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The Old Regime and the French Revolution Paperback – October 1, 1955

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

One of America's premier essayists, Joseph Epstein was the editor of "The American Scholar for 25 years and has taught--and continues to teach--advanced prose, the reading and writing of fiction, the sociology of literature, autobiography, literature and politics, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Willa Cather at Northwestern University. Epstein is the author of 13 books, most recently Life Sentences and Narcissus Leaves the Pool, and has published roughly four hundred essays, stories, reviews and articles in such journals as "The New Yorker, Harper's, Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, Commentary, The New Criterion, The New York Review of Books, Encounter, The New York Times Magazine, and "Dissent.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (October 1, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385092601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385092609
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote many books, but his best-known one is probably "Democracy in America". Despite that, reading "The Old Regime and the Revolution" (1856) is essential in order to understand how much Tocqueville contributed to an accurate analysis of the present and past of his society, and to Political Science.
Why is "The Old Regime and the Revolution" a classic?. Why do teachers keep recommending it to their students?. In my opinion, the answer to both those questions is that this book is an example of the kind of work a political scientist is capable of producing, if inclined to do so. Here, Tocqueville doesn't pay attention to the conventionally accepted truth, but looks beyond it, in order to form his own opinion. And when the result of that process is shocking, he doesn't back down bounded by conventions: he simply states his conclusions.
In "The Old Regime and the Revolution" Alexis de Tocqueville does what at his time was considered more or less unthinkable: to put into question the revolutionary character of...the French Revolution. He said that the only way to understand what happened in 1789 was to study the previous social processes, and to find what they have in common with what came about later. This change of perspective was radical, but effective. It didn't presuppose anything, and so it helped the author to arrive to a seemingly strange conclusion: that the French Revolution had not only continued with the social processes that were taking place in France, but accentuated them. For example, the governmental centralization was much worse after 1789. In a way, then, the French Revolution only carried forward with what the Old Regime had already started.
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Format: Paperback
I give this book four stars. It is a fascinating investigation into the political and cultural environment in France that led up to the revolution.

But be forewarned! This book is NOT a history of the revolution. The author makes that very clear right at the beginning, but I think it bears emphasizing. If you aren't already pretty familiar with the history of the revolution you may have trouble at times following what this book is talking about.

Overall, this book is well worth the cover price for anyone with an interest in the French revolution.
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Format: Paperback
Tocqueville was one of the first if not the first sociologist historians. He shows how the centralizing tendencies were actually started under the monarchy and continued under the Revolution. This book will give a view of someone whose life was spent with the results of what he was writing about. His memoires cover the later Revolution of 1848. Among other things he talks of how taxes that were seen as oppressive under the monarchy were accepted without a whimper under more "popular" government. This is a must for those interested in this topic.
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Format: Paperback
"What was the true aim of the Revolution? What was its specific character? Why did it take place and what exactly did it achieve?" As Tocqueville addresses these questions herein (without, I should add, detailing the specific events of the actual Revolution---this treatise is not a history of that event) he makes these points: "The aim of the Revolution was not, as once was thought, to destroy the authority of the Church and religious faith in general." (Although Tocqueville does admit that "Christianity was attacked with almost frenzied violence," but he points out that "there was no question of replacing it with another religion," suggesting that religion got caught in the maelstrom against traditional bodies; and that the discrediting of religion which was becoming prevalent during the latter half of the 18th century "had a preponderant influence on the course of the French Revolution," as the people having lost faith in GOD became more inclined to start believing in anything---as Émile Cammaerts has put it; though often mis-attributed to G.K. Chesterton.) "Appearances notwithstanding," according to Tocqueville, the Revolution "was essentially a movement for political and social reform and, as such, did not aim at creating a state of permanent disorder in the conduct of public affairs or (as one of its opponents bitterly remarked) at 'methodizing anarchy.'

On the contrary, it sought to increase the power and jurisdiction of the central authority. (Nor was it intended, as some have thought, to change the whole nature of our traditional civilization, to arrest its progress, or even to make any vital change in the principles basic to the structure of society in the Western world.
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Format: Paperback
Here is an offering that is not nearly so much about the French Revolution of 1789 as its title suggests, yet it remains in print a century and a half after its original publication and is available from several publishers outside its original language. Why is this so?

Most nonacademics consider this "that other book" by Alexis de Tocqueville. His better known work is Democracy in America, which is certainly an important study but derives part of its popularity among an English speaking audience because its topic is an English speaking country. The Old Regime and the French Revolution is something different. Readers who are merely interested in guillotines should look elsewhere: other authors had already covered the events of the revolution; de Tocqueville does not duplicate material where has nothing significant to add. Instead he looks at a premise that other historians had accepted uncritically: that the revolution had happened because the people were oppressed. Oppression was not unique to the eighteenth century. Why had the people overthrown their government at that time rather than another era? Prior to de Tocqueville that question had neither been asked nor answered in a serious way so he delved into documents that no one before him had studied: archival tax records. Although such material risks becoming dense, de Tocqueville's style is engaging and he keeps the purpose of the inquiry uppermost: how were conditions different in 1789? Were people poorer? Were their rights diminished?

It turned out the common people had never had it so good. Property ownership rates had been expanding throughout the eighteenth century. Serfdom had ended except in two provinces, both of which were recent acquisitions. The Inquisition had lost its vigor and ended.
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