After 1789, counterrevolution emerged as revolution’s first counterconcept in
French political discourse. While scholars of the French Revolution commonly
associate counterrevolution with a backward-oriented political program,
often with the restoration of the ancien régime, this article challenges
such a retrograde understanding. Drawing on a broad corpus of sources, it
emphasizes the flexible and pluralistic meanings of counterrevolution during
the 1790s. Rather than designating a political objective, counterrevolution
first of all focused on the process of combating the revolution as such, which
allowed for different political strategies and aimed beyond a return to the
status quo ante. By discussing, next to the French case, examples from the
Haitian Revolution, Britain, Germany, and Switzerland, this article also highlights
the transnational dimension of the debate on counterrevolution. It concludes
with a plea for rethinking counterrevolution as revolution’s asymmetric
other in a more relational rather than dichotomous perspective.
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