Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Who’s who in ‘The Post’ / The revolutionary world Cuba created / Paul Ryan ready to go / The inner turmoil of ‘Frankenstein’ / Key questions for falling in love

This week: Who’s who in ‘The Post’ / The revolutionary world Cuba created / Paul Ryan ready to go / The inner turmoil of ‘Frankenstein’ / Key questions for falling in love

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Who’s Who in ‘The Post’: A Guide to the Players in a Pivotal Era
By Sam Roberts | The New York Times | December 2017
“The newsroom crackles with verisimilitude, its rotary phones, staccato typewriters and a veil of cigarette smoke evoking a bygone grittiness. At its heart are a wisecracking editor and matriarchal publisher.”

2. Cuba’s Revolutionary World
By Jonathan C. Brown | Not Even Past :: UT Austin Department of History | December 2017
“Cuba’s revolution attracted youthful visitors from all over Latin America who wished to learn how they too might become armed revolutionaries.”

3. Paul Ryan Sees His Wild Washington Journey Coming to An End
By Tim Alberta and Rachael Bade | Politico Magazine | December 2017
“He felt he was ‘made for this moment.’ But now, on the verge of achieving his long-sought legislative dream, he’s got his eyes on the exits.”

4. Out of Control
By Richard Holmers | The New York Review of Books | December 2017
Frankenstein is saturated in the heroic rhetoric of Milton’s Paradise Lost, the alienated imagery of Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ and the natural magic of Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ (all of which are actually quoted). It also clearly contains a series of philosophical debates between scientific hope and hubris, between friendship and betrayal, between love and solitude.”

5. The 36 Questions That Lead to Love
By Daniel Jones | Modern Love :: The New York Times | January 2015
“The idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness.”

6. Below Deck
By Lizzie Presser | California Sunday Magazine | February 2017
“Filipinos make up nearly a third of all cruise ship workers. It’s a good job. Until it isn’t.”

7. The 4 Things That Helped Gary Oldman Disappear Into Winston Churchill
By Kyle Buchanan | Vulture | December 2017
“Here are the four keys that finally helped Oldman to crack Churchill and deliver one of of the most acclaimed performances of his career.”

8. A Journey Through Havana’s Clandestine Book World
By Ruben Gallo and Lisa Carter | Lit Hub | December 2017
“I felt immeasurably happy to be surrounded by blacks and mulatas, old women sitting on stoops, and jineteros hustling boys, girls, cigars, pirated music, and almost everything else.”

9. A Comprehensive List of How Texans Mispronounce Places With Spanish Names
By John Nova Lomax | Texas Monthly | November 2017
“From Amarila to Wad-a-loop to the Purda-nalleez River, we’ve taken some liberties when it comes to pronunciation.”

10. Dystopia is Realism: The Future Is Here if You Look Closely
By Christopher Brown | LitHub | July 2017
“All novels are set in alternate worlds, even if most writers only invent the people that inhabit them. Dystopia just expands the scale of the alteration.”

Book gems of 2016, Part 3

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Texas and Texas history.

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Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Texas and Texas history.

Jesus F. de la Teja’s Faces of Bexar: Early San Antonio and Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 240 pp., $40) offers an anthology of essays that together form a biography of one of the most significant cities in North America. San Antonio’s historic importance as a military center, source of political power, international economic hub, and cultural crown jewel is expertly explored and analyzed in this work. The book also includes a vital bibliographic essay analyzing the latest developments in Tejano historiography.

Most history students know about the Texas Revolution, but they know next to nothing about the Revolution’s birthplace. Richard B. McCaslin’s Washington on the Brazos: Cradle of the Texas Republic (Texas State Historical Association Press, 100 pp., $15.95) should be the perfect remedy for that gap in historical knowledge. When the Republic of Texas joined the United States, power and administrative authority was centralized in Austin, and Washington faded into the social and commercial background. It briefly boomed as a port town, but its economic over-reliance on steamboats left it behind as the age of railroads dawned and rail tracks bypassed the town. The Revolution’s centennial in 1936 sparked fresh interest in Texas history, and the town basked in new appreciation from restoration experts and history-loving tourists. McCaslin’s book uses the history of the town to illustrate the larger historical eras of the Texas people, their evolving values, their conflicted identities, and their beautiful multifaceted culture.

