By Dean Alexander
The chicken, the egg? A question of influence.
In a 1999 book review of Pierre Nora’s ‘Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past,” historian Sunil Khilnani wrote that the author’s focus was on “how historical “meanings are created, manipulated, circulated and disputed”. While charges of “meaning creation” and “manipulation” may have been a relatively new topic in 1999, since that time, the academic landscape regarding French Revolutionary history seems to have been dominated by this particular sideshow. As we will see, this all would begin in the mid-1970’s, when François Furet attacked the traditional approach to French history, as containing the paradigms of Marxist theory. Furet’s attack was devastating for Alfred Soboul, who at the time was the world’s leading authority on the French Revolution, and set in motion a conflagration of what had been the traditional understanding of French history.
Although Furet’s concepts were successful as disruptors, it has become clear that the ideas which he proffered in replacement were not wholly accepted either. Arguments as to the true meaning of the French Revolution have persisted to this day, but having morphed, Khilnani notes in his review of ‘Realms of Memory’, into what may be little more than contrivances and manipulations.
Some historians have spent virtually their entire careers intellectually sparring over what amounts to little more than socio-political maneuvering. Conversely, it may be the case that once history has been written, any future historian will either be forced to successfully repackage that history, or be forced tear it down in to start anew, in order to justify theirtheir positionexistence as researchers rather than mere teachers.
As students of history, rather than researchers or re-constructors of history, the mere existence of these arguments means that we must have at least attain a basic understanding of this intellectual battlefield. Moreover, it was the history itself which has in many ways manipulated the historian, and for all of Furet’s charges of a Marxist history, are in many ways just a continuation of the same rancorous ideological battles that the leftists, liberal-republicans, and conservatives fought, and sometimes died over, throughout the 19th century. This is the purpose of this article, to sort out the history and consider the charges of ‘manipulation’ among the historians. What we take away from it, is up to us.
Reaffirming the long-term goals of the articles which make up Part 3
Eventually, I seek to come to a reasonable understanding of what may have happened to the peasant tenant farmers of the Cote d’Or – who most certainly existed at the time of the revolution. In the case of the Burgundian vigneron, did some of those peasant families make the transition from being tenured peasants, to successful landholders, or did families with money from other backgrounds and trades come in and supplant the peasants who had traditionally farm these famous vineyards? Does historian David R. Weir’s 1976 analysis that the peasantry who had been “squeezed out” of the Cote d’Or, reflect socialist or Marxist notions of a French rural exodus, or is this indeed what had happened in the Cote d’Or?
The answer of how this cultural and economic occurred, transition lies within the detailed histories of the peasantry, compiled by “socialist” and “Marxist” historians, and it is that record which we will largely depend. However, these historians were challenged, by many accounts successfully, in 1970’s and 1980’s first by revisionists, and later others. However, the labels of socialist and Marxist politicize and cloud the issues at hand, and it forces us to look for the root source of these mid-century historian’s analyses, the intellectual and cultural history of France.
The salons of France
The reverence that the educated elite of France had for philosophers and historians propelled both the thinkers as well as their ideas throughout the 17th, 18th, and the 19th centuries. This is not to say that a philosopher’s work was so celebrated that it did not put them in direct threat of the crown, for many were sought by authorities. However, their work did have an audience: the salons of the upper class and was attended by nobles and wealthy bourgeoisie alike. The fashion of the time venerated raffinement: the display and embodiment of elegance and social taste, idealizing wit, intelligence, and intellectual thought. Early on, Antoine Gombaud, Le Chevalier de Méré (1607-1684), a writer know for his treaties on the laws of probability and etiquette writing, advised the well-heeled to be wary of those in court’s circles, and that one should seek out like-minded individuals to join in debate and intellectual conversation (Davetian, undated). No doubt there was an air of danger to these Salons, which were essentially private, somewhat clandestine, haute-société gatherings, where the conversation was likely to swerve to the politically treasonous, as they discussed the most cutting edge ideas of the time. It was here in the salons of Paris that notions monarchical reform took root.
