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The french renewal in the Minds of Men Author(s) Maurice Cranston Re popular opini unmatchabled work(s) Source The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer, 1989), pp. 46-55 Published by Wilson Quarterly Stable URL http//www. jstor. org/stable/40257906 . Accessed 31/05/2012 2113 Your engage of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http//www. jstor. org/ knave/info/about/policies/terms. jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that supports scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a widely range of content in a trusted digital archive.We use information technology and as well asls to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For much than information about JSTOR, please contact emailprotected org. Wilson Quarterly and Woodrow Wilson International meat for Scholars are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and ext check access to The Wilson Quarterly (1976-). http //www. jstor. org 1789 THE FRENCH IN THE REVOLUTION OF MEN MINDS by Maurice Cranston July 14, 1989- Ba close upeDay- governmental and cultural occupyers of every ideological judgement assembled in genus Paristo celebratethe bicentennial of the cut variation.Was there something strange about their consentaneous applause? All subsequent major regenerations, such as those that took nookieside in Russia and China, remain controversialtoday. alone the french innovation, which served as the direct or indirect sample for these subsequently upheavals, now passes for an innocuous occasion which whatsoever unity, Marxistor monarchist, bottom of the inning uniting in celebrating. Wasthis proof scarce of the anaesthetizing power of time, that two centuries could turn the french changeinto a museum piece, an exhibitionacceptable to altogether viewers, as yet to a desc culminationent of the old Bourbon monarchs?Or is there something about the French variety itself that, fro m its beginning, practices it apart from later(prenominal) revolutions? The tricouleur, the Marseillaise, the massive paintings of David exclusively celebrate a series of connected flushts, alternatelyjoyous and grim, which make up the rattling, historical French Revolution. But there is an some other(prenominal) French Revolution, one which emerged tho later on the tumultuous days were over and the events and deeds became noble-minded or distorted in the minds of later partisans. This is the French Revolution as myth, and it is in umteen ways the more than importantof the two.It is so, one could argue, because the myth, and not the reality, excite the scores of revolutions that were to come. The actors of the French Revolution, anWQ spend 1989 nouncing their principles on behalf of every last(predicate) man winsome, clearly mean their deeds to bind a mythic dimension. They wanted to inspireothers to follow their example. roll the firmnessof the Rights of Man, pass ed in Augustof 1789. At no point does it refer to the specific conditions or laws of France. Instead, it speaks in grand universals, as if it were the voice of mankinditself.Replete with terms like citizen, emancipation,the inspirational rights of man, the commons good, the document provides the lexicon for all future revolutions. By contrast, the introductory radical simulates which stirredthe French in 1789 to act- the English Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776- had been essentiallypolitical events, hold in scope and conservative in objectives. The English revolutionists cl object lensed to restore the liberty that the despotic James II had destroyed the American revolutionaries made the kindredclaim that they were besides defending their rights against tyrannical measures introduced by George III.Neither revolutionsought to change society. The French Revolution, however, sought to do exactly that. Indeed, to many of the more zealous French revolutiona ries, the central aim was the creation of a new man- or at least the departure of pristine man, in all his natural goodness and simplicity, from the cruel and degrading prison of the traditional societal order. It is easy to see how this grandiose flock of the Revolutions purpose went hand-in-handwith the military issue of Romanticism.The great Romantic poets and philosophers encouraged people done- 46 1789 out the western hemisphere to believe that imagination could triumph over custom and tradition, that everything was possible disposed the will to achieve it. In the early 1790s, the young William Wordsworth expressed the common en consequentlyiasm for the seemingly brave and limit little new world of the Revolution France standingon the top of golden hours, And homo nature seeming