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New Man, New Nation, New World

The French Revolution in Myth and Reality- Edited by Janusz Adamowski- Translated by Alex Shannon


Janusz Adamowski

In this new interpretation of the French Revolution, Jan Baszkiewicz examines revolutionary attempts to «regenerate» man, France and the world in the face of deep-seated and persistent traditions. Using a broad array of primary sources – including pamphlets, diaries, police reports, and debate protocols – Baszkiewicz analyzes the tools French revolutionaries used to build a new society on the wreckage of the Ancien Régime: Spectacular holidays, reforms in family and marriage law, general schooling, the Republican Calendar, the «liberation» of public spaces, education through work, a new religion, terror and war. In the end, the great plans for regeneration failed, though the myths that surrounded those failures lived on well into the twentieth century.


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Enlightenment philosophers on revolutionary regeneration The year was 1758. France was embroiled in the murderous Seven Years War and was experiencing a short but severe political crisis. Criticism of the despotic rule of Louis XV was growing louder. In this very year the aristocrat and former diplomat, Gabriel Mably, wrote a treatise entitled Concerning the Rights & Du- ties of the Citizen, which, for the time being, would remain in his desk drawer. It is a report based on confidential conversations between a Frenchman and an English Lord, who argues that the French need not live in fear of revolution (al- ternatively, the term civil war is used). At first the Frenchman resists the Eng- lishman’s arguments, but eventually he is convinced. Revolution – Mably wrote – shakes the soul of man, but it also builds courage. “The People are never stronger, never happier, never more serious than they are after the shock of civil war. The Corsicans seem to have risen up as a new nation since their love of liberty dictated that they take up arms.” As a result of such revo- lutionary shocks, “the horizon expands, talents multiply, and dignity and pride grow in the souls of man.” Mably continued: “Absolute authority emboldens scoundrels and morons; it is so easy to achieve success by not thinking or doing anything good. If only the scene would change, then we could easily become a people of great spirit and integrity, or at least our efforts to achieve those traits, rather than being...

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