Laura Lyons McLemore contributes Adele Briscoe Looscan: Daughter of the Republic (TCU Press, 320 pp, $29.95) to the Texas Biography Series. Looscan made history in 1915 when she became the first woman elected to the presidency of the Texas State Historical Association. The scholar of Texas history made history again when she stepped down in 1925, completing the longest presidency in the Association’s history. McLemore’s biography promises the story of an important intellectual and social leader who guided and enriched historical, political, and business conversations in early twentieth-century Texas.

Timothy Paul Bowman’s Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands (Texas A&M University Press, 412 pp., $43) takes an important and complicated look at the social and economic tensions burning throughout Rio Grande Valley communities in the decades following the Mexican War. Bowman illustrates a brutal twentieth-century process of converting the region from Mexican culture to Anglo-American political and economic control, from a cattle-based economy to an agricultural economy. Racially-minded Anglos built or modified the region’s governmental and legal structures to contain and suppress Mexican-American populations, particularly laborers, who were exploited as they formed the foundation of a major U.S. agricultural industry.

Mark Allan Goldberg’s Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 328 pp., $60) focuses on the same region but with an earlier timeframe and a different focus. Anglo and Spanish colonizers applied their standards of health to the Native Americans and Mexicans they found in the region and subsequently determined that because their European health standards practices were superior to indigenous standards and practices, the Europeans naturally deserved to control the region and its people. They used the network of religious missions or other controlled spaces to enforce European standards on the indigenous people, and they devalued the significance of indigenous understandings of health. For the colonizers, Goldberg’s important work explains, the issue of health became one more aspect of their larger ambitions for control and of the moral calculations made to justify that control.

David G. McComb’s The City in Texas: A History (University of Texas Press, 352 pp., $35) is an authoritative and much-needed analysis of the transformation of Texas from a land of rural and agricultural communities into a constellation of metro centers dominated by glittering skyscrapers, electrical wires, highways, and suburbs. Alan Lessoff’s newest work focuses on just one city with Where Texas Meets the Sea: Corpus Christi and Its History (University of Texas Press, 368 pp., $29.95). Full disclosure: I grew up in Corpus Christi, so I’ll consider pretty much any serious history about the Sparkling City by the Sea to be interesting, at least, but Lessoff’s history is exceptional — serious yet potentially appealing to both tourists and residents, brimming with fascinating stories, and built on solid and extensive research.

Jesse Cancelmo’s Glorious Gulf of Mexico: Life Below the Blue (Texas A&M University Press, 156 pp., $30) takes us below the waves to explore 600,000 square miles of incredible landscapes, vibrant coral reefs, and more than 15,000 different species. Cancelmo wants his readers to fully appreciate the complexity, beauty, and importance of the Gulf’s ecosystems, life cycles, and species. Readers should gain a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of how the Gulf’s treasures enrich our world and our lives.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

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This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. No word yet from Fidel amid historic US-Cuba shift
By Anne-Marie Garcia | Associated Press | Dec. 19
“Everyone in Cuba is talking about the startling turn in relations with the United States, with one notable exception: Fidel Castro.”

2. Without Washington as its enemy, what will define Cuba?
By Tom Gjeten | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“Both governments are gambling that this new world will suit their respective political interests. In this negotiation, however, there is no win-win: One government or the other is likely to lose.”

3. Cuba’s cash boon for GOP
By Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti | Politico | Dec. 19
“[W]hile polls show that most Americans favor normalization, wealthy donors for whom the issue is a top priority overwhelmingly oppose engaging with the Castro regime. …”

4. Why Congress Hates Your Cuban Rum
By Tim Mack | The Daily Beast | Dec. 19
“Havana Club or ‘American’ Havana Club? How untangling decades of Washington’s embargo politics could start a rum war among the world’s most powerful alcohol companies.”

5. The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother
By Damien Cave | The New York Times | Dec. 18
“At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro … spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.”

6. A Historical Perspective on the Cuba-U.S. Relationship
By Jason Steinhauer | Insights :: The Library of Congress | Dec. 19
“Let’s start with this: soon after Fidel Castro’s rise to power, the U.S. viewed Cuba as a security threat. What was the basis for that viewpoint?”

