Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution

Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution

Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution

Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution

Excerpt

In a note to himself Saint-Just once wrote that “the revolution must culminate in the perfection of happiness.”1 We all know that the French Revolution’s pursuit of happiness degenerated into violence and death, the glorious ideals of the Declaration of Rights and the conquest of liberty compromised forever by war, civil strife, mob violence, and the specter of the guillotine. History has explored at great length the reasons the dreams of 1789 became the nightmare of 1793. Multiple causes, of a social, economic, and political nature, have been cited to explain the dramatic downfall of the Republic. Strikingly, the undoing of the revolutionary ideal has never been explicitly related to the ideal itself.2 Philosophically and ideologically, 1789 and 1793 stand as two unrelated events, two revolutions: one a celebration of happiness and freedom inherited from the Enlightenment (“a perfectly pious vision of the Revolution,” as Jean Baudrillard puts it);3 the other a largely unfathomable nightmare of blood and violence that historians prefer to erase or else dramatize to emphasize the illegitimacy of the revolutionary project.

Yet the philosophical ideals so brilliantly at work in the events of 1789 also inspired the darker days leading to the end of . . .

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