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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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Epilogue: The Persistence Of Myths


Let us devote some final words to a brief consideration of the persistence of the revolutionary myths we have just presented. After all, these myths also accom- panied later revolutions, above all those which plowed deep into the social soil. A new image of the world, a new society, and a new man - they correspond roughly to Condorcet’s three great hopes, which he formulated like this: “The end of inequalities among nations [both in politics and on the higher, civiliza- tional level]; progress toward equality within the same people; the truly per- fected man.” One could interpret the great triad of revolutionary values in a similar spirit: Liberty (if, that is, we mean by this, above all, individual autonomy), Equality (if we believe that it should exceed the normal limits of equality before the law), and Fraternity (if we lend it a universal, and not just tribal, dimension).  Those were wonderful hopes, and they were noble values. They stimulated the imagination, activated the mind, moved the conscience, mobilized energy, and encouraged perseverance. But they quickly clashed with social and politi- cal realities, which deformed human actions, so that actual results were an in- sult to intentions.  When the Emperor of the French waged bloody wars against Europe and then dictated the terms for peace, it was clear that the fraternal image of the world had been shattered. After Thermidor, and especially after 18 Brumaire, when the rule by elites began to consolidate its position at the expense of de-...

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