In ‘Stockholm Calling’ I admitted to my incomplete understand of Pierre Rosanvallon. Discusse there, Sherif Zakhour (2020) helped me in identifying his concern, like that of his teacher’s Claude Lefort to be the void left by the French king ending under the guillotine. Reading Rosanvallon mostly in French, I overlook this but have discovered now Jainchill and Moyn (2004) writing in English.

Not exactly wrong missing that the people stepping into the role of the king meant taking over his patrimony, I did not thing of this as a central issue. Noting Rosanvallon discussing the development of democratic procedures whilst paying attention also to the courts and of experts as countervailing forces to erratic electoral outcomes, I had taken notice also of his saying that, whilst once carrying the torch of freedom and human rights, the revolutionary nation of 1789 has succumbed to national protectionism. But failed to appreciate the full meaning he attaching to ‘generality’: the people forming an organic whole. In ‘Danton’s Death’, Georg Büchner articulated the underlying logic in 1835. This required no less than the elimination of what under Communism was to be called left- or right-wing deviationism. The Revolution, like Saturn, was devouring its children, was the saying at the time.

Criticising viewing the people as an organic whole, Rosanvallon could also have taken on territorialism: Much like the saying attributed to Louis XIV: ‘The State is me’, territorialism implies the people being one with its territory. The latter having already been mapped had ensured for the first time that its shape was visible, making identifying with it the more easy. Besides, the revolutionaries made sure to homogenise the French territory by creating departments of roughly equal size to replace historic provinces. And they quickly decided on the Rhine as France’s natural border. Maybe his problematising ‘generality’ could thus have led Rosanvallon (1998) to question, not only the concept of the people as ‘introuvable’ – nowhere to be found – but also to castigate territorialism’s original sin of making territory indivisible.

 

References:

Jainchill, A., Moyn, S. (2004) ‘French democracy between totalitarianism and solidarity: Pierre Rosanvallon and revisionist historiography’, The Journal of Modern History, 76 (1) 107–154.

Rosanvallon P. (1998) Le peuple introuvable, Histoire de la représentation démocratique en France, Gallimard, Paris.

Zakhour, S. (2020) Democracy and Planning: Contested Meanings in Theory and Practice, Doctoral Thesis in Planning and Decision Analysis, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

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