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From Enlightenment to Revolution: Rethinking the Debate

11 mar 2016 09:00 - 18:00
Institut d'études avancées de Paris
Hôtel de Lauzun
17 quai d'Anjou
75004 Paris


The notion that the Enlightenment was at the origins of the French Revolution is as old as the French Revolution itself. Debate over the precise relationship between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution has always been contentious and often infused with political implications. Indeed, the debate is itself a testament to the politics of each age that has engaged in it. In the nineteenth century, conservative efforts to link the Enlightenment to the Revolution – to see Voltaire and d’Holbach as paving the way towards the guillotine – could be a means of discrediting modernity altogether. During the Cold War, as socialists and liberals fought to lay exclusive claim the soul of democracy, the Enlightenment was seen often seen as riven with ‘liberal’ and ‘collectivist’ elements, and it was common to try to link the Terror to particular strands of Enlightenment thought. By the 1990s, debate over the relationship between the Enlightenment and French Revolution attained a particularly high degree of sophistication. Three main lines of interpretation were advanced. The Enlightenment contained destabilizing discourses that, once activated in 1789, allowed politics to run amok; the Enlightenment gave rise to a lively, irreverent genre of print that desacralized Old Regime institutions, notably the monarchy and the Church; and finally, rising literacy rates and the explosion of print had the effect of making readers become skeptical about what they read and, by implication, of authority in general.

While these three lines of interpretations have spawned a generation of scholarship, historians have not, of late, reflected on the debate itself. We believe that it is timely to rethink the relationship between the Enlightenment and French Revolution in light of new research and new preoccupations. The recent turn to political economy among scholars (and rising interest in it among the public) and new conceptions about political violence (Carl Schmitt, research on emotions, cultural anthropological analyses of honor, gift-exchange and vengeance) offer the opportunity to rethink this relationship. The question of how the Enlightenment figured in the French Revolution is, of course, perennial. But how do the failed attempts to democratize many countries around the world since 1989 (particularly the Muslim world after 2001) and the near collapse of global financial capitalism in 2008 alter the way we understand the forces that can derail democracy? Does our story of the Enlightenment’s relationship to the Revolution need to take into account religion, emotions, economic interests and cultural dynamics involving honor and vengeance? If so, how did those factors figure within Enlightenment culture?


9h30 – 9h45
Opening Remarks, Keith Baker

9h50 – 10h30          
S’il arrive quelque heureuse révolution dans le monde… Lumières et Révolution en contexte global
Antoine Lilti (EHESS)

10h30 – 11h10        
From Tocqueville to Polanyi: Economic Liberalism and Revolutionary Crisis
Charles Walton (University of Warwick)

11h10 – 11h30        Break

11h30 – 12h10       
L'enjeu des émotions révolutionnaires, enjeu théorique ou enjeu thématique ?
Sophie Wahnich (CNRS)

12h10 – 12h50        
The Sciences and the French Revolution
Stéphane Van Damme (European University Institute)

13h – 14h                 Déjeuner

14h – 14h40           
Sociabilité et voyage entre Lumières et Révolution
Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire (Université de Nice)

14h40 – 15h20       
Bourgeoisie, capitalisme, Révolution : les mots et les choses
Philippe Minard (Université de Paris VIII)

15h20 – 15h40        Break

15h40 – 16h20       
Virtue and corruption: from strategic discourse to revolutionary ideology
Marisa Linton (Kingston University)

16h20 – 17h00       
Counterfactual: A Revolution without Enlightenment? The Case of Equality
Darrin McMahon (Dartmouth College)

17h – 17h30           
Table ronde

From Eden to Terror: Reciprocity, Redistribution and the French Revolution
01 October 2015 - 30 June 2016
30 June 2016
Jean Paul Marat: Prophet of Terror
01 October 2015 - 30 June 2016
30 June 2016
11 Mar 2016 18:00
Charles Walton,Keith Michael Baker
Conferences and workshops
Modern period (1492-1789)
Western Europe