Friday, December 13, 2019

Jeremy Popkin's "A New World Begins"

Jeremy D. Popkin holds the William T. Bryan chair of history at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of many books, including You Are All Free and A Short History of the French Revolution.

Popkin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution, and reported the following:
On page 99, A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution, king Louis XVI reluctantly allows his prime minister, Loménie de Brienne, to persuade him that there is no way to avoid a catastrophic state bankruptcy except to summon an elected assembly, the Estates General, and ask it to approve new taxes. Louis is not happy about the idea. “They might overturn the state and the monarchy,” he tells Brienne. But he agrees that there is no realistic alternative.

Readers of my book will discover how justified the king’s fears were. By conceding that he would have to give his subjects a voice in making political decisions, Louis XVI fatally undermined the basic principle of the absolute monarchy he had been brought up to lead. Once they assembled in the spring of 1789, the deputies to the Estates General and the people who elected them would transform France and the world. The people storm the Bastille and the deputies would draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, outlining the principles of democracy that we still believe in today.

Forced to find ways to defend those principles against powerful enemies and to meet the demands of the poor, however, the revolutionaries would also find themselves doing things they never imagined when their movement began. They held pathbreaking debates about the rights of women and they abolished slavery in the French colonies, but they also plunged Europe into a continent-wide war and used dictatorial methods to silence domestic opposition. Louis XVI’s unhappy dialogue with Brienne on page 99 of my book is just the first of many dramatic moments that readers will relive in A New World Begins, a book that sums up my forty years of research and teaching about one of history’s most important events.
Learn more about A New World Begins at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue