In This Review

Making Democracy in the French Revolution
Making Democracy in the French Revolution
By James Livesey
Harvard University Press, 2001, 326 pp.

Livesey's erudite and pioneering book is an attempt to set a highly contested record straight. Scholars such as the late Francois Furet argued that the French Revolution's greatest contribution to history was ideological extremism. But Livesey sees a difference between the feverish discourse of the leadership and the more moderate program of the provincial Jacobin revolutionaries, who valued the rights of man and popular sovereignty above all else. Hence the revolution was in essence "a paradigm of modern politics" rather than "a parable of its possible pathologies." Indeed, many Jacobins promoted forward-looking egalitarianism in their ideas on economic development, educational reform, and the role of the artist. Livesey points out that such innovations were later reversed by Napoleon's creation of "a military-bureaucratic elite for state service," but they were eventually retrieved by the Third Republic. By concentrating on the importance of ideas and "the ubiquity of the local and the everyday," Livesey obliges the reader to revise notions of French illiberalism and the inferiority of the French Revolution to the American one.