CHAPTER 9
The Burden of French History

Marx called France the political nation par excellence, as compared to economic England and philosophical Germany. But Marx arrived at his mature theory only after a stern critique of a “merely political” view of revolution. And some of his most important insights are developed in analyses of the failures of revolution in France. While Marx's observation is insightful, the theoretical conclusions he drew from it are problematic. The monarchy in France was not absolute because it was all-powerful or arbitrary; its power came from the means by which it dominated all spheres of life, transforming an administrative and territorial entity into a political nation. In the wake of the Revolution, the republican tradition became equally absolute; it came to define what the French mean by the political (a concept different from what Anglo-Saxons define as politics). Today, globalization (in its various meanings) seems to threaten the power the French attribute to the political. Either the nation-state, whatever its history, will simply be unable to resist the untamed logic of the global culture and the world economy, or the French tradition will contain resources permitting it to transform itself internally in order to provide a unique

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