Introduction: Revisiting the Intellectual Transformation of Nineteenth‐Century France
Introduction: Revisiting the Intellectual Transformation of Nineteenth‐Century France
Between 1851 and 1857 a group of intellectuals met regularly at the Parisian house of the Countess Marie d'Agoult. The Maison Rose, as it was affectionately known to all those who frequented this hôtel particulier, was a small house at the upper end of the Champs‐Élysées where Daniel Stern—as the Countess was known in literary and political circles—held her salon. The political context of these gatherings was sombre: in December 1851 Louis Napoleon's coup d'état had overthrown the Second Republic and launched a fierce wave of repression against the republican party. Its political and intellectual leadership went underground, and attempted to keep alive the party's hopes through these informal private gatherings. Daniel Stern's salon attracted much of the elite of French intellectual life, both present and future: leading figures such as Jules Michelet, Alexis de Tocqueville, Hippolyte Carnot, and Jules Grévy discussed the prospects for a republican Europe with younger luminaries such as Ernest Renan, Jules Simon, Émile Ollivier, and Lucien Prévost‐Paradol. So intense and passionate were these discussions that the Maison Rose became known in republican circles as ‘the abbey in the Woods of Democracy’.1
Five intellectuals who took an active part in these gatherings were Jules Barni, Charles Dupont‐White, Eugène Pelletan, Emile Littré, and Étienne Vacherot. They came from different intellectual camps within the republican party, but their concerns were broadly similar: they spoke of the mistakes made by their fellow‐republicans in the recent past, the possibilities of reviving the fortunes of the movement in the present, and above all their hopes for a return to a republican government in France in the near future. None of them was especially well known in the early 1850s, but this would soon change. By the end of the 1860s, all would be recognized as eminent political and intellectual figures in the French and European republican movement.
(p.2) This book will focus on their public lives and political thought, and especially on their defining roles in the struggle for the republicanization of the French polity between the early 1830s and the late 1870s. This was a period of great uncertainty; and as the political community lurched among republics, empires, and monarchies these figures fought to secure a permanent constitutional solution, which would durably unite the people of France under a republican regime. In the end, their aspirations were fulfilled. The founding laws of 1875 and the legislative elections of 1877 confirmed the establishment of the Third Republic and dashed the hopes of a Bonapartist or monarchical restoration. Underpinning this settlement was a distinct brand of republican ideology, notably different from the formulations which had buttressed earlier republican regimes.
Our five intellectuals were direct witnesses and participants in this narrative. As writers, political activists, and members of the republican elite they occupied leading positions in French public life from the 1850s up to the 1880s. In these various capacities they experienced and decisively helped to shape the final republican victory; their thoughts about the future republican order fundamentally coloured the internal ideological aggiornamento which made it possible. The pivotal position they enjoyed, both as observers and as primary agents of change, will thus provide us with a privileged access to this critical moment in modern French political and intellectual history. By focusing on this small group of thinkers, and examining not only their public utterances but also—where possible—their more intimate thoughts and even their private voices, we shall be able to follow the peregrinations of the republican idea from ‘the inside’ in more senses than one.
This book thus combines three types of narrative. At an immediate level, it provides intellectual biographies of five key figures in the nineteenth‐century French republican movement, and assesses their theoretical contributions to the development of republicanism; in the context of the history of political thought, it re‐examines the ideological origins of the Third Republic, and locates the French republican intellectual experiences in comparative European settings; from a historical perspective, finally, it is a study of the transformation of French republican political culture from the ‘revolutionary’ model inherited from the 1789 Revolution to the modern version which had crystallized by the late nineteenth century.2
Revisiting the Origins of Modern French Republicanism
But before we consider the dramatis personae in greater detail, it might be asked from the outset what might be the justification for another book on the intellectual origins of the Third Republic. Surely this is a story which has been (p.3) comprehensively narrated. What could the voices of five intellectuals add except minor glosses on the sum of our knowledge in this area?
It is true that there has long been an orthodoxy about this process—or rather a series of convergent orthodoxies among different historical subdisciplines. The common ground is an emphasis on the political experiences of republican elites during the Franco‐Prussian war, the Paris Commune, and the early Third Republic itself. In most accounts of the ideological transformation of French republicanism, this emphasis on ‘experience’ and elite consensus‐building lies at the heart of the explanation. For political historians, it was the ‘opportunist’ approach of the republican leadership in the 1870s which transformed republican thinking, most notably by forging a harmonious synthesis between liberalism and democracy;3 for historians of political thought—to put the same point differently—it was the cultural revolution brought about by positivism which proved one of the decisive factors, and in particular its preference for science and reason over sentiment and concrete knowledge over ideological utopia;4 and for social and cultural historians, more broadly, it was the republican state itself which created a new social and political culture after its accession to power and then imposed it on the country, largely through its control of the education system.5
Several features of this transformation of republican ideology typically stand out in these orthodox accounts. This change was seen to be facilitated by the growing intellectual hegemony of rationalist doctrines which were seen to supplant the ‘romantic’ and often utopian undertones of early and mid‐nineteenth century republican ideology. It was also a process which was presented as operating largely ‘from above’. Having captured state power after 1877 these republicans—often described as ‘Jacobin’6 in memory of their centralizing forebears of the 1790s—deployed its resources to the full in order to promote their conception of the good life. Its product was a well‐rounded synthesis, which provided the basis for the republicans' political hegemony in the decades which followed.7 Finally, for many historians—and not only those influenced by the Marxist problematic—this ideology was at its core a tactical assemblage, in which the language of universality concealed a particularist defence of bourgeois interests.8
(p.4) Positivistic, centralist, intellectually coherent, and socially instrumental: such were the dominant characteristics of the ideology which underpinned the emergence of the Third Republic in the eyes of this historical orthodoxy. Despite their interest, I will argue that these explanations oversimplify. Rationalism and especially positivism operated alongside and through other doctrines, which on some issues offered more cogent and influential solutions to the intellectual and practical problems faced by republicans. Furthermore, the centralist ideology of Jacobinism was challenged, subverted, and eventually creatively redefined by republican conceptions of the good life which stressed the significance of territorial politics and local forms of civic engagement. More broadly it will become apparent that despite the presence of powerful elements of cohesion the republican doctrine which underpinned the Third Republic was riven with tensions and contradictions; and that even though republican intellectuals often spoke positively about the ‘bourgeoisie’ the promotion of its particularistic interests was by no means their political priority. Our overall approach will seek to move away from the notion that ideology merely served an instrumental function in the political objectives of French republicans.