The distinction and gravitas heaped upon the political philosopher during the 18th century can be seen in Edmund Burke’s (1729-1797) suggestion that Kant, Rousseau, and other enlightenment writers were somewhat responsible for the French Revolution (Cranston 1989). John Locke (1634-1704), and early pioneer was first to write about the ‘natural rights of man’, as well as the need for representative government and the rule of law. His ideas were so radical for the time that Locke never dared put his name to his political pamphlets (Powell 1996). It was from Montesquieu’s L’Esprit des lois, (The Spirit of the Law) published in 1753, that led the members of the États généraux of 1789 to advocate a liberal constitutional monarchy (Cranston 1998). Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who although a fugitive from French justice for many years, was friends with many powerful nobles, including the prince du Sang de Conti, and the comté de Mirabeau both of whom supported and protected him until his death in 1778. As the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante) meet on a tennis court in defiance of the King in 1789, it was Rousseau’s friend comté de Mirabeau, who famously proclaimed:
It is asked how long the deputies of the people have been a national convention? I answer, from the day when, finding the door of their session-house surrounded by soldiers, they went and assembled where they could, and swore to perish rather than betray or abandon the rights of the nation… Whatever powers we may have exercised, our efforts and labours have rendered them legitimate…
Historians as historical actors
Throughout the ensuing century, both theorists and historians directly or indirectly would drive French policy. Historians were so revered among the elite society that two of its most famous, François Guizot, of the Sorbonne, and the journalist/historian Adolphe Thiers* were entrusted with great power at the head of government. Guizot worked first for Louis XVIII as the secretary-general of the ministry of the interior, until Napoleon returned from his exile in Elba in 1815. Fifteen years later Guizot would serve in various high-ranking capacities during the entirety of king Louis-Philippe’s reign; most notably for his role in the establishment of secular education, as minister of education. In 1840 he became minister of foreign affairs, and during the last year of Louis-Philippe’s reign, he served as prime minister.
Adolphe Thiers came to be a noted authority of the French Revolution, not as a scholar, but as a cultural and political journalist and historian/author. Through his writings, he was instrumental in building dissent against King Charles X, which lead to that king’s overthrow in 1830. He would later serve the populist “king of the French”, Louis-Philippe, as prime minister in 1836 and again in 1840. Later, in a masterful resurrection of his political career, in 1871 he would the direction the French Army in crushing the communard uprising in Paris, and later that same year is elected as the president of the Third Republic from 1871 to 1873.
While Thiers and Guizot left a direct impact on “event history”,* the socialist and communist thinkers to their political left, would end up leaving a greater imprint upon the written history of France. The writings of Karl Marx and other communists of his day came out of an extension of classical German philosophy of Hegel and Kant, and as such, these ideas were not unfamiliar to intellectuals of the day. Additionally, the extended concepts of a rural exodus, class consciousness, and the value of labor were not solely products philosophical imagination, but in many ways were a mirror of the growing pains of industrialization beginning in 1830. More, Marx’s labor theory of value, historical materialism, and his stages of history did find its advocates among historians who sought to give an intellectual structuralism to “event history” which was as William H. Sewell describes, “atheoretical” and “intellectually bankrupt” (Sewell 2005).
In an attempt to lend a scientific legitimacy to the study of history was made by historian Alphonse Aulard (1849–1928) with his adaptions of the philosophical school of positivism. Using Auguste Comte‘s intellectual reliance on theory and observation, the positivists applied a rigid methodology of relying on primary sources, the need to verify collected information, before allowing themselves to arrive at their conclusions. This, however, did not mean that carefully culled information can not be intentionally or unintentionally bent to fit the original hypothesis.
The goal to find order, meaning, and structure within a field of study which in the past century been referred to as the softest of sciences, has been a common thread among modern historians. Whether these attempts were to find greater meaning within history, or to strike for intellectual parity, to achieve a modicum of the prestige that the hard sciences enjoy, probably depends on the viewpoint of the individual. But you can see this quest for legitimacy very early on, from Karl Marx, whose theories professed to be like the hard sciences, offering a structure that would explain the development man’s economies in a repeatable and predictive fashion, to the positivists, with their rigid methodology, and the Annales scholars who searched for understandable long-term social structures might give greater understanding to the action and events of man.
