Tackett, “The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution”

9780674979895-lgNot too far from our university’s Paris campus, on the way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, is the site of the old Carmelite Monastery. A marker commemorates an incident that occurred there that seems entirely incongruous with the quiet neighborhood today: the murder of hundreds of Catholic priests in 1792, part of the September Massacres that took place during the Revolution. I’m not sure if this forthcoming book from Harvard addresses that massacre, or the more famous murder of several Carmelite nuns a couple of years later, but it looks to be a worthwhile history of the Reign of Terror. The book is The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution and the author is UC-Irvine historian Timothy Tackett. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Between 1793 and 1794, thousands of French citizens were imprisoned and hundreds sent to the guillotine by a powerful dictatorship that claimed to be acting in the public interest. Only a few years earlier, revolutionaries had proclaimed a new era of tolerance, equal justice, and human rights. How and why did the French Revolution’s lofty ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity descend into violence and terror?

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution offers a new interpretation of this turning point in world history. Timothy Tackett traces the inexorable emergence of a culture of violence among the Revolution’s political elite amid the turbulence of popular uprisings, pervasive subversion, and foreign invasion. Violence was neither a preplanned strategy nor an ideological imperative but rather the consequence of multiple factors of the Revolutionary process itself, including an initial breakdown in authority, the impact of the popular classes, and a cycle of rumors, denunciations, and panic fed by fear—fear of counterrevolutionary conspiracies, fear of anarchy, fear of oneself becoming the target of vengeance. To comprehend the coming of the Terror, we must understand the contagion of fear that left the revolutionaries themselves terrorized.

Tackett recreates the sights, sounds, and emotions of the Revolution through the observations of nearly a hundred men and women who experienced and recorded it firsthand. Penetrating the mentality of Revolutionary elites on the eve of the Terror, he reveals how suspicion and mistrust escalated and helped propel their actions, ultimately consuming them and the Revolution itself.

Howard, “The Pope and the Professor”

In May, Oxford University Press will release The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age by Thomas Albert Howard (Valparaiso University). The publisher’s description follows:

Pope and the ProfessorThe Pope and the Professor tells the captivating story of the German Catholic theologian and historian Ignaz von Dollinger (1799-1890), who fiercely opposed the teaching of Papal Infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), convened by Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878), among the most controversial popes in the history of the papacy. Dollinger’s thought, his opposition to the Council, his high-profile excommunication in 1871, and the international sensation that this action caused offer a fascinating window into the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century. Thomas Albert Howard examines Dollinger’s post-conciliar activities, including pioneering work in ecumenism and inspiring the”Old Catholic” movement in Central Europe. Set against the backdrop of Italian and German national unification, and the rise of anticlericalism and ultramontanism after the French Revolution, The Pope and the Professor is at once an endeavor of historical and theological inquiry. It provides nuanced historical contextualization of the events, topics, and personalities, while also raising abiding questions about the often fraught relationship between individual conscience and scholarly credentials, on the one hand, and church authority and tradition, on the other.

Dawson, “The Gods of Revolution”

This is a new edition of a work by the brilliant historian, Christopher Dawson,Dawson final sketch.indd first published in 1972. The book (Dawson’s last monograph, a short work published posthumously with an introduction by Arnold Toynbee) is The Gods of Revolution, reissued by CUA Press and with a new introduction by Joseph Stuart. In a college course in the intellectual history of western civilization many years ago, one of the required readings was the last chapter of Dawson’s book. I went back and looked at it, and have the following line highlighted: “And a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one, hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” The publisher’s description follows.

In The Gods of Revolution, Christopher Dawson brought to bear, as Glanmor Williams said, “his brilliantly perceptive powers of analysis on the French Revolution. . . . In so doing he reversed the trends of recent historiography which has concentrated primarily on examining the social and economic context of that great upheaval.”

Dawson underlines the fact that the Revolution was not animated by democratic ideals but rather reflected an authoritarian liberalism often marked by a fundamental contempt for the populace, described by Voltaire as “the ‘canaille’ that is not worthy of enlightenment and which deserves its yoke.” The old Christian order had stressed a common faith and common service shared by nobles and peasants alike but Rousseau “pleads the cause of the individual against society, the poor against the rich, and the people against the privileged classes.” It is Rousseau whom Dawson describes as the spiritual father of the new age in disclosing a new spirit of revolutionary idealism expressed in liberalism, socialism and anarchism. But the old unity was not replaced by a new form. Dawson insists the whole period following the Revolution is “characterized by a continual struggle between conflicting ideologies,” and the periods of relative stabilization such as the Napoleonic restoration, Victorian liberalism in England, and capitalist imperialism in the second German empire “have been compromises or temporary truces between two periods of conquest.” This leads to his assertion that “the survival of western culture demands unity as well as freedom, and the great problem of our time is how these two essentials are to be reconciled.”

This reconciliation will require more than technological efficiency for “a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one. Hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” It is to Christianity alone that western culture “must look for leadership and help in restoring the moral and spiritual unity of our civilization,” for it alone has the influence, “in ethics, in education, in literature, and in social action” sufficiently strong to achieve this end.

Religion Without God (bien avant Dworkin)

I am in Evanston for a conference and thought to pay a visit to a favorite old usedBookman's Alley bookstore that I had enjoyed several years ago, “Bookman’s Alley.” The store is truly a treasure, full of surprises, and complete with a wonderfully surly owner. I took a shot of the old storefront (which is tucked away down the alley) and here’s a shot of part of a lovely collection of the complete works of Thackeray–some thirty odd volumes of his writing, all in disorder.