7. Detente Scrambles Political Calculus in Latin America
By Reed Johnson, Ezequiel Minaya, and Kejal Vyas | The Wall Street Journal | Dec. 18
“The Detente Between the U.S. and Cuba Has the Potential to Redraw Political and Economic Alliances Across the Hemisphere”

8. Cha-Cha-Cha: Obama’s On a Roll
By John Cassidy | The New Yorker | Dec. 19
“If you doubted that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba was a political and strategic masterstroke, you only have to look at the reaction it has engendered to see otherwise.”

9. A Cuban who sold his beachfront home says he might regret that move
By Marco Werman | The World :: PRI | Dec. 19
“Yuro is part of the generation of Cubans known as the ‘lost generation.’ The ones who came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union — and the loss of all those Russian oil for sugar subsidies.”

10. The US Breaks Ties with Cuba
Witness :: BBC | Dec. 18
“It was in January 1961 that the USA first broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Wayne Smith was one of the last diplomats to leave the US embassy in Havana.”

11. Cuba: A Reading List
By John Williams | ArtsBeat :: The New York Times | Dec. 18
“[W]e asked editors at The Times to suggest books that offer the best looks at Cuba’s history and its relationship to the United States. Here are a few of their recommendations:”

12. Americans, here’s what you’ve been missing in Cuba all this time
GlobalPost | Dec. 19
“A new era in US-Cuba relations could see a travel ban lifted. Here are some of the sights US citizens could be visiting soon.”

13. U.S.–Cuba Agreement: Diplomacy At Its Best
By. John Parisella | Americas Quarterly | Dec. 18
“Just as Nixon went to China and Truman set up the Marshall Plan for Europe in the post-World War II era, Obama knew that he had to do something different with a nation just 90 miles off the U.S. shore.”

14. Pope Francis bridged gap between U.S. and Cuba during secret talks
By Paul Richter and Tom Kington | The Los Angeles Times | Dec. 18
“The pope’s secret role in the back-channel talks was crucial because, as a religious leader with the confidence of both sides, he was able to convince the Obama and Castro administrations that the other side would live up to the deal. …”

15. Topic: Cuba
By Ted Piccone and Richard Feinberg | The Brookings Institution | Dec. 2014
“See what they and other Brookings experts have to say about the measures and their impact on the two countries moving forward.”

16. Baseball in Cuba: A looming brain drain
By D.R. | The Economist | Dec. 18
“Cuban veterans represent the last remaining loophole in MLB’s regulation of players’ entry to the league, which helps to maintain competitive balance between rich and poor clubs.”

17. Opening Cuba and Closing Gitmo?
By James Stavridis | Foreign Policy | Dec. 19
“Havana will be pushing hard to shut the naval station at Guantanamo Bay — but Washington shouldn’t give in.”

18. Cuba’s Christmas Surprise for Caracas
By Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez | Foreign Policy | Dec. 18
“Despite Maduro’s self-serving rhetoric, future U.S. tourism dollars, increased remittances, and access to foreign markets could easily replace the resale value of Venezuelan oil. Cuba’s wily leaders have made it clear that they’re more willing to offend Maduro than to risk being left standing when the salsa stops.”

19. The Democrats’ risky Cuba bet
By James Hohmann and Kyle Cheney | Politico | Dec. 17
“Will Florida’s changing demographics offset a backlash among older Cuban-Americans?”

20. As Obama opens to Cuba, China experts remember benefits from U.S. engagement
By Simon Denyer | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“China has become a partner with the United States in some ways but also a powerful rival, geo-strategically and economically. Its leadership remains deeply suspicious of Western values, even as it pursues a deeper relationship with the United States.”

Free Love Freefall

The revolutionaries were determined to make lasting changes to the various forms of sexual oppression they perceived. It remains to the current generation to ensure their still-blossoming accomplishments do not wither under cold conservative shadows.

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Allyn’s revolutionaries were determined to make lasting changes to the various forms of sexual oppression they perceived. It remains to the current generation to ensure their still-blossoming accomplishments do not wither under cold conservative shadows.
A review by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

*****

Discussed in the essay:

Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History. By David Allyn. New York: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 381. $30.95

David Allyn’s Make Love, Not War intelligently and creatively tours a sexual renaissance that ebbed and flowed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, sparking changes of varying longevity throughout society. Latino and black Americans fought throughout this era for equal rights as citizens and for the freedom to pursue and fully embrace the American Dream. The general public’s gradual tolerance of public gay culture, the rise of swingers movements, the gaveling of obscenity trials, the publication of sex studies, and the embrace of the birth control pill all comprise for Allyn a sexual rights movement, a “revolution” that silenced some prudes, raised legal eyebrows, and brought America a few sultry steps closer to the fulfillment of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”1

