Reason, Republic, and Revolution: Liberal and Republican Theories of Progress in the French Revolution of 1848

37 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 23 Jun 2013

See all articles by Christopher Meckstroth

Christopher Meckstroth

University of Cambridge -- Faculty of History

Date Written: 2009


In France, liberalism and modern republicanism first separated out as two distinct currents within a broader revolutionary tradition during the period between the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Each side was convinced that its own interpretation of the great 1789 Revolution was the only reasonable one, confident in the self-evidence of its own vision of the single rational telos of progress and enlightenment. But the triumphs of liberals in 1830 and republicans in 1848 each led, not to the general political consensus the victors had expected, but to the emergence of new divisions within the party of progress itself. And these divisions, in each case, paved the way for the eventual downfall of the regime. Modern republicanism in France, then, emerged from this conflict in two ways. Against the Orleanists it emphasized universal suffrage as the sine qua non of a legitimate regime. And it eventually learned from the failure of the Second Republic that republicanism itself could incorporate room for continued political disagreement and constitutional evolution over time. The paper shows on the one hand how 'liberalism' and 'republicanism' became carved up rather differently in the French tradition than in the British. On the other it examines these two key shifts in the making of modern republicanism in France to show both what conceptual departures it required from classical or early modern republicanism and how these came about in unexpected ways with lasting significance for the subsequent development of French political culture.

Keywords: republicanism, liberalism, France, revolution, progress

Suggested Citation

Meckstroth, Christopher, Reason, Republic, and Revolution: Liberal and Republican Theories of Progress in the French Revolution of 1848 (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Christopher Meckstroth (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge -- Faculty of History ( email )

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