Nonfiction

Interpreting the French Revolution

In projects On
The French Revolution is an historical event unlike any other. It is more than just a topic of intellectual interest: it has become part of a moral and political heritage. But after two centuries, this central event in French history has usually been thought of in much the same terms as it was by its contemporaries. There have been many accounts of the French Revolution, and though their opinions differ, they have often been commemorative or anniversary interpretations of the original event. The dividing line of revolutionary historiography, in intellectual terms, is therefore not between the right and the left, but between commemorative and conceptual history, as exemplified respectively in the works of Michelet and Tocquevifle.

The Ancien Régime and the Revolution

In projects On
The Ancien Régime and the Revolution is a comparison of revolutionary France and the despotic rule it toppled. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) is an objective observer of both periods – providing a merciless critique of the ancien régime, with its venality, oppression and inequality, yet acknowledging the reforms introduced under Louis XVI, and claiming that the post-Revolution state was in many ways as tyrannical as that of the King; its once lofty and egalitarian ideals corrupted and forgotten. Writing in the 1850s, Tocqueville wished to expose the return to despotism he witnessed in his own time under Napoleon III, by illuminating the grand, but ultimately doomed, call to liberty made by the French people in 1789.