THE ACADEMYnNew Thoughtsnon the FrenchnRevolutionnby Thomas MolnarnFrangois Mitterrand’s socialist administrationnhas become sonscandal-ridden and financially precariousnthat the year-long celebration of thenrevolution’s bicentennial is now nothingnbut a hypocritical farce. Yet Mitterrand’snreference to 1789 is an ideologicalnobligation, since the “leftist myth” is thennumber one legitimizing factor thatnmakes the regime credible in the eyes ofna fluctuating electorate. What happensnon the level of pure politics — anlong dithyramb to the “great ancestors”n— is only one side of the coin. Thenpious organizers, for all the money theynhad to spend on the celebration, arenquite cleady out of touch with the manynscholars and historians who right nownare giving the lie to the official version.nThis intellectual rebellion of the mindncan be explained by two things: one isnthe unquestioned decline of Marxismnamong the intellectual class (this datesnback exactly to Solzhenitsyn’s visit andndebates in Paris in 1975); the other isnthe rise of a new generation of histori­n48/CHRONICLESnVITAL SIGNSnans and other researchers who are nonlonger impressed by what historiannFrancois Furet calls “the Leninist/nJacobin interpretation” of the FrenchnRevolution.nFuret, himself an ex-Marxist, hasnbeen in the forefront of the elaborationnof the new version, and his justpublishednDictionary of the FrenchnRevolution (with twenty-some contributors)nhas become overnight a bestseller,nalthough the volume is rigorouslynscholarly, heavy — and expensive.nFuret is the first to acknowledge a debtnto his predecessors, distant and near, asnhe did in a book that turned the tidensome ten years ago. Let Us Rethink thenRevolution. Around the First WorldnWar, Augustin Cochin, returning toncontemporary documents that leftistnSorbonne historians Mathiez, Aulard,nand Soboul had placed under a quasiinterdict,nunmasked the real initiatorsnof the revolution, the Jacobin/radicalnsocietes de pensee (ancestors of today’snTrotskyist and ultraleft circles); theynconsisted of Parisian and provincialndebating clubs where lawyers, Freemasons,nadmirers of Rousseau, and anvariety of illuminati (even some clergy)nused to meet, spread the message, andnlend mutual encouragement. Furetndoes not hesitate now to add to Cochin’snwork important documents ofncounterrevolutionary literature fromnJoseph de Maistre to Charles Maurras,nand above all the writings of Tocqueville,nwhose critical moderation hasninfluenced Furet’s own students andncollaborators.nPublic opinion has in a certain waynsupported this transvaluation of thenevents surrounding 1789. French televisionnrecently organized two events,none devoted to a “retrial” of LouisnXVI, the other to a “retrial” of thenqueen, Marie Antoinette. In a pollntaken after the shows aired, 70 to 80npercent of the spectators acquitted thenroyal couple. By the way, the spectators’nancestors would have presumablyndone the same, which is whynnnRobespierre, St.-Just, and prosecutornFouquier-Tinville had decided to dontheir bloody work quickly, withoutnconsulting the nation.nIt is now rather simple to analyzenthe origin and course of the revolution.nHippolyte Taine in the last century didnit with a masterful subtlety; today Furetnpresents the modern diagnosis in anlapidary sentence: the Bolshevik Revolutionnhas intervened to camouflagenand distort the French events. It becamenthe interest of many people ton”save” 1917, its prestige, worldwidenvalidity, and influence, and to securenfor it a respectable historical ancestry.nWhile Robespierre has no statue anywherenin France (a Communist municipalitynis now planning to erectnone), because his figure still strikesnhorror in the hearts of many people,nLenin has streets named after him.nAfter all, wasn’t he a famous statesmannand wasn’t his regime a wartime ally?nThis business of a respectable ancestrynplays a role not only for Marxistnintellectuals, but also for two politicalnparties, the Socialist and the Communist,nwhich hanker after a unity ofndoctrine and unity of action. The significancenof the present historical “revisionism”nis that it does not comenfrom the right—although the revisionistsnare accused of just that, for examplenby historian and Communist partynmember Michel Vovelle. It comesnfrom too many unimpeachable academicnsources to be called politicallynmotivated. Important historians like E.nLe Roy Ladurie and Pierre Chaunu donnot subscribe to the simple view thatnpre-1789 misery and injustice had preparednthe way for the downfall of thenold structure. Among the hundreds ofnbooks on 1789 and its sequels andnactors published in the last two or threenyears, the best ones scrutinize the followingncauses and phenomena: thenwritings of Rousseau, the Abbe Sieyes,nand also of Immanuel Kant —yes, thenHerr Professor from Koenigsberg! —nwho justified the massacres of the Ter-n