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Citizens without Sovereignty

Citizens without Sovereignty: Equality and Sociability in French Thought, 1670-1789

Daniel Gordon
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 288
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    Citizens without Sovereignty
    Book Description:

    In a wide-ranging interpretation of French thought in the years 1670-1789, Daniel Gordon takes us through the literature of manners and moral philosophy, theology and political theory, universal history and economics to show how French thinkers sustained a sense of liberty and dignity within an authoritarian regime. A penetrating critique of those who exaggerate either the radicalism of the Enlightenment or the hegemony of the absolutist state, his book documents the invention of an ethos that was neither democratic nor absolutist, an ethos that idealized communication and private life. The key to this ethos was "sociability," and Gordon offers the first detailed study of the language and ideas that gave this concept its meaning in the Old Regime.Citizens without Sovereigntyprovides a wealth of information about the origins and usage of key words, such associétéandsociabilité,in French thought. From semantic fields of meaning, Gordon goes on to consider institutional fields of action. Focusing on the ubiquitous idea of "society" as a depoliticized sphere of equality, virtue, and aesthetic cultivation, he marks out the philosophical space that lies between the idea of democracy and the idea of the royal police state. Within this space, Gordon reveals the channels of creative action that are open to citizens without sovereignty--citizens who have no right to self-government. His work is thus a contribution to general historical sociology as well as French intellectual history.

    Originally published in .

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-8737-8
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-8)

    HOW DO PEOPLE LIVING in an authoritarian regime maintain their sense of dignity? To revolt against the system is one possibility. To exit the system, through emigration or suicide, is another. But beyond protest or escape lies another strategy, which is to invest the seemingly insignificant areas of life that the authorities do not control with the maximum amount of meaning. From this perspective, the task facing citizens without sovereignty is to take an inventory of the disparate spaces that remain free and to order these spaces into a coherent whole, an imaginary sphere in which virtue and autonomy acquire...


    ON JUNE 29, 1709, Louis XIV sent Nicolas Delamare, a commissary of the Paris police, on an important mission.² It was a time of severe famine. Scarcity had brought the inhabitants of the city of Troyes to the brink of revolt. Delamare’s assignment was to restore peace. A difficult task—but this official was well suited for the responsibility because he had already acquired forty years of experience in maintaining order in Europe’s second-largest city. He knew everything relating to public security: how to apprehend prostitutes, thieves, and murderers; how to control dangerous floods and fires; how to confiscate seditious...


    THERE IS NO detailed study of the wordssociété,social, andsociabilitéin French thought. Perhaps we do not need one. After all. Dr. Johnson defined the lexicographer as a “drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.”³ This remark, however, occurs under the entry “lexicographer” in Johnson’s own dictionary and suggests that he considered the study of words (including the word designating his own lexicographical pedantry) to have some utility. Though they did not generally share the English scholar’s self-deprecating irony, many French philosophers did agree that semantics was of vital importance. “Nothing,”...


    IN 1671, Antoine de Courtin, a diplomat in the service of Louis XIV, published hisNouveau traité de la civilité qui se pratique en France parmi les honnêtes gens(New Treatise on the Civility Practiced in France among Well-Bred People). Courtin’s precepts of civility are largely concerned with the rules of speech. Throughout the treatise he emphasized the importance of talking to others according to their “quality” or rank. We should never try to join a conversation among people whose rank is higher than our own, unless someone in the group “bids us to confirm what he says as a...


    THE RULES of sociable conversation that had been spelled out in the seventeenth century by Méré, Scudéry, Callières, and Bellegarde were repeated in many eighteenth-century guides to the art of refined living.³ But although there is ample evidence to show that seventeenth-century conversational norms endured in the eighteenth century, it is the new use of the idea of sociable communication, not its mere preservation, that is important for understanding the Enlightenment. In the eighteenth century, “conversation” and “civility” ceased to be the special concern of authors producing a courtesy literature for urban elites. They became important ideals in all domains...


    THE PHILOSOPHIC career of André Morellet (1727–1818) spanned more than sixty years and embroiled him in many of the great ideological struggles of his time. Born in Lyons, he studied for the priesthood and was licensed by the Sorbonne in 1752. It was in the library of this institution that he discovered the works of Locke, Bayle, Leibniz, Cudworth, and Voltaire. “I lived in the library,” he recounted later in his memoirs. “I went out only to hear theses and to go to the dining hall.”² As his reading took a secular turn, the young theology student began to...

  10. CONCLUSION (pp. 242-246)

    ACCORDING TO DURKHEIM, a community “is not made up merely of the mass of individuals who compose it, the ground which they occupy, the things which they use, and the movements which they perform, but above all is the idea which it forms of itself.”¹ As a warning against a materialist approach to history, this observation has the merit of emphasizing that identity stems not from the motions of behavior but from the categories of self-definition. Its weakness, however, is to imply that these categories are generally stable and uniform within a community. Since the Reformation, Western history has experienced...

  11. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 247-266)
  12. INDEX (pp. 267-270)