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Revolution: The View From Paris; The View From Leeds; Dons Flunk Enterprise Test Despite Late Run; Ecology in Nicaragua

NEWS
REVOLUTION THE VIEW FROM PARIS
To discover the temper of a modem culture, it often pays to
look at the advertising. Those guys spend an awful lot of
money trying to find out about it. So, my first story from
attending the World Congress on the French Revolution and
other celebrations of the Bicentenary in July in Paris is not
about the 400 historians squeezed into the Sorbonne, but
about a hoarding in the Metro. One of the most popular songs
of the Revolution was a dance number called ‘Ca ira’.

Roughly speaking, its theme is that the embattled Republic
will win out in the end – everything will turn out okay (‘~a
ira’). The advertisers ofVolkswagens are alert, and nothing if
not cheeky. Their poster exploited their cars’ reputation for
reliability while celebrating the Bicentenary with a reference
to the song. It just read: ‘Ca ira. Ca ira. Ca ira …. Ca ira’

(meaning ‘It will keep going’) from top to bottom. Bored or
cynical as many French professed to be with the Bicentenary,
they all know at least a few words of its language. In that
sense, whatever Fran~ois Furet may say, the Revolution is
very much alive.

Let me cite another case, closer to the serious intellectual
content of the celebrations. For years, a more or less acrimonious political debate had been going on about which version
of the Revolution ought to be evoked in 1989. In the end, the
dominant view, which was officially sanctioned, was that of
the Revolution as the forge of the now universal idea of
human rights. In a studiedly relaxed TV interview at lunchtime on Bastille day, President Mitterand used all his skill to
stay within that version. He was asked about the execution of
the king. It was, he said, a tragically symbolic act. ‘I feel, how
can I say, touched by the death of a man who was, it seems, a
good man .. .’ He was asked about Robespierre: ‘a great man
who still leaves a memory that frightens some and intimidates
others. I would not put him in the Pantheon because I am
concerned not to put there men associated with too bloody an
image. But I would not want to belong to a court that recommended his trial today.’ And it all mattered! The papers
the next morning took his words apart. To say one thing
would have made Mitterand too royalist; to say another would
have sounded totalitarian. Having skilfully weathered these
issues, Mitterand went on to propose a reform in the great
tradition of constitutional rights. This too was taken up by the
papers the next morning. Both the French state and the French
people still see themselves through their stereotypes of the
Revolution.

The Congress itself must have gathered about equal numbers of French and foreign historians and hangers-on. Thus,
its agenda naturally echoed the idea of the Revolution’s international heritage. A typical paper from outside France (in-

Radical Philosophy 54, Spring 1990

cluding my own, on John Stuart Mill) set out ‘What X intellectuallY political movement in my country during Z historical period thought of the French Revolution’. It would be
impossible to sum up the vast variety of influences that this
worthy theme brought out.

For someone from the outside – neither French nor a
professional historian – it was more interesting to watch for
the tender nerves that will from time to time jangle in French
discussions of the Revolution. There was, for example, a
moment at the Congress when someone suggested from the
floor that there were strengths in the Cobban thesis (that the
Revolution was a movement by office-holders for the benefit
of themselves and generations of future office-holders). There
was something more than the calm pursuit of inquiry in the
way speakers from all quarters pounced upon this echo of an
old (and foreign) heresy. And weeks after the event, members
of the Congress all received an angry note from another
member (Jacques Sole), smarting at ‘unfratemal” comments
made in a review of a book of his by the doyen of current
French, Marxist revolutionary historiography, Michel Vovelle. Far from a benign break with the past, the Revolution,
Sole argued (echoing both Cobban and the much-celebrated
book Citizens by the American historian, Simon Schama),
resulted in a continuation of political developments which the
populace at large sought to resist. We must have done with the
Marxist interpretation of Soboul, which Sole took Vovelle to
represent.

