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L'année 1789

François Furet and Ran Halévi
Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales
44e Année, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 1989), pp. 3-24
Published by: EHESS
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27582405
Page Count: 22
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L'année 1789
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Abstract

The French revolution may still present itself to the historian as a whole in many respects, despite its extreme diversity of events, as it contained within it, from the very moment of its onset, something that constituted it as a unheralded mode of action and history: a temporal watershed produced by man's will. At the end of the spring and summer of 1789, the French thoroughly refounded the social contract upon principles of rational will. To focus in on the radicalism of its founders, this article analyses the early elaboration of what, since 1789, has constituted democracy's political universe. In the space of a few months, the radical elements in the revolutionary camp thus broke the chains of time, excluded the Monarch from the revolution, and defined the Ancien Régime as being against them. Now while the former monarchy's successor—the people—was radically different from it, it was nonetheless identical to it in the extent of its sovereignty: here we see one of the deepest links between the men of 1789 and their national past. The political voluntarism of 1789 excluded any possible slippage between the law and its foundation; which is why it instituted no other means of preventing such slippage from occurring but the right to resist oppression; this latter threw back into question the whole of the social contract, though the legitimate conditions of its exercice were never stipulated. The revolutionary maximalism of 1789 thus created a space of infinite one-upmanship: the possibility to appeal to the people concerning a betrayal of principes. Of the two deepest questions the French Revolution bequeaths to history, that of the causes of 1789 and that of the drift from 1789 to 1793, the latter is thus perhaps less enigmatic than the former.

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