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Ancien Regime and the French Revolution (Penguin Classics)
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However, De Tocqueville was also a French philosopher and politician whose critique of the 1789 Revolution in France is rightly regarded as one of the most influential political pamphlets ever written. It examines what the real consequences of the revolution were in political terms, and discusses the contradictions they revealed in French society. The views expressed in this book stand in stark contrast to other interpretations of the revolution, notably those of Edmund Burke.
De Tocqueville first destroys the myth that the French Revolution was a struggle of the working classes. 1789 was a bourgeois revolt which enlisted the help of the common people. Many of the great revolutionary leaders were lawyers (Danton, Robespierre), doctors (Marat), journalists (Desmoulins), civil servants (Fouche), or even clergymen (Sieyes, Talleyrand). Louis XIV opened Pandora's box when he initiated the policy of manipulating the middle-classes to undermine the power of the aristocracy. He promoted businessmen like Fouquet and Colbert to important administrative posts, but made sure they had no real political authority. This effectively brought an end to feudalism in France, and greatly enriched the middle classes at the expense of the nobles.Read more ›
De Tocqueville examines what the Revolution did and did not set out to do and the extent to which it was or was not a revolution against religion. He believed that many customs and ideas of the Ancien Régime actually survived the Revolution and that centralization of power was furthered, not impeded, by it.
The author agreed with Burke on the overarching point that gradual reforms of existing institutions are the best way to improve societies, but he did disagree with Burke on some less important issues.
De Tocqueville looks at the issue of class and how the social classes in France eventually became isolated from each other. Some of the other observations he made include the importance of public opinion even under monarchies; the effects of despotism on the altruism of a populace; the supercilious attitude that many government bureaucrats and administrators have toward the populace (something that hasn't changed even today); that rulers who seek to destroy freedom while seeking to preserve its outward form always fail; and the remarkable observation that revolutions sometimes occur not when conditions go from bad to worse, but when conditions are gradually getting better.
Much as the author was able to examine America, he closes with a list of distinct French character traits and contradictions that contributed to the Revolution.Read more ›
Translated into easy-to-read prose.
Full of fascinating facts.
Highly recommended to anyone interested in this subject matter.
It is in marked contrast to the subject as typically treated (if at all) in textbooks.
This book is not necessarily long or difficult to understand but it is dense. I believe that it is best read once and then studied in detail.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Alexis de Tocqueville is one of those writers who continues to find an audience, long after the events about which he wrote have faded in importance, because of the uniqueness of... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Cassian Ardent
I was notified by you that the supplier can't supply. How about introducing a feature that offers an alternative purchase, especially when the product is a book of the same title... Read morePublished on October 12, 2013 by mawsoni
It was almost eerie that much of the book could have been written today. The insights into that time (and ours) are very thought provoking.Published on June 9, 2013 by Wine Lover