Chapter

Introduction to Live and Die by Nature's Laws

in The Terror of Natural Right

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226184388
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226184401 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226184401.003.0001
Introduction to Live and Die by Nature's Laws

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Upon learning that the French National Constituent Assembly had finally drafted the Constitution that it had solemnly sworn to produce two years earlier, the journalist, poet, and radical philosophe Sylvain Maréchal reproached the constituents and made strangely anti-constitutional, yet republican declarations. From Livy to Niccolò Machiavelli and from John Milton to James Madison, republicanism was always centered around a constitution. The idea that unwritten, natural laws alone might provide the basis for a viable republic was inconceivable. Natural right might constitute a foundation for civil laws, but it was never seen as sufficient. This book argues not only that Jacobin political leaders of France championed an unusual variant of republican thought, but that they also drew on natural right to authorize and draft the laws underpinning the Terror during the French Revolution. It also examines how natural right underpinned the Jacobin theory of republicanism, as well as the legal infrastructure of the Terror, both of which took shape, it argues, during the trial of King Louis XVI.

Keywords: Sylvain Maréchal; republicanism; natural laws; natural right; France; Terror; Louis XVI; Constitution; Jacobin theory; French Revolution

Chapter.  11975 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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