Classical revolutionary historiography and revisionist endeavors

Albert Soboul
La Pensée
Fall 1974

The French Revolution has often been presented as the crowning achievement of the century of the Enlightenment and thus essentially as an ideological act.1 It still appears as such in the work of François-Alphonse Aulard.2 Jean Jaurès was the first who wanted to see in it a social phenomenon and thus of economic origin.3 Not that Jaurès had denied any importance to the philosophical movement. “Just as it would be vain and false,” he writes in the introduction to his Socialist History of the French Revolution, “to deny the dependence of thought and even dreams on the economic system and the concrete forms of production, so it would be puerile and crude to summarily explain the movement of human thought solely by the evolution of economic forms.” It is not solely by the force of things that the Revolution was accomplished; it is also “by the force of men, by the energy of consciousness and will.” It is nevertheless true, and Jaurès notes it vigorously, that the Revolution itself was the result of a long economic and social evolution that made the bourgeoisie master of power and the economy. The historiography of the French Revolution has remained at that point: Albert Mathiez reedited the work of Jaurès in 1922; Georges Lefebvre acknowledged Jaurès as his master.4

Actually, the Jaurès interpretation is not new. From the period of the Restoration, historians of the liberal school, even if they were hardly interested in the economic origins of the social movement, had strongly emphasized one of the essential characteristics of our national history: the appearance, growth and final triumph of the bourgeoisie; between the people and the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie had slowly created the framework and clarified the ideas of a new society of which 1789 was the consecration. Such is Guizot’s essential idea in his course on The History of Civilization in France.5 Such was also the conviction of both Tocqueville6 and Taine.7

From the period of the Revolution, however, Barnave had pushed the social analysis further. In his Introduction to the French Revolution, written in 1792, after having posited the principle that property influences institutions, Barnave states that the institutions created by the landed aristocracy impeded and slowed the arrival of a new era. “Once the arts and commerce succeeded in penetrating the people and created a new means to wealth to aid the laboring class, all was ready for a revolution in political laws: a new distribution of wealth produced a new distribution of power.”8 It is to this line of thought that the 1847 Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx, and then the first volume of Capital in 1867, subscribe. Thus the social interpretation of the French Revolution plunges deeply into our historical past. From the beginning, this interpretation alone, through its scholarly demands and critical reflection, established itself as truly scientific: compare the work of Guizot — or even that of Thiers — always concerned with documents, even if they were official ones, to that of Lacretelle.9 This interpretation was gradually perfected, in order to realize the complexity of the Revolution. Philippe Sagnac, in the last volume of The History of France published under the direction of Ernest Lavisse, and even more strongly Albert Mathiez, have clarified what was in the eighteenth century the aristocratic reaction that culminated in 1787-1788 in the nobiliary revolt.10 Yet it is not enough to distinguish between the revolt of the aristocracy and the revolution of the Third Estate. First Jaurès and then Mathiez after him have insisted on the rapid disintegration of the latter.

Antagonisms were quickly manifested between the various bourgeois categories and between the bourgeoisie and the popular masses, accounting for the complexity of revolutionary history and the progression of its various stages. Following in the same spirit with his study of the peasant masses, Lefebvre demonstrated the existence, in the general framework of the Revolution, of a peasant current possessing autonomy and specificity in its origins, procedures, crises and tendencies. This same approach has been applied by several of his students to the study of the popular urban masses.11

Thus the social interpretation of the French Revolution was gradually perfected through a long development, secular to say the least. By its constant recourse to scholarly research (“Without scholarship there is no history,” Lefebvre repeated), by its critical spirit, by its efforts at theoretical reflection, by its global vision of the Revolution, it alone merits to be considered truly scientific.

This deepening of the social interpretation of the Revolution has progressed to the rhythm of history itself. It would be banal to recall here that the vision of history is shaded or modified by each generation of historians: it is under the weight of lived experiences and real history that history is also written. The history of the French Revolution could not escape this law. For almost two centuries, each generation in its turn, through its hopes and dreams, studied the Revolution, matrix of our history, either to exalt it or reject it. Not without results. The movement of history has gradually revealed to each generation new aspects, more and more numerous factors and a more and more complex interaction. Thus new meanings, up to then masked by the very complexity of the phenomenon, have been brought to light. It is significant that it was in Kiev, in that Ukraine where the peasant had just been freed from serfdom, but without gaining property, that Loutchisky became that first to be attracted to the study of the agrarian question during the French Revolution; in 1897, he published Small Property in France before the Revolution and the Sale of National Lands. It is significant that it was during the First World War that Mathiez understood the economic necessities for conducting a great national war and the requirement of a controlled economy; he then wrote the studies that formed, in 1927, The High Cost of Living and the Social Movement during the Terror.

Thus the social interpretation of the French Revolution progressed at the same rhythm as history. And if, in the middle of our century, the attention of its historians is focused on the popular urban masses, wouldn’t it be because the world has entered an era of mass movements? These movements don’t exist without frightening the ruling classes; this leads, in the opposite direction, to those vain efforts to deny the French Revolution its historical reality or its social and national specificity, a vain precedent. Consequently, a revisionist line confronts the classical social interpretation. Thinking to discredit it, certain revisionists have baptized the classical interpretation “Jacobin historiography” of the Revolution, a description we do not challenge, understanding by that, as Lefebvre has taught us, the understanding and faithfulness to the cause of the people, but without the historian abandoning any of the essential requirements of the scholarly method and critical spirit. Let us say more precisely, a progressive tradition of revolutionary historiography, from Jules Michelet to Lefebvre, passing through Jaurès, Aulard, and Mathiez, and whatever may have been the shades of difference and divergences among these men — the only tradition which, in its principled progression, has been and remains scientific.

I. Political revolution or social revolution?

The offensive against the classical interpretation of the French Revolution was expressed toward the middle of the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War. In 1964, R. R. Palmer displayed in an article entitled “The World Revolution of the West,” published in the Political Science Quarterly, the conception of a “western” or “Atlantic” revolution that he was to tirelessly develop for several years. That same year, on May 6, 1954, Alfred Cobban, professor of French history at the University of London, gave an opening lesson entitled “The Myth of the French Revolution.” Oddly enough, it was an English and an American historian who joined forces to question the experience of more than a century of French revolutionary historiography.

