Policing Public Opinion in the French Revolution: The Culture of Calumny and the Problem of Free Speech

Policing Public Opinion in the French Revolution: The Culture of Calumny and the Problem of Free Speech

by Charles Walton
     
 

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"In the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, French revolutionaries proclaimed the freedom of speech, religion, and opinion. Censorship was abolished, and France appeared to be on a path toward tolerance, pluralism, and civil liberties. A mere four years later, the country descended into a period of political terror during which thousands were… See more details below

Overview

"In the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, French revolutionaries proclaimed the freedom of speech, religion, and opinion. Censorship was abolished, and France appeared to be on a path toward tolerance, pluralism, and civil liberties. A mere four years later, the country descended into a period of political terror during which thousands were arrested, tried, and executed for crimes of expression and opinion." "With the collapse in 1789 of institutions responsible for regulating honor and morality, calumny proliferated, as did obsessions with it. Drawing on wideranging sources, from National Assembly debates to local police archives, Walton shows how struggles to set legal and moral limits on free speech led to the radicalization of politics, and eventually to the brutal liquidation of "calumniators" and fanatical efforts to rebuild society's moral foundation during the Terror of 1793-1794." With its emphasis on how revolutionaries drew upon cultural and political legacies of the Old Regime, this study sheds new light on the origins of the Terror and the French Revolution, as well as the history of free expression.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Charles Walton's book is the most sophisticated and persuasive history I have ever read of the problem of freedom of expression. It brilliantly reveals what the concept really meant to the French Revolutionaries, while offering a provocative and compelling new perspective on why the Revolution lapsed into Terror."—David A. Bell, Johns Hopkins University

"The history of public opinion is now generally recognized as crucial for understanding the origins and course of the French Revolution. There has been a tendency, however, to view it as a concept operative largely in the history of ideas. Charles Walton's innovative book will thus be widely welcomed, for by focusing on free speech—the precondition of public opinion—he is able to extend the framework of analysis to cover important cultural and political debates on honor, calumny, morality and religion. This change of focus also allows us to grasp the difficult choices the Revolutionaries faced—and that we continue to face today."—Colin Jones, author of The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon

"Broad-ranging and carefully argued, Professor Walton's study places the origins of constraints on free speech under the Revolution in the Old Regime's obsession with honor and calumny. In doing so, the book sheds a whole new light on the cultural and political dynamics of the Revolution's climactic years."—Sarah Maza, Northwestern University

"Charles Walton writes a fascinating and provocative new study of freedom of expression in France in the last decades of the eighteenth century. It will compel historians to reconsider their interpretations of the radicalization of the French Revolution and the origins of the Terror."—Timothy Tackett, author of Becoming a Revolutionary

"Walton's book sheds light on how the revolutionaries' failure to define precise limits on freedom of speech fostered teh arbitrariness of the Terror. ...[T]he book's rich evidence reminds us that the French Revolution was not merely a struggle over abstract principles but a myriad of personal dramas with often tragic outcomes." —American Historical Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199795802
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
04/27/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

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