Sole is out of date, however. Since Soboul there has been
Furet, whose meaningful absence from the Congress was
publicly regretted. And now there is Vovelle himself, Professor of the History of the Revolution at the Sorbonne and
president of the Congress, who bumbled benignly about the
event, with an insouciant smile and a husky, unassuming way
of speaking. He, more than anyone, could be taken to represent another new Left consensus about the Revolution, which
the Congress greatly reinforced. He has, for example, been
the academic patron of the huge exploration of diverse cultural artefacts from the Revolutionary period. This trend was
hinted at in the title of the Congress itself: ‘The Image of the
French Revolution’. It was also very evident in the mass of
specialist papers tracing the iconography of prints, cartoons,
coins, clothes, revolutionary catechisms and so on.

Since Furet and Vovelle, one is better able to stand back
and consider how the Revolution is, in the words of Claude
Mazauric (another established figure amongst Marxist historians of the Revolution), a ‘polysemic object overlaid by the
contemporary history of France … a means of taking sides and
confronting adversaries, an almost inevitable operator in the

53

clarification of “principles”’.1 The material of a more or less
acknow ledged accommodation between Left and Liberal historians can be found in the attitudes of both schools towards
symbols and ideas. On the one side, there is the humane
tolerance in Vovelle ‘s Marxist history of the Revolution when
it deals with ideological currents and symbolism. On the
other, Furet (and his associates) have recently been exploring
19th-century ideas about the Revolution (e.g. in Marx and
Quinet). As a result, they have come to think of it as a rich
heritage of political ideas for Europe as a whole, rather than
merely a catastrophic event.

However, those on the Left who, in keeping with the
central tenets of the Marxist historiographical tradition, still
maintain an interest in economic realities, were well represented by, amongst others, Mazauric himself, Claude Gindin
and the great Anatole Ado. Mazauric pointed out the economic weakness of the current consensus. He emphasised the
surviving French sense of a national identity caught up in the
Revolution, and what Charles Tilly has called the continuing
‘contentiousness’ of French political culture. These factors,
he argued, are reasons to doubt that the pan-European liberal
consensus ala Furet will last. Gindin reported on the deliberations of a 1987 conference under the auspices of the Institut de
Recherches Marxistes in Paris. 2 The spirit of their work,
which has derived much from the theoretical openings of
Mazauric and Ado, is to define numerous ‘specific routes’

towards the historical progress which the Revolution represents. By admitting both national and regional differences, it
goes a long way to removing the chauvinistic triumphalism
and the Jacobin centralism which used to characterise French
socialist accounts of the Revolution.

Two decades back, Ado inspired a major shift in the old
Letebvre-Soboul model of the economic and social history of
the Revolution. By distinguishing between objectively and
subjectively progressive roles in history, he offered a way out
of the problem that the peasantry posed to Communists,
thanks to conditions in both France and Russia – not to
mention Marx’s brilliant, but disdainful comparison between
them and a sack of potatoes! Yet, at the conference, what he
said was attended to for what it could tell about studying the
history of Revolutions under glasnost. At present, he remarked, we are confronted with ‘the necessity of getting away
from the teleological vision of the French Revolution’. 3 Illustrations of how Soviet historians are doing just this could be
found in the recent interest in the reciprocal interaction of
different currents within the Revolution (such as official and
popular terror), in a popular mentality independent of the
political elites, and in ‘bourgeois’ revolutionary figures who
used to have little standing in the Soviet perception of the
Revolution.

Of course, the widespread focus on culture and representation has its theoretical pitfalls. This appeared in the remarks
of various speakers undertaking the Herculean task of summing up the discussion in the final plenary sessions. Thus,
Maurice Agulhon (another authoritative practitioner) and
Alain Corbin underlined how the representations of the Revolution considered at the Congress had come to us through
clusters in historical time, such as 1830, 1848, 1871, 1917, the
1930s and so on. And Roger Chartier remarked on the necessary but unstable role of an ‘ideal’ readership as target of the
cultural material analysed by the historian. The present accommodation is insecure within itself as well as subject to
attack from outside.

So, where can history focussing on culture go from here?

