Monday, July 13, 2015

Myths about the French Revolution

From The Washington Post:
Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” is only the best known of many novels that portray France’s wretched poor taking revenge on their aristocratic oppressors during the revolution. (Not on the list, please note, is Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” source of the popular musical, whose climactic scenes take place during the Parisian insurrection of 1832, not the events of 1789).

But the poorest of the poor played relatively little part in a revolution that began among wealthy nobles and professionals in meeting halls at Versailles, weeks before the fall of the Bastille. Even the dramatic popular violence that repeatedly drove the revolution forward was mostly carried out by men with more than a little to lose. In the countryside, as many historians have shown, it was directed against elite fief-holders, and the taxes and tolls they collected above all from well-off, entrepreneurial peasants. In the cities, the urban militants who called themselves “sans-culottes” (“without breeches” — i.e. those who did not dress like the wealthy) mostly came from the ranks of artisans, shopkeepers and clerks. Their leaders, though they often called themselves simple laborers, in fact included professionals and workshop owners. (Read more.)

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