New Thinking About Nineteenth‐Century France
This book draws much sustenance from recent scholarship, especially from political and intellectual historians as well as from political scientists, all of whose findings have steadily eroded many of the central tenets of orthodox interpretations of the intellectual origins of the Third Republic. Despite its variegated methodology and aims, this body of scholarship represents a powerful challenge to the narrow and somewhat complacent accounts which have long dominated the field.
To begin with, republican ideological transformation took place within a much broader chronological framework than the 1870s.9 As the classic works of Iouda Tchernoff and Georges Weill have shown, the generation of republicans who assumed power in the 1870s and 1880s were politically and intellectually socialized in the three decades preceding the Franco‐Prussian war.10 Grudglingly recognized by French historians for its economic dynamism and its robust roots in the peasantry, the Second Empire era (1852–70) is now increasingly acknowledged for its contribution to the transformation of French politics, notably through its cultivation of mass voting.11 New research (p.5) is beginning to restore the two decades of the Second Empire for what they were: a period of institutional experimentation and political development, marked by significant advances in a range of intellectual and economic fields.12 Louis Napoleon effectively developed modern forms of ritual and political festivity to buttress his power, thus helping to found ‘the new politics of a democratic age’.13 For republican political culture, too, this was a remarkably creative period.14
Interestingly, the connection between these Napoleonic forms of political ritual and the republican festive tradition, which begins in earnest in the early 1880s, has yet to be made—evidence of a continuing reluctance among the French historical confraternity to regard the Second Empire as a legitimate object of study.15 But there is no doubt that a great deal of the political thinking which went into the transformation of republicanism occurred in the 1850s and 1860s—and even earlier. This will become apparent in the output of our five thinkers, who were politically and intellectually active during this period at both the national and the local levels.
Also essential to our account are the currents and subcultures which operated alongside and below republicanism. It has always been regarded as axiomatic that the republicans were intellectually divided before the establishment of the Third Republic, and these internal ideological and generational lines of demarcation have been perceptively drawn. Yet republican thinkers did not live in a cocoon. As individuals they often frequented and enjoyed good relations with intellectuals of different ideological persuasions from their own; the salon of Daniel Stern, for example, included republicans but also socialists as well as liberal and conservative monarchists. In any event the republicans were surrounded at all times by parallel and rival systems of thought with which they needed to engage and through which they often defined and modulated their own political positions: legitimism, Bonapartism, Orleanism, pacifism, and anti‐militarism. Republicanism lived in a dialectical relationship with these systems of thought and subcultures; in the case of freethinking, we shall appreciate how this approach helped republican intellectuals develop their own ideological positions, especially on such issues as secularism and education.16
Equally central to our concerns is the relationship between liberalism and republicanism. The intellectual history of nineteenth century republicanism, especially between the 1830s and the 1880s, needs to engage more directly (p.6) with the liberal problematic, particularly in light of recent scholarship which has underlined the richness and ideological sophistication of nineteenth‐century liberal ideology.17 The Third Republic, as we have always known, was the product of an ideological synthesis between liberalism and republicanism. The political thinking of our five intellectuals will, in varying degrees, reflect this external influence. But in overall terms the precise impact of liberal ideas and norms on republican ideology and practice remains largely uncharted.18 We have many parallel accounts of republicanism and liberalism, but very few works which have attempted explicitly to identify the connections between the two structures of thought. This book will initiate this enterprise by examining the republican narrative not only from the inside outwards, as has been conventionally done, but also from the outside in. In their different ways the figures of Dupont‐White and Vacherot will underline the critical importance of considering this process of liberal ideological ‘grafting’ on the republican system of thought.
