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The Post-Revolutionary Self

The Post-Revolutionary Self

Politics and Psyche in France, 1750–1850

Jan Goldstein

ISBN 9780674027695

Publication date: 03/31/2008

In the wake of the French Revolution, as attempts to restore political stability to France repeatedly failed, a group of concerned intellectuals identified a likely culprit: the prevalent sensationalist psychology, and especially the flimsy and fragmented self it produced. They proposed a vast, state-run pedagogical project to replace sensationalism with a new psychology that showcased an indivisible and actively willing self, or moi. As conceived and executed by Victor Cousin, a derivative philosopher but an academic entrepreneur of genius, this long-lived project singled out the male bourgeoisie for training in selfhood. Granting everyone a self in principle, Cousin and his disciples deemed workers and women incapable of the introspective finesse necessary to appropriate that self in practice.

Beginning with a fresh consideration of the place of sensationalism in the Old Regime and the French Revolution, Jan Goldstein traces a post-Revolutionary politics of selfhood that reserved the Cousinian moi for the educated elite, outraged Catholics and consigned socially marginal groups to the ministrations of phrenology. Situating the Cousinian moi between the fragmented selves of eighteenth-century sensationalism and twentieth-century Freudianism, Goldstein suggests that the resolutely unitary self of the nineteenth century was only an interlude tailored to the needs of the post-Revolutionary bourgeois order.


  • A singularly lucid and original study of how public and private spheres, politics and psyche, fused in post-Revolutionary France. Goldstein shows us the micro-mechanics of how generations of educated, middle-class Frenchmen came to understand their inner life and essence in terms supplied and enforced by new institutions. This remarkable book is a model for a new kind of history which understands politics from the inside out and psyche from the outside in.

    —Lorraine Daston, Director, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


  • 2005, Winner of the David H. Pinkney Prize


  • Jan Goldstein is Norman and Edna Freehling Professor of History at the University of Chicago.

Book Details

  • 430 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press