born again. present we encounter one of the many differences between reality and myth.The reality of the French Revolution, as Tocqueville maintained, was prepared by the rationalist philosophers of the 18th-century Enlightenment, by Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, dAlembert, and Holbach no less than by Rousseau. Its myth, however, was perpetuated during the nineteenth century by Ro- mantic poets such as Byron, Victor Hugo and Holderlin. Byron in his life and in his poetry bore profess to that romanticized revolutionary capricelism, fighting and then dying as he did to help the Greeks throw take the Turkish yoke and set up a free acres of their own.The grandeur of its lofty aims made the French Revolution all the more attractive to succeeding generations of revolutionaries, real and would-be the force-out added theatrical glamor. The guillotine itself an invention of gruesome fascination together with the ideal status of its victims, many of them purple, noble, or political celebrities, made the Terror as thrilling as it was alarming. The struggles which broke out in 1793, when France declared war on Great Britain, Holland, and Spain, were fought not by professional soldiers further by conscripts, ordinary men who were ex-Duringthe 1790s, the FrenchArmybecame the schoolof the Revolution,where volunteers learned to distinguishwhat theyfoughtfor and love what they know. WQ summertime 1989 47 1789 pected to know what they fought for and love what they know. These wars were thought of as wars of liberation. It hardly matteredthat sleep turnedout to be an imperialistic conqueror no better than Alexander or Caesarhe was still a peoples emperor. If historians of the French Revolution are unanimous about any one point, it is thisthatthe Revolutionbroughtthe people into French political life. To put forward that it inwould be to say too troduced democracy much.Althoughpopularsuffragein varying degrees was institutedas the revolutionunfolded, no fully democratic constitution was set up. But popular supportcame to be recognized as the except basis for legitimatingthe nationalgovernment. Even the new despotism of Napoleon had to rest on a plebisc itary authority. These plebiscites, which allowed voters only to ratifydecisions already made, denied popular reign in detail while paying tri barelye to it in theory. (The vote for the Constitutionwhich made Napoleon emperor in 1804-3,500,000 for versus 2,500 against hardlysuggestsa vigorous democracy. But if Napoleons government was not democratic, it was on the fount of it populistic. The people did not rule themselves, besides they approvedof the man who command them. The end of Napoleons empire in 1815, which was also in a sense the end of the historicalFrench Revolution,could only be brought about by the intervention of contrasted armies. Those foreign armies could place a king on the throne of France, as they did with Louis XVIIIin 1815, exactly they could not restore the principle of royal sovereignty in the hearts of the French people. They simply put a lid on forces which would assume ut in anotherrevolution 15 years later,this time not only in France but in other parts of the Westernworld. The French Revolution had turned the French into a republican people. Even when they chose a king- Louis-Philippe to lead that revolution of 1830, he was more of a republican prince than a royal sovereign in the traditional mold. LouisPhilippe,the CitizenKing,had to recognize, as part of his office, the sovereignty of the nation. And what kind of sovereign is it, one may ask, who has to submit to the sovereigntyof the nation?The answer mustiness clearlybe, one who is king neitherby grace of God nor birth nor lawfulinheritancebut only through the will of the people, who are thus his electors and not his subjects. of sovereignty the nationwas a new and powerful idea, a revolutionaryidea, in the 19th century. At the philosophical level, it is unremarkably asto cribed,with some justification, the teachof JeanJacques Rousseau, whom Eding mund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and many lesser commentators considered the ideologue of the French Revolution.What Rous seau did was to fork the c oncept which he said should be kept of sovereignty, the people in their own hands, from the by which he urged the concept of government, people to entrustto carefullychosen elites, their moral and intellectual superiors. Rousseauheld that neither hereditarykings nor aristocratscould be considered superiors of this kind. Rousseau was uncompromisinglyrepublican. To him a republic could be based only on the incorporated will of citizens who contracted to live together below(a) laws that they themselves