Our study will also take considerable account of the vertical relationship among different levels of republican—and state—organizations in the nineteenth century. One piece of conventional wisdom about modern France is that it remained a ‘Jacobin’ state, committed to the principles of unity and indivisibility and allowing, despite the decentralization of the 1980s and 1990s, relatively little substantive autonomy to territorial localities. In nineteenth‐century France, however, this state of affairs was not taken for granted. Local politics—especially the territorial conditions of political citizenship—were at the heart of public debate, and it is difficult to see how it could fail to be so given the relatively small number of large cities and the overwhelming concentration of the majority rural population in small and medium‐sized communes.19 And despite Eugen Weber's celebrated affirmations to the contrary, the works of Maurice Agulhon and others have shown that well before the end of the nineteenth century this local sphere was the theatre of substantive civic endeavour, evidence of a growing forms of political socialization ‘from below’.20
(p.7) Our account of the origins of the ideological transformation of republicanism in the 1870s therefore has to be fully sensitive to the evolution of these republican territorial doctrines and practices. In this context my own study of French territorial philosophies under the Second Empire suggests that, after a long and often arduous debate, republicans came to a broad agreement over a ‘municipalist’ conception of citizenship. Municipalism represented an ideological compromise between the classical centralizing doctrine of Jacobinism and what was generally perceived as the excessive devolution of power advocated by republican federalists.21 The involvement of several of our thinkers in political activity at the communal level in the 1840s, 1860s, and 1870s will highlight the essential importance of these local political networks for the political and ideological transformation of the republican party.22
Another fruitful way of thinking about intellectual and cultural activities in the local sphere is through the concept of ‘sociability’, which has been creatively applied in recent times to a variety of nineteenth‐century French contexts—most notably in bourgeois and urban,23 peasant and rural,24 and sacred and religious settings.25 Furthermore, the study of commemorations and festivities has done much to draw attention to the complex forms of politicization which occurred at the local level in France after 1848. By the late nineteenth century the organization of local ceremonials had underscored the creation and consolidation of a new republican intimacy centred around communal institutions, a key moment when the parish finally gave way to the secular collectivity as the organizing framework for collective civic existence in France.26 A similar set of conclusions about the critical importance of the local sphere emerge from our study, with the late Vincent Wright, of the provincial Freemasonry. Until the advent of the Third Republic the Grand Orient de France remained a pluralistic organization both politically and ideology, and arguably the most important factor in determining the ideological composition of a lodge was the local political and institutional environment in which it operated.27 Through the practical involvement of our five intellectuals in a variety of professional and associational endeavours—editorship of journals and newspapers and membership of the Freemasonry and of educational and anti‐militarist leagues—we shall draw out the dynamism of this local sphere (p.8) in the nineteenth century and highlight its essential contributions to the reshaping of republican ideology.
Finally—and in a sense most importantly of all—there lies the essential questions of state formation and patriotism in the transformation of nineteenth‐century French republican ideology. These issues, which also raise the all‐important question of the justification of political violence, have been illuminated by Karma Nabulsi's Traditions of War. In this defining work we witness the emergence of a republican tradition of war in eighteenth and nineteenth‐century Europe, drawing from the writings of Rousseau and Kosciuszko and centring around the practices of collective civic resistance to military invasion and occupation.28 The nineteenth century European states system was a Hobbesian arena in which force was the supreme currency and inter‐state violence the norm. But states which invaded and occupied their neighbours often encountered spirited resistance from the local citizenry—a resistance cloaked in a variety of political and ideological garbs but whose essential character was republican. Russians, Germans, and Spaniards resisting the occupation of French troops, Poles challenging their domination by Russians, and Italians striving for national liberation from the Austrian Empire: all were expressing the common—republican—precept that when state institutions collapsed in times of war and occupation it was legitimate for the armed citizenry to become the bearers of the nation's political sovereignty. War, in short, was not an interruption of the republican political process but a resolute affirmation of it—indeed it often proved a central instrument in the construction of nineteenth‐century European republics.29
The history of republican thought between the 1830s and the 1880s has largely ignored this fundamental international context, with its burning issues of nationalism, patriotism, peace, war, and the justification of force. European conflicts in the 1850s and 1860s and the Franco‐Prussian war of 1870–1 had a dramatic impact on our five thinkers, and played a critical role in shaping their republican thinking, in ways which even went against the grain of orthodoxy. For example, French republican antimilitarism before 1870 was entirely consistent with a strong support for the use of force against unjust and despotic rule, both in France and in the rest of Europe. And in this sense, although it drew on the political mythology of 1792, Gambetta's rhetoric and policy of war to the death (guerre à outrance) in 1870–1 was an expression of mainstream republican thinking about war, not a sudden about‐turn dictated by the calamitous course of the war. Republican patriotism, finally, was not incompatible with the principles of fraternity and cosmopolitanism—again a useful corrective to the common view that French republicanism took an unrelenting ‘nationalist’ turn after 1871. All of this will also indirectly serve to underscore the conclusions of recent scholarship on the Franco‐Prussian war, which sees the conflict as one of the defining (p.9) moments in the making of modern French conceptions of collective identity and citizenship.30
Some Remarks About Method: Intellectual History and Political Theory
Republican ideology will be treated in this book as it was understood by its intellectual bearers and agents in nineteenth century France: as a broad and open system of thought and values, whose precepts constantly invited question and challenge—in all these senses the very opposite of a fixed system of thought.
