The Age of the Democratic Revolution
Palmer's masterwork traced the growth of two competing forces — ideas of democracy and equality, on the one hand, and the growing power of aristocracies in society, on the other — and the results of the collision between these forces, including both the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Thus it foreshadowed the development of "comparative Atlantic history" as a field.
In Palmer published a slightly revised and condensed version of the second volume as The World of the French Revolution. The monograph Twelve Who Ruled is also noteworthy. It has been in print since its first edition, was reissued with a new preface in for the French Revolution bicentennial, and was reissued as a Princeton Classic in as part of the University Press centennial celebration.
Columbia University history professor Isser Woloch , a specialist in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, has stated that Twelve Who Ruled "may be the best book on the French Revolution written by an American. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Palmer Dies". Perspectives on History.
July American Historical Association. Retrieved Palmer, 93, History Text Author, Dies". The New York Times. June 18, Choice: a classified cumulation: volumes 1—10; March —February , Volume 6 Rowman and Littlefield, , p.
Presidents of the American Historical Association. Charles Francis Adams Jr. McLaughlin H. Schlesinger Sr. Robert Livingston Schuyler James G. Randall Louis R.
Boyd Frederic C. Fairbank C. Potter Joseph Strayer Thomas C. Cochran Lynn Townsend White Jr. Richard B. Morris Charles Gibson William J. Pinkney Bernard Bailyn Gordon A. Craig Philip D. Opposition does exist—furtive, clandestine—because no one ever opposes an established order openly. Opposition always disguises itself; subversive elements always pretend to be loyal. Not only have they departed from any relationship with reality, but the result, empirically, is always a trail of corpses, the creation of which can be ended only one way.
Those behaviors did not spring from nothing—the Terror, and the Gulag, and Year Zero, are real fruits of the Enlightenment, whatever Steven Pinker may say. So what are those Enlightenment ideas? The Twelve were religious believers, adherents of the first of the secular, ideological religions, and the same core religious beliefs have characterized the Left since and as a result of the Enlightenment.
In this ideology, heaven is reachable through ever-more liberty and emancipation compelled by the ever-heavier hand of the state.
Twelve Who Ruled by Palmer, R R
And not only is it reachable, but it is the natural end of humans, who are inherently good and perfectible through proper training and education. Who could disagree with such a goal? Only evil men, clearly. But the problem is, to the believers, in order to attain such a utopia, any cost is bearable, and any opposition doubly evil, since it attempts to deny happiness to those alive today and also to all the generations yet unborn.
A believer must therefore conclude that if the promised utopia fails to arrive, it is because evil men oppose it for their own base reasons. If that is true, certainly such evil men deserve to die, a small cost that must be paid so that many others may reach heaven, even if most of those paying the price are actually innocent of any opposition. Thus, the end result of the Left being in total power is always going to be the same as that in even if may not always be as compressed in time or as dramatic as the Terror.
Or, put another way, any person of the Left has to endorse the Terror or reject the essential premises of the Left, because the Terror was, and such terror is, a necessary consequence of the Left being in power. The only alternative, and the only solution, is to reject much or all of the Enlightenment itself, something that is fortunately coming back into fashion.
Palmer himself basically endorses the Terror. It is necessary to realize that these men inflicted death with a holy glee. But that is not an excuse for their monstrous behavior, it is the reason—it is what made them do what they did. There is a complete and universal parallel between the behavior described in this book and the subsequent behavior of the global Left in power, both in Europe and in Asia during the twentieth century. But his overriding goal of excusing the Terror can be seen by examining his approach to various matters that are part of his history.
The Hundred Days before Thermidor were not primarily a time of destruction. They were a time of creation, of abortive and perhaps visionary creation, nipped by the fatal blight of the Revolution, the inability of the Revolutionists to work together. Had the Jacobins been a revolutionary party of the modern kind, drilled to a mechanical obedience, the whole French Revolution would have been different.
