Examining the principle of freedom propagated by the French Revolution, and the kind of individual created by it, this text examines the lives and ideas of eight cultural critics from the 18th century to the present day: Rousseau, Robespierre, Stendhal, Michelot, Bergson, Peguy, Sartre and Foucault. Arranged not according to the lives and times of its protagonists, but according to the narrative themes and structures they held in common, this study discerns a single master narrative of liberty in modern France. It captures these radicals, whose tradition bids them resist the authority of power structures and public opinion. They denounce bourgeois and utilitarian values, the power of Church and State, and the corrupting influence of everyday politics, and they dream of a revolutionary rupture, a fleeting instant of sometimes violent but always meaningful transgression. This work also seeks to explain how France, even as it has oscillated between political stagnation and crisis, has held onto its belief that liberty, equality and fraternity remain within the grasp of its citizens.
Acknowledgments A Note on Translations 1: Introduction 2: The Myth of the Consecrated Heretic 3: Hell and Other People 4: The Critique of Society 5: The Moment of Freedom 6: Conclusion Notes Works Cited Index