enacted. Myargument,Rousseauwrote in TheSo-Maurice Cranston, a former Wilson Center Guest Scholar, is professor of political science at the London School of Economics. Born in London, he was educated at St. CatherinesCollege and The His OxfordUniversity. books include John StuartMill (1965),Jean-Jacques EarlyLife and Work of Jean-JacquesRousseau, 1712-54 (1982), and John Locke A Biography(1985). WQ SUMMER 1989 48 1789 Three Leaders Three Phases of the Revo lution. The liberalMarquisde Lafayetteinitiallyguided the Revolution. GeorgesDanton helped overthrowthe monarchy,but was fulfilldfor being too moderate. Robespierre was both directorand victim of the Terror. ial Contract, is that sovereignty, being nothing other than the exercise of the full general will, can never be alienated and the sovereign, which is simply a collective being, cannot be represented by anyone but itself- power may be delegated, but the will cannot be. The sheer size of France, however, with a population in 1789 of some 26 million of people, precluded the transformation the French kingdom into the potpourri of direct democracy that Rousseau a native Swissthe Americanshad very reenvisaged. Still, cently proved that a nation need not be as small as a city-statefor a republican constitution to work.And as an inspirationto the average Frenchman, the American Revolution was no less importantthan the writings of Rousseau. The American Revolution thus became a stan dard for France,despite its conservative elements. Moreover,the AmericanRevolution later served as a model for others largely because its principles were translated and universalized by the French Revolution. In Latin America, the Spanish and Portuguesecolonies could not directly follow the American example and indict their monarchs for unlawfully violating their rights Spain and Portugal, impertinent England, recognized no such rights.But following the example of the French RevoWQ SUMMER 1989 49 1789 lution, LatinAmericanslike Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martinwere able to appeal to abstract or universal principles. To signalise Bolivias new constitution in 1826, Simon Bolivarused the same universaland idealisticcatchwordswhich the French had patented 37 years before In this constitution/ Bolivar announced, you will bewilder unify all the guarantees of permanency and liberty, of equality and order. If the South American republics sometimes seemed to affect on the spur of t he moment on republican liberty nd equality,the concept of royal or imperial sovereignty was nonetheless banished forever from American shores. The oblivious reign of Maximilianof Austriaas Emperor of Mexico ( 1864- 1867) provideda brief and melancholy epilogue to such ideas of sovereignty in the New being. Even in the Old beingness,royal and aristocratic governments were on the defensive. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna, under Prince Metternichof Austriasguidance, attempted to erase the memory of the Revolution and restore europium to what it had been before 1789.Yet only five years after the Congress,Metternichwrote to the Russian tsar,AlexanderI, admitting,Thegovernments, having lost their balance, are frightened, intimidated, and thrown into confusion. French Revolution had permanently destroyed the mystique on which traditional regimes were based. No king could indisputablyclaim that he ruled by divine right nor could lords and bishops assume that their own interests and t he nationalinterestscoincided. After the French Revolution, commoners, the hitherto silent majorityof ordinaryunderprivilegedpeople, asserted the right to have opinions of their own- and to make them known.For once the ideas of liberty, democracy,and the rightsof men had been extracted from philosopherstreatises and put on the agenda of political actionwhich is what the French Revolution with its universalprinciplesdid- there could be no security for any regime which set itself againstthose ideals. In old memorial textbooks one can still find the interpretation of the French Revolutionfirstadvancedby Jules Micheletand Jean Jaures and other left-wing historians who explained the Revolution as one terminateing feudalismand advancing bourgeois capitalist society.While few historians still view the Revolution this way,the Micheletinterpretation was widespread during the 19th century,and its currency promptedmany an aspiring Robespierreto comThe revolutionaryuprisingin Frankfurt 1848. Thedull pass plete the revolution. in Completing the revoluof revolution,which VictorHugo had detected pushingout under every kingdomin Europe,grew dramaticallyloud thatyear. tion meant overthrowing 50 WQ SUMMER 1989 1789 the bourgeoisie in favor of the works class, just as