If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him

So spoke Voltaire, and Maximilien Robespierre agreed, for he recognized the need that the new world brought on by the French Revolution would have for an alternative godhead now that Catholicism had been deposed. From that insight sprang the “Cult of the Supreme Being” whose principal tenets concerned a kind of rationalist faith and republican civil religion. The Cult itself did not last too long before Napoleon did away with it. But its effects have been…long-lasting.

Here is a new history of the French Revolution that is sure to touch on these and many other matters concerning religion in the 18th century French world order: A New World Begins: A History of the French Revolution (Basic Books), by Jeremy Popkin.

“The principles of the French Revolution remain the only possible basis for a just society — even if, after more than two hundred years, they are more contested than ever before. In A New World Begins, Jeremy D. Popkin offers a riveting account of the revolution that puts the reader in the thick of the debates and the violence that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a new society. We meet Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Danton, in all of their brilliance and vengefulness; we witness the failed escape and execution of Louis XVI; we see women demanding equal rights and black slaves wresting freedom from revolutionaries who hesitated to act on their own principles; and we follow the rise of Napoleon out of the ashes of the Reign of Terror.

Based on decades of scholarship, A New World Begins will stand as the definitive treatment of the French Revolution.”

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