Magazine November 16, 2020, Issue

France before 1789: Jon Elster’s New Book on the Old Regime

The Chateau de Versailles, near Paris, France, June 6, 2020 (Charles Platiau/Reuters)
France before 1789: The Unraveling of an Absolutist Regime, by Jon Elster (Princeton University Press, 280 pp., $39.95)

Few events have drawn the attention of as many writers as the French Revolution. The literature on the topic is truly enormous; it is possible to find mono­graphs on everything from the condi­tions of peasant life in the various provinces to the intellectual currents that led to the formation of the radical revolutionaries’ republican ideology. And yet books on the history of the revolution continue to be published. Many of the questions it raised remain unresolved and contested, just as they were in the late 18th century.

One of the latest such contributions is Jon Elster’s France before 1789: The Unraveling

This article appears as “Emotion, Engine of History” in the November 16, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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