the bourgeoisie had supposedly overthrown the feudal aristocracyin 1789.The convulsive year of 1848 was marked in Europe by several revolutions which attempted to complete the work of 1789. Their leaders all looked back to the FrenchRevolutionfor their historicjustification. Tocquevilleobservedof these revolutionaries that their imitation of 1789 was so manifestthat it concealed the terrible originalityof the factsI continuallyhad the photo they were engaged in mapactingthe FrenchRevolution removed more than continuing it. If the 19th centurywas, as many historians describe it, the century of revolutions,it was so largelybecause the French Revolution had provided the model. As it turns out, the origination o f a proper model has proved to be a more decisive prod to revolution than economic crisis, political unrest, or even the agitations of young revolutionaries. Indeed, the role of professionalrevolutionaries seems negligible in the preparation of to the highest degree revolutions. Revolutionaries oftentimes watched and analyzed the political and tender disintegrationaround them, but they were seldom in a position to direct it.Usually,as HannahArendtobserved,revolution broke out and liberated,as it were, the professional revolutionistsfrom wheresoever they happened to be- from jail, or from the coffee house, or from the library. Tocqueville made a similar watching about the revolutionaries of 1848 The French monarchy fell before rather than beneath the blows of the victors, who were as astonishedat their triumph as were the vanquishedat their defeat. Disturbances which during the 18th century would hardly have be so incendiary ignited one revolution after another during the 19th century.They did so because now there existed a revolutionary model for respondingto crises. During the 1790s, revolutionaries right(prenominal) of France such as ToussaintLOuverture Haiti and in Wolfe Tone in Ireland tried and true simply to import the French Revolution,with its ideals of nationalism,equalityand republicanism, and adapt it to local conditions. And well into the 19th century,most revolutionaries continued to focus their eyes not on the future but on the past- on what the French duringthe 1790s had done in roughlysimilar circumstances. e sure, the French Revolution possessed differentand even contradictory meanings, differences which reflect die several(a) stages of the historical Revolution. The ideals and leaders of each stage inspired a particulartype of The revolutionarymen later revolutionary. of 1789-91, including the Marquisde Lafayette, inspired liberal and aristocratic revolutionaries. Their ideal was a quasiBritish constitutional monarchy and suffrage ba sed on propertyqualifications. The revolutionariesof 1830-32 realizedthis liberal vision in France and Belgium.The Girondins and moderate Jacobins of 1792-93 became the model for lowermiddle-class and intellectual revolutionaries whose political goal was a democratic republic and usually some form of a welfare state. The French Revolutionof 1848, with its emphasis on universal manhood suffrage and the states obligation to provide jobs for all citizens, initiallyembodied their vision of society. A third type of revolutionary,the extremists of 1793-94 such as Robespierre and GracchusBabeuf, inspired later working-classand socialist revolutionaries.A reactionarysuch as Prince Metternich would hardly have distinguished among these three types of revolutionaries. But a later observer,Karl Marx,did. Seeing that the nationalist revolutions of his time igWQ SUMMER 1989 51 1789 Lenin (shown here in a 1919 photograph) exploitedthe precedentof the FrenchRevolution to legitimizethe BolshevikRev olutionin the eyes of the world. nored the socialist-radical strain of the French Revolution, he came to deplore its influence on later revolutionaries.Marx,who by 1848 was alreadyactive in commie politics, condemned what he considered the confusion of understanding in most of these revolutionarymovements. An emotional earnest to reenact the dramas of 1789-1815 seemed to him to stand in the way of a successful revolutionary strategy. In a letter to a friend in September, 1870, Marxwrote The tragedyof the French, and of the working class as a whole, is that they are trapped in their memories of significant events. We need to see an end, once and for all, to this reactionary cult of the past. VladimirIlyich Lenin had no such resWQ SUMMER 1989 ervations.He passed up no rhetorical opportunityto present his Russian Bolsheviks as the heirs of the French revolutionary traditionand the RussianRevolutionof 1917 as a re regulation of FrancesRevolution of 1789. Lenin went so far as to call his Bolshevik faction the Jacobins of