R.R. Palmer, at the very moment when Cobban was denying the anti-feudal and bourgeois nature of the French Revolution, was attempting to deny its national character. His argumentation was taken up and developed in collaboration with J. Godechot, in 1955, at the International Congress of the Historical Sciences at Rome. These ideas were taken up again and amplified by J. Godechot in The Great Nation (1956), and by Palmer in The Age of the Democratic Revolution (1959) — works that, it must be said, created hardly and echo among French historians and did not gain any support.12

According to this argument, the French Revolution would have been only “an aspect of a western or more precisely an Atlantic revolution that began in the English colonies of America soon after 1763, was prolonged by the revolutions in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Ireland, before reaching France between 1787 and 1789. From France, it rebounded to the Netherlands, overcame the German Rhineland, Switzerland, Italy, Malta, the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt.” Still later, it spread to the other countries of Europe and to all of Latin America. The French Revolution would thus be integrated into “the great Atlantic revolution.”13 Without emphasizing here how anachronistic the qualifiers Western and Atlantic are in reference to their use in current international politics, let us recognize that the Atlantic Ocean has played an essential role, that cannot be underestimated, in the renovation of the economy and the exploitation of the colonial countries by the nations of western Europe. But that is not the position of our authors, who have hardly any interest in the economic and social foundations of the movement of history. In fact, they have no interest in showing that the French Revolution is but one episode in the general course of history that, after the revolutions in the Netherlands, England, and America, contributed to bringing the bourgeoisie to power and liberating the development of capitalist economy. Moreover, the French Revolution did not mark the geographical limit of this transformation: capitalist economy and bourgeois power were not confined to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In the nineteenth century, the ascension of the bourgeoisie went hand in hand with the installation of capitalist economy, everywhere where that occurred. The bourgeois revolution was of universal import.

This conception of a Western or Atlantic revolution, by integrating the French Revolution into a vaster uprising, by drowning it in a vague international agitation, drains it, on the other hand, of its true dimension and its national significance. Putting the French Revolution on the same plane with “the revolutions of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Ireland” strangely minimizes its depth and dimensions, the dramatic intensity of its social and political struggles and the importance of the mutation it represented in our national history. Can we really speak of the French Revolution, as Palmer does, as a “revolutionary upheaval common to Europe and America”?14 If there was indeed social and political upheaval, at least in continental Europe, it was as a consequence of the revolutionary conquest and Napoleonic domination.

The western or Atlantic interpretation of the French Revolution, by draining it of all specific content — economic (anti-feudal and capitalist), social (anti-aristocratic and bourgeois) and national (one and indivisible), would nullify a half century of classical historiography from Jean Jaurès to Georges Lefebvre. Tocqueville had, however, opened the door to this idea in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution when he pondered: “Why have analogous principles and similar political theories led the United States to a change of government and France to a total subversion of society?”15 Posing the problem in these terms is going beyond the surface of an institutional and political history to endeavor to reach social and economic realities in their national specificity.

Stubbornly maintained for about ten years, this theory of a western or Atlantic revolution was never able to prevail, in France at least, over the classical interpretation of the French Revolution. J. Godechot tempered it bit by bit, insisting on the anti-feudal nature of the social struggles from 1789 to 1793.16 As for Palmer, didn’t he write in one of his last works, published in 1968: “The more one stresses the idea of an expansive geographical movement, the more one sees it in the light of an essentially bourgeois revolution”? Farther on he states that the Revolution was “a decisive episode in the history of property and propertied classes. Everywhere where revolutionary ideas have been applied, that is to say in France and the sister republics, then in the Napoleonic empire, there was a redefinition of property. The property of the land was stripped of its feudal rights and of the aristocratic right of primogeniture.”17 An anti-feudal revolution: therefore, essentially bourgeois (even if the author adds: “in the sense of this confused term that is the word bourgeoisie”).

The theory advanced by Palmer in 1954 belongs to the international climate of the 1950s; it was a question of exalting the ideological solidarity of the countries of the Atlantic alliance, by going back to the eighteenth century, to the origin of their political traditions. Once the Cold War had calmed down, people returned to a more serene vision, more consonant with reality. For Palmer, in his 1968 work, 1789 is also the revolution of equality, an aspect the French school has always insisted upon with vigor.

The offensive of Cobban was more dangerous. Dating from the same period, 1954, it was part of the same context as Palmer’s endeavor. But it responded less to a conjectural incitement than to a long meditated and, so to speak, structural design consisting of rejecting all social interpretation of revolutions and finally of history. This was a defense reaction: by denying the reality of classes and class struggle, the demon of revolutions could be exorcised. “One may wonder,” Georges Lefebvre wrote in 1956, “why the mythical interpretation of revolutions, or rather of certain ones, seems so in favor. It does not seem doubtful that it reflects the ideological evolution of the ruling class under the influence of democratic pressure and especially of the Russian Revolution; feeling threatened, this class repudiates the rebellion of the ancestors that assured it preeminence, because it discerns there a dangerous precedent”18 This statement has lost none of its value if we consider the profound tendencies of American historiography or the dangerous affirmations of the group that calls itself the “Annales school.”

The French Revolution would thus not be due to class conflict, as has traditionally been assumed by the French historical school since Barnave, Thiers, and Guizot. Certainly there are many shades of difference among those who, following Cobban, rejected the social interpretation of the Revolution, and particularly among the American historians. But, as Palmer wrote, all [of them] doubt that “class analysis is the most useful instrument for understanding the French Revolution.” The debate essentially turns on the significance and usefulness of certain concepts — feudalism, bourgeoisie, capitalism. Finally the question is asked: must the Revolution be considered anti-feudal and anti-aristocratic? Did it constitute the necessary transition to bourgeois and capitalist society?

Cobban challenges the interpretation according to which the French Revolution substituted a new social order for the Ancien Régime.19 “If I advanced the opinion that the interpretation of the Revolution, dealing with the substitution of a bourgeois capitalist order for feudalism is a myth, that would not be suggesting that the revolution itself is mythical and nothing of significance occurred in France in that period. “There was, then, a revolution. (Cobban had at first thought of entitling his lecture: “Was there a French Revolution?”). But the concept given to it by classical French historiography is only a myth; that is, in the figurative and familiar sense of the word, it has no real basis, that it does not conform to reality.

The argumentation of Cobban rests on two essential points: whether the French Revolution was anti-feudal and capitalist. The Revolution suppressed feudalism: in fact, responds Cobban, the feudal order had long since disappeared. The Revolution allowed the establishment of capitalism: in fact, responds A. Cobban, the Revolution was the work, not of true capitalists, but of bourgeois, principally officeholders, who were already exercising all the administrative functions and who held on to them.

