The Perfect Republic

Augustin Cochin (1876-1916), a French historian little known today, sought to provide a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of the French Revolution with an eye to discovering the reasons for the terror and butchery that arose in its course.  The nature and depth of his motivations and concerns can be gleaned from his judgment that the “last three months of Terror” were not only the “most odious” in the history of the French nation but perhaps the “most interesting” in the annals of recorded history.  At this time, he observes, “a moral, political, and social experiment was attempted unique in the course of centuries,” and, what is more, “the mysterious depths of the human soul, under the action of causes still little known, gave birth to unprecedented acts, sentiments, and types [of men].”  Unfortunately, Cochin fell victim to World War I and never completed his task.

This volume, with a fine Preface by Claude Polin, consists of generous translated portions of Cochin’s unfinished manuscripts that deal with various aspects of the Revolution and its ideological underpinnings.  While some of his observations and conclusions are not fully developed, the broad outlines of his approach and thesis are clear enough.  Cochin held that the roots of the French Revolution are to be found in the highly influential and interconnected Philosophical...

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