In This Review

Goodness Beyond Virtue: Jacobins During the French Revolution
Goodness Beyond Virtue: Jacobins During the French Revolution
By Patrice L. R. Higonnet
Harvard University Press, 1998, 416 pp

No aspect of the French Revolution has been more controversial than the Jacobins. Many historians, taking the cue of the late Franois Furet, see them as a pretotalitarian terrorist force, an omen of the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution. Higonnet offers a scholarly, sweeping, and level-headed corrective to this orthodoxy. For him, the Jacobins were neither uniformly absolutist nor all that radical, but "ordinarily honest men of order . . . who had dedicated themselves to the application of universal rules of decency and common sense." The Terror was neither foreordained nor a response to circumstances; instead, it resulted from ingrained customs that ran counter to the Jacobins' own Enlightenment ideas. Individualism and private property, fraternity and community, goodness and decency, civic virtue and transparency all coexisted in the chaotic Jacobin universe. Deeply informed, compassionate, and fair, Higonnet's book has brought fresh scholarship, judicious reflections, and intriguing social comparisons to bear on this endlessly fascinating subject.