The first argument of A. Cobban rests on the meaning he gives to the word feudalism.20 But let us first recall the adage of modern linguistics: “Words have no meaning; they have only uses.” Feudalism, feudal regime, feudal rights: the use of these words, for the eighteenth century, could lead to controversy. The medievalists obstinately refuse this application and denounce this “abuse of language.” No one contests the fact that feudalism, properly speaking, had for a long time been a system “decrepit with age and that had received extreme unction,” to borrow an expression of Carlyle, while the rights pertaining to the rural seigniory still remained vigorous on the eve of the Revolution, nor that feudalism had been charged with all the rigors imposed by the seigniorial regime.

But what matters to us here is less the legal definition of feudalism than its social dimension, the sense in which it was understood not by jurists, but by peasants. As the institution declined, the meaning of the word was naturally altered and even many notaries in the eighteenth century, either through ignorance or in the spirit of simplification, had for a long time confused feudalism and seigniory, feudal rights and seigniorial rights. For the peasants, as for men conversant with matters of the land, feudalism was, in this somewhat emphatic language of the eighteenth century, servitude to the land, on which weighed the inalienable landed income, the perpetual fees, the fees received by the lord on the price of sold inherited property; also the tithes, in short the complexum feudale of the jurists. It is in this sense that the word was used all through the Revolution and for a long time afterwards. Merlin de Douai, specialist in this subject, explained it clearly in his report of September 4, 1789 to the Committee on Feudal Rights of the Constituent Assembly. “Although these words, feudal rights, in their strictest sense, designate only the rights derived from the contract of fief of which infeudation itself is the direct principle, popular usage has not refrained from extending the meaning to all rights which, most generally found in the hands of the lords, form in their whole what Dumoulin calls the complexum feudale. Thus, although the seigniorial income, the rights of champart [the lord’s share of the crop], the corvées [statute labor], the banalités [exclusive rights of a lord to maintain a mill, an oven or a winepress], the obligations representing former servitude, etc., are not properly speaking feudal rights, we will not fail to concern ourselves with them.”21

Even more important than the still living reality of the word is its social weight. The problem may be envisioned from a double point of view. It would be necessary in the first place to measure the imposition that feudal rights represented on total production, and then the burden that they laid on the peasants; in the second place, we must calculate the portion of these rights in the total revenue of the seigniory. It cannot be a question here of entering into the details of the methodology of this research. Let us simply recall, for sake of example, that the feudal imposition could take away up to a fifth (20%) of the net product (that is after deducting from the gross product the cost of seed, cultivation and maintenance) of the peasant of Haute-Auvergne. And that in this same province, feudal rights constituted a third of the seigniorial revenue.22 More generally, J. Meyer estimates that the French nobility took a third of the agricultural revenue of the country.23 The relation of feudal rights to peasant revenues accounts for the behavior of the peasant masses at the end of the Ancien Régime and during the Revolution. The relation of feudal rights to the total revenue of the seigniory sheds light on the behavior of the nobility, being one of the motivations of the counterrevolution. The Auvergne nobility had good reason to resist the abolition of feudalism, going as far as counterrevolution and emigration. And there was good reason for the peasant revolt to hold sway in Haute-Auvergne from 1789 to 1792. For the peasants as well as the lords, feudalism, like the Revolution, was far from being a myth.

Cobban’s second argument concerns the composition of the revolutionary assemblies. In Great Britain, the growth of the capitalist bourgeoisie was that of a class engaged in commerce and industry, and thus composed of merchants and bankers, of manufacturers and entrepreneurs. Now, in the Constituent Assembly, this category made up only 13%; two-thirds of the deputies of the Third Estate belonged to the liberal professions. Is it possible to attribute to these men the will to substitute the capitalist order for the old order? What is more, continues Cobban, out of the 1,539 members of the Constituent Assembly and the Convention, 629 held public office before the Revolution, of which 289 held tenured offices.24

This personnel is found again under the Consulate and the Empire, not only in subordinate functions, as under the Ancien Régime, but even in managerial posts held before 1789 by the nobiliary oligarchy. The Revolution is thus reduced to an institutional aspect: neither bourgeois nor capitalist, it simply would have resulted in placing the administration and the government between the hands of these professional bureaucrats to whom the monarchial State already owed its effectiveness.

This second aspect of the critical argumentation of Cobban was taken up, at a more recent date and with various nuances, by some American historians. Without going into the complexity of the discussions and the polemics, let us recall the stands taken by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein in regard to the bourgeoisie and of George V. Taylor in regard to capitalism.25

Eisenstein, in an article published in 1965, picked out the occurrences of the word bourgeoisie in G. Lefebvre’s Eighty-Nine; she considered the usage excessive. According to Eisenstein, Lefebvre did not offer sufficient proof for assertions such as “The bourgeoisie demonstrated a keen political sense” and “The bourgeoisie set the nation in motion,” and thus he quite simply evaded reality and attributed to the bourgeoisie alone a revolutionary action whose protagonists in fact belonged to diverse social categories. Eisenstein asserts that the revolutionary initiative went back to a group of partisan intellectuals with new ideas and who, though of diverse social origins, pursued common political goals. The men that Lefebvre encompasses in the abstract category of bourgeoisie would have constituted only a tiny minority of the activists. “The bourgeoisie was not the originator of the strong protest movement of 1788 and did not play an important role in the events and reforms of 1789.” This revolutionary role is attributed to “a group of agitators of various orders and social classes.” Elizabeth Eisenstein implicitly calls into question the definition of the bourgeoisie and thus the bourgeois character of the Revolution.

