Thursday, January 15, 2015

From the Radical Enlightenment to the French Revolution’s “genuine republicans and democrats”


“If no political party in the modern sense, the Brissotins [also known as the ‘Girondists’] represented more than a mere faction pursuing power or personal goals. Montagnard rhetoric has often led modern historians to suppose they really adhered to a modérantisme or fédéralisme. They have been sometimes styled ‘the Revolution’s right wing,’ the ‘party of businessmen and merchants.’ But if more tolerant of different views than their Montagnard opponents, and defenders of economic and personal freedom, they were not liberals or moderates. Rather, they were the first to envisage tackling economic inequality and attempting to create a fairer society by constitutional, legal, and nonviolent means, especially tax and inheritance laws combined with financial assistance for society’s weakest. The Revolution’s first republicans, they were also far more genuine republicans and democrats than the Montagne, and the real framers of both versions of the Declaration of Rights of 1789 and 1793. They were, in fact, the founders of the modern human rights tradition, black emancipation, women’s rights, and modern representative democracy, though some Montagards, it must be remembered, like Desmoulins, Romme, and Cloots, were sincere democratic republicans too. Prime defenders of the Revolution’s core values, Brissotins and Dantonists formed the essential link connecting the Revolution to the Enlightenment in its radical, secular, democratic form and thus the first organized champions of democratic, rights-based, secular modernity.”—Jonathan Israel, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton University Press, 2014): 478 

Image: Statue of the Marquis de Condorcet, created by Jacques Perrin in 1894, destroyed in 1941, erected again in 1991.

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