France after 1789: Essay on Elster's France before 1789
- Journal of Economic Literature (Forthcoming)
The purpose of this essay is to assess Elster's reading of the unraveling of the Ancien Régime (ancient regime) from the perspective of its ability to predict the French society after 1789. The guiding thread of my critical analysis of the book was questioning whether the behavioral categories used by Elster (2020) help understand the transition phase between "then" (the absolutist regime) and "now" (the democratic institutions inherited from the French Revolution). I first challenge Elster’s (2020) approach with other explanations of the French Revolution to characterize him by what he is not: not a Marxist, not a sociologist, not a political scientist, not a philosopher, not a defender of the culturalist approach. I then assess Elster (2020) as the heir to the psychological tradition of the French Revolution. In the second section I follow a linear reading of his book and expose my own concerns about the ability of behavioral tools to correctly address the collapse ("unraveling" as worded by Elster) of the Ancien Régime and the birth of the new democratic world. In the third section, rehabilitating the forgotten analyses of Quinet (1845), Sade (1795) and Leroux (1839, 1840, 1848) on the French Revolution, I defend the view, that the French Revolution is a Machiavellian moment par excellence and that a correct understanding of its essence lies in its philosophical dimension, not in the supposed psychological traits of its actors. Elster (2020) failed to transpose his explanation of the collapse of the old regime into a dynamic approach of history that encompasses the advent of the FR (the French Revolution). An explanation of the phase transition from Ancien Régime to modern democracy is missing because the major ingredients are absent in Elster’s analysis: the ideals of revolutionaries are absent, a conception of history that evolves under the transforming action of men is absent. In the last part of my essay, I suggest a renewed way to apprehend and model revolutions, combining three levels of analysis, political philosophy, macroeconomic dynamics and complexity economics.
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