Taylor challenges the concept of capitalism. By capitalism, this author essentially means the investment of private capital in order to profit; by capitalists, essentially the class of entrepreneurs as Adam Smith defined them: the initiators of new forms of economy, having a taste for risk in their concern for the maximum profit. Taylor opposes to them the rich who were not capitalists, concerned with stable investments even if the profit is mediocre. This “non-capitalist” wealth, “proprietary wealth” according to the author, consisted essentially of landed wealth, urban buildings, venal charges and diverse private income; it would have constituted 80% of the total wealth of France. Most of the wealth belonging to the upper strata of the Third Estate came from the “proprietary wealth,” while numerous nobles were already involved in capitalist enterprises. The Revolution, despite the suppression of venal charges, would have scarcely changed the relations between capitalist wealth and proprietary wealth. “The fundamental question,” Taylor writes, “is to know if the bourgeoisie of 1789, however it is defined, was economically opposed to other classes enjoying a different source of revenue.” Taylor’s response is negative. Between a large part of the nobility and the proprietary sector of the middle classes, there was “identity of forms of investment and socio-economic ideas, so that in the last analysis these two classes, economically speaking, formed one and the same group.” Like Cobban, Taylor concludes that the French Revolution could not have been a struggle between classes opposed by different forms of wealth and distinct economic interests. The opposition was purely legal, not economic. The French Revolution was “an essentially political revolution leading to social reforms, and not a social revolution having political consequences.”

As for the problem of the bourgeoisie, the importance of the role of the intellectuals and officials in the maturation and conduct of the Revolution cannot be denied. Among the various bourgeois categories, they no doubt counted as the most progressive elements. We cannot inordinately minimize the role of the ideological movement in preparing for the Revolution. The tenured officeholders in particular, having reached a level of comfort, if not wealth, strengthened in their independence by the venality of their office, constituted a cultivated milieu where criticism of the existing order was given free rein. In this sense, both officials and intellectuals contributed to the formation of the ideology that incited the awakening and then the class consciousness of all the bourgeois categories — a phenomenon without which the Revolution would be inconceivable.

Bourgeois categories, we said; it is indeed necessary to state that, concerning the society of the Ancien Régime, the word bourgeoisie is most often used in the plural, even by French historians. Would that not indicate a desire, more or less explicit, to deny, if not social realities, at least class realities? The bourgeoisie was, without a doubt, diverse and multiple; rarely is a social class homogenous. But the bourgeoisie was also one. In the eighteenth century, as in every period of history, class distinctions were numerous, varied, often hardly perceptible: birth and income, education and language, dress and dwelling, life style… none of these criteria, taken in isolation, alone constitute the distinctive characteristic of the class. In the first rank of bourgeois criteria was doubtless fortune, not so much its size but its origin, the form and manner in which it was managed and spent — to live “bourgeoisement.” There is no doubt that a Frenchman of the eighteenth century discerned without difficulty if so and so belonged to the aristocracy or came from the bourgeoisie: “That smells bourgeois.”

It is necessary to go further and attempt a definition implying a minimum of systematization — a simple approach that will allow us to grasp the unity of social types whose appearance is sometimes contradictory. The discussion on the “New paths toward a history of the western bourgeoisie in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,” during the Congress of Historical Sciences in Rome in 1955, many furnish the elements of this approach.26

In the view of Ernest Labrousse: “In good standing, the group of officers, clerks, bureaucrats carrying out administrative tasks, from which will be kept whatever is not consolidated in the nobility. In good standing, the proprietor, the rentier, living bourgeoisement. Bourgeois also, naturally, the liberal professions, in the sense we still mean today. All these varieties came from the vast family of heads of enterprises who constitute numerically the bulk of the class: proprietors or administrators of independent means of production served by wage labor, from whom they drew their principal income and took for themselves, notably, the commercial and industrial profit. This was a multiple family, from the financier, the ship owner, the manufacturer, the négociant, the merchant, down to the last ranks of the small categories — the owner of the shop and workshop, the independent artisan.”

Pierre Vilar was more systematic in his clarifying remarks in the discussion that followed: “Well then, when it’s a question of grasping the origin and statistical mass of the bourgeois, Labrousse has done just that in Marxist terms: ‘proprietor or administrator of independent means of production.’ There we have some criteria in front of us: 1) Having the free use of the means of production. 2) Applying to those means of production, by free contract, a labor force that has only its labor power at its disposal. 3) Taking for one’s own use the difference between the value realized by the merchandise and the remuneration of the applied labor force. There is no bourgeois who does not live, directly or indirectly, from the social imposition thus defined.” This outline of a definition would seem to permit us to better situate the position and the role of the bourgeoisie in the French Revolution.

As for the problem of capitalism, there is again no doubt that the intellectuals and officials, like the members of the liberal professions, would care little about promoting its development. It would however be necessary to clarify if, as members of the Constituent Assembly, these men came under the influence of economic groups concerned with ridding themselves of all regulations. Moreover, 13% of the Constituent were négociants and manufactures, two pressure groups that dominated the debates in a very active manner; the “extraordinary deputies of manufacture and commerce” who represented the interests of the ports and the Massiac Club, defender of the interests of the planters of Santo Domingo, the ship-owners and refiners intervened each time that the colonial regime was called into question.27 Let us remark that on the other hand, as partisans of individual liberty and the freedom to think, the Constituents were themselves, implicitly, for economic freedom. If the Constituent Assembly did not explicitly proclaim this economic freedom, it at least established and stubbornly maintained free trade in grain, abolished the corporations and suppressed the monopoly of the great commercial companies — all reforms favorable to the development of free enterprise and free profit.

Even though many revolutionaries were partisans of the extension of small property and did not suspect the possibilities of capitalist concentration, even though the most democratic had as their ideal a society of small, independent producers, the results of the Revolution were nevertheless completely different; it is impossible to measure them against the intentions of the revolutionary partisans. As Elizabeth Eisenstein has suggested, the initiators of a social movement are not necessarily the beneficiaries; we cannot argue with the fact that several leaders of the bourgeois revolution were not bourgeois. History, on the other hand, is not only the actions of the actors on stage; that would be “in total contradiction with the very idea of social history,” as Gilbert Shapiro has stressed in his polemic with Eisenstein.28 As for the French Revolution, the essential fact is that the old system of production was destroyed and that the Revolution established freedom of enterprise and profit with no restrictions, thus opening the way to capitalism.

The victory over feudalism and the Ancien Régime did not signify, however, the simultaneous appearance of new social relations and new economic structures. It is patently obvious that after ten years of revolution, society would not yet be essentially bourgeois nor the economy specifically capitalist. The passage to capitalism is not a simple process by which the capitalist elements develop in the bosom of the old society until the moment when they are strong enough to break its bounds. It would still be a long time before capitalism affirmed itself definitively; its progress was slow during the revolutionary period; the size of the enterprises often remained modest, with commercial capital prevailing. The ruin of the feudal landed property and of the corporative and regulated system, assuring the autonomy of the system of capitalist production, uncompromisingly paved the way to a new organization of production and exchange — revolutionary transformation par excellence. The history of the nineteenth century, that of the working class in particular, proved that this was no myth.

