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The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. [Paperback]

Arno J. Mayer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1, 2002 0691090157 978-0691090153

The great romance and fear of bloody revolution--strange blend of idealism and terror--have been superseded by blind faith in the bloodless expansion of human rights and global capitalism. Flying in the face of history, violence is dismissed as rare, immoral, and counterproductive. Arguing against this pervasive wishful thinking, the distinguished historian Arno J. Mayer revisits the two most tumultuous and influential revolutions of modern times: the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Although these two upheavals arose in different environments, they followed similar courses. The thought and language of Enlightenment France were the glories of western civilization; those of tsarist Russia's intelligentsia were on its margins. Both revolutions began as revolts vowed to fight unreason, injustice, and inequality; both swept away old regimes and defied established religions in societies that were 85% peasant and illiterate; both entailed the terrifying return of repressed vengeance. Contrary to prevalent belief, Mayer argues, ideologies and personalities did not control events. Rather, the tide of violence overwhelmed the political actors who assumed power and were rudderless. Even the best plans could not stem the chaos that at once benefited and swallowed them. Mayer argues that we have ignored an essential part of all revolutions: the resistances to revolution, both domestic and foreign, which help fuel the spiral of terror.

In his sweeping yet close comparison of the world's two transnational revolutions, Mayer follows their unfolding--from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Bolshevik Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Masses; the escalation of the initial violence into the reign of terror of 1793-95 and of 1918-21; the dismemberment of the hegemonic churches and religion of both societies; the "externalization" of the terror through the Napoleonic wars; and its "internalization" in Soviet Russia in the form of Stalin's "Terror in One Country." Making critical use of theory, old and new, Mayer breaks through unexamined assumptions and prevailing debates about the attributes of these particular revolutions to raise broader and more disturbing questions about the nature of revolutionary violence attending new foundations.

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Editorial Reviews Review

The growing frequency of peaceful expansions of human rights, private property, and market capitalism lead many to consider violent revolutions a thing of the past. In light of, for example, the dismantling of the Soviet Empire, the reunification of Germany, and the Czechoslovakian "velvet Revolution," violence as a mechanism for institutional change seems immoral and counterproductive, an anachronism in our age of global economies and shuttle diplomacy. Arno Mayer takes a contrarian position in The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. Throughout his comparative study, he maintains that "there is no revolution without violence and terror." Contrary to popular belief, Mayer argues, ideologies and personalities did not control events. Rather, the tide of violence overwhelmed the political actors who assumed power, and even the best-laid plans could not stem the chaos.