It may be that the Anglo-Saxon historians will show the way:

to the examination of political culture. A strand of cultural
54

history grounded in its social, economic and even biographical setting appeared in the contributions of a number of
English-speaking historians: Timothy Tackett on the media
which sustained relations between revolutionary political
leaders and their agents and allies; Hugh Gough on the flowering of the provincial press and its competition with Paris;
Alan Forrest on provincial rivalries with the centre; and
Robert Darnton (now something of an academic super-star in
France) on the ins-and-outs of Stock Exchange dealings and
Parisian journalism. In his summing up, Colin Lucas, an
Englishman who enjoys considerable confidence and respect
from French historians on the Left, also pointed to the new
political culture after the great struggles of the early 1790s as
the absent guest at the feast of the Revolution. As consensus
politics re-establishes itself in Britain, the topic of the coming
years may be how a steadier (though also shabbier) political
culture is re-established after periods of rapid upheaval.

NoAI Parker
Notes
L’Image de la Revolution Fraflfaise, ed. M. Vovelle (Paris
1
and London: Pergamon, 1989), vol. 3, p. 2309. Eager readers
are warned that the three volumes of proceedings weigh
almost 5 kilos.

Details of the conference from 142 Boulevard Massena,
2
75013 Paris.

L’Image de la Revolution, vol. 2, p. 1198.

3
Radical Philosophy 54, Spring 1990

j.

REVOLUTION – THE VIEW FROM LEEDS

Using yet another approach to the French Revolution, a couple
of dozen of us met together in Leeds in late September to look
at 1789 with the techniques of discourse analysis and cultural
history. Our topic: the crises or transformations of discourses
in Britain in interaction with the Revolution across the Channel. The perspective proved revealing. However, the discussion did not at all deny a real role to individual subjects in the
historical material. Rather, it gave an impression of how,
trying to take contemporary political thinking in one direction
or another, different writers had worked with resources of
rhetoric which the collapse of the social order in France had
thrown into flux.

In such a debate, certain names re-appear again and again.

Nowadays, the name of Wo lIstone craft is so often evoked at a
cultural history event that the embarrassment expressed by
Judith Todd at having still more to say about her was understandable (though uncalled-for). Wollstonecraft’s case illustrated the intense difficulty of finding the space one wants
within the given discourse. She seemed usually to end as the
loser in her struggle. Todd’ s own paper, for example, argued
that Wollstonecraft’s ideal of how women might commit
suicide on rational grounds (both in her writing and her own
attempt) had been swamped by a romantic perception (not
least due to the editing of her widower, William Godwin)
which returned women to passivity. A not dissimilar mood
emerged from Susan Matthews’ analysis of how, comparing
the role of women and soldiers, Wollstonecraft found that
femininity had been forced to be weak and negative. Yet the
possibility of rational femininity in Wollstonecraft’s thought
was grounds for dispute between Tom Furniss and Vivien
Jones. One argued that, struggling hard to define femininity
as something other than weakness, W ollstonecraft had had
recourse to the discourse of nature a la Rousseau, which
mistakenly derived sexuality from biology. But, for the other,
Wollstonecraft offered a model of rationalised feminine sensibility as the middle term to turn the cycle of tyranny and
revolutionary violence.

Naturally, Burke and Paine figured prominently in the
discussion – with Burke getting the run of the play. For John

Radical Philosophy 54, Spring 1990

Whale, Burke’ s treatment of the symbolic seemed a shrewder
reaction to the late-18th-century crisis of representation than
Paine’s wish to have done with representation altogether (his
‘literalism’). Burke’s rhetoric also seems to have shaped the
contemporary imagery. Christopher Reid considered the
powerful portrayal of the French royal family in The Reflections: turning them into private persons who were victims of
inhuman passions. Various writers (Wollstonecraft and Godwin included) had struggled to overturn this view of the Old
Regime. Godwin naturally found defenders, too. Both Chris
Jones and Pamela Clemit argued that, after the heady rationalism of Political Justice, he was actively seeking to extend the
effectiveness of progressive political discourse by integrating
sensibility and romantic plot-structure into it.

But we must not overlook certain of the surprisingly original minor characters in those post-1789 conflicts of discourse.

