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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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We: The Nation


National unity on the ruins of regional differences Let us read from a cahier de doléances from a small town in Orléanais. “All subjects in the kingdom make up a single nation, under the same ruler, and thus should constitute a family, subordinate to one and the same régime”. The first part of this sentence is, essentially, a description, though it is idealized and we do not need to completely believe it. This sentence also contains three distinc- tive claims, which are essentially normative statements, and all three of them, as it turned out, played important roles in the larger revolutionary process. First, the claim regarding the creation of “a single nation” out of – as Mira- beau described it – an aggregate of weakly connected people, a single Nation, confident and conscious of its own identity. Second, the transformation of all the French people into one great family. In the eighteenth-century revolutionary dis- course, the idea of “family” was prominent both among the Americans and the French.81 The Americans were first sons (Sons of Liberty) in order to then trans- form themselves (rather, their great representatives) into fathers: Washington became the Father of the Nation, and the creators of the new state system be- came the Founding Fathers. As sons, Americans had a certain ancestry, includ- ing the wicked British stepmother, but also the honest and hardworking Father of the Pioneers. And they had a certain patrimonium, a certain legacy, which they wanted to convert into a new...

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