Mayer structures his study around what he considers integral components of revolution: civil and foreign war, iconoclasm and religious conflict, and collision between city and country. The Furies begins with a theoretical examination of revolution in general, counterrevolution, violence, terror, vengeance, and religion. Its second portion offers a close comparison of the revolutions in 1789 France and 1917 Russia, following each from their outbreak to the foreign and civil wars that ensued. Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University, Mayer belongs to the major league of heavy-hitting academic historians, and to a large degree, The Furies is written for his colleagues. Footnote heavy, it assumes a studied familiarity with both revolutions, and Mayer's abundant theoretical references quickly frustrate the lesser informed. However, in maintaining the integrality of violence in revolution, Mayer challenges many unexamined assumptions about the two most influential revolutions of modern times, and he forces reexamination of the nature of violence in the revolutionary process. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Mayer (history, Princeton Univ.) uses a vast array of secondary sources to analyze the role of violence and terror in the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. This topic covers relatively new ground for Mayer, but one can detect influences from his earlier Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe 1875-1956 (LJ 7/71). Like most left-of-center historians, Mayer stresses that it was violent resistance to profound societal change that gave birth to the fear-inspired whirlwind of enraged vengeance that consumed both revolutions and has left us arguing about their legacies. Mayer's absorbing recapitulation of these ultimately tragic events leaves the reader with the desire to read more about the French and Russian Revolutions--the best compliment any historical work can receive. The Furies is a needed corrective to currently ascendant Burkean critiques of the French and Russian revolutions (e.g., Richard Pipes's Russian Revolution, LJ 11/1/90, and Robert Conquest's Reflections on a Ravaged Century, LJ 10/15/99). Recommended for academic and public libraries.
-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib. Rome, GA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691090157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691090153
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The thesis is strong, but the argument is weak August 19, 2002
Arno Mayer's "The Furies" show the qualities that were present in his two previous works on, respectively, pre-1914 Europe and the Holocaust. They are based on secondary sources, and they clearly articulate a theme that had been percolating through the historiography of their subject. "The Furies" is a comparative history of the French and English revolutions and is divided into five parts. The first deals with "conceptual signposts" such as revolution, counterrevolution, violence, terror, vengeance and religion. The second part is an overview of the process of the terror, the third looks at "metropolitian condescension and rural distrust," the fourth looks at the revolutions' challenges to the bigotry of the established church and the fifth looks at the international context of Napoleon and Stalin.
Why did the Furies arise? Mayer emphasizes such aggravating factors as domestic and foreign counter-revolution, the collapse of the old state, and personal and popular vengenace. There was considerable ideological fanaticism, but it was as much effect as cause of the violence. On Russia he declares "Even in normal times, let alone in a time of troubles, Russia defied governance as a single unit--a single sovereignty--by virtue not only of its sheer expanse but also its bewildering diversity of cultures, its uneven levels of development, its primitive state of transport, and its encumbrance by a torpid peasant world. The rich but refractory endowment of vastness, diversity, and unsimultaneity was at least as burdensome as the enduring deficit of democratic thought and praxis." (233-34)
Although there is much to be said that for that last statment, ultimately this is a disappointing book.
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14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating study of counter-revolutionary violence August 4, 2001
In this book, Mayer studies the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. He seeks to explain why the peoples made these great revolutionary advances, and also why the nobility fought to destroy them and to restore the savage old orders. He studies the role of religion in the counter-revolutions, particularly the Papacy's bitter hostility to the Revolutions, compared to its notorious slap on the wrist for the Nazi counter-revolution. He cites Michelet's famous remark that the numbers killed by the Spanish Inquisition in just one province of Spain far exceeded the number killed by those defending France and its Revolution. The Inquisition was the crowning revelation of Christianity's ingrained violence, its hostility to people who dared to think for themselves, and to think differently from the Church: for six centuries, the leaders of the Catholic Church ordered the killing of millions of men and women for the glory of God. After the French Revolution, the British ruling class organised the foreign counter-revolutionary war. This enormously increased the economic, social and military difficulties faced by the new Government. Later in the war, Napoleon continued France's defence against the counter-revolution, upheld the Revolution's destruction of the nobility's privileges, and extended its gains abroad. After the end of World War One, the rulers of the British, US and French states united in `helping the Whites overthrow the Bolshevik regime', as Mayer writes. Their intervention prolonged the civil war, enormously increasing the suffering of the Soviet people, and adding to the huge economic, social and military difficulties faced by the new Government. Read more ›
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Every educated person should know. March 9, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Every educated person should know what occurred in the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. These two events were moumentous in importance to the history of human civilization. The effects of these two revolutions are still felt each and every day thoughout the human race. Revolutions are always with us and can effect any nation. The above is obvious.

The book is a text book and is written in a text book style. But that does not detract from the facinating subject matter. However, everyone should be aware that this book is not a history book, it a book encompassing the philosophical attitudes, the expression of, and the implementation of revolution.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent volume on comparisons and contrasts between the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917, focusing primarily on the use of terror, fear, and brutality to impose the new ideal over the old (Republic over Old Regime in France, and Bolshevism over the Tsar in Russia).
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution, revolution or involution ? February 19, 2007
"The revolutions - like Saturn - devour its own sons"

The violence and terror in the French and Russian revolutions are separated by a period of almost a century and a third. But the French revolution carved in relief and some how the conscious of the collective in the political decision take, as well as the introduction for the first time in the history of three concepts that sounded much more metaphorically that realistically, liberty, equality and fraternity.

The author examines zealously many conceptual signposts such as revolution, vengeance, violence and terror, from a enriched perspective where he makes a lucid revision of the implicit facts derived from these poetic ideas, that not only shocked the world but the way it was molded by this fact.

It's useless to affirm the echoes of the French revolution to the light of just two hundred years and two decades, is less than nothing in the history. The inherited paradigms, the wrong beliefs and distorted concepts have generated between other the nationalism fever that altered radically the sociopolitical geography of four continents, besides altered the cultural development all over Europe and seeded new horizons into Philosophy, art and religion; also it accelerated the process of other political movements (The boxers in China, for instance) but even its influence in the happen of both World Wars as well as the significance of liberation in the ancient colonies for better or worst, the emancipation and adhesion of Turkey into the same entrails of the Western hemisphere in the second decade of XX century, among other consequences. But there is so much conceptual material to discuss, state and argue that this little review is simply quite short to intend to expose, that it's better to take a profound reading around this invaluable essay that claimed for being exposed.

A text of maxim interest for all kind of readers.
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