Palmer and Furet

A Reassessment of The Age of the Democratic Revolution

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Marvin R. Cox
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The article argues that Robert R. Palmer's venerable, neglected study of the Atlantic Democratic Revolution offers a means for transcending misconceptions in the now canonical writings of François Furet. First, Furet conceived of the French Revolution as a purely politico-cultural phenomenon. Palmer, by relying on Tocqueville and rejecting Marxist postulates, shows that it was a non-capitalist bourgeois revolution. A second, and more important, argument is that Palmer's case for the place of the French Revolution in the history of liberal democracy is stronger than Furet's. Furet maintains that in France a viable democratic regime became possible only when leaders of the Third Republic repudiated the Revolution and its legacy. Palmer demonstrates that the first French Republic set precedents for the Third, and for liberal democracy throughout Europe, by surviving for eight years against anti-democratic forces and by serving in its last years as a school of democratic politics.

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