Intellectual Founders of the Republic: Five Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Republican Political Thought

Intellectual Founders of the Republic: Five Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Republican Political Thought

Intellectual Founders of the Republic: Five Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Republican Political Thought

Intellectual Founders of the Republic: Five Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Republican Political Thought


This innovative study of French political culture re-examines the origins of modern republicanism through the lives and political thought of five nineteenth-century intellectuals: Jules Barni, Charles Dupont-White, Emile Littre, Eugene Pelletan, and Etienne Vacherot. By their writings andtheir political practices at the local, national, international levels these thinkers made major contributions to the founding of the new republican order in France. Drawing on a range of archival and published sources, the book sheds new light on classical republican thinking on such key issues as the interpretation of the 1789 Revolution, the definition of citizenship, the meaning of patriotism, the relationship between central government and local democracy, the value of individual liberty, and the place of education and religion in public and private life. These five studies also break new ground in the conceptualization of nineteenth-century French intellectual history. The writings of these thinkers demonstrate the ideological pluralism and diversity of moderate French republican thought during this period. Positivism appears as an important and influential doctrine, but its hegemonic aspirations were successfully resisted by the abiding influences of Saint-Simonism, socialism, doctrinaire liberalism, and neo-Kantianism. It emerges that the ideological potency of republican doctrine lay in its complexity and sophistication, as reflected in its capacity to effect a synthesis among these different approaches. Through its analysis of the writings and political practices of these five thinkers Intellectual Founders of the Republic offers critical insights into the history of political thought as well as modern French republicanism. It underlines both the significance of contextuality in the interpretation of political discourse, and the continuing relevance of classical republicanism in making sense of contemporary moral and political dilemmas.


This book got off to an unpromising start. When, having drafted what I thought was an alluring proposal, I approached a major publishing house to add this project to its forthcoming titles, I was told that the series in which I had hoped to include the book was being wound up. When an Oxford colleague—a historian—asked me about my next project after From Subject to Citizen, I replied that I was hoping to revisit the intellectual origins of the Third Republic. 'Vaste programme' he retorted sarcastically. Another Oxonian friend—a political scientist this time—after being informed of my cast of characters, tartly declared that the book would be an exercise in 'self-indulgence'. Most of my colleagues, both in the Anglo-American world and in France, freely confessed that the names of Barni, Dupont-White, Pelletan, and Vacherot meant nothing to them. As for Littré, everyone knew his Dictionary, but little else. When I mentioned to one of my French colleagues that I was reading Littré's voluminous political writings, he looked startled: 'il est vraiment très ennuyeux, tu ne trouves pas?'

Such was my challenge: to write about the founding of the Third Republic in France but to narrate it through the eyes of a group of largely unknown thinkers, and in such a way as to open up the rich treasures of the republican political theory to which they subscribed—all the while keeping my French colleague awake. Of whether I have succeeded all the way my readers will be the judge. For my part, I have found the exercise illuminating in many respects, three of which especially stand out. The first was to see through the lives of five intellectuals how political theory and political practice could be indissociably linked: an uplifting experience in these days when political theory is all too often free-floating or else completely instrumentalized, and political practice grounded in little except expediency—perhaps there is a connection.

Just as enriching was having to face the multiple challenges of biographical research: hunting down the relics of particular individuals in public and private archives and coming to terms with the seemingly impossible task of trying to provide unity and coherence to lives which constantly appeared to subvert such logics. I came away with a wonderful sense of the complexities of human inspiration and an even greater resolve to ignore the mindless theorizing which seeks to reduce what we do—and who we are—to mere expressions of 'interest'.

Above all I have benefited from the support of my peers. Thanks to them, and to the patience, the generosity, and the collective wisdom of a large number of friends and colleagues in Britain, France, and the United States, this is now a much better book than it would otherwise have been. I would like to

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