It has been quite a fall from grace from a time when historians were chosen to be statesmen, given the reigns of one of the world’s greatest powers, to where historians are now, that a newly minted doctorate in history can have trouble finding a $60,000 a year job in teaching, and liberal studies departments, even in the greatest of universities, are sadly anxious because the low enrolments within their disciplines. With employers increasingly wishing to deflect the cost of training new employees back upon the educational system, graduate and undergraduate programs that do not deliver the perceived needs of the hiring manager, increasingly find it difficult to fill their lecture halls. The rapid demise of classical education is an incredibly sad endemic and a poor commentary on the future of our country.
The historical and philosophical underpinnings of the liberal-républicain tradition.
Despite the many charges since 1970 of a Marxist dialogue, we can view this “socialist” historiography as easily having been a reflection of the events within France. If we are to consider the relationship between the historical and philosophical origins of the major theoretical and political movements of the 19th century, we will see enough commonalities to cause us to question the origin of any particular idea.
Just as mid-century liberal-républicains had grown out of the turbulent 1789 Revolution, and France’s eventual entry into industrialization, so too had the Marxists and Anarchists. In this case, it is useful to consider the mid 20th-century theory of mentalités, which is to attempt to reconstruct the cultural structures and mentalities of a people, so one might understand what drives a society to make the collective political and economic decisions that they make.
In this case, life within in the 19th-century urban centers such as Paris or Lyon dictated the development of the political actors. The liberal-républicain developed and existed homogeneously, within the same cultural mentalités, as those groups which were considered to be farther to the political left. Consequently, these organization shared many of the same experiences and concerns, regardless their philosophical antagonisms. The first and most fundamental question of food security were followed closely by the notions of personal and political freedoms, and the pursuit of equality. These questions were difficult, if not virtually impossible solve, and as this block of people chipped away against the conservative structures which had defined French rule for centuries. The wide striations of opinions of how to proceed forced the creation of the varied French political terrain. The two basic, fundamental philosophical concepts which vied for dominance among the center-left of French citizenry of the 19th century, were republicanism and liberalism.
Republicanism, as a philosophical family, with their Platonic and Rousseauian values of popular sovereignty, civic virtue and the common good, is not so unique that it does not also share these same core attributes with other philosophies, in this case, Marxism. At one time this was considered very advanced, even treasonous thinking to the autocrat or the monarch, as it advocates the civic participation in government, and not only the ability to be ruled but to rule in turn (Leydet 2014). These traits do lead automatically to some degree of equality, which was an essential element of republicanism philosophy. In today’s western society, republicanism is widely accepted, and its arguments and reasoning, which lack the most complex contradictions of liberalism, tends toward establishing authoritarian systems, especially if it is steeped in the democratic concept of majority rule.
For the person who is wired to either work within an obedient, majority rules, society, be they leaders who are ‘getting their way,’ or followers who are willing to accept the rule of others, republicanism works extraordinarily well. For the person who is truly wired as an individualist, that person will continually chaff at the binding restrictions of the republican system. For those intellectuals of the 19th century who were individualists, the philosophy of liberalism called. These individualists were ultimately joined by those, who although they would ultimately seek a republican society, band with individualists to fight the injustice which can be endemic within systems of authoritarian rule.
At its operational core, Marxism relies on many of republican values. The communist belief that men eventually could and would naturally, begin to work together (in factories and other modes of production) without the need for capitalist organization and oversight. Having gained class consciousness, workers would realize, claimed the Marxists and anarchists, that the proletariat could effectively manage themselves (autogestion) in this new communism. In many ways, this was a concept similar to republicanism’s ideal of civil participation within a rotational representative government, but in this case used as an instrument to self-manage labor. With this consciousness “the chains” of the “bourgeoisie” would be broken, either by evolution or by revolution, thus ending the stage of capitalism.
This hypothetical Marxist-socialist society would work and govern itself with communal, civic virtue, working for the greater common good, in a purely communist society. According to Marx this commune would have attained the highest developmental stage.
Marxist thought would point out, that while the Athenians had developed the notions of civic duty and republican ideals four centuries before the birth of Christ, they were a slave economy, and thus were far lower on the economic developmental scale, than even the dreaded “capitalist” stage.
