Long Live the Revolution! / Vive la Révolution! 1789, 1848, 1968
Class will be taught in English.
In July 1789, the world’s first modern Revolution began in France and shook the world. The French Revolution swept away a state that had seemed stable and eternal. It abolished social hierarchy and state religion. For the first time, people of all classes and genders were not only in the street (that had happened before) they insisted on and partly won recognition as equal citizens. The great French Revolution terrified monarchs and inspired revolutionaries all over the world. It also profoundly shaped France’s sense of itself as a nation shaped by revolution and for which revolution was a kind of national trait. Thus it was that when the tensions and
contradictions of industrial capitalism and social and political conservatism came to a head, France exploded again in a revolution: the Revolution of 1848. The revolutionaries of 1848 saw themselves in many ways as reprising the Revolution of 1789, but they did not experience the same world-historical success: as Marx wrote of 1848 so famously, “the first time as tragedy,
the second time as farce.” 1848’s failure should not, however, obscure its audacious goals: the bring the Revolution not just to political life, but also to social and economic life. Moreover, the 1848 Revolution planted the tradition of revolution itself more firmly than ever in the national imagination. 1870’s Paris Commune was another deeply significant reminder of the centrality of
the revolutionary impulse. But we will spend more time on May-June 1968, when students, workers, intellectuals in a post WW II, post-colonial world, brought France to a standstill in the demands for deep cultural, economic, political, and social change.
In this course, we will study 1789, 1848, and 1968 and ask questions about the meanings and effects of revolution. We will read first-hand accounts and watch films from the 1960s and 1970s, in addition to reading works by historians, sociologists, novelists, and philosophers.