Allyn designates the early sixties to the late seventies as the era of the sexual revolution, and he links its progression to general economic health in the United States. They rise and fall together. He utilizes dozens of interviews with men and women — some identified and some under pseudonyms — thirty years after their revolution takes place. Sexual histories, sociological studies, essays, novels, and academic reports supplement his study of the birth control pill, lesbian empowerment, gay rights, fights over literary censorship, public excitement over sexually-charged theater and film works, nudist colonies, swinger parties, and the general struggle to strip shame away from anyone’s sexual life.

The revolution was a multi-pronged and disjointed effort that lurched toward sometimes unclear objectives. Critics may condemn Allyn’s book for its seemingly disorganized structure, but it actually properly reflects the messiness of a series of efforts to change social mores and personal prejudices. Allyn’s great strength as a writer is his ability to gracefully transition from one theme of the era to another.

If anyone wanted to read a new sex manual to improve their sex life, Allyn argues that the sexual revolution made that possible. If a gay man or woman wanted to add legal sexual escapades at a sex party into their urban lifestyle, the sexual revolution made that available. If upper and middle-class women wanted to control their fertility, swap their spouses with other couples, or find and buy a book filled with sexual imagery, the sexual revolution eased strictures, opened doors, and soothed public outrage. Americans could fully and freely explore their identities, fulfill their aspirations, find their limits, and live their lives. For almost everyone, Allyn explores, the sexual revolution provided the freedom from fear.2

Allyn is enamored with the term “revolution,” which is his theme as his historical tour widens its scope over American society. From the very beginning, Allyn credibly admits the duality of his terrain, of which some aspects “were not revolutionary at all but evolutionary.” The era’s development of the pill, the rise of the sexual book publishing industry, the debates over obscene literature, the stronger roles women secured for themselves in American society — all were inherited from earlier eras in American history, all far from original movements. He admits this duality and does nothing to compensate for its contradictory influence on his narrative structure except pair stories of triumph with stories of eventual defeat or threat.

The era’s legacy is a mixed success of progression and regression, like all revolutions in American history. American society generally accepts the use of birth control and the popularity of premarital sex, though religious leaders and worried parents still frown on the still-expensive pill. Uncensored pornography — from hard-core videos to the soft sensuality of Anais Nin — is ubiquitous in the online world and easily found in the most popular bookstores, though erotica still faces many “family-oriented” enemies. Celebrities, news organizations, the military, scientific organizations, national leaders, and students across the United States embrace homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation, gay rights for citizens and servicemen, gay adoptions, and gay unions. But legal recognition of gay marriages retains its legal and political polarizing effect.3

Not everything can change all at once. Not everyone is won over when new ideas, new bathing suits, new aspirations, and new freedoms dawn over the raucous American society. When it comes to sex, each citizen had to make his or her own personal journey. People change as they grow older. Love and desire bring their own contradictory and revolutionary effects on one’s understanding and acceptance of the world around them. Jealousy, lust, insecurity, and fear can easily disrupt carefully constructed arrangements among sexual partners.

His interviews with the revolution’s participants best capture these intimate journeys. However biased or self-conscious they may be three decades later, Allyn’s interviewees echo the bittersweet afterglow the revolution’s sunset left in their lives. One father remembered his son loudly declaring in an airport terminal that his mother took a shower with a male sexual friend. One humiliated teenager remembers when her sexually supportive father left condoms on every bed in case she wanted to have sex with her male guest. Allyn deserves credit for including the long, dark slopes of the era’s gleaming aspirations for sexual liberation. He mostly maintained his balance between giddy celebration of short-term sexual bliss and grim acknowledgement of the long-term emotional consequences.4

His book’s duality also demands answers to eternal historical questions: Do changes deserve to be considered revolutionary if they are not all long-lasting? Was the sexual blossoming in the sixties an aberration in social values, enough to be considered revolutionary, or was the real revolution comprised of religious attitudes and social frigidity that put in place decency laws, targeted erotic literature, oppressed gay communities, marginalized women, and put shame into the hearts and minds of millions of sexual beings? Perhaps Allyn’s era was simply a counter-revolution, an attempt to take further the romantic aspirations of early twentieth century struggles for gender equality, sexual freedom, a more-just democracy, and fulfilled personal desires. Perhaps Allyn’s era consisted of a series of moments when Americans again grappled with and consummated fundamental American ideals that the original revolutionary generation left their descendants in a different and better America to achieve.