Pure examples of communal-republican ideals are sparse but include the British utopian socialists of the Chartist movement 1840’s, and a group of mostly American political philosophers, the communitarians, who in the 1970’s and 1980’s, argued for shared values and consensus building (Etizioni 2015), against encroachments by contemporary liberalism. (Etzioni, Britannica.com). Daniel Guérin wrote that the anarchist political philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, observed workers associations “for production”* springing up in an “expression of social spontaneity”** during the 1848 revolution. To Proudhon, this was more revolutionary than the revolution itself (Guérin 1936). This organic communism inspired Proudhon to advocate autogestion, in which the workers are self-managed, and idea that Marx eagerly gravitated toward, and allowed the nascent idea of the self-governed political ideology of communism to form. However, virtually every attempt to establish a communist organization, has from its inception, fundamentally betrayed Marxism’s core republican values of civic virtue and common good, as well as absolving any notion of worker’s self-government. What developed were no more than dictatorships often despotic, behind a thinly veiled communist disguise.
(*) Guérin’s words (**) Proudhon’s words
Liberalism, and the more extreme Anarchism
Conversely, liberalism with its important individual freedoms has its inherent pitfalls, and however important its application, remains an old philosophical quagmire. However, rudimentary its assertion that man should enjoy personal freedom, it stumbles when simultaneously attempting to establish equality. An infinite loop of contradictions, liberalism as a political philosophy is symmetrical in its yin-yang twin pillars: individual freedom, and its contradictory desire for social and economic equality. As any state leader charged with the responsibility of maintaining order would contend, unfettered personal freedom is detrimental to the common good, and must be mitigated with republican ideals of the rule of law and the common good too. Liberalism’s inherent decadence’s to some degree, must always be chaperoned by its companion, republicanism.
The most extreme proponent of liberalist ideals have the various factions of the Anarchist philosophers and economists. Daniel Guérin writes that “the anarchist is above all a man in revolt. He rejects society as a whole along with its guardians.”
Perhaps it is, which suggests a revolt at a personal level, which fractured anarchists even as it was building its ideological foundations, during the mid 19th century.
That Pierre-Joseph Proudhon receives the most ink, is not so surprising, as he was one of the first to suggest new radical changes be made by the peaceful “use of the very institutions which we charge you to abolish” (Proudhon 1851). But this has often been a minority position within the wider anarchist spectrum. Working within the system is antithetical to man in revolt, and suggests a confinement that is likely uncomfortable.
Proudhon showed his innermost feelings of anarchist angst and anxiety when he wrote that he believed that those in power viewed the citizenry as being “a monster to be fought, muzzled, and chained down; which must be led by trickery, like the elephant or the rhinoceros; or cowed by famine; and which is bled by colonization and war.”
Proudhon and Marx: friends or frenemies: divisions of thought.
Proudhon was quite well-known by the time Marx arrived in Paris, having already published four books, while Marx, who as German exile that worked as a writer and editor of Rheinische Zeitung, a communist German language journal in Paris, was not.
Most histories state that during the two years Marx would spend in Paris before his expulsion, Marx and Proudhon were friends. This understanding is likely due to Marx’s 1846 letter (to the right), and Proudhon’s warm response that implies a personal friendship. But historian Paul Thomas suggests they may have met only a handful of times, writing that “it is probable that after their initial meetings that Marx and Proudhon saw very little of each other in Paris.” Thomas notes the lack of any further record of the two men meeting, following the handful of times which were documented as occurring 1843. Additionally, the Parisian police surveillance of Marx indicates no subsequent personal contact with Proudhon, who was at that time a well-known political figure (Thomas 2013).
Apparently, by the time that Marx had been expelled from Paris in 1846, Proudhon was not viewing communism in a positive light. It would seem that Marx had not been aware of this, as he had invited Proudhon (in a personal letter), to join them in a “correspondence committee.” Proudhon would graciously refuse Marx’s invitation. Within his response to Marx, he would write his opposition to economic change through a destructive revolution, saying “I would, therefore, prefer to burn property by a slow fire, rather than give it new strength by making a St. Bartholomew’s night of the proprietors” (Proudhon 1846). In this Proudhon is referencing the meaningless slaughter of thousands of Huguenots during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. Proudhon hoped, writes Robert Graham, that he could win “over the bourgeoisie to the revolutionary cause” and “to avoid further bloodshed” (Graham 2010), opining for a more transformative social change than Marx and other radical socialists advocated.
