David Frum On 'The Great Nation'
And there it was - the biggest single pile of guff I have yet to read on that site; David Frum's review of Colin Jones's 'The Great Nation'.
OK, so I have a letter on Frum on today's 'VDare' - but it was not my intention to make today 'Take a Pop at Frum Day'; it's just that, having finished Jones's book two days ago, his review is so bad that it cannot pass without comment.
I'm afraid it might also show that there are some, what might one say, gaps in his knowledge of the French Revolution.
"The best sections of The Great Nation gather revisionist work on the 18th-century French economy into a new consensus view. For example: Far from the stagnant subsistence regime depicted in older accounts, the Bourbon economy grew dynamically in the 18th century. Even if wage growth slowed after about 1750, family incomes probably continued to rise thanks to the ability of many peasant families to find new additional lines of work in the slack seasons of the year. "
Er...this is not news. Simon Schama made precisely the same point in 'Citizens'. Some nobles wanted to get rich, so they diversified into manufacturing. Schama uses the giant metallurgical works at Chateau-du-where-the hell-eveur as a particular case in point.
"Jones variously suggests that 18th-century France was dechristianizing and rechristianizing, basing his conclusions in each instance on particular studies of particular places. "
Er...no. That is precisely not the point that Jones makes. What he does do is refer to the fact that in some places the influence of the Constitutional Church, the worst botch of Talleyrand's long and disgusting career, was greater than elsewhere; as he also points out the fact of very great moment to those who wish to understand the modern French, that the areas that stayed loyal to Rome are those which still, to this day, vote to the Right.
L'esprit de clocher, attachment to one's steeple, is a concept a committed internationalist like Frum might find hard to understand; but it still comes easy to the French - vive leur petits cotton-socks.
"We read 18th century French history conscious of the impending revolution, aware that the story will end in catastrophe. But the 18th-century French did not know that. They lived in the aftermath of Louis XIV, not in the apprehension of Robespierre. "
Fair enough point, I suppose - although your average 18th century French peasant was probably more interested in the Angelus and the weather forecast than news of the Battle of Minden.
But he goes on,
"More problematically though Jones then extends this important insight into a passing claim that the French revolution was not inevitable, that 18th-century France was in many respects a strong and successful polity that contemporaries had every reason to expect to continue along its accustomed courses. "
Well, it wasn't inevitable. A serious student of French Revolutionary history would know that the bad harvests of 1787 and 1788 were just as important in fomenting the desire for change as the premiere of 'The Marriage of Figaro' or The Affair of the Diamond Necklace - as in all revolutions, the political running and riding was done by the middle classes; the yokels only developed an interest when the price of bread, a commodity for which Jones reports they had as many names as Eskimos have for snow, went through the roof.