Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Enlightened Nationalism in the Early Revolution: The Nation in the Language of the Societe De 1789

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Enlightened Nationalism in the Early Revolution: The Nation in the Language of the Societe De 1789

Article excerpt




The Societe de 1789 was a political club established in Paris in April 1790 by the abbe Sieye's and Condorcet. Self-consciously identified with the revolution of 1789 and Enlightenment political ideals, it was formed to consolidate the gains of 1789 in a constitutional monarchy with a strong legislature through the application of l'art social - an early conception of social science - to a wide range of public concerns. Indeed, Condorcet and Sieyes declared that the club would function as a kind of "Enlightened Academy of Politics," suggesting that it was not a political club but a company of friends of man who would act as "agens du commerce des verites sociales."(2) Underlying the notion of l'art social was the view that political organization and public policy should rely on the "common reason" found in the opinions of enlightened men? A large proportion of the membership of the dub was drawn from ancien regime elites including many financiers, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and lawyers associated with reform efforts of the monarchy before the revolution. Created as a means of developing and propagating Enlightenment political ideals, 1789 also counted among its members many prominent intellectuals of the period, including Lavoisier, DuPont de Nemours, Bailly, Grouvelle, the Chenier brothers, de Tracy, Cabanis, and Monge. Thus, the club may be considered an important conduit of late Enlightenment thought and figures into the French Revolution, providing a direct linkage between moderate revolutionaries and ancien regime reformers.(4)

The Societe de 1789 was not an effective political force. It failed to define a clear role and strategy because of the infighting of many of its most influential members and the inherent difficulty in maintaining a rapidly shrinking middle course between the right and the left, dissolving in the summer of 1791 after losing any hope of influencing the course of events. The club's failure to establish a dear political role seems to have resulted from contradictory notions about the nature of the club and the nature of revolutionary politics. Indeed, the dub retained an ancien regime model of enlightened politics, according to which a small group of rational men would advise the monarch and operate his bureaucracy? The failure of the Societe to adapt to the new realities of Parisian mass politics in 1790 is startling, and opens the question of just how the members of the dub defined themselves and the political collectivities in 1790 and early 1791 For this study, me win examine the uses of the terms nous (and its possessives) and nation since they are frequently used to define levels of political collectivities.

The role of the term nation in the discursive reorganization of French political life in the revolution has been frequently examined in the radical discourse of the sections and Jacobins following the fall of the monarchy," but has not been as frequently examined during the earlier periods of the revolution. Members of the Societe de 1789 mere conscious of the role M"tic developments played in political events. Writing in the club's Journal, the marquis de Pange argued that "je crois que ce sont des mots qui font les opinions de beaucoup d'hommes, et par consequent, les destinees de beaucoup d'autres."(7) In 1791, another member of 1789, Jean-Baptiste Suard, suggested that les langues se ressentent toujours des toutes les revolutions, dans les opinions, dans les moeurs, et surtout dans les gouvernements. Dans les passage, par exemple, d'une monarchie absolue a une pure democratie, tous les dictionnaires sont renverses [. . .] mais quand la revolution n'est pas si tranchante, quand la democratie et la monarchie se melent sans se detruire et sans se confondre, la langue ancienne et la langue nouvelle s'unissent de meme, et il devient difficile de marquer l'etendue et la limite des mots commes des pouvoirs. …

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