Defining modernity: mentality and ideology under the French Second Empire (2024)

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Modernity has typically been considered a process consisting of “modernizing” initiatives concerned with nation-building, industrial economic development and new social and political practices associated with democratization. This article engages ongoing debates regarding the import and meaning of modernity for historians and argues in favor of a historically-situated understanding of the modern based upon an examination of social power and identity in post-revolutionary France. In particular, it assesses the transformation of social and political relationships in the nineteenth century as France embraced mass democracy and overseas imperial expansion in North Africa, arguing that modernity became a convenient means of preserving elite primacy and identity in an age increasingly oriented toward egalitarianism, democratic participation and the acquisition of global empires.

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Third French Republic. After Louis Napoleon’s ‘coup d’état’, the republicans tried to establish strong intellectual foundations for a future republic. This needed to be a stable regime that would not repeat neither the revolutionary excesses of the Terror period, nor the authoritarian solutions of Bonapartism. Bearing this in mind, the intellectual founders of the Third Republic had to face the legacy of 1789 and, therefore, had to establish a republican memory capable of integrating all those who, during most of the nineteenth century, had been lured by the revolution; namely, the mission was to face the spectres that threatened the republics in France.

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in: Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 82, no. 2

Contingency, Freedom, and Uchronic Narratives: Charles Renouvier's Philosophy of History in the Shadow of the Franco-Prussian War

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Defining modernity: mentality and ideology under the French Second Empire (2024)
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