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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 French Revolution as a universal model So far we have examined two of the great aims of the French Revolution. First, the revolutionaries wanted to liberate the individual, regenerate him, and trans- form him into the new man. Second, they dreamed of a new social community, free of conflict, which would be marked by such internal harmony that it would be timeless. “Liberty knows neither old-age nor childhood,” Desmoulins once wrote. “It always has the same age, the same maturity and strength.” The temptation to take these two goals and extrapolate them to a global level is understandable: The liberated individual would correspond to the liberation of entire peoples, and the social harmony of France would be the model for a united community on a human scale. French Liberty would illuminate, for the world, the path to the brotherly République universelle – a well-known motif of revolutionary iconography. Significantly, in the struggle for Liberty, eighteenth-century France enjoyed neither precedence nor a monopoly. Liberty was known to the world before the storming of the Bastille, though – as it was often said in France – it was “con- cealed behind the seas” (on the British Isles and America) or “behind the moun- tains” (Switzerland). Thomas Jefferson, who represented his country in France starting in 1784, stated in an oft-quoted letter to Edward Carrington in January 1787 that Euro- pean governments treated their people like wolves treat sheep. He saw the ideal state system, based on self-governance, in the Indian tribes, and among...

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