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The Cult of the Revolutionary Tradition

Jolyon Howorth on a compelling study of a political movement in France in the latter 19th century.

Jolyon Howorth | Published in
  • The Cult Of The Revolutionary Tradition: The Blanquists in French Politics, 1864-1893
    by Patrick H. Hutton. xv + 218 pp. (University of California Press, 1981)
Patrick Hutton's book is a meticulously researched, lovingly constructed and thoughtfully written account of 'an archaic mentality which understood revolution as a resurrection of an unchanging primal state of mind'. It is by now a commonplace that Blanquism as a political movement proved to be more or less irrelevant after 1848. What is new in Hutton's work is his attempt to draw together the disparate elements of the Blanquist ideology in the second half of the century (radical atheism in the 1860s, communard nationalism in the 1870s, Boulangist populism in the 1880s and 'vitalist determinism' in the 1890s) and to explain them all in terms of their functional common denominator: a purist and, in effect, apolitical moral fervour which constantly sought a new ideological idiom in which to couch an increasingly moribund revolutionary myth. Hutton places his work under the guiding star of the Annales school and says he is interested in structures of thought rather than in specific ideologies.

Long familiarity with his dramatis personae has allowed Hutton to provide excellent intimate sketches of some of the larger and smaller fry of the Blanquist legend. He is also on solid ground in analysing the extent and significance of his subjects' immersion in atheism as well as their knee-jerk rejection of both capitalism and Marxism (although some of the latter course has already been charted by Zeev Sternhell in La Droite Revolutionnaire, Paris 1978). The best chapter in the book analyses the 'politics of anniversary remembrance' that necrophiliac approach to (in) activism which became the cardinal feature of Blanquism in the 1890s.

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