How does France reconcile the modern movement toward pluralism and decentralization with a strong central governing power? One of the country's most distinguished political historians offers a radical new interpretation of the development of democracy in France and the relationship between government and its citizens.
Since the publication of Tocqueville's Ancient Regime and the Revolution, French political structures have been viewed as the pure expression of a native Jacobinism, itself the continuation of an old absolutism. This interpretation has served as both a diagnosis of and an excuse for the inability to accept pluralism and decentralization as norms of a modern democracy, as evidenced in such policies as the persistence of the role of prefects and the ban on headscarves in schools.
Pierre Rosanvallon, by contrast, argues that the French have cherished and demonized Jacobinism at the same time; their hearts followed Robespierre, but their heads turned toward Benjamin Constant. The Demands of Liberty traces the long history of resistance to Jacobinism, including the creation of associations and unions and the implementation of elements of decentralization. Behind the ideological triumph of the state lies the conflicting creation of an active civil society.
In exploring these tensions, Rosanvallon takes the debate far beyond traditional views of liberalism versus republicanism and offers an innovative analysis of why the French system has worked despite Jacobinism.
In this unique synthesis of political theory and social history, Pierre Rosanvallon gives us a masterful interpretation of the French political experience from the Revolution to the present. He explores the tension between the Jacobin tradition, with its deep suspicion of civil society as partial and divisive, and the emergence in modern France of a robust associational life. More than a brilliant analysis of French politics and society, this book is a rich meditation on the theory and practice of democracy, past and present.
Pierre Rosanvallon [is] one of the most important writers of history in France today...His ideas have a clarity and a power similar to Furet's.
Rosanvallon brilliantly demystifies the "illiberal mentalité" of men like Maximilien Robespierre, the "Incorruptible." Democracy emerges as complicated, valuable, and fragile.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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