It is the bad behavior of the Left that they always screen with a thick curtain, and not by accident or because they are delicate. It was anarchy that stood in the way of the stabilization of the Republic, and it was anarchy that was causing France to lose the war. That men lived in one type of fear does not imply that more fear is the obvious solution, and this is just throwing excuses at the wall and hoping one sticks with the reader.
Moreover, the endless purges of mostly imaginary enemies were the very definition of anarchy, not a solution for it, which is why the Committee ultimately destroyed itself. The creation of order does not require terror. Concealing this rather obvious truth seems to be the project of most modern historians of the Terror, all men of the Left themselves, who therefore recoil from the necessary conclusion.
Palmer fits right into the this tradition, whether he admits it or not. View all 3 comments. Jan 07, Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing Shelves: The French Revolution is obviously a vast field of history, so it was nice to read such a focused work, and especially one that was so well-written.
I'd previously read and really enjoyed Victor Hugo's famous novel Ninety-Three that covers the same time period, and this was an excellent non-fiction counterpart. It covers the actions of the twelve men who constituted the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from September 5, until July 28, Palmer discusses their origin The French Revolution is obviously a vast field of history, so it was nice to read such a focused work, and especially one that was so well-written. Palmer discusses their origins and pre-Revolutionary lives, how they managed to end up in their positions of power, their activities during that turbulent period, and the crises that led up to the day of 9 Thermidor, the famous Thermidorian Reaction, when Robespierre, the Committee's leader, was guillotined along with his colleague Saint-Just and the Revolution ended its most frenetic phase.
The book has a strong narrative style, which is excellent, because this is a confusing time to read about though of course even more so to actually live through. There are plenty of different groups: The Committee, which was intended to be a sort of cabinet, was instituted to solve France's leadership problem and add a little stability to a revolution that had been going on for nearly half a decade, with mixed results.
The relationship between political and military instability during this period was notable, and reminded me somewhat of the US Civil War, with politically appointed generals often failing in their campaigns, while the results of those same campaigns threatened to discredit the government that sent them. An additional problem for the Committee was that they just weren't very popular, and hence didn't have a lot of legitimacy with important constituencies like, for example, the people of France.
Palmer describes the law of 14 Frimaire, which significantly centralized power, as "an instrument of Terror because the government which it strengthened was the creation of a minority, the triumphant leaders of the Mountain, itself a party among republicans, who in turn were only a party among the original revolutionists, who in their turn did not include all the people in France. As in the name of liberty France now possessed the most dictatorial government it had ever known, so, in the name of the people, it now had the political system which, of all the systems in its history, probably the fewest people really liked.
While the Committee was faced with challenges that would strain the capacities of even the best leaders foreign invasions, economic collapse, rampant factionalism, religious turbulence, and all the small dervishes spawned by that larger tempest , their solution of the guillotine has done a lot to posthumously discredit their work. However, once the Committee's decisions are seen in the light of the circumstances they faced, in large part they seem almost reasonable, as Palmer tries to show.
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An example is the debate over the role of religion in the new order. France at the time was very religious, and the Catholic Church was involved in many spheres of life in both positive and negative ways see for example the famous career of Cardinal Richelieu in the previous century. Some of the revolutionaries wanted to completely dechristianize the country, some wanted to replace Christianity with a new state religion, some wanted to simply remove the Church's influence from political life, and some wanted no change at all. The Committee in many ways acted to check the impulses of the more radical revolutionaries to destroy all churches or defrock every priest, and it's instructive to note that many of those who were put to death were these more violent radicals.
Not that that really excuses the sometimes arbitrary arrests and executions ordered by Robespierre and the rest of the Committee, of course, but while tens of thousands did die during the Terror, many of those deaths were not ordered by the Committee, and additionally you also have to take into account the atrocities committed by the previous regime e. Louis XIV's massacre of 8, Parisians in and the state of total war that existed at the time.
Additionally, as as the book is explicit about, there's a difference between a revolutionary party as it's involved in overthrowing governments, and the same party when it has to then govern.