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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

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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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The Individual

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The moral existence of the individual We can begin with regeneration of the individual. Our heroes were convinced that, if they were to build a new society, they needed to forge a new man. And Rousseau showed the way. “If there is some reform to attempt in public morals,” he wrote in the preface to New Heloise, “it must begin with domestic morals.” This opinion was common in the revolutionary years. Only a good person, fa- ther, husband or son could become a good citizen, a brave soldier, a trustworthy public servant. And conversely, no one with private vices could be a defender of Liberty. Sometimes an accusation of moral turpitude could mean a death sen- tence. Robespierre used such a tactic against Georges Danton in March 1794, and around the same time a young follower of Robespierre, Marc-Antoine Jul- lien, declared to the Convention: “True Jacobins are those whose private virtues give reliable guarantees of public virtue.” However, as Rousseau claimed, there are no bad peoples, just peoples under bad governments. Thus, the fall of despotism would offer tremendous opportuni- ties for the rebirth of private morality. He wrote in Emile that “those who desire to treat politics and morals apart from one another will never understand either.” The good person is the main component of a good social system, but a bad sys- tem does not favor the development of good people. On the eve of revolution, in his famous pamphlet What is the Third Estate?, Abbé Siey...

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