Perspective

It Was the Worst of Times

The French Revolution was a cancer that metastasized and spread through Western societies, weakening them to the point of collapse.  Even the European and American right did not escape being contaminated by the forces they struggled against, and, certainly, by the end of the 19th century, it was increasingly difficult to frame a conservative argument that did not accommodate some basic principles of the Revolution.  

Even before the Revolution, there were two Frances, the France of ordinary people—of the rich countryside and its traditions, of Joan of Arc, of the Church—and the France of the intellectuals—the country of atheism, immorality, and class warfare.  After the Revolution, the gap widened and deepened.  On one side were all those republicans and revolutionaries who had profited from the Revolution and saw the murder of the king and queen as the fulfillment (or even the beginning) of human history.  On the other were not just supporters of the ancien régime but all serious Catholics and anyone who took seriously the social nature of man.  Even among the republicans, there were those who pined for the solidity of the old institutions of French community life, and, as Robert Nisbet showed in The Sociological Tradition, French social theorists, while repudiating the old monarchy, longed to recreate the stability of a world dominated by the certainties of...

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