The book’s focus is mostly on urban upper and middle-class Anglo citizens. Blacks, Latinos, and lower-class citizens are not part of this study, which leaves readers hungering for a greater variety of voices and experiences. However, his study is linked to the economic health of the U.S. When the economy worsened in the seventies, the sexual revolution sputtered, which suggests the sexual revolution belonged only to those who could afford its luxurious promise. Impoverished minorities had larger and more immediate problems to worry about — how to feed their children and themselves, where to find work, how to avoid or at least endure an oppressive and heartless society — that they could not be concerned about swinger parties, literary censorship, or lesbian rights.

Overall, Allyn’s conflicted book is a valuable contribution to the study of postwar America. He brings together a detailed examination of various aspects of a sexual renaissance that benefited and benefited from other struggles for other freedoms. The arguments from this era came down — and still do — to eternal American issues: How much equality is necessary to fulfill our founding principles? How much are Americans entitled to? Where does private control — over our bodies, our gender, our children’s education, our moral principles — end and a democratic society’s standards begin? Allyn’s revolutionaries were determined to make lasting changes to the various forms of sexual oppression they perceived. It remains to the current generation to ensure their still-blossoming accomplishments do not wither under cold conservative shadows.


1. David Allyn, Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History (New York: Routledge, 2001), 3-4. Allyn asserts that the every aspect of the sexual revolution “had an impact on how we as a nation have come to think of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
2. Allyn, 4-5.
3. Allyn, 8, 295-296.
4. Allyn, 217, 297-299.

From a flame into a firestorm

Why the French Revolution devoured its own people.

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Why the French Revolution devoured its own people
An essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Hope inspires nations to improve their societies, challenge their citizens’ capabilities, and face down seemingly invincible enemies. In revolutionary France, citizens and their leaders tasted the sweet fresh air of liberty, equality, and nationalist unity. They sensed their hopes for a brighter national and social future might be realized, and they determined that nothing would interfere with that grand realization. But how did those hopes lead France into the horrific era of the Terror? The tragic evolution from revolution to republic to Terror was not a linear nor an inevitable process. Challenges to the Revolution mounted, as did the Revolution’s responses to them. The key elements of the Revolution – the people who embraced that revolution, their political leadership, and the counterrevolutionary threats that haunted all of them – ground against each other, setting off sparks that ignited the rise of a new form of government and an era of bloodshed that still stains the shadowed passages of tormented human memory.

The French Revolution reordered the political mindsets of many eighteenth-century French people. The preceding era of the Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters nurtured not only an intellectual renaissance but also demanded and inspired challenges to the way the French regarded the Catholic Church, their places in a monarchy, and their social, economic, and creative potential as liberated people.1 That intimate revolution in self-image was furthered in 1763 and 1764 when the Parlement of Paris argued that “the king held his throne and legitimacy” from “fundamental” French laws, deflating the inherently supreme majesty of monarchy and subordinating it to the French polity’s larger legal authority.2

As economic crisis paralyzed France, the Old Regime’s political leadership failed to live up to the people’s “almost-millenarian hope” that those leaders could improve commoners’ impoverished lives, convincing many of those commoners that they had to take control of their own existence.3 The privileges the upper classes enjoyed angered the middle classes, already irritated with “paternalism of government” and dismissive of the Church as a “corporation which had ceased to perform its functions efficiently.”4 A new era was about to dawn over France.

The Revolution retained the king but stripped privileges from the Church and demanded from the clergy oaths of loyalty to the new Civil Constitution. The new national representatives asked the people to share their concerns and ideas. It was intimately revolutionary. The people were asked to review their lives and look at elements of their government and society that they themselves deemed could “be changed or improved or abolished.”5 The new Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens promised a better future for an “imagined community” of equal citizens. The new October constitution formalized ideals of liberty and equality under a representative government, spiritually freed from Catholic doctrine, and under the paternalistic gaze of a weak and devoted monarch. While the reforms seemed to favor oppressed and voiceless lower classes, the Revolution did not have “a natural constituency.”6 Each citizen had their own self-interested reason for support or opposing the new era of liberty and equality.

