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L'art de la philosophie
The French perceive the United States as a country imbued with religion; they see it everywhere! I was once in South Carolina on the fourth of July. A good illustration is when Americans put their right hand on their heart when taking the oath of allegiance or singing the Star-Spangled Banner. GP: Does writing about American history in French give you a certain liberty?
Does language create a safe distance between historians and their topics? BC: Yes, indeed. And I would add that a foreign historian should not feel compelled to write in English. Multilingual comprehension 9 should be a viable alternative for Europeans, if they really believe in Europe as a pluralistic association. In many instances, I have seen how English, when used indiscriminately, hampered communication and impoverished debates. BC: I am not sure. It all depends on the public.
9 mai 1991
This is precisely what I did when my Calvin was translated into English and published in the United States: I rewrote whole passages for the American reader. All references are English-language references. BC: Yes, of course. I would add that today, any French reader with an interest in the history of an English-speaking country has a reading knowledge of English. This may be taken for granted. This was not the case some fifty years ago. Have such illustrious figures discouraged or encouraged French historians to write other histories of the American Revolution?
You mentioned Tocqueville: I am a very keen Tocqueville reader. Alexis de Tocqueville was a nineteenth-century French aristocrat who witnessed the emergence of democracy in the United States and France, a transformation that he regarded as inevitable and damaging for his own status. As a member of the French aristocracy, he would have much to lose. There is a sense of tragic inevitability in his writings.
But what I admire most about Tocqueville is the way he gets involved: he, as a subject, is involved in his writings, yet he does not write about himself. He is a writer who dares to think. He is a writer who makes you think. Good history is precisely this: it makes you think. And this is how our two Revolutions may be connected: through the writings of people like Alexis de Tocqueville.
GP: Which brings me to my central question: have French historians of the American Revolution long lived under the shadow of the French Revolution? In other words, may we hold the view that the French historiography of the American Revolution has had to emancipate itself from the French Revolution? Have French historians of the American Revolution succeeded in doing so? BC: It has been a long process and I still believe that the two revolutions are very much connected.
As a historian, I turn to great authors for guidance. Alexis de Tocqueville is one of them, Karl Marx is another. From a historiographical viewpoint, Marx is the opposite of Tocqueville. Historians have turned to Marx to escape Tocqueville and vice versa. I read them both. Conversely, many people have turned to Marx for answers, wishing to know how history would unfold.
But Marx never meant to predict the future! So I read both Marx and Tocqueville, because they give complementary explanations of the two revolutions.
They are two intellectual giants who lived in the same century and were equally fascinated by England and the United States. The problem is that French historians have long privileged Marx over Tocqueville and they have based their works on an erroneous interpretation of Marx, as E.
Lettres Ã Anne
Thompson pointed out in his Poverty of Theory. In spite of its remarkable historical precision and acumen, the Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution, propagated by the Communist post-war generation owes more to Robespierre than to Marx. Marx never was a Jacobin.
He even blamed the Communards for attempting to reenact the French Revolution! Marx would have probably sided with Furet in the raging controversy of the s. One should always make a clear distinction between Marx and Marxism. Marx is a complex, fascinating figure, while Marxism is a boring, mechanistic, autocratic, totalitarian caricature. Marx is the author of a complex, unfinished body of writings, which does not boil down to the Communist Manifesto. And few people realize that Marx was actually fascinated by the American Civil War and the Reconstruction.
As a journalist, he was at first not quite convinced by Abraham Lincoln, whom he found too moderate; but after a few months he realized that Lincoln was a methodical, incredibly efficient politician. For him, these events were of equal significance to the revolutions of the late eighteenth century.
Biographie : Bernard-Henri Lévy
He saw the American Civil War as a conflict between two modes of production: slavery and paid labor. BC: Yes, there were such attempts; but given the prevalence of the French brand of Marxism, these initial attempts failed. This infuriated Albert Soboul, who saw it as an attempted American takeover of the French Revolution. I find such debates completely irrelevant. It is simply futile to try to substitute one revolution for the other!
GP: What impact, if any, did the bicentennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence have in France? Did it create an opportunity for French historians of the United States to become more visible? BC: Yes, a number of academic events were organized. But French historians of the United States became more visible in French academia only.
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Her book studies the nation-building process underway at the time of the American Revolution. Her approach, I would say, is linked to our common experience of decolonization. We are a generation of historians who witnessed the dislocation of the French colonial empire, the war with Algeria and the birth of new nations carved out of this empire. The American Revolution also marked the end of a first colonial empire.
These readers were published in France, in English. American history had earned its place among English studies and its ascendance was not over. Kaspi and Vincent published very good books. Unfortunately, some publications were discontinued. These books should have been assigned systematically at the undergraduate level.
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But the book contents remained unchanged! GP: Did the bicentennial of the French Revolution create an opportunity for French historians of the two revolutions to work together? BC: No, but it did contribute to the emancipation of the American Revolution as an academic topic. It did so unexpectedly.
Thatcher, turned this historical event into a thing of the past. The French Revolution has since disappeared almost totally from political debates. One may say that the French Revolution has been defeated by its most vocal, sectarian supporters. This is very unfortunate. Americans have a quite different approach to their revolution, whose values are claimed by Democrats and Republicans alike.
This is how, in the late s, revolutions, French and American, became safer topics for French historians. As the title suggests, Gusdorf is very critical of the French Revolution and sees no connection with the American one. How much influence did it have?