A wild & dangerous effervescence | The New Criterion

debate.

In grappling with the Revolution’s central paradox, how hundreds of thousands of French citizens were slaughtered in the name of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” Jeremy D. Popkin’s A New World Begins takes a warts-and-all approach, if only to emerge, marginally, on the side of the omelet.1 He describes France’s appalling difficulties prior to the Revolution before moving to the idealistic, often chaotic but increasingly repressive, efforts of a series of legislative bodies that led eventually to the Convention, Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety, and its lethal agent, the Revolutionary Tribunal. Although Popkin understates matters by describing atrocities like the September Massacres, the Nantes mass drownings (“vertical deportations” to use its repulsive euphemism), the Lyon cannonades, and mob killings as merely “troubling,” his account of the Terror and the rise of Napoleon is compelling reading.
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