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UCI EUROST 10 - The French Revolution

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Professor Smith European Studies Department Europe Studies 10 European History Course Code: 24000 ● The French Revolution ○ Why? ○ Background ○ The Third Estate ○ Abolition of Feudalism ○ Rights of Man and Citizen ● Some important ideas ○ A complex view of secularization ○ The simple view: religion increasingly irrelevant in public life, indeed in modern societies in general ■ “God is dead” (Nietzsche) or “The Churches are empty” ● A process started perhaps in 1648 ○ That may be “true” but does that mean that religious structures, institutions, rituals, and symbols don’t play another role? ○ Examples? ○ So in the more complex view of secularization, religious rituals, institutions, ideas, symbols, “wander” into other non-religious (secular) spheres ■ We might not recognize them as religious, but they occupy important places in our society ○ The example of Max Weber ○ Who among us knows much about Luther’s (or Calvin’s) theology? And yet, it’s core ideas get transformed into a “work ethic” that comes to be the “spirit of capitalism” ○ Are religious symbols and institutions necessary to create a deep sense of bonding in an otherwise alienated society? ■ Is that what the “brotherhood” of “priests” (and/as freemasonry) shows in the opera? ○ Even the enlightenment, with its focus on reason and science, needs some kind of “symbolic glue” to bring people together ○ Egyptian symbolism? ● “Dialectic of Enlightenment” ○ General move of a “dialectic” ■ In holding on to one exclusive position in opposition to another, our position can flip into its opposite (or/because it is thereby dependent on its opposite) ○ Karl Marx argued that precisely the success of capitalism would produce an ever larger (and poorer) working class that would lead a revolution against capitalism○ A contemporary example: A (white) police force that defines the “black criminal element” as totally “other” can in fact itself become criminal by shooting innocent black men… ○ Or defending… “western values” from “others” who are absolutely demonized and lead to an undermining of western values… ○ In the “dialectic of enlightenment” (based on the book by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, written during WW 2), the Western notion of reason limits itself by becoming instrumental, “rationalized” (based on efficiency) ■ It opposes non-productive aspects (nature, feeling, myth) ● But in doing so, it becomes irrational ○ And is helpless against the “return” of mythic, irrational forces (national socialism) ● Mozart and the dialectic of Enlightenment ○ Mozart gives us numerous examples of how the enlightenment is constructed around various opposites ○ light/dark, reason/emotion, white/black, male/female, good (controlled) desire/bad lust, etc… ○ In showing these opposites and the way the one side actually excludes the other, he could be showing the limits of enlightenment ■ In fact, this oppositional logic can undermine enlightenment ● For example, Sarastro’s aria ○ Does mozart hint at an alternative? ● A “higher” enlightenment ○ Harmonic music relies on opposition (dissonance) in order to incorporate it into a higher notion of harmony ■ His music, the form of the opera, goes beyond the limits of the content of the opera (e.g. Papageno and Pamina singing together, or the juxtaposition of the Queen’s and Sarastro’s arias) ○ This is why it’s not enough just to read the libretto ■ Opera is a bizarre art form, but its unity of words and music and performance can convey a unique message ● To be clear… ○ I am looking critically at the enlightenment, but not offering a rejection of it ■ Its project of reason, autonomy, and public debate is extremely powerful (and still needs to be protected and universalized) ○ However, where there are limitations and exclusions, they need to be addressed ■ In the name of enlightenment ● Otherwise, it becomes its opposite… ○ And a “higher” enlightenment needs to be found that can think with and through oppositions ○ To keep in mind when discussing the French Revolution ■ The critique of religion ■ Transformation of religion ■ The celebration of the enlightenment ■ The “dialectic” of the enlightenment■ Oppositional thinking that can become dangerous… ● Why the French Revolution? ○ “Foundations of the Modern World” ○ Formation of the modern nation state system ○ Reformation -> wars of religion -> secularization (complex) ○ Development of capitalism (the netherlands as an example) and formation of bourgeoisie (middle class) ○ Increasing focus on reason, rationality, science ○ Centrality of individual autonomy and freedom ○ Politics as an art of wielding power in changing circumstances ○ All these developments that made up the “Early Modern Period” reach their fruition with the enlightenment and the unfolding events of the French Revolution ○ “Modern”, we saw at the beginning of the quarter, defined the “now” in opposition to the past ○ The French Revolution attempted a complete revisioning of fundamental principles and structures of society ○ Hence, more radical than Machiavelli, Luther, Galileo, Descartes, all of whom profoundly altered one sphere of thought or society ○ Early on the French Revolution was considered a “new era of liberty” (beginning 14 July 1789) ○ When the republics was instituted in 1792, the decision was to make 2 January 1792 the beginning of “Year 1” of the new era ■ That’s “modern” ○ The revolutionary system was designed in part to remove all religious and royalist influences from the calendar, and was part of a larger attempt at decimalisation in France ● Image of the Republican Calendar of 1794 by Philibert-Louis Debucourt ○ Calendar in place for some 12 years, from late 1793 to 1805 (when napoleon bonaparte was crowned Emperor, ending the Republic) ○ There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called decade ■ The tenth day, decadi, replaced Sunday as the day of rest and festivity ○ Each day in the Republic Calendar was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 seconds ○ The Republican calendar year began the day the autumnal equinox occured in Paris, and had twelve months of 30 days


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