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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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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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