Posts Tagged ‘French Revolution’

La superstition, il est vrai, est un des appuis du despotisme, mais ce n’est point induire les citoyens dans la superstition que de prononcer le nom de la divinité […]. Je soutiens, moi, ces éternels principes sur lesquels s’étaie la faiblesse humaine pour s’élancer à la vertu. Ce n’est point un vain langage dans ma bouche, pas plus que celle de tous les hommes illustres qui n’en avaient pas moins de morale pour croire à l’existence de dieu.

Plusieurs voix. A l’orde du jour (Brouhahas).

Non, messieurs, vous n’étoufferez point ma voix, il n’y a point d’ordre du jour qui puisse étouffer cette vérité: je vais continuer de développer un des principes puisés dans mon cœur, et avoués par tous les défenseurs de la liberté; je ne crois pas qu’il puisse jamais déplaire à aucun membre de l’assemblée nationale d’entendre ces principes.

Maximilien Robespierre, in: Œuvres complétes, Marc Bouloiseau, Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul eds, vol. 8, Paris 1954, p. 233-234 [Session of 26 March 1792].

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The latest issue of French History includes an article I wrote on the role of silence during the French Revolution, titled

Le silence du peuple: The Rhetoric of Silence during the French Revolution

French History, 31, Issue 4 (2017), p. 440–469.



In July 1789, a phrase was introduced into French political discourse that would quickly become a standing expression: le silence du peuple est la leçon des rois. Taking this political bon mot as a starting point, the article traces the uses of and responses to collective silences during the French Revolution. It is argued that silence cannot be reduced to just the lack of ‘voice’ indicating suppression or political impotence. Rather, it must be understood as a mode of political action with a rhetoric of its own. Sketching this rhetoric not only highlights the nature and functions of a mode of political communication too often disregarded. It also shows how the controversies surrounding these silences reflected some of the major political questions of the day, playing a key role in the renegotiations of the communicative spaces of politics set off by the Revolution.


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This winter semester, I will again be teaching two courses.

The Salon: a Form of Enlightened Sociability
The social life of the Ancien Régime has never lost its fascination. In many books and movies, a world is evoked in which beautifully dressed gentlemen and ladies cultivate a witty and light-footed conversation. The central and most famous form of this type of elitist sociability was, without a doubt, the salon. In this setting, an exquisite circle of guests of all sorts met under the gentle guidance of an elegant hostess. Drawing upon French and ‘German’ cases from the 18th and 19th centuries, this seminar studies the social, cultural and gender dimensions of this social form in their historical development. Its focus will lie on several questions which have been the subject of heated historiographical debate. Were these salons hatcheries of Enlightenment thought, of emerging civil society or of women’s emancipation, or did they rather represent a late – and ultimately dying – branch of aristocratic (court) culture? In the conversations that built the central element of any salon, what was the relationship between serious discussion and lighthearted amusement? Were the salons able to adjust to the new political environment after the French Revolution, or did the rise of bourgeois society spell their end?

Enlightenment and Revolution: Reading Course on French Sources
The French Revolution is often thought of as the birthplace of European modernity. Contemporaries were already very aware of its significance and debated about its various causes. Central among these was a diffuse set of phenomena that would gradually come to be subsumed under the title of ‘Enlightenment’. In this context, a controversial debate about the relationship between ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Revolution’ emerged that has not quieted down since. Reading French primary sources (pamphlets, theatre, speeches, lexicon articles, etc.), this course will trace the political dimension of the Enlightenment as it was understood before, during and after the French Revolution.

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