II. Revolution: Necessary or contingent?

At the moment when Eisenstein’s article was reviving the discussion among American historians of the bourgeois nature of the French Revolution, in France itself in 1965 a revisionist undertaking on a completely different scale was begun and has since been stubbornly pursued. Here the historical context is no longer that of the Cold War, but it would not be possible to abstract this endeavor from the social conditions and political struggles of the France of 1965. The goal is still the same: while denying the reality of classes, find an alternative explanation for the revolutionary upsurge. Thus we have this effort to modernize and reassert the value of the liberal theme of the duality of the French Revolution, but without the rationality and necessity that characterized the analysis of a Thiers or a Guizot. What is proposed is an aristocratic and bourgeois revolution of the Enlightenment, followed, with no necessary connection, by a popular revolution, violent and reactionary. Thus a reformist way and a revolutionary way would confront each other.

This interpretation was first expressed in the work of Edgar Faure, Turgot’s Disgrace (May 12, 1776), published in 1961.29 But could the liberal reform then undertaken succeed with the persistence of the feudal structures and aristocratic privilege that this minister, however enlightened, never intended to touch?… In a similar vein is the work The Revolution by F. Furet and D. Richet.30 Of the various themes developed and tirelessly taken up again, two are worth retaining: that of the “revolution of elites” and that of the “skid” of the revolutionary movement, both implying the contingent nature of the Revolution. “Was the Revolution inevitable?” No, without a doubt, for our authors: “All still depends on the ability of the King of France to arbitrate and reform.”

“Revolution of elites”: revolution of the Enlightenment, revolution of 1789.31 All during the eighteenth century, a community of ideas and states, a common society life doubtless brought together the aristocratic and bourgeois elites still characterized by an equal aspiration to political freedom, as well as an equal revulsion to the popular masses and democracy. The revolution was made in these enlightened minds before being transposed into law and order. The men of ‘89 had been won over to the spirit of reform, generally widespread, whether it was that of aristocratic liberalism or that of bourgeois thought. There would thus have been “a tactical convergence against absolutism,” a provisional alliance of the diverse leading social forces of the pre-Revolutionary period. Thus, 1789 would have been the outcome of this awakening of consciousness of the elites, a revolution of the Enlightenment, and ideology would constitute the driving element of history. “The 1789 Revolution resulted from a double awakening of consciousness of the elites effected through a long progression. Consciousness of their autonomy, first, in relation to the political order, of their necessary control, then of power. Unanimous consciousness where the nobility played the role of initiator and educator, but that broadened out to include wealth, property and talent. That was the Revolution of the Enlightenment.”32

We cannot but underscore the simplifying nature of these views. And first of all did the Enlightenment really have a unifying function? It does not seem so, if we follow the ambiguous “fortune” of such-and-such a philosopher. Louis Althusser has stressed in his Montesquieu (1959) “the paradox of posterity” for this theoretician of the aristocratic reaction, claimed not only by the Constituents of 1789, but even by Marat and Saint-Just.33 As for Rousseau, who as we know so nourished Jacobinism, he was also one of the doctrinal sources of the counterrevolution. The pragmatism of the Enlightenment — it is deformed as it is refracted into the various social milieus following diverse ends.34

As for the elites, Denis Richet concedes that, despite their common will, they were divided on the problem of privilege — that’s putting it mildly. In fact, there was no unified French elite. Jean Meyer, the most recent historian of the nobility strongly affirms: “The French nobility neither knew how nor wanted to integrate the intelligentsia and the new social forces… The State did not know how to conduct a policy acceptable to the most dynamic elements of the bourgeoisies.”35 There is the heart of the problem. The revolution of the Enlightenment, that is, the reform, stumbled against privilege. Neither the nobility nor the monarchy could accept, without repudiating themselves, the suppression of privilege; on the other hand, the bourgeois elites could not accept its preservation. An internal necessity impelled the confrontation of the two categories. As for the “ability of the King of France to arbitrate and reform,” an in-depth analysis, not of the government of Louis XVI, but of the monarchial State at the end of the Ancien Régime, would show that it could in fact only swing “to one side.” Well before the Revolution, the monarchy had proved that it was the State of the aristocracy, a position that the speech and Declaration of Louis XVI on June 23, 1789 was to illustrate again.36

“Skid of the Revolution”: this theory is even more dangerous than that of the so-called “revolution of elites.” Our authors in fact distinguish three revolutions in 1789: that of the Constituent Assembly that bears the mark of the “triumphant” eighteenth century as the cahiers de doléance allow us to define it; that of the Parisians who “did not rise to safeguard the National Assembly and its conquests; that was only an objective consequence of their desire to save themselves”; finally that of the peasants who “knocked loudly at the door of the bourgeois Revolution reluctant to open up to them.”37

Certainly we no longer conceive of the French Revolution as that of the Third Estate, unrolling without contradiction its majestic course, as it is represented to a certain extent by Jean Jaurès in his Socialist History. Georges Lefebvre has shown the existence of an autonomous and specific peasant current within the revolution of the Third Estate; his disciples, of a popular urban current, called sans-culotte, also autonomous and specific. The general course of the bourgeois revolution cannot, however, be altered. Would there not be, therefore, any organic link between these various currents?

Our authors are astonished by the alliance between this opulent bourgeoisie of the eighteenth century and the people of the cities and countryside. They judge it “unexpected,” for lack of having given sufficient attention to the structures of the society of the Ancien Régime characterized by privilege and remnants of feudalism. It is in view of this meeting — contingent, in their eyes — between the bourgeoisie and the popular urban and rural masses that the root of their hypothesis lies, that of the “three revolutions of 1789,” a notion indispensable to the following hypothesis, without a doubt the most astonishing and the most dangerous, that of the “skid” of the revolution from 1792 to 9 Thermidor [July 27, 1794: the fall of Robespierre].