In order to capture the full flavour of this comprehensive ideology, we shall draw upon a range of disciplines and approaches. The first point we wish to stress here is the broadness of our definition of the internal components of republican thought. Like most modern political ideologies, republicanism was constituted by a wide range of concepts. Specifying their meanings and range as well as their internal relationships to each other will enable us to highlight the sophistication and sheer inventiveness of nineteenth‐century French republican thinking. Our conceptual analysis will also serve an important comparative purpose. Through the precise identification of the internal components of their republican ideology, and mapping out the interrelationships among them, we shall uncover the similarities but also the significant differences in the republican thinking of our five intellectuals. Particularly important here will be the presence of central or ‘core’ components in their political thought, serving as firm anchors for their moral and political values.31
An equally essential inspiration to our approach has been the ‘contextual’ emphasis through which Quentin Skinner and the ‘new historians’ of the Cambridge school have successfully redefined the field of the history of political thought. Rather than looking at ‘seminal’ texts and seeking to frame our understanding of them in terms of contemporary philosophical and political problematics, Skinner invites us instead to search for ideological meaning in the immediate discursive environment in which such texts are produced. In his words:
(p.10) Our selection of this book's five thinkers was largely inspired by this injunction. There is a canon of nineteenth‐century French republican thought, which typically includes ‘liberal’ figures such as Jules Michelet, Edgar Quinet, Alphonse de Lamartine, Léon Gambetta, and Jules Ferry; ‘socialist’ republicans such as Alexandre Ledru‐Rollin, Louis Blanc, and Pierre Joseph Proudhon; and utopians and revolutionaries such as the Saint‐Simonians, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet, and Auguste Blanqui.33 Many of these figures have been the object of considerable scholarly attention.34 The purpose of writing this book was to go beyond these archetypal figures and the undercurrents they are traditionally associated with so as to draw a more complex picture of the republican intellectual community in the decades preceding the advent of the Third Republic. Many important figures here remain to be rediscovered by modern scholarship, most notably Lamennais and Pierre Leroux, described by George Sand as ‘two of the greatest intellects of our century’.35
Intellectual historians will do well to focus not merely or even mainly on a canon of so‐called classic texts, but rather on the place occupied by such texts in broader traditions and frameworks of thought.32
The value of drawing this wider picture can be appreciated with reference to two pieces of writing from the 1860s and early 1870s, both of which are conventionally cited as exemplifying intellectual attitudes of the time. The first is Edgar Quinet's La Révolution, first published in 1865.36 With its forthright denunciation of Jacobin terrorism and criticism of the religious failure of the Revolutionary project, this controversial re‐assessment of the 1790s created a stir among the republican community in the late years of the Second Empire. The debate it triggered is generally seen as an important landmark in the ideological transformation of republicanism, enabling the emergence of more moderate and democratic voices which eschewed violence as a means of effecting institutional change.37 The other canonical work is Renan's La réforme intellectuelle et morale, published in 1871 immediately after the Franco‐Prussian war.38 Following Tocqueville and Prévost‐Paradol, Renan expressed his concern about the atomizing consequences of mass democracy for individuals, and warned against the continuing crushing of provincial political and intellectual life by Paris.
Undoubtedly both of these works were hugely influential at the time, and their essentially pessimistic conclusions about the Revolution, the excesses of administrative centralization, and the illiberal elements in republican political culture gained wide approval. But an examination of the writings of our five intellectuals will shed a very different light on works such as these. We will see that Quinet and Renan drew heavily from the works of their contemporaries; more importantly, it will also emerge that their pessimism was (p.11) not necessarily shared across even the liberal republican intellectual spectrum in the 1860s and 1870s. If we take the two major issues of the Revolution and the excesses of centralization, we will see that liberal republican intellectuals were much more optimistic about the first, and creative about the second, than either Quinet or Renan. This is not to say that there is nothing of value in the writings of these two intellectuals; on the contrary. But a close examination of the literary and intellectual contexts in which they evolved suggests we should think more carefully about the status we typically accord to their works.
We can generalize from these two examples. In the course of our intellectual excavations we shall observe the significant rewards to be reaped from ‘contextual’ intellectual history. It will emerge, for example, that some of the views credited to a particular individual or intellectual undercurrent were in fact more widely shared, sometimes across the republican ideological spectrum. This will become evident when the positivist republicanism of Littré is compared with the neo‐Kantian republicanism of Barni. It will also become clear that in many respects the greater intellectual originality and creativity was to be found outside the ‘canonical’ figures rather than among them. Finally our study will show that the conventional lines of demarcation among different republican undercurrents—utopians and realists, liberals and socialists, quarante‐huitards and opportunists—were often much more blurred than previously thought.
Our approach here will also prove fruitful for the analysis of the complex ideological output of our five intellectuals. Several aspects of their writings highlight the importance of taking ‘context’—broadly defined—seriously. First, a common stylistic device in nineteenth century French political thought, and not just among republicans, was the absence of citations and general acknowledgement of sources. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, however: by identifying key conceptual overlaps and substantive patterns of repetition we shall uncover effective traces of historical and contemporary texts in the writings of these five thinkers, manifestations of abiding ideological influences which were not explicitly acknowledged.
Furthermore, during certain periods—most notably the early 1840s, the 1850s and 1860s, and the early parts of the 1870s—these republican writers had to express themselves cautiously in order to avert legal and administrative persecution; as we shall see, several of them failed to avoid it. These subterranean characteristics of their discourse require that we pay special attention to ‘hidden’ layers of meaning inserted in their texts by way of analogies, historical allusions, and Aesopian references. We shall also repeatedly encounter strong connections between biographical events and textual output, most emphatically in the moral philosophy of these republicans, which was almost invariably grounded in personal experiences in both the public and the private domains. Context, in these senses, will not only at times help to elicit textual significance; we shall see that on many occasions it will fully constitute meaning.
(p.12) Context, however, should not be given an unduly narrow interpretation, whether in space or in time. To be a republican intellectual in France between 1830 and 1880 was an act of allegiance to a community with a strong sense of identity and collective purpose, and a well‐defined set of core values and rituals. Through the concept of ‘political tradition’39 we shall thus attempt to make sense of our thinkers' ideological output in these broader social and cultural contexts. Tradition was in this sense both a constraint and an opportunity. In its affective dimension it was a largely passive phenomenon, associated with sentimental attachments—notably to such republican symbols as the Marseillaise and the tricolour flag—symbolic practices—attendance of meetings and commemorative events40—and the political mythology of the great Revolution of 1789.
