The French Revolution and the Meaning of Citizenship

The French Revolution and the Meaning of Citizenship

The French Revolution and the Meaning of Citizenship

The French Revolution and the Meaning of Citizenship


Citizenship is a fundamental concept in social life, entailing rights, obligations, and relationships with others. Modern citizenship did not emerge from a philosopher's study or a laboratory experiment; instead, it was decisively shaped in the French Revolution. This book is about the processes by which that happened.


Renée Waldinger

This book focuses on the practical meaning and implications of the concept of citizenship. When the millions of subjects of the king of France were transformed into citizens at the time of the French Revolution, the word itself acquired new meaning and significant implications. The practical consequences of these changes on the lives of ordinary French people deserve additional study in the kind of collective effort this volume represents.

The need for this book became apparent to me in the summer of 1989 when I directed an institute on The French Revolution: Texts and Contexts, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a historical event, a literary or philosophical referent, or a creative impulsion, the French Revolution has relevance to every discipline; thus it offered an illuminating focus for an institute at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, bringing together thirty college and university humanities professors from all over the United States for one month of intensive interdisciplinary study. The overarching aim of our institute was to enrich the teaching of our participants by leading them to understand better the climate of ideas and the social conditions that shaped the French Revolution and the ideology and political forces that propelled it. Our approach was based on the belief that literature offers a privileged entry into a culture, and that therefore the thorough analysis of major literary works within a contextual framework is an effective conduit to an understanding of the period.

In building this framework, we immersed ourselves in historical texts. Questions on citizenship during the Revolution surfaced again and again in our discussions, but we found that the literature on the issue was widely scattered. Our research indicated a number of publications that dealt with varying aspects of the question and that approached it from very different directions. None dealt . . .

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