Citizenship, Honour and Masculinity: Military Qualities under the French Revolution and Empire

TitleCitizenship, Honour and Masculinity: Military Qualities under the French Revolution and Empire
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsForrest, Alan
EditorDawson, Philip, Renée Waldinger, and Isser Woloch
Book TitleThe French Revolution and the Meaning of Citizenship
PublisherGreenwood Press
CityWestport, CT ; London

Just as contemporaries argued about the supposed attributes of the soldiers who fought for revolutionary France during the decade after 1789, so historians have found it impossible to agree about their character or their military qualities. Some regard them as a new creation, the product of a society regenerated by the experience of revolution, an army of militants for whom the notion of honour had a new sense, one born of revolutionary zeal and ideological commitment. For Mona Ozouf, these were ‘new men’, part of the general regeneration of society1 There is certainly enough supporting evidence to make this a plausible proposition: instances of individual soldiers throwing themselves at the enemy with revolutionary slogans on their lips; diaries of Jacobin officers who had sworn hatred of kings and tyrants; letters from infantrymen to their local clubs declaring their love of the republic and their burning patriotism in the face of the enemy. But are we too prone to confuse the words of a few enthusiastic young men, stirred by republican speeches and heroic images on the eve of battle, with the spirit of the army as a whole? Or were they, as Tim Blanning would claim, just soldiers like any other, ordered and disciplined in the language and demagogy of revolution but otherwise little different from the generations of French soldiers who had gone before them, and fighting not for ideology but for the conventional foreign-policy objectives of eighteenth-century states?

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