But ‘tradition’ was also an enabling instrument. As the key bearers of their political tradition, our republican intellectuals not only re‐enacted and transmitted the political heritage of earlier generations to their own contemporaries but also creatively reinvented it. By occupying central positions in the republican community, our five intellectuals were able to exercise a supreme form of discursive power: that of providing their fellow‐republicans with the concepts, references, and symbols which defined their collective identity as a group. Although Littré was the only one of the five who compiled a dictionary, there was a sense in which all of our intellectuals can be seen as the grammarians of modern French republican thought.
In broader terms, finally, looking at the specific intellectual and cultural terrain on which nineteenth century republican intellectuals evolved will enable us to resist teleological interpretations of the republican epic which have become especially fashionable in French liberal circles, most notably in the writings of Furet and his disciples. With the intellectual decline of Marxism, the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, and the conversion of the French Left to capitalism with a human face, there is now a tendency in France among the liberal intelligentsia to look askance at the Revolutionary heritage and its ‘Rousseauist’ progenitors, and to restrict their achievements to the few years of constitutional monarchy which followed 1789. The democratic and egalitarian dimensions of Jacobinism have especially come under sustained attack, partly for their allegedly nefarious consequences in France in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—most notably through the Terror and the Paris Commune—and partly for their alleged intellectual contributions to the Bolshevik nightmare which descended upon the international system after 1917.41
(p.13) Whether there is a straight line running from Rousseau to Pol Pot is an extremely broad question which cannot be pursued further here; indeed, it is doubtful whether such a question even makes sense. But a contextual reading of the utterances of nineteenth‐century republican intellectuals shows that the relationship between the Revolution, democracy, and the justification of political violence was much more complex than linear French liberal accounts appear to suggest. It is a historical fact—which Furet's historical work itself has splendidly drawn out—that the founding elites of the Third Republic worshipped the Revolution and drew inspiration from its narratives to construct their own project for social emancipation. At the same time, however, nineteenth‐century republicans were capable of recognizing that the circumstances of the 1860s and 1870s required different solutions to the ones imagined by their forefathers. There was thus no sterile fetishism of the Revolution, but instead a creative adaptation and harnessing of its liberating impulses. In this sense tradition and conceptual innovation were not antithetical but complementary activities.
Political and Social History
Alongside their political thought, our aim is to provide an account of the personal characteristics and narratives of these thinkers in order to bring back to life five eminent figures who have been buried by the passage of time.
Our démarche in this biographical endeavour is, thankfully, by no means isolated. The emphasis on the restitution of these complex lives will complement the patient work carried out in recent decades by historians of nineteenth‐century France. Its scholarly endeavours have yielded a collective study of many of the key figures of the opportunist republic in the 1870s and 1880s,42 portraits of such individual republican and liberal luminaries as Jules Simon,43 Charles de Rémusat,44 Albert de Broglie,45 and Sadi Carnot,46 and valuable analyses of a range of important figures in the intellectual and philosophical worlds.47 Our contribution here will add to the emerging portraits of the remarkable individualities who shaped the political and intellectual life of the Second Empire and the early Third Republic: an area in which there is still much work to be carried out.
(p.14) Furthermore, our goal is to reinforce the perceived association between theory and public action in nineteenth‐century France. The intellectuals with whom this book is concerned would have readily subscribed to the following proposition by Alasdair MacIntyre:
An essential purpose of this book is to underscore the indissoluble link between political thought and the ‘high’ political context of the time, and in so doing to challenge instrumental interpretations of republican ideology. In post‐1848 French republicanism, there was no artificial divide between ideology and political practice. Thought was directed towards the necessary transformation of the political sphere, and formulated in terms which engaged immediately with justifying the superiority of republican institutions to its competitors. In turn, public action was constantly measured by its practitioners against normative yardsticks; more fundamentally the very conceptual language of the republicans mapped out some political options and foreclosed others. In this sense our five thinkers should be seen as representative samples of a wider ‘republican manner of politics’ which remained integral to the mainstream political process until well after the founding of the Third Republic.
There ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions and the other by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory‐laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action.48
Through this study we thus hope to convey something of the literary and philosophical—the word is not inappropriate—sensitivities which political elites possessed, and not only republicans. For example, political leaders of the early Third Republic such as Ferry, Gambetta, and Simon were extraordinarily well‐versed not only in history but also in political thought, both classical and contemporary; these attributes shine through their writings and their public speeches.49 But these were not isolated cases. This rich cultural baggage was characteristic of successive nineteenth‐century generations of republican intellectuals; in this sense too our thinkers were part of the ‘republican tradition’. This symbiosis between thought and public action becomes manifest when one reads their public writings, parliamentary speeches, and private papers, where discussions of individual events and institutions were liberally laced with theoretical discussions and philosophical disquisitions on first principles. This was a matter not only of rhetorical style but also of political substance. The intellectual practice of our five thinkers will thus open a window into this broader discursive world, in which the divides between observation and normative judgement, political theory and practice, academic endeavour (p.15) and professional political activity were more blurred than they later came to be.
