Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For The French Revolution. As Always With This Source It Is A Good Place To Start In Order To Look Elsewhere For More Specific, And Sometimes More Reliable, Information.
Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution, Lynn Hunt, University Of California Press, Berkeley, 1984
This year marks the commemoration of the 220th Anniversary of the great French Revolution. Democrats, socialists, communists and others rightly celebrate that event as a milestone in humankind’s history. Whether there are still lessons to be learned from the experience is an open question that political activists can fight over. None, however, can deny its grandeur. Well, no one except those closet, and not so closet, modern day royalists, and their epigones that screech in horror and grasp for their necks every time the 14th of July comes around. They have closed the door of history behind them. Won’t they be surprised then the next time there is a surge of progressive human activity?
All great revolutions, like the French revolution under review here, are capable, especially when they are long over, of being analyzed from many prospectives. Moreover, official and academic historian have no other reason to exist except to keep revising the effects that such revolutions have had on future historical developments. Left wing political activists, on the other hand, try to draw the lessons of those earlier plebeian struggles in order to better understand the tasks ahead. As part of that understanding it is necessary to look at previous revolutions not only from the position of how it effected the plebes but to look at from the position of those who do not see the action of the plebeian masses as decisive, at least for the French Revolution.
Professor Lynn Hunt in the book under review, “Politics, Culture and Class In the French Revolution” has carved out a niche for herself exploring the morals, mores and customs of the insurgent revolutionary forces as they tried to legitimize their seizure of power. Moreover, she has done some extensive work culling through the statistics and other documentary evidence to see who, according to her lights, the main beneficiaries of the revolutionary struggle were. For those partisans of later social movements and revolutionary movements the questions posed by Professor Hunt’s study about the symbols and organization of power are a welcome addition.
If one, like this reviewer, spends his or her time looking at the base of society (here the urban sans culottes, the landless peasants and displaced village artisans)to see how those forces were brought to political life, organized, made politically effective (if only for a time, as noted above, before they as individuals like society in general also run out of revolutionary steam) and how they put pressure on their leaderships and how those leaderships responded to those pressures then one downplays the other social forces that are in play in a revolutionary period. Great revolutions, however, create all kinds of turmoil in layers of society that previously were dormant or were in control, although shakily. In that regard, virtually a sure sign that a pre-revolutionary situation exists is when a portion of the old ruling elite (or their agents) begins to make revolutionary noises. That is the value of Professor Hunt’s study.
All political/social movements have their rituals, symbols and customs. Of special note here is Professor Hunt’s focus on the work of the politician/artist David in creating many of the visual ‘myths’ of the revolution. The book is loaded with many other interesting cultural tidbits, as well. For those of us who cherish the memory of the French Revolution as the forerunner of greater social movements this little work is a welcome addition. For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the French revolution a more generalized study is warranted before you tackle this work. Then come back here and appreciate this more intriguing and specialized study.
Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé
Entendez vous dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!
Amour sacré de la patrie,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs!
Liberté, Liberté cherie,
Combats avec tes defenseurs!
Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire
Accoure à tes males accents!
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire!
Nous entrerons dans la carrière
Quand nos ainés n'y seront plus;
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leurs vertus.
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivre
Que de partager leur cercueil,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueil
De les venger ou de les suivre!