contemporarySocial-Democracy. is not difficult to understandLenins motives. Throughoutthe 19th century, most of the successful revolutions in Europe and Latin America had been nationalist revolutions. (Indeed, when the revolutionaryGerman liberals of 1848 issued their Declaration of Rights, they ascribed those rightsto the GermanVolkas a whole and not to privatepersons. But the 52 1789 into his hands but the ideology and propaexample of the French Revolution suga revolutioncould be more than ganda adopted by the Allied powers in gested that World War I did so as well. When their just a matter of nationalism. Takingthe example of the French Revolution under the earlymilitarycampaignswent badly,the Alfanatical Robespierre,one could argue, as lies attemptedto make the war more popuLenin did, that the true goal of revolution lar, and the enormous casualties more tolwas to alter the way people lived together, erable,by declaringtheir cause to be a w ar In for liberty. the name of liberty,Great socially and economically. as we know, Lenin looked back Britain, France, and the United States enYet, a century when attempts at radical couraged the subject nations of the Gerupon social revolutions had been ultimatelyand man, Austrian and Turkish empires to uniformlyabortive. The French Revolution throw off the imperialyoke. of 1848, which take the liberalKing But in championingnationalliberty,the Allies were guilty of hypocrisy.Neither Louis-Philippe,briefly gave great power to the working class. Duringits most prom- GreatBritainnor France had any intention of permittingnationalistrevolutionswithin ising days, the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) even accepted a their own empires or those of any neutral seat in the legislative chamber. But the power. But Leninwas able to catch them in the trap of their own contradictions. coup detat of Napoleon III in 1851 presently brought an end to all this.The communist By declaring to the world that the Bolshevik exaltation of power in 1917 was a removement, which Marx described as a enactment of the French Revolution, he specter haunting Europe, produced no more real(a) results than most specters was able to attach to his regime all those do. Before World War I, Marxwas notably less influential as a theoretician than were the champions of revolutionary socialism such as Proudhon and FerdinandLassalle(1825-1864) who persuaded the workers that their interestswould be better served by reform and democratic process than by revolution.It was World War I which put revolutionarysocialism back on the agenda again. The war to end all warsgave Lenin the opportunityto persuade the world that the French Revolution could be repeated as a communist revolution in, of all with a Chinese face monoamine oxidases Cultural Revolution Robespierre places, Russia. Not only did hoped to realizeRobespierresdream of pushing beyondpolitical the upheavals of war play reformto remakema n and society. WQ SUMMER 1989 53 1789 strong, if mixed, emotions which the French Revolution had kindled in the outside world from 1789 on.In symbolicways, both large and small- such as naming one of their first naval ships Marat, after the French revolutionaryleader- the early Soviets underscored their connection with the earlier revolution. The attempts of the Allied powers to send in troops to save TsaristRussiafrom the Bolshevikswas immediately seen by a war-wearyworld as a reactionary,counter-revolutionaryWhite Terror,and public opinion presently put an end to that intervention. After1917,the Soviet Unionsself-image became less that of a revolutionaryregime socialist and more that of a well-established empire.This transition unexpectedly changed its adherents at last to obey Marxs injunctionto abolish the cult of the revolutionary past and to fix their eyes on the present. The idea of revolutionthus passed from the left to the ultra-left,to Stalin and Trotskyand, later, to Ma o Zedong and his CulturalRevolutionin China. Yet even during the extreme phase of the CulturalRevolution, Mao still evinced his debt to the French Revolution, a debt which he shares with the later Third Worldrevolutionaries.Whenever a revolutionary leader, from Ho Chi Minh and FrantzFanonto Fidel Castroand Daniel Ortega, speaksof a new man, or of restructuring a whole society, or of creating a new human order,one hears againthe ideas and assumptionsfirst operateed on the political stage during the French Revolution. fact, there can be no doubt that a cultural revolution is what Robespierre set afoot in France, and what, if he had lived, he would have tried to bring to completion. As a disciple of Rousseau, he truly believed that existing culture had corruptedmodern man in all classes of