John Mee, for example, exposed the strand of millenarianism
in popular revolutionary debates, which filtered into the writings of Price and of Blake. And David Worrall explained how
the much-persecuted Thomas Spence had worked out new
rhetorical strategies in order to escape the growing censorship
of republican clubs and publications. His tactics included
stamping republican ideas on coins or ingeniously inserting
errata slips to insinuate his true message into his popular pamphlets. Marilyn Butler, in an exposition of evolving uses of
the Orient in the period, showed how, while some writers coopted the language of the Revolution to underwrite progressive Westernising reforms in India, the female novelist who
wrote under the name of ‘Sydney Owenson’ was putting
forward an idea of specifically feminine knowledge to grasp
the nature of the East. Finally, Kathryn Sutherland attempted
a striking re-interpretation against the political current. Hannah More, she argued, should not be written off as antifeminist and counter-revolutionary. Her popular success was
attributable to an idea of female solidarity straddling class
boundaries, which was a brief but politically realistic possibility in her day.

NoAI Parker

55

DONS FLUNK
ENTERPRISE TEST
DESPITE LATE RUN
Under the Auspices of Tertiary Sector
Enterprise Training Systems (England)
(T.S.E.T.S.(E.), an Upward Bound Discovery Programme was mounted from
September 27th to September 29th at
the Lancaster Academic Themes Park
(formerly ‘University’) by the Centre
for the Study of Cultural Values, one of
the Heritage· Units still maintained by
the Government. Through the device of
a ‘Conference Experience Format’, the
predominantly Tertiary (Public) Sector
employees were to be encouraged to
develop their enterprise skills and, in an
interactive context, to broaden their
awareness of the need (both personal
and institutional) for them.

Pre-conference ‘orienteering’ experiences included applying on new forms
for grants to attend, arriving at Lancaster Station with minimal clues (testing
Imagination, Teamwork, Leadership,
Athleticism), as well as the usual maze
routine at the specially camouflaged
Themes Park. (There was competitive
bidding for the services of private
guides.)
The principal format was that welltried parallel sessions system interspersed with ‘plenaries’. The
T.S.E.T.S.(E.) method here is, as is well
known, to impose a ‘choice ethic’ in the
absence of ‘adequate reasons’. Thus
‘abstracts’ were circulated with a view
to create ‘the need to choose’. Though
the Upward Bound Cohort was at first
unaware of this, abstracts were intended
either to be vacuous or misleading, with
a view to generating pressure for enterprise within and around the sessions,
themselves intended to range across the
Empty-Overload range. In addition,
many representatives were bound by
their institutions warning them against
squandering ‘Intellectual Property’ in
the absence of copyright, trade marks,
commercial names etc.

~any speakers respected these
norms. But, as Post-Experience Analysis revealed, attending representatives
failed to exercise any of the hoped-for
initiatives (storming out, protesting,
assertively but not aggressively chang56

ing the subject), suggesting the continuing power of the communistic Dependency Culture within the Sector.

But T.S.E.T.S.(E.)’s principal organizational error was to place the Experience under the Local Control of the
‘Centre for the Study of Cultural Values’, which turns out not to be ‘one of
us’. This meant that the System’s system was for much of the time violated
by the excessive interest of many of the
contributions that the Centre should be
shut down or privatised. Abstracts available from the Centre will confirm this,
as will the paper by organizer Russell
Keat, ‘What is an Enterprise Culture?’

~oreover, some plenaries backfired
sadly. As he had moved from Lancaster
to Chicago, it was hoped that Harold
Perkin would advertise enterprise. Instead he abused his position by giving a
detailed historical critique of ~rs.

Thatcher’s programme. Raymond Plant
was guilty of the same thing at a more
philosophical level. Even the marketeer
Peter Saunders raised awkward questions. He contrasted the ’empowerment
of individuals’ in consumer-oriented
privatisation (housing) with the ‘irrelevance’ of transfers of production (of
electricity etc.) to private hands. Private
sector television film-researcher ~ade­
leine Bunting (from Channel 4’s ‘The
Way We Live Now’) even revealed
grossly unpleasant scenes associated

with the Enterprise Culture, hardly her
brief.

