Augustin Cochin and the Revolutionary Process

Augustin Cochin, born in 1876, died prematurely—as did so many other French intellectuals of his generation—killed at the front in 1916.  He did have enough time, however, to carry out between 1909 and 1914 a series of in-depth studies, the fruit of his archival research on the sequence of preparatory elections for the Estates-General in 1789, on the influence of the groups that were active in them, and, finally, on the organization of the Terror and the revolutionary government.  The year before, Cochin had taken part in a debate that pitted the socialist historian Alphonse Aulard, at that time the principal defender of the triumphalist school of thought on the Revolution, and Hippolyte Taine, who had highlighted the revolution’s misdeeds in his monumental History of the Origins of Contemporary France.  

Certainly, Cochin was no socialist.  Through his family, he was connected to the current of liberal Catholicism that accepted the new order that had resulted from the Revolution and limited its criticisms to the Revolution’s excesses.  He did not, therefore, belong to the counterrevolutionary school, which was opposed to the very principle of the Revolution and cultivated nostalgia for the ancien régime.

Cochin’s rigorous, systematic approach to historiography inevitably led to his ostracism.  For a long time, his name could not be invoked...

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