is an apologetic for the Terrorists in the French Revolution. And its value is that in associating herself so clearly with her subject, she does see them much as they saw themselves. In short, Wahnich argues that the Terrorists were motivated by the “dread” that they felt after the assassination of Marat. They then had acted to protect the purity and integrity of the “sacred” revolution that they had made to affirm the political equality of all. More originally, Wahnich also claims that the mechanism of the Terror led to more incarcerations than executions and that its organizational existence at least put limits on popular “enthusiasm.” In sum, the Terrorists were justified and their leadership contained excesses.