By the early 1790s, the empowered and self-confident French people, no longer “docile followers” of the Old Regime’s well-trod paths through life, stood on the threshold of an undiscovered country, determined to face down the empires and kingdoms that besieged them, the political and economic differences that divided them, and, most importantly, the internal forces that conspired to undermine their Revolution’s promise of a new and better world.7

Revolutionary changes did not unfold without resistance, particularly from French sectors directly diminished by progressive policies, and the manner with which some changes were enacted inspired counterrevolutionary sentiments, conspiracies, and actions. Other counterrevolutionary actors feared further social disorder, insolvency, and unemployment, disagreed over food distribution policies, or simply suffered from bruised egos.8 Economic equality for the lower classes meant nothing if standards of living steadily fell.9

The nobles saw their privileges, including light tax burdens or exemptions from an incomprehensible financial system, stripped away “by violence and chicanery,” inspiring even elites who disliked each other to temporarily unite, thereby “creating one of the strands of the counterrevolution.”10 Some elites found a promising alliance with the other major French sector the Revolution diminished: the Catholic Church. Revolution policies expropriated church property, determined that embrace of a “Supreme Being” instead of God “eliminated the Church’s monopoly of public worship as well as its claim to special status,” issued a Civil Constitution of the Clergy in July 1790, and required the clergy to swear their allegiance to that constitution or resign their posts.11 The oath was meant to assert the people’s sovereignty over the church just as the Revolution asserted popular sovereignty over the government, class hierarchies, and the monarchy. The revolutionary government expected the Church to “proselytize for it and to keep order for it” among the masses.12

But that oath also became a rallying point for the Revolution’s leading enemies, who used it to break off sections of popular sentiment bristling over the Revolution’s treatment of their sacred religious institutions or feeling discontent over a multitude of other consequences of revolutionary policies. Counterrevolutionary elites focused disruptive energies on Catholic-rich regions of France and manipulated Catholic-Protestant divisions. The oath provided the counterrevolution a group from which to draw support that might have otherwise embraced the new era. Resistance to the Civil Constitution “took on the characteristics of a mass movement.”13

The oath also stressed the fragile loyalties of clerical deputies participating in revolutionary government. The faith they shared with most other deputies in the unifying symbol of the King Louis XVI bolstered the Revolution’s fragile coalition. His attempt to escape the Revolution sent devastating shockwaves through the delicate political networks and contributed to the people’s eventual capacity to wage the Terror against the threats he represented.14

The king publicly swore loyalty and support for the new constitution. But he secretly despised everything it represented. The Civil Constitution of Clergy disgusted him. In letters he raged against his loss of traditional monarchical authority.15 His escape in June 1791, his capture, and his discovered letters – including one he left behind explaining his reasons for his flight — exposed to his subjects what he truly felt about their aspirations and ambitions.

Louis warped the monarchy’s moral authority and stained any politician subsequently willing to deal with it or defend it. Opinion and justification over his actions split the political accord in the Assembly.16 The flight shattered for provincial citizens and officials any belief in the revolutionary government’s credibility, effectiveness, and stability. Who would help them? A government that accomplished nothing? A divided church only half-heartedly embracing a new era of social justice? A king that lied to their faces? The king’s flight and his sentiments convinced “the urban masses and the national guards” that they had to deal with incidents of counterrevolutionary unrest with degrees of force that they themselves deemed appropriate — with “their own solutions” — and Paris could do little to stop them.17 Perhaps, a few thought, France did not need a king. It was a key moment “in the emergence of French nationalism.” Some letter-writers even referred to the deputies as the new fathers of a new country.18

The king’s actions sharpened in the politicians and citizens’ minds their suspicions and fears of looming counterrevolutionary forces conspiring to destroy the Revolution. Priests refused to take their oaths of loyalty. Provincials fought amongst themselves. Émigré armies massed in the borderlands. And the king confessed his disgust for his own subjects’ hopes and attempted to leave them to the mercy of what might have been a foreign invasion — that might still take place.19 Even the most paranoid revolutionaries eventually appeared prescient to commoners who had no idea what the next day might bring. That fear justified the new forms of justice, suspension of personal liberties, lethal brutality, and outright murder throughout France.

