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Customer Review

on 1 July 2008
Elton's 1923 book offers an interesting analysis of the revolutions in France, and by implication the concept of revolution as a whole. Distinguishing between two revolutions (the 'old revolution' 1789-1830' and the 'new revolution' 1848-1871) he argues that the aims of the first French revolution were principally order (i.e. efficient centralised government) and equality (i.e. the abolition of privilege) as opposed to political liberties etc. In this sense, he suggests, Napoleon was the one who completed the revolution. The second revolution, according to Elton, was an attempt by the underprivileged working classes to overthrow capitalist society, and this failed. Undoubtedly Elton exaggerates somewhat for rhetoric's sake, but his argument as a whole I find convincing. He also suggests that in a modern state it is impossible for a minority to overthrow a system supported by the majority (as the French working classes tried to do), except in circumstances of grave national turmoil (e.g. 1792/3, 1917). This argument is particularly sound, and is borne out by the history of the twentieth and, so far, the twenty-first century. All in all, a great read, especially since Elton writes splendidly well.
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