The story of a poor man and radical activist who fought to revive the French Revolution, and whose failure heralded the republic’s defeat.
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“Very much a book for our times. Mason’s retelling of the trial of Gracchus Babeuf and the French Revolution shows how democracies end. Historians of revolutions and all those concerned with the arc of social justice movements have much to learn from this remarkable story.”—Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Pennsylvania
Laura Mason tells a new story about the French Revolution by exploring the trial of Gracchus Babeuf. Named by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as the “first modern communist,” Babeuf was a poor man, an autodidact, and an activist accused of conspiring to reignite the Revolution and renew political terror. In one of the lengthiest and most controversial trials of the revolutionary decade, Babeuf and his allies defended political liberty and social equality against a regime they accused of tyranny. Mason refracts national political life through Babeuf’s trial to reveal how this explosive event destabilized a fragile republic. Although the French Revolution is celebrated as a founding moment of modern representative government, this book reminds us that the experiment failed in just ten years. Mason explains how an elected government’s assault on popular democracy and social justice destroyed the republic, and why that matters now.
Laura Mason is a Teaching Professor of History & in Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins who lives in Baltimore. She has written extensively on the French Revolution, organized "Young French Cinema in Baltimore" programs for the Parkway Theater, and edits Imaginaries, a website devoted to reviewing fictions about the French-speaking world.
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