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Myths of the Modern Nation-State — The French Revolution

  • Bhambra G
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The iconic status of the French Revolution does not exempt it from also being one of the most contested events within history; in fact, the latter is probably a pre-requisite for the former.1 One point of seeming agreement between theorists and historians, however, is the role of the French Revolution in what Furet terms, ‘the invention of the political form of modern society’ (1988 [1986]: 18), or, more poetically, ‘the empirical modality through which the world of free and equal individuals has made its appearance in our history’ (1990: 798–9); that is, the invention of the modern nation-state. French revolutionary historiography has been central to the establishment of ‘1789’, or then the period from 1789 to 1815, as the birth-date of a new historical epoch, the modern. As Furet (1981 [1978]) argues, the Revolution was not understood simply as an event within a complex of events, but rather, was seen as constitutive of the advent of a new age; one founded upon the idea of equality and expressed through the establishment of modern political institutions. This heightened the sense of the present as unique and unprecedented and, as a consequence, problematized the way in which the relationship between the past and present was theorized (Furet 1981 [1978]; Crossley 1993; see also Foucault 2002 [1969]; Baehr 2002).




Bhambra, G. K. (2007). Myths of the Modern Nation-State — The French Revolution. In Rethinking Modernity (pp. 106–123). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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