Finally, the five thinkers require location within the sociological framework of the ‘history of intellectuals’, a field which has witnessed a steady growth in France over the past decade. In general terms the modern engagement of intellectuals in France is typically traced from the time of the Dreyfus Affair, which saw the mobilization of republican writers and thinkers in defence of the principles of truth and justice.50 Hence the definition of a paradigm of intellectual intervention in politics throughout the twentieth century, which brought committed cultural elites into the political realm to defend the Republic whenever it appeared menaced by internal and external threats.51 Recent work has pushed back the chronology of research into the history of intellectuals into the nineteenth century, focusing on collective groups rather than on individuals, and drawing attention to the institutional networks and cultural underpinnings of intellectual activity.52
The point of our book is to suggest that many of the sociological and behavioural manifestations of this French ‘intellectualism’ can be detected in republican ideological circles between 1830 and 1880. In this sense, our five thinkers should be seen not only as representative figures—there were many other ‘intellectuals’ who were their contemporaries—but also as members of a vanguard. They largely anticipated the particular set of beliefs and dispositions which would later crystallize into the definition of the Dreyfusard ‘intellectual’: a commitment to the abstract principles of truth and justice, a refusal to regard professional specialization as a barrier to political commitment, and above all a belief in the necessary congruence of personal lifestyles with publicly‐professed ideological principles. The Dreyfus Affair may have officially anointed the term ‘intellectual’ and publicly celebrated the symbiosis between republican political elites and the world of letters; but our study will show that the phenomenon was essentially in existence many decades before the late nineteenth century.53 In this respect, too, our intellectuals were among the founders of a new order—and one which still defines the cultural landscape of contemporary France.
Jules Barni, Charles Dupont‐White, Émile Littré, Eugène Pelletan, and Étienne Vacherot: why choose these particular intellectuals to guide us through our study of the ideological transformation of nineteenth‐century republicanism? Their most important common characteristic, as we noted from the outset, was that all five were central actors in the political and intellectual process which led to the establishment of the Third Republic. Indeed they literally founded the new regime, in that as members of the National Assembly in 1875 Barni, Littré, Pelletan, and Vacherot endorsed the constitutional laws which established the Republic, while from outside parliament Dupont‐White's political writings also lent the new order his unstinting support. As lawgivers and public activists they all contributed directly to the institution of the republican regime in the crucial years between the early and the late 1870s.
This contribution was the culmination of decades of political endeavour on their part, on both the theoretical and the practical fronts. Their relative obscurity at the time of the meetings in Daniel Stern's house in the 1850s did not last long. By the time of the Third Republic our thinkers were among the best‐known intellectuals of their time. Of the five, Littré was undeniably the greatest celebrity. His Dictionaire de la langue française had already become one of the cultural monuments of nineteenth century France; in the late Second Empire he also founded the review La Philosophie Positive, a highly influential publication which sought to forge a decisive synthesis between republicanism and positivism.54
Next in rank in terms of intellectual visibility was Étienne Vacherot, a highly respected republican philosopher during the 1860s and 1870s, whose work La Démocratie was probably the most widely read republican dissertation on political philosophy under the Second Empire and early Third Republic.55 Dupont‐White was a highly prolific neo‐Jacobin pamphleteer whose fame also spread well beyond republican circles under the Second Empire. By the late 1860s his two main books L'Individu et l'État and La Centralisation had established his reputation as an eclectic and powerful thinker, whose ardent defence of the state reflected the continuing vibrancy of centralist Jacobinism within the liberal and republican traditions.56
(p.17) Eugène Pelletan established his republican credentials with his Profession de foi du XIXe siècle, a vigorous defence of the principle of progress; in the 1850s and 1860s he was also a productive republican journalist and pamphleteer.57 Last, but by no means least, Jules Barni's treatises La Morale dans la Démocratie and the Manuel Républicain were celebrated in republican and liberal circles in the 1860s and 1870s, and in many senses provided the defining theoretical framework for the emerging republican regime.58 These thinkers were thus known during their lives as creators of republican ideas, defining the principles of the good life and ensuring their dissemination through newspapers, journals, pamphlets, and public speeches. Another shared trait among them was a distinguished republican pedigree, often accompanied by strong and varied manifestations of political activism. Littré's and Pelletan's conversions dated to the early days of the July Monarchy, with the other three intellectuals embracing the republican faith around the time of the 1848 Revolution. All five men were politically active during the Second Republic: Littré and Dupont‐White held public office—in the case of the latter, for the only time in his life—while Pelletan, Vacherot, and Barni attempted, without success, to get themselves elected to the National Assembly. They all subsequently shared the bitter disappointment of the Second Republic's failure, which was for them, as for all their fellow‐republicans, a turning‐point in their political lives.
After the advent of the Second Empire in 1852 their political views hardened, but this crystallization was expressed in a variety of forms of political engagement. Littré and Dupont‐White generally avoided public political action and made their principal contributions through intellectual and discursive means. Dupont‐White was thus a regular presence in the various republican salons of the Second Empire, an important, and still understudied, focus of republican political and intellectual life during these years.59 Littré appears in the public life of the late Second Empire, for example in 1869 as a member of the electoral committee for Jules Ferry's candidature in the Seine.60 The most active public militants were Vacherot, Barni, and Pelletan, who collaborated in the short‐lived republican newspaper L'Avenir in 1855. Rising to public prominence as a protégé of George Sand and Lamartine in the 1830s and 1840s, Eugène Pelletan became one of the most popular republican national leaders during the Second Empire, where he championed the republican cause in the imperial Legislative Corps. At the (p.18) fall of the Bonapartist regime he became a member of the republican Government of National Defence, and ended his career as vice‐president of the republican Senate.
