The French Revolution – A Very Short Introduction


The French Revolution –
A Very Short Introduction
By William Doyle
Oxford University Press – £7.99

Might it be said that in one way or another, we are still living and coming to terms with the elongated legacy of the French Revolution. In fact, during the last century alone, such contestable/detestable figures as Stalin, Franco, Hitler and Mao (Pinochet?) may well have replaced the more than questionable likes of Maximillen Francois Robespierre and Georges Jacques Danton as the ‘’quintessential revolutionaries in the popular imagination.’’

Admittedly, not all modern day political persuasions can be directly related to that of the French Revolution, but the barbarity of what’s currently taking place in say Syria is certainly up there with the harrowing horror(s) of the guillotine – which some might contest was completely overshadowed by the gas chamber, the gulag and of course, the killing fields of Cambodia.

But to put the trajectory of what took place in 1789 into some sort of understandable context, might I recommend this short, concise and very readable account by William Doyle, The French Revolution – A Very Short Introduction. It’s in no way as convoluted as one might expect – given the dense longevity of what took place – even though it does explore the revolution’s underlying consequences in relation to public, current affairs.

The latter is brought to bear at the end of Chapter Four (‘What it ended’), where Doyle writes: ‘’Quite literally, nothing was any longer sacred. All power, all authority, all institutions were now provisional, valid only so long as they could be justified in terms of rationality and utility. In this sense, the French Revolution really did represent the triumph of the Enlightenment, and ushered in the mental world in which we still live’’ (my italics).

To be sure, in Chapter Three (‘How it happened’), he writes: ‘’Anyone laying claim to any sort of privilege […], excluded themselves by that very fact from the national community. Privileges were a cancer.’’ You trying professing ‘’privileges’’ are ‘’a cancer’’ with current members of Parliament – Tories in particular – and you’ll invariably be thoroughly chastised for being nothing other than a commie-chav-twat of the highest, imbecilic order.

I would as such, especially in this current climate of high-octane corruption, be a little reticent with regards storming the Lower Chamber of the House (or any Chamber come to that). But if you’re going to do so, have a read of this most succinct of (French) revolutionary companions first.

David Marx


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