In the midst of this backsliding, extra pressure was placed on the Catering
Unit. However, even parodic versions
of institutional cuisine failed to induce a
significant initiative towards private
solutions. But T.S.E.T.S.(E.) is too experienced not to have anticipated this
inertia. Hence on the last day, they contrived a triple plenary broken up by
lunch. Lord Young ‘of Graffham’ rebutted almost all the claims contrary to the
Enterprise Culture that had surfaced at
the Experience. Still no one moved.

Almost all returned to hear the Old Testament Scholar, Prof. ~ary Douglas,
deliver a paper on ‘The Self as a Bundle
of Claims’ from a quite different conference. Still they stayed, to hear David
~arquand speak. In the absence of an
abstract, it is impossible to remember
what he spoke about.

Yet it was only as they were transported towards Euston that the fact that
T.S.E.T.S.(E.) knew their Brecht as well
as their Gramsci bore fruit. After filling
out their SELF-DISCOVERY ASSESS~NT FOR~S, the Upward Bounders
rushed uncompromisingly for the taxi
rank, knocking several Welfare State
dependants over in the contest. This was
good to see.

Bernie Manderville
Radical Philosophy 54, Spring 1990

ECOLOGY IN NICARAGUA
Consider the following scenario: a group of North American
volunteers in a rural co-operative in northern Nicaragua is
cutting down trees to mill wood for use in the construction of
houses for the co-operative. Two members of the co-operative
ask to borrow a chain saw to cut down a tree, not for the wood,
but to reach the honey from a nest in one of the upper
branches. The request is refused on the grounds that unnecessary damage to the ecology should be avoided. A not uncommon encounter between cultures as ecological issues spread
out from the First to the Third World, as First Worlders learn
to their dfsmay that practices in the Third World may be
affecting their environmental quality.

The evangelical fervour of some environmentalists has
shades of those erstwhile savers of souls, the missionaries,
who were quickly followed by the exploiters of the imperial
powers. One can almost see the writing on the wall as concern
for the environment in Brazil is followed by demands to take
over the management of Brazil’s forests on the grounds that
they should be managed as a ‘planetary’ (read First World)
rather than a national resource.

Recent years have seen a large increase in the numbers of
foreigners with ecological concerns coming to Nicaragua
raising a host of cultural, ethical and political questions that
call for responses.

The visitor to Nicaragua sees much evidence of deforestation. Slash and bum agriculture is prevalent in the so-called
agricultural frontier, and a general ‘if it moves, kill it’ policy
to wildlife is common. The visitor often reacts with selfrighteous indignation at the campesino’ s wanton disregard for
ecological values. The response of the campesino is one of
dismay and non-understanding of the concern. Why is this? Is
there a resolution to the contradictions? If so, where does it
lie?

.

If we are to approach those of the Third World with
ecological issues, we have to do so with a great deal of
humility and a large dose of self-criticism. As one sixty-yearold woodcutter said to me: ‘Before the Revolution I spent
fifteen years cutting down all the cedar and mahogany trees
on this land with nothing but an axe, and hauling them with
oxen to the Rio Viejo for an American company. Now you are
telling me that even though we now own this land we cannot
cut down trees to make lumber for our own houses, because if
we do so it will cause damage to the air in America.’ He
paused for a while and then added: ‘Maybe you can send our
trees back.’

The impelling argument is irrefutable and illustrates serious shortcomings in the ecologists’ approach. The clearest is
the lack of any historical perspective. Ecological problems do
not arise without a history although if you read the Western
media reports you would be forgiven for thinking so. Neither
do they arise in a social and political vacuum. There is an
entire history of deforestation by foreign firms in Nicaragua.

Whole populations of fish and other river life were exterminated by the arsenic pollution coming from the gold mines
around Siuna and Rosita, not to mention the decimation of the
indigenous people who wondered why they and their children
were dying after eating these fish. Hundreds of square miles
of pine forests were destroyed in the Autonomous North
Atlantic Region. The deterioration of the atmosphere has a
history that did not begin with the destruction of the tropical
forest in Brazil or the Philippines.