The reformist revolution of 1789, defined by the program of its enlightened leaders and by a compromise from above, having thus failed through the inability “of the monarchy to arbitrate and to reform,” was definitively turned from its initial course in 1792 by popular intervention. “A skid” implies that this intervention was neither indispensable to the success of the bourgeois revolution nor fundamentally motivated by it. Just as the meeting of the three revolutions of 1789 had been purely fortuitous, so the revolution of 1792-1794 would be merely contingent, an accident. “Let us dare to say it: as a consequence of such accidents, didn’t the liberal revolution born of the eighteenth century, and that the French bourgeoisie would effect decades later, fail for the time being?” Our authors don’t ask themselves if it is not precisely in this period, which they call “a skid,” that the bourgeoisie was able to exterminate all the forms of counterrevolution and thus render possible, in the long run, the liberal system that prevailed definitively after 1794. Nor do they ask about the profound causes of the intervention of the popular masses; for them, it depended only on the myth of the aristocratic plot. As for the war, it would be due in the last analysis to the “passionate expansionism of France.38 Thus everything is reduced to mental determinations. There is no question of daily bread, the essential motivation of the popular masses from 1789 to 1795. “The Revolution was led by the war and the pressure of the Parisian crowd off the great path traced by the intelligence and wealth of the eighteenth century.”39 The popular masses would be moved only by myths and fantasies; the war would be only an accident.

Thus these authors reintroduced the chance and the irrational into history which is, however, a thinkable and thus rational subject. The theory of the “skid,” by making the revolution a contingent phenomenon (“the limited and contingent events of 1789-1793,” writes Richet elsewhere, without fear of ridicule),40 without internal historical necessity, breaks with the line of classical revolutionary historiography, from Barnave to Thiers and Tocqueville, from Jaurès to Lefebvre.

Barnave, in his Introduction to the French Revolution (1792), had already indicated with prophetic lucidity the rooting of the Revolution in the deep structures of the French society of the Ancien Régime.41 In the Restoration period, this historians of the liberal school in turn insisted on the internal logic of the revolutionary movement from 1789 to November 1799 — Guizot, certainly, but also Thiers and Mignet, each publishing a History of the French Revolution in 1823 and 1824.42 This was a “fatalist” school, to use Chateaubriand’s expression, in the sense that they saw in the Revolution the logical development of given cause and in the Terror an evil necessary to the salvation of the nation. The idea of necessity presides over their work, giving them methodological unity and clarity. “The interior resistance,” according to Mignet, “led to the sovereignty of the multitude, and the aggression from outside led to military domination.” And again: “Three years of the dictatorship of [the Committee of] public safety, if they were lost for liberty, they were not lost for the Revolution.” We see the same point of view in the work of Thiers, and the same idea of a “fatal force” that stimulated the course of the Revolution and surmounted all obstacles until the goal was reached. This is a concept of a global and necessary revolution, although historical necessity does not exclude free will, for man retains full responsibility for his acts. Certainly we must here acknowledge the role of circumstances: it was a question of justifying the hopes and assuring the positions of the liberal party against the ultra reaction. These historians had not, however, subordinated historical truth to their political position. They had determined one of the constants of classical revolutionary historiography.

Tocqueville, in turn, with his customary perception, had indicated the necessity of the Revolution. “The Revolution was least of all,” he writes in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution (1856), “a fortuitous event. It is true that it took the world by surprise, and yet it was only the complement of a much longer work, the sudden and violent termination of an undertaking on which ten generations of men had worked.”43 Jaurès and his introduction to Socialist History must be read again. Lefebvre must be read again…

But let us conclude. There were not three revolutions in 1789, but a single one, bourgeois and liberal, with popular support (particularly among the peasants). There was not a skid of the Revolution in 1792, but a will of the revolutionary bourgeoisie to maintain the cohesion of the Third Estate through an alliance with the popular masses, without whose support the gains of 1789 would have been forever compromised. Year II was not a “time of distress,”44 but a moment of radicalization necessary to assure victory over the counterrevolution and the coalition, and thus the salvation of the bourgeois revolution.

We cannot leave the current estate of historiography of the French Revolution and the critics of the classical social interpretation without some reflections on methodology.

The history of the Revolution, like any historical subject, is structured and thus thinkable, scientifically knowable, like any other reality. The goal of the historian is to achieve, if not certitudes, at least probabilities or networks of probabilities, or even better, as Georges Lefebvre said, tendential laws. Tocqueville wrote in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution: “It is not by chance that aristocracies were born and maintained; like all the rest, they are subject to fixed laws and it is perhaps not impossible to discover them.”45 Abandoning this constant line of our classical historiography, departing from this requirement of rationality, reintroducing into history the contingent and the irrational does not seem to constitute progress in the profession of historian, but indeed retreat and almost a surrender.

In his concern for rationality, the historian must ceaselessly go from scholarly research to critical reflection. He advances between two pitfalls: on one hand, an all-purpose schematization that impoverishes and desiccates the rich historical subject; on the other hand, a cursory empiricism that, in the name of the complexity of the real, considers and treats only one particular case. As for the French Revolution, if the historian intends to understand and arrive at some explanation of causes and effects, it is essential to have recourse to some theory connecting ideas to the needs and pressures of society.

This explains the necessity of definitions and the requirement of conceptualization; let us think about the discussions concerning the word bourgeoisie. History can progress only if it is supported by basic concepts, clearly elaborated. Rejecting this necessity has the effect of challenging history and particularly social history as an explicative discipline. Again it’s a matter of reaching an understanding on necessary concepts and their definitions; modifiable, certainly, and always perfectible. Theory ceaselessly solicits every reflection of the historian, and it is through the expedient of conceptualization and theorization that he can hope to draw the anatomy and physiology of societies and revolutions.46

We are a long way from accepting the criticism of the classical social interpretation of the French Revolution. The historians who reject this interpretation are no longer capable of a global vision of the revolutionary phenomenon nor of giving it a total explanation. The polemic basically turns on the nature and role of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie,47 and on the nature and role of the urban masses. The peasantry is not brought into play, yet it accounts for at least twenty-two million souls out of a total of twenty-eight million in the whole country. Scholarly research since Loutchisky and Lefebvre and critical reflection have stressed the importance of the agrarian question and affirmed that it occupies an “axial position” in the French Revolution. This fundamental problem is perfectly concealed by revisionist criticism.

