Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre

Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre

by Jonathan Israel
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2015 PROSE Award in European & World History, Association of American Publishers

"[A]dvances an erudite and persuasive argument. . . . Israel's categorization of the various revolutionary factions offers fascinating new insights, and his knack for uncovering interesting but neglected individuals and texts is second to none . . . rich and thought provoking book. It is remarkable and significant."--Rachel Hammersley, Times Literary Supplement

"[C]losely argued. . . . Israel can be understood as a historian in the long liberal tradition stretching back to Madame de Stael, who herself witnessed the revolution and saw it as a story of the betrayal of liberty."--Ruth Scurr, Wall Street Journal

"[W]ith typical boldness Israel invites us to reconceptualise our very idea of the Revolution."--Jeremy Jennings, Standpoint

"Overwhelmingly impressive."--Peter Watson, Times

"[P]acked with details . . . [Revolutionary Ideas] is part of Israel's major project to give the Enlightenment, especially the Radical Enlightenment as he calls it, new luster."--NRC Handelsblad

"[M]ajestic."--Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe, Trinidad and Tobago News

"Israel, a professor of modern European history at Princeton, is a world authority on the 18th-century Enlightenment. Here he constructs a bold and brilliantly argued case that the 1789 French Revolution was propelled by the clash of innovative political doctrines that supported or contested Enlightenment values."--Tony Barber, Financial Times

"Israel, author of the pathbreaking studies on the Dutch Republic, European Jews, and more recently the radical Enlightenment, now turns his attention to the French Revolution, arguing that the underlying cause was ideological--namely, the impact of the radical Enlightenment resulting from the work of philosophers Denis Diderot, Claude Adrien Helvetius, and Paul-Henry Thiry, Baron d'Holbach. . . . Israel takes them at their word, painstakingly poring through voluminous revolutionary newspapers and the archives parlementaires, records of the revolutionary national assemblies. . . . This significant and nuanced study is a major reinterpretation."--Choice

"A racy account of the concepts that shaped the French Revolution and its people. . . . The book leaves the reader with a strong impression of the power of ideas that unlock political energy and the strength of leadership needed to withstand fickle popular opinion."--Tom Watson, New Statesman

"A remarkable book. . . . An enormously rich and engaging work that invites us to think and to challenge received wisdom."--Mark Curran, European History Quarterly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400849994
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
03/23/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
888
Sales rank:
1,047,492
File size:
7 MB

Meet the Author

Jonathan Israel is professor of modern history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author of A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton).

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