These intellectuals, accordingly, were not merely thinkers in the narrow sense but militants who throughout their lives risked their freedom, and on occasion their very lives, for the republican cause. In July 1830 Littré enthusiastically participated in the Parisian insurrection which overthrew the Bourbon monarchy; Vacherot took up arms to defend the Second Republic against the working‐class revolt of June 1848; and Pelletan took an active part in the ‘popular’ invasion of the Legislative Corps which ended the Second Empire in September 1870. Perhaps most remarkable of all was the activism of Jules Barni, who rose though the ranks of Kantian philosophy in the 1840s to become an exemplary republican intellectual. Barni was a victim of Bonapartist repression in 1851, an eminent republican exile in Geneva in the 1860s, where he directed the republican anti‐militarist organization the Ligue de la Paix et de la Liberté. He also worked closely with Gambetta during the Franco‐Prussian war and became a member of the Gambettist circles in the early 1870s. In the 1870s he was a member of local republican associations in his home town of Amiens, and he also became the leader of the influential republican propaganda organization the Société d'Instruction Républicaine.
These five thinkers shared a comprehensive conception of republicanism, constantly combining their abstract theorizing with an assortment of public interventions in politics. They all conceived of republican ideology as an overarching public philosophy which offered wide‐ranging formulations about life in the polis: general questions such as the justification of public authority, the relationship between state and society, the principles of good citizenship, and republican patriotism; broad issues such as property, decentralization, religion, education, the place of women in society, and the principles of public and private morality; and individual concepts such as liberty, equality, fraternity, and popular sovereignty, as well, of course, as the inescapable issue of the interpretation of the 1789 Revolution.
At the same time, this comprehensive system of thought and values was not intended for external consumption alone. In their different ways, and in keeping with their varying views on some of these moral issues, these five thinkers sought to lead their own lives according to the public and private principles they professed. This aspiration to achieve a complete congruence between principles and personal life was a characteristic trait among nineteenth‐century French republicans well before the advent of the Third Republic.61 Our five thinkers sought to practice the republican virtues in public and in private through simple attitudes and gestures, such as Barni's humility and consistent avoidance of the limelight; Dupont‐White's decision to offer shelter to (p.19) republican activists who were being pursued by Louis Napoleon's police in December 1851—an expression of the key principle of solidarity; or Littré's generous dispensing of free medical advice to poor peasants in his village of Ménil‐le‐Roi. At times, it was a matter of showing integrity by abiding by the consequences of one's actions, as when both Vacherot and Pelletan were goaled in the 1860s for political writings which were deemed seditious by the imperial courts of justice. In moments of crisis, this sense of republican virtue manifested itself in defiant public acts of opposition to established authority. Both Barni and Vacherot were dismissed from their academic posts after 1851 for refusing to swear the obligatory oath of allegiance to the new imperial regime, an oath which both men regarded as an unacceptable violation of their ethical principles. Republicanism, with these intellectuals, was not merely a system of thought or a collection of texts, but a scrupulously defined moral code.
French Republicanism in Historical and Comparative Contexts
This ethical aspect of their lives connects Barni, Dupont‐White, Littré, Pelletan, and Vacherot to the wider republican epic which has been unfolding in Europe since before the Renaissance, and by the same token also draws their political thought and actions into our current moral and intellectual horizons.
The history of republican thought in Europe since the Renaissance has been admirably portrayed, most notably in the works of Pocock and Skinner;62 and in contemporary political philosophy a ‘republican’ perspective is now vigorously being promoted by Philip Pettit in opposition and contradistinction to liberalism and communitarianism.63 And yet the place of the theory and practice of modern French republicanism in both of these endeavours remains to be elaborated.64 In the case of the broader conceptual history of republicanism, there is scope for a greater integration of post‐eighteenth century French narratives into the English, continental European, and American experiences. This is not to deny the importance of the spirit of commerce and neo‐Roman conceptions of liberty in these wider European republican traditions as they have come down to us since the early modern era.65 At the same time, since at (p.20) least the early nineteenth century modern republicanism has also been centrally concerned with such concepts as equality and fraternity, concepts which do not occupy a pivotal position in the ‘classical’ formulations of republicanism mentioned above. Such notions of equality and fraternity not only form an essential part of the French experience, as we shall see in this book, but also of continental European republicanism between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries.66
And there is more. The same two concepts are also integral to the communist experience in the twentieth century, and in this respect too there is an essential ideological filiation with republicanism which awaits further exploration. All of this makes the writings of our five intellectuals relevant not only to the French experience in the nineteenth century but also to a wider understanding of how a substantially different strand of republicanism from the Anglo‐American came to emerge and exercise a powerful ideological appeal to the modern imagination. We only have to look at the history of the Latin American continent since the early nineteenth century to behold the extraordinary potency of French republican ideology and political mythology.
The same point, put differently, can be made with respect to contemporary analytical philosophical renderings of republicanism, whose premises are often anchored in an Anglo‐American intellectual framework which does little justice to the ideological breadth and vigour of the republican tradition. Contemporary political philosophy, to put things bluntly, often presents republicanism as a close ideological relative to liberalism. It is arguable that the underlying purpose behind the elaboration of this ‘republican’ perspective is to offer a palatable alternative—or is it complement?—to the Rawlsian strand of political liberalism which has dominated Anglo‐American political theory in recent times. But proceeding in this way runs the obvious risk of oversimplifying and distorting the conceptual relationship between republicanism and liberalism, and ignoring the range of wider influences which have historically shaped modern political doctrines.67 This is where a detour into the French republican experience in the nineteenth century may prove enormously rewarding. Through the lives and political thought of Barni, Dupont‐White, Littré, Pelletan, and Vacherot, we will encounter a much richer and complex formulation of republicanism, open to fruitful dialogue not only with liberalism but also with socialism, Saint‐Simonism, and Bonapartism—and much else.