We are forced to state that there is no longer any total history of the Revolution; there are only partial histories that carve out particular areas and thus break the links that unite them to other aspects of this living and rich subject that is history.48 It is certainly not a question of saying everything about everything, but of emphasizing how the particular depends on the whole (and reciprocally). Farbe it from us to deny the necessity of partial histories; they can also give us the historic specificity of their object of study, but on the condition that they are joined in a necessary manner to the heart of the historic totality. Too often, however, we see these partial histories confining themselves to their limited object, and no longer emerging with anything but remarks for internal use; they have therefore missed their goal of true historical reflection. How can historians write about the nobility in the society of the Ancien Régime, without at the same time posing the peasant question in all its breadth? Every particular problem must be thought about historically; it cannot be detached from its historic context in order to abstract from it certain ideal aspects for stranger and stranger extraneous ends. The practice of partial history, without a global vision, contains the germ of true adulteration; in the end it is destined to sterile abstraction. The revisionist designs on the classical social interpretation of the French Revolution seem indeed to have arrived at that point What scientific global interpretation have Cobban and his emulators offered as a substitute? Obeying fads, transitory by definition, criticizing without constructing, denying all rationality in the historical movement, they have made only a partial history, purely circumstantial, old before its time and already outdated.

“In order to discover the historical life,” writes Michelet, “it would be necessary to patiently follow it in all its paths, all its forms, all its elements. But it would also be necessary, with a still greater passion, to remake, reestablish the play of all that, the reciprocal action of these various forces in a powerful movement that would become life itself.”


