"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Deeply Corrupting Influences of the French Revolution

In a paper I published this summer in the juried journal Pro Ecclesia, I demonstrated the extent to which the French Revolution has proven to be deeply corrupting of both Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology, especially their conceptions of sovereignty, authority, and autocephaly along with their notions of nationalism and Church-state relations. I maintain an interest in the revolution and in movements associated with it, not least Gallicanism and Ultramontanism. I was therefore struck with interest when, perusing the latest offerings from Princeton University Press, I came across this hefty new tome just published this month and purporting to offer us further insights into the intellectual history and influence of the revolution: Jonathan Israel, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton UP, 2015), 888pp.

About this book we are told:
Historians of the French Revolution used to take for granted what was also obvious to its contemporary observers—that the Revolution was shaped by the radical ideas of the Enlightenment. Yet in recent decades, scholars have argued that the Revolution was brought about by social forces, politics, economics, or culture—almost anything but abstract notions like liberty or equality. In Revolutionary Ideas, one of the world’s leading historians of the Enlightenment restores the Revolution’s intellectual history to its rightful central role. Drawing widely on primary sources, Jonathan Israel shows how the Revolution was set in motion by radical eighteenth-century doctrines, how these ideas divided revolutionary leaders into vehemently opposed ideological blocs, and how these clashes drove the turning points of the Revolution.
In this compelling account, the French Revolution stands once again as a culmination of the emancipatory and democratic ideals of the Enlightenment. That it ended in the Terror represented a betrayal of those ideas—not their fulfillment.

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