Marx called France the political nation par excellence, as contrasted to economic
England and philosophical Germany. But Marx arrived at his
mature theory only after a stern critique of a “merely political” view of revolution.
And some of his most important insights are developed in analyses of
the failures of revolution in France. While Marx’s observation is insightful, the
theoretical conclusions he drew from it are problematic. The monarchy in
France was not absolute because it was all-powerful or arbitrary; its power
came from the means by which it dominated all spheres of life, transforming
an administrative and territorial entity into a political nation. In the wake of
the Revolution, the republican tradition became equally absolute; it came to
define what the French mean by the political (a concept whose use differs
from what “Anglo-Saxons” define as politics).