Originally published 08/22/2013
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.
Originally published 08/20/2013
Our colleagues in the related blog The French Revolution Network have made a call for new contributions: see http://revolution.hypotheses.org/comparative-revolutions This strong group of scholars will no doubt have much of interest for our collectivity.
Originally published 08/16/2013
The same disillusionment set in as the French Revolution progressed. In fact, in a superb article in the Chronicle of Higher Education published in 2006, Howard Brown of the University of Binghamton described how events of the Revolution presaged events of 2006. It seems to me that Brown's article actually does even better to foreshadow what has happened in Egypt the last month and especially this week. His article concentrates on the trajectory from constitutionalism to repression under Napoleon. The biggest difference is the incredible speed of the current transformation compared to two centuries ago. It took a month in Egypt for what transpired in France over a decade. This, of course, relates to the same acceleration in the revolutionary process that Alyssa Sepinwall described elsewhere in this blog.
Originally published 07/12/2013
The political independence that the military often displays in the midst of revolutionary situations was strikingly absent in both the American and French revolutions. Both depended on militias composed of citizen soldiers. Even as an army was constituted, this remained the case at least for a good while.Let me consider the French case as I know it much better. In fact, the revolutionary uprising (July 12-14, 1789) that led to the capture of the Bastille already revealed that some of the royal army had, in fact, absorbed the rising tide of revolutionary spirit. The troops called up largely refused to intervene. The effective fighting force that actively favored the revolution proved to be poorly armed citizenry, but taking the Bastille was accomplished less by armed assault than persuasion. When the revolutionaries got around in succeeding months to organizing the army, they installed elections by the troops as a way of peopling the officer rank.
Originally published 07/11/2013
With the world once again filled with anticipation and dread of revolution, it is reasonable to examine what relevant past events our predecessors experienced. Inarguably, the past is at least a set of experiences that may be useful in considering the present. Even that relatively modest claim requires some hesitation in that historians do not write as oracles, somehow outside the fray. Politics, despite the best intention of scholars, inflicts this work. Nonetheless, reviewing the revolutionary past will be at least interesting and potentially instructive.Thus, the moderators propose to introduce questions relevant to current events with the notion that scholars who study revolutions throughout the globe will comment. Postings must be under 250 words and conform to scholarly norms.
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