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Ending the French Revolution: Violence, Justice, and Repression from the Terror to Napoleon.

Ending the French Revolution: Violence, Justice, and Repression from the Terror to Napoleon. By Howard G. Brown. (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2006. Pp. vii, 461. $45.00.)

This author brings together an impressive synthesis of research that he has published in various forms for more than a decade concerning the period of the Directory and the difficulty of bringing the French Revolution to an end. For Howard G. Brown, the problem lay primarily in the legacy of domestic violence left by the Terror and by the creation of a culture of violence, instability, and fear throughout society. To end the Revolution meant bringing this violence under control and establishing a regime that could assure law, order, and security. In Brown's analysis, this achievement did not occur until 1802 with the establishment of the Constitution of the Year X.

To assess efforts to establish law and order during the Directory and early Consulate, Brown focuses on the criminal justice system in four regions of France, examining the kind of criminal activity that came before the courts, the nature of the judicial process, and the resulting pattern of convictions or acquittals. This close look at the workings of local courts, their officers, and their juries reveals the actual difficulty of interpreting and implementing the laws concerning refractory priests, emigres, brigands, terrorists, and "anarchists." To compound the problem, laws and lawmakers changed, most significantly with the coup of Fructidor 1797, which Brown sees as far more important than the Brumaire coup of 1799 that brought Napoleon into power. After Fructidor, the Directory increased its repressive tactics to include military courts and a Gendarmerie Nationale largely free from local civilian authorities. Here was the beginning of "liberal authoritarianism" that culminated in the constitution of 1802. This "modern security state" gained its legitimacy not from constitutional principles but from the fact that it met an increasing public demand for domestic security (358). Protecting the constitution was no longer as important as protecting public safety.

Brown's thesis is large and well-argued, as well as based on archival records and an extensive bibliography. His discussion of "The Economy of Violence" in chapter two is both theoretical and graphic, particularly in its description of brigandage. A series of charts analyze crimes and punishments, and Brown is equally deft in presenting his insights with the well-wrought phrase or the evocative metaphor. Thermidorians thought religion should "be kept quiet, dull, and indoors." Royalists and chouans were like oil and vinegar, producing a "rich savor" when properly mixed, but with a "natural tendency to separate" (240). This combination of information, interpretation, and individual case studies will be useful to specialists and nonspecialists. The sections on the National Guard, the Gendarmerie Nationale, and the Chouannerie are particularly helpful. The fascinating example of a protracted southern family feud illustrates the complex mix of local rivalries, criminal activity, judicial proceedings, and military intervention that constituted the dilemma of law and order under the Directory. In such circumstances, Brown argues, only a Hobbesian solution could end the French Revolution.

Janet D. Stone

Armstrong Atlantic State University
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Author:Stone, Janet D.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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