The twin centenaries of the English and French revolutionsnare now upon us—1689 and 1789 — and theynseem fated to coincide with a moment when the wordn”revolution” has lost all its prestige and even much of itsnpoint.nIn 1987, for example, Paris was shaken by a booknexpressively called The Cost of the French Revolution bynRene Sedillot. Its title, to an extent unusual in historicalnstudies, tells the whole story. Sedillot argues that the FrenchnRevolution was a game not worth the candle. Some twonmillion Frenchmen are thought to have died in it—somendramatically, in the Terror of 1793-94, most in the revolutionarynwars down to Waterloo in 1815. The number isnmore than France lost in the First World War a centurynlater, and the nation was only one-third as populous as thenFrance of 1914. Some 17,000 are thought to have died innthe Terror—some by the guillotine, some by prison massacres,nsome by mass drownings. That total is modest innrelation to the great political massacres of the 20th centuryn— Hitler’s and Stalin’s—but Sedillot argues disturbinglynthat it may have been the French Terror that presaged thengreat holocausts of recent times. The thought is embarrass-nGeorge Watson is a fellow of St. John’s College,nCambridge, and the author of Politics & Literature innModern Britain and The Idea of Liberalism.n14/CHRONICLESnVIEWSnThe Cost of RevolutionnEngland & 1789nby George Watsonnnning. The rhetoric of the modern French state is wholly basednon the revolution, and it now stands accused by a Frenchmannof reviving the dire notion of killing-by-category whichnhad ended in Europe over a century earlier with the close ofnthe wars of religion. The revolution hunted heretics in itsnown way, after all — disbelievers in itself. More than that,nSedillot argues that the revolution turned France into ancentralized state; an administrative malady from which it stillnsuffers. And its first cause was meaningless. When thenBastille fell after three-quarters of an hour of fighting on Julyn14, 1789, it contained only seven prisoners, of whom fournwere convicted forgers (common criminals, in fact, and innno way political prisoners) while another two are thought tonhave been of unsound mind. By 1794, by contrast, at thenend of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, there may have beennsome 400,000 languishing in French prisons for politicalnoffenses. And so on . . .nThe book that shook Paris — a city notoriously easy tonshake — may leave London and Washington unmoved.nSedillot’s point, after all, is much like Burke’s in thenReflections of 1790 — that you cannot make, or try to make,na “complete revolution,” as he called it, without selfdegradationnand tyranny; that civil liberty depends not onnthe promises of written constitutions like the French, but onnsustained stability, the slow and assured progress of societiesnquietly determined to have more and more of it, bit by bitn