society, and that an entirely new culture was WQ SUMMER 1989 ecessaryif men were to determine their natural goodness. The new spectral institutions which Robespierre introduced the cult of the Sup reme Being and the righteousness of Truthat the altar of Reason, as well as the new patrioticfestivalsto replace the religious holidays were all intended to be part of what can only be called a cultural revolution. Robespierredid not believe that political, social, and economic changes alone, however radical,would enable men to achieve their full humanity.But while the ideals and the languageof the cultural revolution sound nobler than those of the political revolution,such elevation of thought seems only to authorize greater unmercifulness in action. Robespierres domination of the French Revolution lasted for only a short period, from April 1793 until July 1794, when he himself died under the same guillotine which he had used to execute his former friendsand supposed enemies. Moderationwas restoredto the French Revolution after his execution by the least idealistic of its participants a a cynical Talleyrand, pusillanimousSieyes, and a ingenuously ambitious Napoleon. ikewise, mod eration was restored to the Chinese Revolutionby the Chineseadmirersof Richard Nixon. Yet while moderation had been restored to the real historical French of Revolution,the inevitability the returnto was often conveniently ig normality nored by later revolutionaries. And what of France itself? At first glance, all the majorsubsequent datesof French history seem to be in a revolutionary tradition or at least of revolutionary magnitude- 1830 (Louis-Philippe) 1848 (the Second Republic) 1852 (the Second Empire) 1871 (the Third Republic) 1940 (the Vichy French State) 1945 (the Fourth Republic) 1958 (the Fifth Republic).Yet these headline dates, all suggesting recurrent tumult, may be misleadingFrancehas not been wracked by major upheavalsnor 54 1789 that left the bodily structure by social earthquakes of society unrecognizable, as Russia and Chinawere aftertheir revolutions. Continuity may be the most striking feature in Frenchlife. Robertand BarbaraAndersons Bus Stop to Paris (1965) sh owed how a village not more than 10 miles from Paris remained unaffectedyear afteryear by all the great rumblingsin the capital. Are we dealing with a revolutionwhose myth is all out of proportionto the facts?Tocqueville,that most dependableof all politicalanalysts,offersan answerThe major change realized by the Bourbon kings duringthe 17th and 18th centuries was the increasingcentralizationof France and the creation of a strong bureaucracyto portion out it. This bureaucracy,in effect, ruled France then and has continued to rule it through every social upheaval and behind every facade of constitutionalchange. This bureaucracyhas providedstabilityand continuitythroughthe ups and downs of political fortune.The French Revolutionand Napoleon, far from making an abrupt break with the past, continued and even accelerated the tendencytowardbureaucraticcentralization. Tocquevillealmost discuss sayingthat the French Revolution never happened, that the events not only looked theatrical but were theatricalThe French could afford to have as many revolutions as they pleased, because no matter what laws they enacted, or what persons they placed in their legislative and administrator offices, the same civil servants, the functionaries,the members of V would remain Administration, in command. any revolutions can the historian cite as having left the people better off at the end than they were at the beginning? Unfortunatelythe discrepancybetween its mythand its reality may have made the French Revolution a deceptive model for other nations to imitate. The mythtreatedsociety like a neutral, ahistoricalprotoplasmfrom which old corrupt institutions could be extracted and into which new rules for human interaction could be inserted at will. The reality was that France, with its unusually strong state bureaucracy, could withstand the shocks and traumas of radical constitutional upheaval.In modern history, revolution often seems a luxurythat only privilegedpeoples such as the F rench and the Americansand the English can afford. less(prenominal) fortunatepeoples, from the Russiansin 1918 to the Cambodians in 1975, on whom the burden of the establishedregimes weighed more cruelly, have often enacted their revolutions with catastrophicresults. It is possibly one of the harsherironies of history that, since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the more a country appears to need a revolution, the less likely it will be able to accomplish one successfully. WQ SUMMER 1989 55

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