Reinterpreting the French Revolution: A global-historical perspective

BOOK: Reinterpreting the French Revolution: A global-historical perspective
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Reinterpreting the French Revolution

This book provides a synthesis of the most recent scholarly literature on the

diplomatic, political, social, economic, and cultural history of eighteenth-

century and revolutionary France. On the basis of that synthesis and

current theoretical writing on major modern revolutions, Bailey Stone

argues that the outbreak of the French Revolution, and the dramatic

developments of the subsequent ten years, were attributable to the inter-

acting pressures of international and domestic politics on those national

leaders attempting to govern France and to modernize its institutions.

The book furthermore contends that the revolution of 1789–99, recon-

ceptualized in this fashion, needs to be placed in the larger contexts of

“early modern” and “modern” French history and modern “progressive”

sociopolitical revolutions. In staking out these positions, Stone offers a

unique interpretation of the French Revolution, one that dissents from

both the Marxist socioeconomic orthodoxy of earlier times and more recent

“political-cultural” analyses.

Bailey Stone is a professor of history at the University of Houston. His

previous books include
The Parlement of Paris, 1774–1789; The French

Parlements and the Crisis of the Old Regime
; and
The Genesis of the French
Revolution: A Global-Historical Interpretation.

Reinterpreting the

French Revolution

A global-historical perspective

B A I L E Y S T O N E

University of Houston

         

The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

  

The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK

40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA

477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia

Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain

Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

http://www.cambridge.org

© Bailey Stone 2004

First published in printed format 2002

ISBN 0-511-04224-8 eBook (netLibrary)

ISBN 0-521-81147-3 hardback

ISBN 0-521-00999-5 paperback

Contents

Acknowledgments

page
vii

Introduction

1

1 The ancien régime: challenges not met, a dilemma

not overcome

14

2 The descent into revolution: from August 1788

to October 1789

62

3 The first attempt to stabilize the Revolution:

from 1789 to 1791

109

4 The “revolutionizing” of the Revolution:

from 1791 to 1794

159

5 The second attempt to stabilize the revolution:

from 1794 to 1799

209

Conclusion: the Revolution in the French and global context

259

Suggestions for further reading

269

Index

285

v

Acknowledgments

I wish first of all to acknowledge my indebtedness to all those individuals

laboring in the trenches of old regime and French Revolutionary studies.

They may or may not be able to endorse the analysis I put forth upon these

pages; at the very least, however, I want them to realize how grateful I am

to have been able to cite from such a rich literature in this field of historical

scholarship.

I also acknowledge, in a more specific fashion, the encouragement

and advice I have received from certain colleagues in the profession

since taking up this project in 1993. I am in particular thinking here of

Robert R. Palmer, Harold T. Parker, Dale Van Kley, Robert Darnton,

Albert N. Hamscher, Hugh Ragsdale, Marie Donaghay, Marsha Frey, and

Thomas E. Kaiser in the United States; and Jeremy Black, Colin Jones,

and Robin Briggs in the United Kingdom. Probably I should mention

others as well – including a number of specialists at recent meetings of the

Society for French Historical Studies to whom I have explained some of

my evolving ideas on the genesis, process, and ramifications of the French

Revolution.

Recognition is due as well to the administration of the University of

Houston and to my associates in the Department of History at UH. A Pratt

Fellowship from the university enabled me to spend the fall 1993 semester

embarking upon the reading required for this synthesis. A University

of Houston Faculty Development Leave Grant subsequently made it

possible for me to pursue my project unburdened by the usual academic

responsibilities during the 1995–96 academic year. My colleagues in the

History Department’s research colloquium have at various times provided

invaluable critical reactions to ideas destined to be elaborated in this

book.

I am grateful as well to Frank Smith, Publishing Director for Social

Sciences at Cambridge University Press in New York City, to his editorial

vii

viii

Acknowledgments

associates, and to the anonymous readers of my manuscript for their roles

in its acceptance and preparation for publication.

Finally – in connection with this project as with all my earlier projects –

much is also owed to some very special people in the private precincts of

my life. Again, as before: they know who they are.

Introduction

The Bicentennial of the French Revolution may have given rise to a flood

of commemorative activities, but it has not left in its wake any scholarly

consensus on the causation, development, and implications of that vast

upheaval. To the contrary, historians barely finished with the pleasurable

work of interring a Marxist view of the Revolution regnant in the first half

of the twentieth century have turned their spades upon each other, all the

while trying to establish their own explanations of cataclysmic events in the

France of 1789–99. This book certainly does not expect to restore consensus

in a field beset by such controversy, but it can at least hope to put forth some

distinctive ideas on the subject. More specifically, it will contend that the

Revolution broke out, and unfolded in the way it did, primarily because of

competing international and domestic pressures on French governance in

the late eighteenth century. By placing the revolutionary experience in such

a broad spatial setting, as well as in the broadest possible temporal setting

of modern world history, this book aims to present its case in genuinely

“global-historical” terms.

Since this study is heavily indebted to the enormous historical and

sociological literature on the revolutionary era, a few observations about

the debate arising from that literature are first of all in order. We can then

BOOK: Reinterpreting the French Revolution: A global-historical perspective
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