But it the full truth Proudhon’s feelings toward Marx’s beliefs became far more clear, soon afterward, with the release of Proudhon’s book, The Philosophy of Poverty. Within the pages Proudhon refers to communism as “the very denial of society in its foundation.” He goes on to write: “The communists, toward whom all socialism tends, do not believe in equality by nature and education; they supply it by sovereign decrees which they cannot carry out, whatever they may do.”
This rebuke by Proudhon had no doubt stung Marx, who in several key areas had been directly inspired by Proudhon. These pivotal concepts included the aforementioned autogestion, as well as the abolition of personal property. It is abundantly clear to me, up until this moment Marx, had viewed Proudhon as a potentially important ally, with his invitation to join the correspondence committee.
Marx quickly penned a sharply critical response, cleverly reordering the title of Proudhon’s work into to the instantly dismissive, “The Poverty of Philosophy.” Moreover, Marx wrote it in French as to strike directly at Proudhon and his followers. But Paul D. Thomas interprets these events differently, writing that Marx, in turn, had been becoming increasingly disenfranchised with Proudhon’s work (Thomas 2013).
Noam Chomsky, wrote the preface the 1970 re-printing of Guerin’s 1936 book, “Anarchism: From Theory to Practice,” that at some point Proudhon had written in a letter to Marx. In that, he suggests, “Let us not become the leaders of a new religion, even were it to be the religion of logic and reason.” In any case, it appears that Marx had dismissed Proudhon by late 1846, following the Philosophy of Poverty/ Poverty of Philosophy exchange, and from that moment onward that Marx, with Engels in tow, transitioned from political philosophers to become political activists. Two years later Marx and Engels would write the communist manifesto.
Although Marx and Proudhon had at one time found comradeship in their mutual disapproval of the ruling monarchists and their cohort bourgeoisie, ultimately the antithetical philosophies that drove communism and anarchism would reveal the substantial divide between them. The fact that they vied for the political allegiance of the same working class people, has caused many over the last century and a half, to lump these two groups into a single leftist, so-called socialist camp, but this belies a lack of understanding of these organizations, an d the significant philosophical differences at their operational cores.
The liberal-republican struggle for political solvency throughout the first eighty years of the 19th century.
The same philosophical dilemma that had repeatedly played out throughout the 19th century, continually dividing and splintering the républicains of France. Although most républicains made no debate whether liberalism should be engaged, conflict arose surrounded degree to which it should be applied.
In America, where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (et al.) designed a republican organization of the United States, they cleverly inserted liberalist protections neatly within the Constitution through the Bill of Rights and provided that constitutional amendments could later be added. These grand, nation-building tasks were performed in what was effectively a political and intellectual vacuum. There were no other competing groups within the colonies vying for the acceptance of their vastly differing ideological perspectives. Jefferson and the generally like-minded authors of the U.S. Constitution were both the political and cultural majority and the minority, like theTories, their king having lost the war were not invited to participate in the country’s formation. This was very unlike the situation which existed in France, where dissent within the greater républicain party itself was de rigor.
In a policy context, this contentious yin-yang of liberalism and republicanism existed in every law which grapples with a single fundamental question: does a nation exist to serve its citizens, or conversely do the citizenship exist to serve the nation? Although it had been liberal-republicanism which had been the at the heart of the First Republic, their internal divisions left them weak, and often outnumbered by the more cohesive cohorts of right-wing monarchists and Bonapartists, both of whom shared political alliance with social conservatives who desired the involvement of the Church in the public sphere.
As the pendulum of influence swung against the républicains, such as it did after 1830, during the monarchy of Louis Philippe I, républicain lawmakers found themselves excluded within the government. Républicain private clubs and political publications were shuttered, and even the using term ‘républicain’ was made illegal. In a dodge of that law, républicains took on the English political moniker, ‘radicals,’ so from this time on, the term radicals was used as interchangeable with républicains. This certainly can cause confusion.