To deal with perceived threats, in August 1792, the Paris government authorized the disarming of any suspected counterrevolutionaries and searches of any suspected counterrevolutionary homes. Betraying the Revolution was something bad but taking oppositional action against it was even worse. Arresting people for throwing stones or shouting at guards, shutting down political clubs and newspapers, listening to private conversations, or simply looking for anything or anyone that seemed suspicious – these were the actions of a terrified government willing to fight imagined terrorism with repression of almost any degree.20 In September, rumors of prisoners planning to revolt when foreign armies invaded France inspired revolutionaries to massacre them, leaving up to 1,400 dead. On Sept. 21 “the [national] Convention abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Republic.”21

Recent battlefield victories against foreign counterrevolutionary forces and the war’s expanded scope inspired the republic to call up 300,000 men, which sparked “an unprecedented wave of riots.” More importantly, the riots – and fresh battlefield defeats — sparked an official response: the centralization of national authority, new judicial tribunals to persecute suspected treason, and state-directed repression of domestic unrest and disloyalty with a “supreme police”22 The Revolution was threatened, and the government took the repressive torches from the people and transformed them into fireballs with which to incinerate the elites, the price-gougers, and traitors of any section of the endangered French Republic. Terror was not a new horror — what was new was that the Terror was systemic, “a deliberate policy of government,” so it was wide-reaching, simultaneous, and steady in its murderous hunger for victims.23

The war machine was a ravenous hurricane at the Terror’s core, hungry for materiel from churches, loyalty from the populace, and legions of soldiers to be thrown against foreign armies. Churches became “barracks, arsenals, or stables,” and anything of value was put to military use. But the mobilization campaign quickly became a dechristianization campaign, in which signs of any kind containing Christian references were torn down. The new man of the Republic would be spared the old superstitions of the failed Church. Church defenders were killed. Nothing better symbolized the Terror for many citizens than the dechristianization efforts.24

The campaign drew deep divisions between commoners who believed they commanded the government and the political leadership, some in power without popular mandates, which was prepared to brutally suppress any resistance or wavering acquiescence to their absolute wartime authority. These two elements, increasingly at odds with each other, intensified the Terror’s murderous chaos.25 Real and imagined fears inspired both the French people and their provisional government — particularly members of the Committee of Public Safety like Robespierre — to use fear to repress it. Fighting fire with fire simply intensified the fire.26

Robespierre’s campaign to purify the Revolution, first by invalidating any sense of guilt or culpability for the atrocities he felt were necessary, was aimed at the building the new society the Revolution’s earliest aspirations aspired to achieve. The Terror’s own monstrous judicial liberties were realized on local levels as committees expressed the persecutorial zealotry required to achieve the sanctioned purifications.27 The Terror was sustained by “a strange compound of reason, desperation, and fear,” and it redefined what was revolutionary – not ideology, not a new vision, not a new government. The Terror’s revolution was one of efficient execution of “effective measures” — slicing through opposition and bringing centralized order to counterrevolutionary chaos in order to ensure the Revolution’s permanence.28

The Revolution’s supporters at first marched proudly into a new era, their self-image evolving from royal subjects to free citizens and optimistic that they would find a balance between better lives and the embrace of a king’s paternalistic gaze. But the Revolution’s real and imagined enemies inspired powerful figures who cared less about revolutionary aspirations than the measures necessary to defeat those enemies. French leaders became the bloodstained dictatorial oppressors from which they desperately fought to save their countrymen. Step by step, revolutionaries and their leaders became the firestorm they tried to extinguish.


1. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994); D.M.G. Sutherland, France 1789-1815: Revolution and Counterrevolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 37.
2. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 22.
3. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 59.
4. R.R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), 18-19.
5. Timothy Tackett, When the King Took Flight (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 10.
6. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 80, 114.
7. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 49; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 87.
8. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 112.
9. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 159-160.
10. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 19-22.
11. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 21, 80-81, 95, 97.
12. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 99.
13. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 97, 116; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 13.
14. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 122; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 184.
15. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 183, 189.
16. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124.
17. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124-125; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 168.
18. Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 157-158, 189-190.
19. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 127; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 166, 167.
20. Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 203.
21. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 154-155.
22. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 167, 170.
23. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 56.
24. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 208-210, 212, 217.
25. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 192, 202, 208.
26. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 39. 74-77.
27. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 224, 226, 228.
28. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 28, 39. 58.


BOOKS CONSULTED FOR THIS ESSAY

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Palmer, R.R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789-1815: Revolution and Counterrevolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Tackett, Timothy. When the King Took Flight. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.