THE MYTH OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION REVISITED

Alastair MacLachlan

Abstract


For contemporaries, probably the most striking feature of 1789 was its suddennessand completeness. In a matter of a few months, the most powerful monarchy in the European world, the wealthiest aristocracy, the most complex institutional apparatus, the most sophisticated hierarchy, crumbled, disappeared- and all without significant loss of blood. If it hadn't been 1789, and if they hadn't been brought up to use different linguistic protocols, the writers and talkers of the time might have called it all a miracle, aclear instance of the particular workings of Providence; Mirabeau or Lafayette or even Louis XVI himself might have been dubbed 'the Great Deliverer', the 'man of God's right hand', the instrument of God's benign purpose, as had William of Orange on asimilarly bloodless and seemingly miraculous occasion (frequently compared to theevents of 1789) a century earlier.! But, it was 1789. And the form of explanation wasfundamentally different.

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