The hopes of liberal-républicains made a brief comeback between 1848 and 1852 after the party took a majority of the seat in the national assembly. But hope was as short-lived as the Second Republic, when its president, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte seized power, with support from Bonapartists and other conservatives, and proclaimed himself emperor in 1852. Once again the républicain party and hopes of personal and political freedoms were subdued, as the emperor’s security apparatus issued thousands of arrests and deportations.These arrests included the former Orleanist prime minister, Adolphe Thiers, who, after a brief internment, was expelled from the country for is vocal political activism. He would be allowed to return to France in 1853, and despite remaining a critic of the Emperor, accusing him of disallowing the French people of political liberty, as well as continually allowing France’s international status to be undermined and diminished (Cohn 1917).
As Louis-Napoléon’s hold on power lessened in the last years of his reign, and Thiers re-entered the chamber of deputies in 1869, at the age of seventy-three.
Although for much of Thiers’ was an Orleanist for much of his life, the political derailment of the Louis-Philippe monarchy, forced Thiers to find new political alliances. With the surrender of Louis-Napoléon to the Prussians in 1870, the political reality shifted dramatically as control of the Third Republic gradually moved into the hands of the républicains. Thiers was experienced and ambitious. He chose to carve out a niche within the ruling républicain party, that was on the upswing, becoming a conservative-républicain, unlike most moncharists who had eventually realized a monarchy was not coming back, formed a minority conservative party. It was a shrewd move on Thiers part, as he was able to grab power.
Almost thirty years earlier, during the brief existence of the Second Republic, Thiers had addressed the 1949 National Assembly. In this speech, Theirs would foreshadow his future, with an expression of his resolute belief that the laws of the nations were paramount, and should be preserved at the expense of individual freedom. Although the context of the speech has been lost, Thiers is presumably responding to liberal assertions individualism was necessary, Thiers declared, “No one person has it in his power to instantly achieve the happiness of nations.” (Castries 1983, as cited in Wikipedia). He stated a basic tenet of republicanism:
“Unlimited liberty leads to a barbaric society, where the strong oppress the others, and only the strongest have unlimited liberty…The liberty of one person stops at the liberty of other. Laws are born from this principle, and a civilized society.” Adophe Thiers 1849 (Castries 1983).
In contrast, liberal-républicains believed in a far greater degree of personal freedom and typically did not choose the hard lines set by Thiers and other conservatives. Historian Philip Nord recounts that even before 1870 the liberal-républicain statesmen, Léon Gambetta and Parisian Mayor Jules Ferry, both professed support for increased civil liberties, particularly concerning free speech, the freedom of the press, freedom of association. Ferry and Gambetta, along with other moderate to left-leaning républicains like Victor Hugo and Louis Blanc, pushed for the secularism within the government and sought to end the church’s involvement in public education. Additionally, they spoke of tearing down Louis-Napoleon’s imperial state, decentralizing governmental “institutions,” and disbanding standing armies (Nord 1995). But the républicains struggled internally with the never-ending quandary of republicanism versus liberalism. Nord indicates this indecisiveness when he writes that “Gambetta dreamed of remaking a waffling républicain into what he called “a government of public opinion.”
Unlike those liberal-républicains who sought to work within the government for reform, a tactic that Proudhon likely would have supported had he still been alive, the Anarchist Congress of 1870 advocated that fellow anarchists not participate in elections. They opined “cannot have other results than the consolidation of the existing state of affairs, and thus would paralyze socialist revolutionary action of the Proletariat”(Droze 1966 via Przeworski 1985).
As the belligerents of Paris quickly escalated toward revolution in 1871, républicain lawmakers in Paris, including Ferry and Georges Clemenceau, the radical-républicain mayor of Montmartre district of Paris (and future prime minister), found that while there were vital political and philosophical issues at stake, they could not advocate or support the revolution. This was the same choice thousands of Parisians and even national guardsmen had to make as catastrophe drew ever nearer. Clemenceau commented, having failed to mediate between the Theirs government and leftist central committee of the Garde Nationale: “We are caught between two bands of crazy people, those sitting in Versailles and those in Paris” (Fenby 2015). Both Ferry and Clemenceau, as well as thousands of Garde nationale, including half of the trained artillerymen, quit Paris before the fighting would begin in earnest. Although these men were labeled radical-républicains, unlike the communists whom they left behind, they were not revolutionaries.
