Chapter

Creating a French Nation

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

in The Abbe Gregoire and the French Revolution

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780520241800
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520931091 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520241800.003.0005
Creating a French Nation

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The choice of the Declaration's universalistic language was one of these practical solutions. Though it might seem that the deputies were consciously thinking of issues like the unequal status of the Jews, they used this language, as Marcel Gauchet and other scholars have argued, for reasons both more pragmatic and more circumscribed. First, the deputies were aiming to destroy the system of privilege that had given the Third Estate far fewer privileges than aristocratic and clerical elites. The revolutionaries thus faced an unexpected challenge: how to apply the universalism of their Declaration to the realities of society in France. How could they create a unified nation out of a country seemingly bursting with diversity—in religion, language, wealth, gender, geography, and race? These questions coincided with anxieties over the French nation; as David A. Bell has pointed out, at the very moment when it needed to emerge, people worried that it did not really exist.

Keywords: Declaration; Jews; language; Marcel Gauchet; Third Estate; universalism; society; France

Chapter.  7919 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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