The lesson to be taken away here is a simple one. If nineteenth‐century republicans did not feel condemned to frame their political thought in terms which responded exclusively to liberal preoccupations and anxieties, nor (p.21) should we. French republican ideology, in its richness and diversity as well as in its multiple contradictions, thus invites us to make Horace's injunction our own: sapere aude. (p.22)
(3) See for example Lévêque, Pierre, Histoire des forces politiques en France 1789–1880 (Paris: Armand Colin, 1992), 340; Berstein, Serge, ‘Le modèle républicain’, in Serge Berstein (ed.), Les cultures politiques en France (Paris: Seuil, 1999), 121.
(5) Weber, Eugen, Peasants into Frenchmen (London: Chatto, 1977); Déloye, Yves, École et citoyenneté: l'individualisme républicain de Jules Ferry à Vichy (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1994).
(7) Berstein, ‘Le modèle républicain’, 123.
(9) A point made by René Rémond recently: ‘we must indeed place this decade [the 1870s] in a wider historical perspective, that of the 1850s and 1860s', in La France des années 1870: naissance de la IIIe République. Actes du Colloque de la Fondation Singer‐Polignac, 27 April 2000 (Paris, 2000), 9.
(12) For a study of the regime's innovations in the field of communal property and environmental conservation, see Vivier, Nadine, Propriété collective et identité communale: les biens communaux en France 1750–1914 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998), esp. 253–82.
(15) A point underlined by Alain Corbin; see his chapter ‘La Fête de souveraineté’, in Corbin, Alain, Gérome, Noelle, and Tartakowski, Danielle (eds), Les usages politiques des Fêtes aux XIXe–XXe siècles (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1994), 37.
(18) A recent exception is Jean Garrigues' study of the penetration of republican elites by business groups and interests in the early decades of the Third Republic: La République des hommes d'affaires (1870–1900) (Paris: Aubier, 1997).
(20) Agulhon, Maurice, La République au village (Paris: Plon, 1970); 1848 et l'apprentissage de la République (Paris: Seuil, 1973). On the late eighteenth and early to mid‐nineteenth century see Dupuy, Roger (ed.), Pouvoir local et Révolution (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1995). On the July Monarchy see Guionnet, Christiane, L'apprentissage de la politique moderne: les élections municipales sous la monarchie de Juillet (Paris: l'Harmattan, 1997). For a regional case study highlighting the importance of the 1860s, see George, Jocelyne, ‘Mémoire révolutionnaire et tradition municipale républicaine. Le cas du Var au XIXème siècle’, in Michel Vovelle (ed.), Révolution et République: l'exception française (Paris: Kimé, 1994), 534–45; and for a comparative study of Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Saint‐Étienne, and Toulouse, see Cohen, William B., Urban Government and the Rise of the French City; Five Municipalities in the Nineteenth Century (London: Macmillan, 1998).
(27) Hazareesingh, Sudhir and Wright, Vincent, Francs‐Maçons sous le Second Empire. Les loges provinciales du Grand‐Orient à la veille de la Troisième République (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2001).
(30) See Audoin‐Rouzeau, Stéphane, 1870: la France dans la guerre (Paris: Armand Colin, 1989); Roth, François La guerre de 1870 (Paris: Fayard, 1990); and Taithe, Bertrand, Defeated Flesh: Welfare, Warfare and the Making of Modern France (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).
(34) See for example Crossley, Ceri, French Historians and Romanticism. Thierry, Guizot, the Saint‐Simonists, Quinet, Michelet (London: Routledge, 1993); on Michelet specifically see Viallaneix, Paul, Michelet, les travaux et les jours (Paris: Gallimard, 1998).
(47) See Logue, William, Charles Renouvier, Philosopher of Liberty (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993); Brooks, John III, The Eclectic Legacy: Academic Philosophy and the Human Sciences in Nineteenth‐Century France (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998); Whatmore, Richard, Republicanism and the French Revolution: An Intellectual History of Jean‐Baptiste Say's Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
(53) This is also the conclusion of Venita Datta's recent study, which examines literary debates in the 1890s: Birth of a National Icon: The Literary Avant‐Garde and the Origins of the Intellectual in France (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999). See also Winock, Michel, Les voix da la liberté. Les écrivains engagés au XIXe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 2000).
(54) The standard biographies of Littré are by Aquarone, Stanislas, The Life and Works of Émile Littré 1801–1881 (Leyden: Sythoff, 1958); and Rey, Alain, Littré l'humaniste et les mots (Paris: Gallimard, 1970).
(55) There is no full‐scale biography of Vacherot. Useful information about his life may be found in Robert, Adolphe, Bourloton, Edgar, and Cougny, Gaston (eds), Dictionnaire des parlementaires français (Paris: Bourloton, 1891).
(57) His life is portrayed in Judith Stone's rich comparative biography of Eugène and Camille Pelletan, Sons of the Revolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996). See also Baquiast, Paul, Une dynastie de la bourgeoisie républicaine: les Pelletan (Paris: l'Harmattan, 1996).
(59) On the nineteenth‐century republican salons see Aprile, Sylvie, ‘La République au salon: vie et mort d'une forme de sociabilité politique (1865–1885)’, Revue d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, 38 (1991), 473–87; and Joana, Jean, Pratiques politiques des députés français au XIXe siècle: du dilettante au spécialiste (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1999).
(61) On this theme see Nabulsi, Traditions of War, passim.
(62) See most notably Pocock, J.G.A., The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975) and Virtue, Commerce, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); and Skinner, Quentin, Liberty before Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and ‘The Republican Ideal of Political Liberty’, in Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli (eds), Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
(66) Nabulsi, Traditions of War.