*Early in his career, Adolphe Thiers made his mark as one of the most read journalists in Paris, with his pieces focusing on politics, art, literature, and history. He would use the popularity of his work at the journal, Le Constitutionnel, and later the launching the opposition newspaper, the Nationale, to launch a well-received 10 volume historical series on the 1789 Revolution. As a liberal, and critic of the Bourbon monarchy of Charles X, his Histoire de la Révolution française’, (published between 1823-1827) was instrumental in discrediting the Bourbon king and helped lead to his overthrow in 1930. Thiers used the money from his writing for property ownership, a necessary requirement for entry into politics. He would be elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1829 (Wikipedia).
Traditional social or “orthodox” modern French history 1900-1930
The ascension of Jean Jaurès
Lawrence Harvard Davis, of the University of Connecticut, writes that the accepted traditional history had assumed their position. The proof, it was given, was that post-revolution they designed, allowed the bourgeoisie to both advanced and protected their position by “enshrining” the ownership of “private property and equality” with legal protections. It was this that allowed the “rise of a capitalist order” (words in quotes are those of Davis, 2001).
How the Marxist concepts entered into the historical record lies in part, perhaps a large part, with an eloquent and brilliant historian and statesman, Jean Jaurès (1859-1914). Although Jaurès was most noted as a historian, he would not write his most influential work Histoire Socialiste (1900–03) until after the political and cultural events of the late 1890’s made a socialist version of history appealing, and acceptable.
Jaurès, who was already well-known for his writing for the newspaper, L’Humanité, moved to the socialist paper La Petite République socialiste in the late 1890’s, as editor and featured writer. The period was marked by ongoing trials surrounding the accused spy Alfred Dreyfus, and Jaurès, a critical cultural opinion maker during that time, would write a series of widely read articles, under the title of The Evidence. Within this writing, he would chronicle the government’s subversion of justice, and the falsification of evidence, and the general betrayal by the conservative elements within the army and civil government, of any reasonable right to a fair trial. The politically and socially divisive trial was a capping off an extended period of discontent and distrust by those on the left, of the conservatives and their institutions to the right.
In addition to being a journalist, Jaurès, he was a lecturer and professor of philosophy at two universities, and since 1885 had been a member of the National Assembly. These public positions gave Jaurès tremendous exposure and influence. During the 1880’s Jaurès was allied with the moderate republicans (républicain modérés) which in English is typically translated as the “Opportunist Republicans,” was aligned politically at the time with Jules Ferry, who had become the prime minister of the Third Republic. But after the events of the late 1890’s, Jaurès and many others would abandon many of the core values of republicanism, which now seemed corrupt. There was a general rejection of the greater good of the nation as being more consequential, and more vital than that of its people. Indeed there was a reordering of priorities, having observed a self-serving government knowingly and unjustly destroy the life an innocent Dreyfus for no more than its leader’s convenience.
Through the emotional events of the “Dreyfus Affair,” which spanned the years 1894-1902 (to be conservative), Jaurès had become one of the first social democrats, advocating government intervention, both socially and economically, with the goal of promoting greater economic and social equality. Whereas various types of communists and anarchists had been pursuing similar goals, the most fundamental aspect of Jaurès advocacy was that he proposed this be done within existing capitalist system (Przeworski 1985). Unlike other revolutionary thinkers, he did not outright advocate the outright dismantling of capitalism.
Jean Jaurès, the historian
Following his widely read writings of Dreyfus in “La Petite République socialiste,” Jean Jaurès, the academic, was well positioned to become the foremost authority on the history of the French Revolution. The general shift of intellectuals, and indeed much of the French to the socialist point of view, following the de facto incitement of the government by “the Affair,” had created fertile ground for a socialist interpretation of the history of the French Revolution. So when Jaurès released his book, Histoire Socialiste de la Révolution Française, it instantly set what was to become a seemingly unquestioned version and meaning of those events. Just as people for centuries had understood that world was or flat, the historians would henceforth believe that the revolution was an event of social class conflict. This interpretation would not be questioned for decades.
