Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226184388 Published October 2009
Paper $29.00 ISBN: 9780226184395 Published November 2010
E-book $7.00 to $29.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226184401 Published October 2009

The Terror of Natural Right

Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution

Dan Edelstein

Dan Edelstein

350 pages | 6 halftones, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2009
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226184388 Published October 2009
Paper $29.00 ISBN: 9780226184395 Published November 2010
E-book $7.00 to $29.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226184401 Published October 2009

Natural right—the idea that there is a collection of laws and rights based not on custom or belief but that are “natural” in origin—is typically associated with liberal politics and freedom. In The Terror of Natural Right, Dan Edelstein argues that the revolutionaries used the natural right concept of the “enemy of the human race”—an individual who has transgressed the laws of nature and must be executed without judicial formalities—to authorize three-quarters of the deaths during the Terror. Edelstein further contends that the Jacobins shared a political philosophy that he calls “natural republicanism,” which assumed that the natural state of society was a republic and that natural right provided its only acceptable laws. Ultimately, he proves that what we call the Terror was in fact only one facet of the republican theory that prevailed from Louis’s trial until the fall of Robespierre.

A highly original work of historical analysis, political theory, literary criticism, and intellectual history, The Terror of Natural Right challenges prevailing assumptions of the Terror to offer a new perspective on the Revolutionary period.

Samuel Moyn | Nation

“One of the most memorable and absorbing books on the era I have ever read. . . . Against interpretations that simply blame circumstances, Edelstein too insists that ideas mattered. But the most provocative argument in his book is that the ideas that made the revolution spiral out of control were the cult of nature and the belief in natural rights.”

Elena Russo, Johns Hopkins University

“Edelstein has given us a highly innovative and revealing discussion of the legal foundations of the Terror, tracing back the Revolution’s radical reform of justice to idiosyncratic interpretations of myths about the political state of nature and the golden age, as they appear in Enlightenment literature and in Jacobinian natural republicanism.”

Colin Jones, Queen Mary University of London

“This important, provocative, and strikingly-written book—equally versed in the history of law, politics, and political thought—provides a major rethinking of French Revolutionary Terror. Its clear-eyed gaze on politics and violence will also ensure it a wider audience in an age that is itself struggling to come to terms with the ‘war on terror.’”

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction TO LIVE AND DIE BY NATURE’S LAWS

Natural Right and Republicanism in France

Natural Republicanism and the Golden Age

Enemies of the Human Race”: Transgressing the Laws of Nature

Natural Right and Terror Laws in the French Revolution

Restoring the Republic of Nature: The Jacobin Project

 

Prologue HOSTIS HUMANI GENERIS

Natural Man and Natural Right: New World Controversies

The “True Ancient Enemy of the Human Race”: Theology and the Devil

Killing No Murder: Tyranny and Natural Right

Pirates and the Law of the Land

The Law of Nations and the Law of Nature

Conclusion: Enlightenment and Hostility

 

PART I A SECRET HISTORY OF NATURAL REPUBLICANISM IN FRANCE (1699–1791)

Chapter 1 IMAGINARY REPUBLICS

The State of Nature and the Golden Age: From Montaigne to Fénelon

Troglodytes and Romans: Montesquieu’s Two Republicanisms

Classical Republicanism and Natural Right: Mably and Rousseau

 

Chapter 2 FINDING NATURE

Republican Orientalism (Voltaire)

Ethnography of the Golden Age: Diderot and Tahiti

Physiocracy: Conceiving the Natural Republic

The Politics of Sensibilité: Sylvain Maréchal, Natural Republican

The Coming of the French Republic

 

PART II THE REPUBLIC OF NATURE (1792–94)

Chapter 3 OFF WITH THEIR HEADS: DEATH AND THE TERROR

Power to the People? Popular Violence and State Manipulation

Terror by Committee: The Practice of Violence

The Revolutionary Dialectic: The Counterrevolution and Cycles of Violence

To Kill a King: Judging by Nature

Outlawing the Nation: Natural Right and Terror Laws

Only “Natural”: Becoming a Terrorist

 

Chapter 4 THE CASE OF THE MISSING CONSTITUTION: OF POWER AND POLICY

Chronicle of a Death Foretold: A Jacobin “Conspiracy

The “Festival of Nature”: Performing Natural Authority

Conventions, Constitutions, and the Declaration of Rights

Republican by Nature: Saint-Just versus the Girondins

What’s Left of the General Will?

 

Chapter 5 THE DESPOTISM OF NATURE: JUSTICE AND THE REPUBLIC-TO-COME

Waiting for the Republic: The Revolutionary Government

“Let Justice Be the Order of the Day”: Ending “the Terror”

One Republic under the Supreme Being: The Metaphysical Panopticon

And Justice for All: The Law of 22 Prairial

“System of Terror” or Natural Republic?

 

Conclusion LEGACIES OF THE TERROR

From a Natural Republic to a World Revolution

Terror and Totalitarianism

Two Concepts of Exceptionality

 

Bibliography

Index
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