Civil Servant, Civil Society

The Accumulation of ‘Honour’ in Bourgeois Civil Society
  • Ralph Kingston
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


What has sometimes been referred to as the ‘vexed question’ of French bourgeois identity has divided historians since the 1950s when Alfred Cobban proved that the leadership of the French Revolution was not in the hands of a ‘rising commercial, financial and industrial class'.1 The revisionist interpretation of the French Revolution that followed – in which politics rather than social change defined events – had little room for a ‘bourgeoisie’. Nonetheless, as more recent scholarship has noted, some of the tools used by historians of Revolutionary political culture, including the Habermasian theory of a ‘public sphere’, are still grounded in Marxist stories of the material and social rise of the bourgeoisie in early modern Europe.2 Revivifying the ‘bourgeoisie’, but doing so in a way that focuses on individual responses to the politics of the late-eighteenth century, is the challenge for the next generation of historians.3


Social Capital Civil Society Civil Servant Foreign Affair French Revolution 
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  1. 2.
    Rebecca L. Spang, ‘Paradigms and paranoia: How modern is the French Revolution?’ The American Historical Review, 108 (2003), 146–147; Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. T. Burger and F. Lawrence (Cambridge, MA, 1989). The history of Revolutionary political culture also draws on other Marxist writers like Benedict Anderson (for treatments of ‘nation’) and Walter Benjamin (for the French Revolution as the ‘birth of modernity’).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Of course, this was not always the case. The idea that the bourgeoisie were a distinct class with a singular set of economic and moral values is evident in earlier literature, for example in Charles Morazé, Les bourgeois conquérants (Paris, 1957).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Sarah Maza, The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie. Maza argues that, for writers and politicians, the ambiguity surrounding who actually belonged to the bourgeoisie made the tag all the more useful. Dror Wahrman has also made the case for the emergence of the ‘middle class’ in the political arena, arguing that Liberals in England from the 1790s to the 1830s used the idea of a ‘middle class’ to distinguish their politics from ‘radicalism’: Imagining the Middle Class: The Political Representation of Class in Britain, c. 1780–1840 (Cambridge, 1995). For the classic equation of the bourgeoisie with Orleanism, see Jean Lhomme, La grande bourgeoisie au pouvoir, 1830–1880 (Paris, 1960).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Studies of bourgeois consumer behaviour include Leora Auslander, Taste and Power: Furnishing Modern France (Berkeley, CA, 1996); Michael Miller, The Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869–1920 (Princeton, NJ, 1981); Philippe Perrot, Fashioning the Bourgeoisie, A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Richard Bienvenu (Princeton, NJ, 1994); Lisa Tiersten, Marianne in the Market: Envisioning Consumer Culture in Fin-de-Siècle France (Berkeley, CA, 2001); Whitney Walton, France at the Crystal Palace: Bourgeois Taste and Artisan Manufacture in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley, CA, 1992).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Maurice Agulhon, Le cercle dans la France bourgeoise 1810–1848 (Paris, 1977); Carol E. Harrison, The Bourgeois Citizen in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1999).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    There were, of course, many other arenas in which bourgeois masculinity manifested itself in the period, including in rhetorics of honour and the duel: Robert Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (Oxford, 1993).Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    On the social utility of science in the period see Margaret C. Jacob, Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West (Oxford, 1997), 178–186. On the social utility of science in the work of the Minister of the Interior and chemist, Chaptal: Jeff Horn and Margaret C. Jacob ‘Jean-Antoine Chaptal and the Cultural Roots of French Industrialisation’, Technology and Culture, 39, No. 4 (October 1998), 681–682; For a similar treatment of Fourcroy, see Nicole et Jean Dhombres, Naissance d’un nouveau pouvoir: sciences et savants en France, 1793–1824 (Paris, 1989), 779.Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    Michael Schroder, The Argand Burner: Its Origin and Development in France and England, 1780–1800 (Odense, 1969), 69–88.Google Scholar
  9. 42.
    For wider treatments of bourgeois civil society in the period: Maurice Agulhon, Le cercle dans la France bourgeoise 1810–1848: étude d’une mutation de sociabilité (Paris, 1977); Charles Yriarte, Les cercles de Paris, 1828–1864 (Paris, 1864).Google Scholar
  10. 50.
    Alfred Fierro, La Société de géographie, 1821–1946 (Paris, 1983), 21–22, 271 (table).Google Scholar
  11. 81.
    Dacier, Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. Barbié du Bocage (Paris, 1826), 13.Google Scholar
  12. 83.
    They drew on a rhetoric of honour and virtue - and a debate on merit and service - already well-established during the Old Regime: see Jay M. Smith, Culture of Merit: Nobility, Royal Service, and the Making of Absolute Monarchy in France, 1600–1789 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1996); Rafe Blaufarb, The French Army, 1750–1820: Careers, Talent, Merit (Manchester, 2002). See also Jay Shovlin, The Political Economy of Virtue: Luxury, Patriotism, and the Origins of the French Revolution (Ithaca, NY, 2006) on emulation as the ‘love of honour’ in commercial society.Google Scholar
  13. 89.
    On the notables and the masses de granit, see Martyn Lyons, Napoleon Bonaparte and the legacy of the French Revolution (New York, 1994), 160–177; Louis Bergeron and Guy Chaussinand-Nogaret, ‘Les masses de granit’: cent mille notables du 1er Empire (Paris, 1979); Bergeron and Chaussinand-Nogaret, Grands notables du Premier Empire: notices de biographie sociale, 28 vols (Paris, 1978-); Jean Tulard, Napoléon et la noblesse d’Empire: avec la liste des membres de la noblesse impériale (1808–1815) (Paris, 1993); Chaussinand-Nogaret, Bergeron and R. Forster, ‘Les notables du “Grand Empire” en 1810’, Annales ESC, 26, No. 5 (1971).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ralph Kingston 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph Kingston
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryAuburn UniversityUSA

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