Jaurès claimed the revolution was the consequence of “the political advent of the bourgeois class” (Jaurès 1901), meaning the political desires of the bourgeoisie had brought revolution as it strove for a political input. As such, the socialist mantra that the revolution was, in fact, a bourgeois revolution, ushering capitalism, of which the bourgeoisie would be the sole benefactor. The rural exodus, which was more easily identifiable as having occurred in Germany and England, was in France claimed to be the result of an “uneasiness of the farmers crushed by competition”(Jaurès 1901). ‘Class consciousness,’ sprang from “the advent of the proletariat” wrote Jaurès in Histoire Socialiste.
All of these events, claimed the Marxist-socialist, was all part of a predestined historical industrial-capitalist stage, which was itself an incubator for “social crisis.” It would spawn “a new and more profound revolution, one through which the proletariat would seize power in order to transform property and morality” (Jaurès 1901). While Jean Jaurès was only one of many who had subscribed to Marx’s political-philosophical memes, Jaurès was more responsible than most the normalization and acceptance of socialism into mainstream French culture, politics, and the reconstruction of French historiography.
That democracy was burgeoning, made no difference to the self-proclaimed social democrat. He claimed that these were the “essential conditions for socialism” (Jaurès 1901), and Jaurès, who had become a political leader during the early years of the 20th century, would push his followers to work within the democratic French Republic, to build a social democratic state.
Revolution, not evolution had been a tenant of socialists, particularly the idealistically pure Anarchists, who were unwilling to work within the political, democratic process of “bourgeoisie governments.” Jaurès’ eloquence and influence within the socialist community, allowed him along with former rival, Jules Guesde‘s, to bring together in 1905, many divergent, socialist groups into a single, unified French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). This was an important step, which today allows us to understand how Marxist and socialist ideas had become so mainstream in greater French society, politics, and would ultimately dictate the telling of French history.
As a historian, the title of Jean Jaurès 1903 book, Histoire Socialiste de la Révolution Française, announces its socialist predisposition with a frankness that would be considered unprofessional by today’s academic standards. In the opening sentence, Jaurès writes “We want to recount to the people, to the workers, to the farmers, the events that occurred between 1789 and the end of the nineteenth century from the socialist point of view.” (Jaurès 1901)
The ever more complicated name changes within the républicain party were all used to establish a differentiation between groups which were splintering as political disputes erupted from within the party. This happened so often over the 19th century that it seemed they might run out of plausible names. In 1901 the main faction of the former républicain modérés began to use the amalgamated name of Parti républicain, radical et radical-socialiste. Although many républicains were socialists, the defection of the more radical socialists such as Jaurès, forced the more centrist “radical républicain, radical-socialiste, as well as the more conservative républicain modérés” who remained in the party, to take more conservative positions, in reaction to those on their left.
Sources for Parts 1 and 2
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John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, John Powell, Foundation for Economic Education, 1996
The History and Meaning of Salons, Benet Davetian, bdavetian.com/salonhistory.html, undated
Capitalism and Social Democracy: Studies in Marxism and Social Theory, Adam Przeworski, Cambridge University Press, 1985
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Communitarianism, Amitai Etzioni, The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, First Edition. Edited by Michael T. Gibbons, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2015
Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, Daniel Guérin, 1936, Translated by Mary Klopper, NYU press, 1970
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Voluntary Socialism A Sketch, Francis Dashwood Tandy, 1896
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The Bastiat-Proudhon Debate on Interest (1849-1850), Benjamin Long, Molinari Institute, 2008
Citizenship, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Leydet, Dominique, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Spring 2014 Edition
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The History of Modern France: From the Revolution to the War on Terror, Jonathan Fenby, Simon and Schuster, 2015
Reviewed Work: Penser la Révolution Française. by Francois Furet, Hunt, Lynn. History and Theory 20.3 (1981): 313-23. Web.