Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850

Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850

Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850

Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850

Synopsis

Providing a continent-wide history, this major survey covers the key political events of this turbulent period. Jonathan Sperber also looks at lives of ordinary people and considers broad social and economic developments. In particular he examines the relationships between the different revolutionary movements, showing how the French Revolution of 1789 set patterns which recurred over the following sixty years.

Excerpt

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Europe in the age of revolution seems a long way off. A quick collage of images from the years 1780–1850 can only support such an assertion: those bewigged and powdered revolutionaries singing the Marseillaise, taking an oath to conquer or die at the ‘altar of the fatherland’; Napoleon, mostly seen today on brandy bottles and remembered in ‘not tonight Josephine’ jokes; textbook figures, like Metternich, Peel, Mazzini. Social and economic developments appear equally distant. The large and bulky steam engines of the industrial revolution look a lot less revolutionary when microelectronics is the leading sector; the rise of factory work is less exciting when ever more people are employed in services. The famines and bread riots of revolutionary Europe (with Marie Antoinette telling the Parisians without bread to eat cake) might be relevant to life in underdeveloped countries of the southern hemisphere, but in the economically advanced countries agricultural policy seems to be mostly about finding a way to unload the excess of foodstuffs farmers produce over what consumers can eat.

To view revolutionary Europe as distant and irrelevant is not the only possible approach. A growing number of academics see the era as relevant but sinister. One scholarly tradition, that has gained new life with the end of communist regimes in Europe, castigates the French Revolution as the birth of genocidal, totalitarian Stalinism. In recent years, feminist and postmodernist scholars have decided that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution marked new heights of sexism and racism, steps in the direction of the oppression of women and people of colour, that were all the more insidious because these intellectual and political movements seemed to be about emancipation. Indeed, the French Revolution has been blamed for both fascism and communism.

Such viewpoints might discourage one from writing any history of revolutionary Europe. If an author had the nerve to continue under these . . .

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