To my great regret, I discovered upon entering that Bookman’s is closing down Thackerayafter more than three decades. I see from this story last year that plans for Bookman’s closing have been in the works for some time. But it seemed from the melancholy mood of the store (and from the 70% discount) that the end is nigh.

I wanted to honor the store by buying a few things, even though I never relish the thought of carrying back books on a plane (with difficulty I resisted the Thackeray feast). Instead, I found a few smaller things, including an old edition of Carl Becker’s skeptical classic, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers, delivered as the Storrs Lecture in 1931 and still remarkable in several respects (one of which, I think, is the informality and easiness of the writing).

Becker’s short tract is a masterpiece of critical commentary on what we would Beckertoday call the relationship of “secularism” and “civil religion.” Here’s something from the fourth and final lecture, “The Uses of Posterity,” which will perhaps be of interest to those who are now reading Ronald Dworkin’s recently published, posthumous volume, “Religion Without God”:

Nearly a century ago De Tocqueville noted the fact that the French Revolution was a “political revolution which functioned in the manner and which took on in some sense the aspect of a religious revolution.” Like Islamism or the Protestant revolt, it overflowed the frontiers of countries and nations and was extended by “preaching and propaganda.” It functioned,

in relation to this world, in precisely the same manner that religious revolutions function in respect to the other: it considered the citizen in an abstract fashion, apart from particular societies, in the same way that religions consider man in general, independently of time and place. It sought not merely the particular rights of French citizens, but the general political rights and duties of all men. [Accordingly] since it appeared to be more concerned with the regeneration of the human race than with the reformation of France, it generated a passion which, until then, the most violent political revolutions had never exhibited. It inspired proselytism and gave birth to propaganda. It could therefore assume that appearance of a religious revolution which so astonished contemporaries; or rather it became itself a kind of new religion, an imperfect religion it is true, a religion without God, without a form of worship, and without a future life, but one which nevertheless, like Islamism, inundated the earth with soldiers, apostles, and martyrs.

L’ancien régime et la Révolution, Bk I, ch.3 [emphasis mine]. De Tocqueville’s contemporaries were too much preoccupied with political issues and the validity of traditional religious doctrines to grasp the significance of his pregnant observations. Not until our own time have historians been sufficiently detached from religions to understand that the Revolution, in its later stages especially, took on the character of a crusade. But it is now well understood…not only that the Revolution attempted to substitute the eighteenth-century religion of humanity for the traditional faiths, but also that, contrary to the belief of De Tocqueville, the new religion was not without God, forms of worship, or a future life. On the contrary, the new religion had its dogmas, the sacred principles of the Revolution–Liberté et sainte égalité. It had its form of worship, an adaptation of Catholic ceremonial, which was elaborated in connection with its civic fêtes. It had its saints, the heroes and martyrs of liberty. It was sustained by an emotional impulse, a mystical faith in humanity, in the ultimate regeneration of the human race.

Strehle, “The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism”

Next month, Transaction will publish The Dark Side of Church/State 8725Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism, by theologian Stephen Strehle (Christopher Newport University). The publisher’s description follows.

The Dark Side of Church/State Separation analyzes the Enlightenment’s attack upon the Judeo-Christian tradition and its impact upon the development of secular regimes in France, Germany, and Russia. Such regimes followed the anti-Semitic/anti-Christian agenda of the French Enlightenment in blaming the Judeo-Christian tradition for all the ills of European society and believing that human beings can develop their own set of values and purposes through rational means, apart from any revelation from God or Scripture.

Stephen Strehle’s analysis extends our understanding of church/state relations and its history. He confirms the spiritual roots of modern anti-Semitism within the ideology of the Enlightenment and recognizes the intimate relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity. Strehle questions the absolute doctrine of church/state separation, given its background in the bigotries of the philosophes. He notes the nefarious motives of subsequent regimes, which used the French doctrine to replace the religious community with the state and its secular ideology.

This detailed historical analysis of original sources and secondary literature is woven together with special appreciation for the philosophical and theological ideas that contributed to the emergence of political institutions. Readers will gain an understanding of the most influential ideas shaping the modern world and present-day culture.

Jeffery J. Langan, “The French Revolution Confronts Pius VI”

Layout 1This February, St. Augustine Press will publish The French Revolution Confronts Pius VI translated by Jeffery J. Langan (Holy Cross College). The publisher’s description follows.

The writings of Pope Pius VI, head of the Catholic Church during the most destructive period of the French Revolution, were compiled in two volumes by M.N.S. Guillon and published in 1798 and 1800. But during the Revolution, the reign of Napoleon, and the various revolutionary movements of the 19th century, there were extraordinary efforts to destroy writings that critiqued the revolutionary ideology. Many books and treatises, if they survived the revolution or the sacking from Napoleon’s armies. To this day, no public copy of Guillon’s work exists in Paris.

Now, for the first time in English, these works comprising the letters, briefs, and other writings of Pius VI on the French Revolution are available. Volume I treats the first shock of the Revolution and the efforts of the Pope in 1790 and 1791 to oppose the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (which famous revolutionary and shrewd diplomat Talleyrand referred to as “the greatest fault of the National Assembly”). Volume II will be published later, and deals with the aftermath of the Civil Constitution through Pius’s death in exile). Editor and translator Jeffrey Langan presents the materials leading up to and directly connected with these decrees, in which the National Assembly attempted to set up a Catholic Church that would be completely submissive to the demands of the Assembly. Volume I also covers Pius’s efforts to deal with the immediate aftermath of the Constitution after the National Assembly implemented it, including his encyclical, Quod Aliquantum.

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