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French Revolution


  • 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.

  • From the Bloody Nursery of Revolution, Democracy

    by Guillaume Mazeau

    More than two years after the hope that accompanied the so-called “Arab Spring,” the Occidental experts, politicians and public opinions are now chocked by the return of political violence in Egypt, perpetuated by the military. What is striking about these reactions is the difficulty to understand why so many Egyptian former dissidents, liberals and even leftists, who fought against Mubarak and his military dictatorship, now clearly support General Al-Sisi’s coup and even justify the recent massacres of Muslim Brothers. Is it possible to explain such a dramatic shift without blaming these sincere men and women, who claim to struggle for democracy but, at the same time, approve the use of political violence?

  • Revolutionary Disillusionment, from 1789 to 2013

    by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

    Disillusionment is a time-honored revolutionary tradition. True believers risk their lives launching a revolution, only to see their ideals abandoned by others -- or, worse, to watch the former government return.

  • Revolutions: Three Different Kinds

    by Rex Wade

    Alyssa's posting, like Peter Stearns' earlier, implicitly touch on the questions of leadership and revolutionary stages. Perhaps in any discussion of revolutions it may be worth keeping in mind that those who begin revolutions rarely are the ones who finish them. (The American Revolution, perhaps better called by its other common term, the War for Independence, is an anomaly that perhaps misleads Americans about revolutions.) In comparing revolutions and leadership, perhaps several variants are worth keeping in mind:1) Places where the revolution “succeeds,” in the sense of the old regime being swept away, but successive leadership changes and even mini-revolutions and regime changes occur before things are stabilized in a new order, as in France after 1789 and Russia in 1917.2) Those (rare?) instances where the original revolutionaries successfully sweep away the old regime and replace it by something genuinely new that is reasonably stable and permanent, such as Turkey with Ataturk.3) Instances where revolutionaries have temporary success but the old regime soon reconstitutes itself in slightly altered form (“Revolution of 1905” in Russia, 1848 in Central Europe).

  • Revolutionary Situations are Inherently Messy

    by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

    Social scientists who study revolutions and other historical processes generally look for patterns and similarities. Historians, by contrast, have traditionally focused on factors that are specific to each situation, in each time and in each place. They seek to understand the particularities of each situation, rather than generalize about commonalities.Like most historians, I tend to analyze events based on particular historical contexts. And yet, after twenty-five years of studying eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revolutions (and watching new ones erupt in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries), I cannot help but notice certain patterns that recur in almost all revolutionary situations.