How can Francois Furet be analyzed through the historiography of the French Revolution? I am...


How can Francois Furet be analyzed through the historiography of the French Revolution? I am struggling to pin point him to a certain distinction of historiography because it seems like he combines approaches from differing meta-narratives. Is he more of a Marxist or a Social historian?

Historiography and You

History may be the study of the past, but historiography is the study of how we tell our own stories. To see the difference: ask the question 'what was time based upon before the life of Jesus Christ?' The answer might be the rise of the Greek Empire, if one is European. It might be based on the Indus Valley Civilization, if one is Indian. History would be viewed differently to an Roman under the reign of Julius Caesar as compared to one under the rule of Constantine. The way that history is taught ends up having an impact on what people make of the future.

Answer and Explanation:

Francois Furet, initially a Marxist, changed the way that the French Revolution was taught in an attempt to show the pitfalls of a Marxist view of history. His inspiration for this came to him when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. He saw in that 1956 invasion the same practices used by imperial capitalist powers. He asked himself: 'If both sides are doing the same things, then how could the world ever be made into a better place?'

The way that the French Revolution had been taught in France highlighted a Marxist view of history. This worked since the revolution acted as the story of how the French Third Estate pushed for their rights, directly putting pressure on their absolute monarch to do so. This rendition of the story supported the Marxist view as his theory of communism proclaimed the idea that the working class will be pushed to revolt against those 'absolute rulers' of industry, the bourgeoisie.

The Marxist view neglected two democratic practices: the possibility of co-operation and the capability of debate. This, rather than centralizing power in one political party, could help bridge the gap between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Furet feared that this led to totalitarianism, which in the end wasn't that far away from the absolute power Louis XVI wielded in 1789. The meta-narrative of Marxism highlighted class struggle, was a mistake in Furet's point of view. Furet believed that the populist uprising misused the intellectual ideas of liberty, brotherhood, and equality (a similar misuse occurred in the US Constitution; all men were created equal, under God, except for slaves). Using this line of thinking, it can be seen how the intellectual work of Tocqueville, Montesquieu, and Rousseau evaporated as the population of Paris ignited the radical stages of the revolution.

Furet believed that teaching the French Revolution with added emphasis on intellectual history and the pitfalls of party politics could help change the meta-narrative into something that would not support totalitarianism; rather, the meta-narrative would teach the dangers of centralizing power in one person or party. As he saw the Soviet Union began to decline, he began to question if they had learned from history or if they were just repeating it.

Learn more about this topic:

Trends in 20th Century Historiography
Trends in 20th Century Historiography

from History 301: Historiography & Historical Methods

Chapter 9 / Lesson 1

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