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Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution by R. R. Palmer

Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution by R. R. Palmer

Author:R. R. Palmer [Palmer, R. R.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: 18th Century, Europe, France, History, Revolutionary, Social History
ISBN: 9780691121871
Google: VWOYDwAAQBAJ
Amazon: B00FH8B2B6
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Published: 2005-07-25T03:00:00+00:00


CHAPTER X

Dictated Economy

TWO ideas gave purpose to the struggles in France during the Revolution, the rights of the individual and the sovereignty of the nation. Revolutionary philosophers saw no conflict between them. Through the sovereignty of the nation the individual made his rights effective, freeing himself from the old restraints of customary law, monarchy, class, church, guild and corporation, as well as from domination by foreign powers. Individual liberty depended on national sovereignty. The balance of the two produced the liberal and democratic states whose ascendancy lasted until our own time. But the balance is not easy to achieve. It was never achieved during the Revolutionary generation in Europe. The forces from which the nation-state was to liberate the individual, especially the forces of the deposed monarchy, the dispossessed nobility, the outraged church and the foreign governments with which the Republic was at war, remained so powerful and so threatening that Revolutionists more and more made the nation the object of special glory, and granted to the national government an authority which, had it been effectual, would have left the individual almost totally unfree.

The French Republic became for a while in the Year Two a totalitarian state, an enlarged likeness of Brest under Saint-André. It was not militaristic in the full sense, for the power remained in the hands of civilians. It did not persecute races held to be inferior. But it attempted to nationalize the whole life of the country. It arrested and detained tens of thousands of suspects. It used religion, education, the press, the theater for its own ends. And it regulated economic affairs down to the most minute detail.

There were certain principles, said Barère in October, which the Committee of Public Safety wished to be clearly understood: “that products of our territory are national property, that all real property belongs to the State, that the Revolution and liberty are the citizen’s first creditors, and that the Republic should have preferred status when it wishes to purchase.”

The generalities in this statement were more sweeping than the specific proposals. Private rights were not denied but only restricted. The state did not contemplate the management of economic enterprise, but only the right of non-competitive purchase. Preemption became the foundation of the new economic régime. Hardly distinguishable from requisition, it meant that government agents, paying in assignats at the legal maximum rates, might buy up without question whatever commodities they wished. This right, with the right of requisitioning labor which the Committee also exercised under the Levy in Mass, might well lead to an economy resembling socialism; but what was later called socialism was far from the intention of the Committee, which repeatedly proclaimed its reliance on individual enterprise. “Public management in general does not suit the interests of the Republic,” wrote Carnot and Prieur of the Côte-d’Or for the Committee, “because public administrators do not observe the same economy as owners, because experience demonstrates that technical improvements are introduced much later or not at all, and because such establishments



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