Radical Philosophy 54, Spring 1990

One could start at the very least with the English forests
that were cut down to make charcoal for the furnaces of the
Industrial Revolution. If we are to start looking at ecological
issues globally, then we also have to look at them historically.

The English forests represent capital that was consumed in the
initial push towards industrial wealth. Having used up their
own oxygen-producing resources in this way the rich countries cannot rely on poor countries to maintain their own
forests intact to replenish the needs of the atmosphere. If these
tropical forests are of value to the rich countries, then they
should be prepared to pay for them to stay intact. This income
from what amounts to the export of oxygen would then allow
the poor countries to invest in infrastructure that is not ecologically damaging.

The point can be illustrated by a look at another’ bete noir’

of the ecologists; slash and bum agriculture. To start with,
this too needs to be put into its historical context. The growth

of export-oriented agriculture such as cotton and coffee during and after the Second World War resulted in the expulsion
of thousands of campesino families from some of the best agriculturalland in Nicaragua. These campesinos who knew no
form of agriculture other than subsistence were pushed into
what was called the agricultural frontier, a mountainous and
heavily forested zone in the interior of the country. Here the
campesino began to clear the land ready for planting, burning
what he cut down, not having the capital to exploit the trees
as lumber nor the plough to turn the vegetation under. Having
finally achieved a marginal level of survival, the campesino
very often lost the cleared land through further confiscation
by the growing and land-hungry bourgeoisie, aided by the
Somoza National Guard. There was then no choice but to
move farther east and begin the process again. The problem
is compounded by the nature of tropical soils and the extremely slow process of humus formation. The net result is
that land is stripped of its nutrients within a few years, which
adds to the destruction of more virgin land.

There is a way to halt this process which the municipal

57

government of the Muy-Muy/Matiguas zone is encouraging
in a pilot project. This is to make available to the campesino
through medium-term loans oxen and metal ploughs and
fertilizer. This will enable land to be used over and over again
by ploughing back in the nutrients and by supplementing
them with fertilizer. It is here that the connection with the rich
countries comes in. With money from the ‘sale’ of oxygen
more forest could be saved from the machete.

The campesino is above all a rational economic player,
albeit one who is generally conservative, not a big risk-taker.

Banning the cutting down of forests is not going to work; it is
impractical to think of policing a prohibition and it is undesirable. Trees can be managed as a crop to be harvested. They are

“It ought to be read by many, many
more people.”

– Amorey Gethin, Linguist, Cambridge
“I did something I almost never do these
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and cover-to-cover as soon as it arrived.”
– David Clarke, Psychologist, Nottingham
“What you are saying is very important.”
– Anne Fleming, Byron Scholar, Sussex
“Your book seems to me to be saying all the
right things, and in a sharp and witty
way.”
– Kate Soper, Philosopher, Sussex

after all a renewable resource, albeit one that takes a longer
time to provide a return. For this reason a longer-term financing approach has to be taken to encourage a rational cropping
programe that is sustainable. Reforestation is another area
where the rich countries concerned with oxygen depletion
could effectively insert themselves.

The campesino, often portrayed as the villain of the piece,
is one of the most frugal and ecologically conservative of the
planet’s inhabitants. He is a master of recycling, a minimal
consumer of energy and a highly efficient if not prolific
producer. One who indeed ‘lives lightly on the earth’.

Jeff Bishop

“What most appealed to me about your book
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Boston, Mass
ISBN 1-871347-00-9
Price £7.50 (UK postage included)

CONTENTS
Preface
1 Prisoners of Common Sense 2 Social and Anti-Social Psychology
3 Some of my Best Friends are Robots 4 Imperative Voices
5 The Logic of Virtue 6 A Faith for Agnostics
7 Moral and Immoral Philosophy
Appendix: American versus Japanese Shinto Bibliography Index
Published by:

Pathway Publications
8 Grosvenor Avenue, Mapperley Park, Nottingham NG3 5DX
ENGLAND (0602) 621676

58

Radical Philosophy 54, Spring 1990

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