Royalist Political Thought during the French Revolution

Royalist Political Thought during the French Revolution

Royalist Political Thought during the French Revolution

Royalist Political Thought during the French Revolution


This book treats two basic subjects: (1) royalist explanations of the causes of the French Revolution, and (2) royalist defenses of royalist political positions. The royalists began with a simplistic conspiracy theory of history--the Old Regime was right. But then they came up with increasingly sophisticated explanations, thereby making an important contribution to historical explanation. In political thought, they eventually offered a tempered defense of the Old Regime, a call for political elitism in the face of the chaos unleashed by the Revolution, and an early explanation of the organic theory of history, a true contribution to political thought.


This book concentrates on French revolutionary royalist thought. It makes no attempt to trace royalist conspiracies in France, nor does it include those of émigrés abroad, both of which have been treated elsewhere. Royalists were divided between constitutional and absolutist monarchists. This book attempts to provide as complete a study of the absolutists as possible, though it makes some mention of the constitutionalists too. It builds on Paul H. Beik seminal analysis, The French Revolution Seen from the Right: Social Theories in Motion, 1789- 1799, which provided a general survey of right-wing opinion. Beik, however, did not include a study of the press, as does this work. I believe, therefore, my study provides the first systematic treatment of the absolutist position.

Chapters are arranged pretty much in a chronological fashion, beginning with early royalist explanations of the causes of the Revolution and continuing through the period of the Directory. the material divides itself naturally between explanations of the causes of the Revolution and defenses of monarchism. At first royalists concentrated on causation. They wanted to find out how and why the government of the Old Regime, which they had thought a viable operation, had been overturned. and their first reaction was that it resulted from some evil outside force. On more sober reflection other royalist commentators came to find fault with the Old Regime and to come up with much more complex schemes of causation. So this book in part is about the creation of an increasingly sophisticated royalist historiography of the causes of the Revolution, which in turn fed into a general understanding of the history of this period.

But more and more royalists concentrated on the faults of the unfolding Revolution and explained how a reformed monarchy would be vastly superior. in the process they not only made a contribution to political thought, they were also preparing arguments for their eventual return to power. Basic political issues were now being discussed, and royalists, along with radicals, moderate republics, liberals, and socialists, were helping set the political agenda for the nineteenth century.

The sources on this subject are rich. I have largely drawn from the extensive collection at the Newberry Library, which has many pamphlets and newspapers, plus secondary materials on the subject. Unfortunately, however, only the anony-

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