1 La Pensée, № 177. September-October 1974. pp. 40-58.
2 See especially A. Aulard. Histoire de la Révolution française. Origine et développement de la démocratie et de la République, 1789-1804, (Paris. 1901).
3 Histoire socialiste (1789-1900) under the direction of J. Jaurès, who edited the first four volumes dedicated to the French Revolution up to 9 Thermidor (Paris 1901-1904). New edition revised and annotated by A. Soboul (Paris, 1968-1972, 6 vol.).
4 “But. no matter how carefully one searches for my master. I recognize no one but him.” (“Pro domo.” AHRF, 1947, p. 188).
5 Histoire de la civilisation en France depuis la chute de l’Empire romain ( 1828-1830; 4 vol.). “Considered from the social point of view and in its relations with the various classes that coexisted on our territory, the one that is called the Third Estate has been progressively extended, raised and has first powerfully modified, then surmounted and finally absorbed, or almost so. all the others.” (46th lesson). When Guizot writes “Third Estate,” he means the bourgeoisie.
6 See the introduction to De la démocratie en Amérique (1836). Tocqueville asks himself: “Would it be wise to believe that a social movement that has come so far will be suspended by the efforts of a generation? Do people think that after having destroyed feudalism and kings, democracy will retreat before the bourgeois and the rich?”
7 Les Origines de la France contemporaine. L’Ancien Régime (1876). See chapter III on book IV.
8 Introduction à la Résolution française, part I. chap. Ill Written in 1792, this work was published in 1843 in volume I of the Oeuvres of Barnave edited by Bérenger de la Drôme. Jaurès places great emphasis on this work in his Histoire socialiste (I. 98).
9 Lacretelle, dit le Jeune. Histoire de la Révolution française, Paris. 1821-1826. 8 vol.
10 A. Mathiez, La Révolution française, 1922, vol. 1. chap II, “La révolte nobiliaire.”
11 Les Paysans du Nord pendant la Révolution française (1924); Questions agraires au temps de la Terreur (1932); La Grande Peur de 1789 (1932). A Soboul. Les sans-culottes parisiens en l’an II Mouvement populaire et Gouvernement révolutionnaire 2 juin 1793-9 thermidor an II (1958); George Rudé. The Crowd in the French Revolution ( 1959). For various reasons, R. Cobb cannot be considered a disciple of G Lefébvre.
12 R.R. Palmer, “The World Revolution of the West,” Political Science Quarterly, 1954, Jacques Godechot and R.R. Palmer, “Le Problème de l’Atlantique du XVJHC siècle au XXe siècle.” X internazionale de Sctenze stonche Relaztoni, Florence, 1955. vol. V. p. 175; Jacques Godechot. La Grande, Manon L’expansion révolutionnaire de la France dans le monde 1789-1799, Paris, 1956. 2 vol., R.R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution. A political history of Europe and America 1760-1800, Princeton. 1959; J Godechot, “Révolution française or Révolution occidentale,” L’information historique, 1960, p 6 (with a bibliography on the question); J. Godechot and RR Palmer, “Révolution française, occidentale ou atlantique,” Bulletin de la Société d’histoire moderne. 1960; J. Godechot, Les Révolutions, 1770-1799, Paris. I960, coll. “Nouvelle Clio” On J Godechot’s La Grande Nation, see G Lefebvre’s review. A H R F., 1957, p. 272; on R. R Palmer’s The Age of the Democratic Revolution, see M. Reinhard’s review, ibid., I960, p. 220.
13 J. Godechot, La Grande Nation, vol. I, p ii.
14 R.R. Palmer. 1789. Les Révolutions de la liberté et de légalité, Paris. 1968. p. 305.
15 And again, still from Tocqueville “But why did this revolution, prepared for everywhere, threatening everywhere, break out in France rather than elsewhere? Why did it have certain characteristics in France that were not found anywhere else or only partly appeared in (L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, new edition. Paris, 1952, with an introduction by G. Lefebvre, p. 96).
16 Let us recall here that J. Godechot organized an international colloquium at Toulouse. November 12-16. 1968, on L’Abolition de la féodalité dans le monde occidental, Paris. 1971. 2 vol.
17 R.R. Palmer. 1789, p. 307.
18 G. Lefebvre. “Le Mythe de la Révolution française”. AHRF. 1956. p 337.
19 Cobban. The Myth of the French Revolution, London. 1955. sa1 G Lefebvre. “Le Mythe de la Révolution française.” art at From the same point of view. A Cobban. The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution. Cambridge. 1964. The essential points of these articles were taken up again in A Cobban. Aspects of the French Revolution, New York, 1968 “The State of Revolutionary History.” p 9. “Historians and the Causes of the French Revolution.” p. 29: “The Myth of the French Revolution.” p 264. “The French Revolution Orthodox and Unorthodox Interpretations.” p 275. For interesting reading on this controversy, see. G.J. Cavanaugh. “The Present State of French Revolutionary Historiography Alfred Cobban and beyond.” French Historical Studies. 1972. Vol. 4, p. 587.
20 For all that follows, see A Soboul. “La Révolution française et la ‘féodalité’: Notes sur le prélèvement féodal.” Revue historique, fascicule 487, July-September 1968. p .33: by the same author. “Survuances féodales dans la société rurale française au XIXe siècle.” Annales E SC. 1968. p 965. For a regional example, illustrating our remarks, see M. Leymarie. “Les Redevances foncières seigneuriales en Haute-Avergne.” AHRF, 1968. p 299.
21 Rapport jaitau nom du Comité des droits féodaux le 4 septembre 1789. sur l’objet et l’ordre du travail dont il est charge. (B.N . 8° Le 29 193. imp. 30 p).
22 M. Leymarie. “Les Redevances seigneuriales en Haute-Avergne.”
23 J. Meyer. Noblesses et Pouvoirs duns l’Europe d’Ancien Régime, Paris. 1973. p. 251 For a very enlightening regional example, see, by the same author. La Noblesse bretonneuu XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1966. 2 vol.. p. 651. “Les composantes du revenu foncier de la noblesse.”
24 “Let us first of all praise Mr. Cobban.” writes Lefebvre in the article cited above (note 18). “for the care he has taken in listing the members of the Constituent and the Convention according to their social background, following the example of research of this type that Anglo-Saxon historians, through the impetus given by Namier, have undertaken for the House of Commons These investigations could go deeper and are recommended to French scholars.”
25 Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. “Who intervened in 1788? A Commentary on The Coming of the French Revolution,” American Historical Review, LXXI. October. 1956. p 77. George V Taylor, “Non-Capitalist Wealth and the Origins of the French Revolution.” ibid., LXXIL January. 1967. p. 469. See RR Palmer. “Polémique américaine sur le rôle de la bourgeoisie dans la Révolution française, “ AHRF, 1967. p. 368.
26 E Labrousse. “Voies nouvelles vers une histoire de la bourgeoisie occidentale aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles.” X Congresso internazionale di scienze stonche. Relaziom. Florence, 1955. vol. IV. p. 365. Of particular documentary interest are the studies relative to the bourgeoisie in the Assemblée générale de la Commission centrale… 1939 Commission d’histoire économique et sociale de la Révolution. Besançon, 1942. 2 vol. ). vol I, p. 33: P. Léon, “Recherches sur la bourgeoisie française de province au XVIIIe siècle,” L’Information historique, 1958. p. 101.
27 See essentially J. Letaconnoux, “Le Comité des députés extraordinaires des manufactures et du commerce et l’oeuvre de la Constituante.” Annales révolutionnaires. 1913. p. 149, G. Debien. Les Colons de Saint-Domingue et la Révolution. Essai sur le club Massiac. Août 1789-août 1972, Paris. 1953.
28 G Shapiro, “The Many Lives of Georges Lefebvre.” American Historical Review. LXXII. January, 1967. p. 502.
29 E. Faure. La Disgrâce de Turgot 12 mai 1776, Paris, 1961, coll. “Trente journées qui ont fait la France.” See the review of this work by J. Godechot. A H RF., 1962. p 105.
30 F. Furet and D. Richet, La Révolution, vol. I Des États Généraux au 9 thermidor, Paris. 1965. Vol. II, Du 9 thermidor au 18 brumaire. Paris, 1966; new edition in one volume, La Révolution française, Paris, 1972. On this work see CI. Mazaunc, “Réflexions sur une nouvelle conception de la Révolution française,” A.HR F.. 1967. p. 339. From the same point of view, see D. Richet. La France moderne l’esprit des institutions. Paris, 1973.
31 D. Richet. “Autour des origines idéologiques lointaines de la Révolution française, élites et despotisme.” Annales E.S.C.. 1969. p. I.
32 Ibid., p. 23.
33 L. Althusser. Montesquieu. La politique et l’histoire. Paris, 1959 “This feudal enemy of despotism became the hero of all the adversaries of the established order. By a strange turn of history, the one who was looking toward the past appeared to open the doors of the future.”
34 See Utopie et Institutions au XVIW siècle Le pragmatisme des Lumières, textes recueillis par P Francastel. Paris-La Haye. 1963.
35 J. Meyer. Nobles et Pouvoirs. p. 253.
36 “The king wishes that the ancient distinction of the three orders of the State be conserved in its entirety, as essentially connected to the constitution of his kingdom” (Art. I of the Declaration of the king) Cf. Recueil de documents relatifs aux séances des États Généraux, under the direction of G Lefebvre, vol. I, 2. La Séance du 23 juin. Paris, 1962. p 275.
37 F. Furet and D. Richet. La Révolution, p. 106 and p. 120.
38 Ibid. p 270.
39 Ibid. p 358.
40 D. Richet. La France moderne, p. 7 “Everything happens as if the events, limited and contingent, of 1789-1793 had imposed a decisive break between a before and after.” For the idea of revolution, this author tends to substitute in a significant manner that of transition See the article quoted above (note 31), “Autours des origines idéologiques de la Révolution française.” “On the broad level of economic forces, a slow but revolutionary mutation was operating from the 16th to the 19th century, that is the very history of capitalism, one of the major events of modern times. It can be baptized, if you wish, a bourgeois revolution, but it was a multisecular movement whose decisive stage took place in the second half of the 19th century” (p 22).
41 See above, note 8.
42 On these liberal historians of the Restoration, founders of classical revolutionary historiography and initiators of the social interpretation of the Revolution, see the excellent introduction of C. Jullian to his Extraits des historiens français du XIXe siècle. Paris. 1898, G Lefebvre. La Nuissance de l’historiographie moderne, Paris. 1971. chap XI, B Réizov. L’Histortographie romantique française 1815-1830, Moscow, n d. chap VII.
43 L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution. edition cited above (note 15), Tocqueville adds: “If it had not taken place, the old social edifice would have nonetheless fallen everywhere, sooner here, later there; only it would have continued to fall bit by bit instead of collapsing all at once. The Revolution achieved suddenly, by a convulsive and painful effort, without transition, without precaution, without regard, what would have been achieved slowly by itself, in the long run. That was its work.” (p. 96).
44 F. Furet and D. Richet. La Révolution, p 294.
45 Quoted by G. Lefebvre, “Réflexions sur l’histoire.” La Pensée. May-June 1955.
46 See A. Soboul. “Description et Mesure en histoire sociale.” L’Histoire sociale. Sources et méthodes. Paris, 1967. p. 9.
47 The most recent to date: C. Lucas. “Nobles. Bourgeois and the Origins of the French Revolution.” Past and Present. 60. August 1973.
48 We refer here to the reflections of Hegel on general history and special history (course of 1822 on historiography. Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire).

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