Info

was beset not only by foreign invasions and bitter civil wars, but also by deep internal struggles for the control of the government between different factions of radicals. In the midst of such pressures, the obsession with conspiracy was intensified as never before, leading to widespread suspicion against the privileged classes of the ancien régime, both nobles and clergymen. But war and internal disruption alone cannot explain the transformation from anticlericalism to anti-religion; nor why some French regions seemed more susceptible to the movement than others. In fact, the period also corresponded to the most radical phase of the Revolution, in which a whole array of political, social, and cultural values were questioned or overturned. It was in a quasi-millenarian context that certain aggressively anti-religious or atheistic positions, positions advocated by a marginal fringe of eighteenth-century philosophers and by a tiny minority of Parisian intellectuals early in the Revolution, acquired for a time a substantially larger following. For some elements of the urban elite, whose commitment to the Christian church had already been weakened in the last decades of the ancien regime, de-Christianization now became an appealing option. But that option was also taken up by portions of the urban working class, notably in the milieu of the 'sans-culottes' - that group of intensely politicized Parisian artisans, shopkeepers, and petty officials. A variety of pamphlets, speeches, and administrative directives promoted the idea that Christianity was an illusion, foisted on the people by clergymen in order to maintain themselves in power; a positive evil obstructing the spread of revolutionary ideas. The Revolution had produced a new phase in western culture, it was argued, in which people should either set aside the 'superstition' ofreligion altogether, or develop a new, patriotic cult closely akin to the 'civil religion' recommended by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Social Contract. But it is clear that coercion and fear also played a major role in the instigation of de-Christianization. In most parts of the country it was directly incited by outside forces arriving from Paris, either by representatives on mission from the Convention or by bands of the popular 'revolutionary armies', circulating in the countryside to promote the Terror.

The first systematic efforts in this regard seem to have occurred in September and October 1793 through the actions of representatives in Picardy and in central France. Similar campaigns were launched in Paris itself in November, and then spread to most of the country over the following months. There can be no doubt that the majority of the population was hostile to such campaigns, and that a great many people readily returned to traditional Christian practice after the end of the Terror. Yet such actions could not have been initiated and enforced without some cooperation on the part of local leaders and militant

0 0

Post a comment