Cover image for The furies : violence and terror in the French and Russian Revolutions
The furies : violence and terror in the French and Russian Revolutions
Mayer, Arno J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvii, 716 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1630 Lexile.
Format :


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Material Type
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DC183.5 .M35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DC183.5 .M35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The great romance and fear of bloody revolution--strange blend of idealism and terror--have been superseded by blind faith in the bloodless expansion of human rights and global capitalism. Flying in the face of history, violence is dismissed as rare, immoral, and counterproductive. Arguing against this pervasive wishful thinking, the distinguished historian Arno J. Mayer revisits the two most tumultuous and influential revolutions of modern times: the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Although these two upheavals arose in different environments, they followed similar courses. The thought and language of Enlightenment France were the glories of western civilization; those of tsarist Russia's intelligentsia were on its margins. Both revolutions began as revolts vowed to fight unreason, injustice, and inequality; both swept away old regimes and defied established religions in societies that were 85% peasant and illiterate; both entailed the terrifying return of repressed vengeance. Contrary to prevalent belief, Mayer argues, ideologies and personalities did not control events. Rather, the tide of violence overwhelmed the political actors who assumed power and were rudderless. Even the best plans could not stem the chaos that at once benefited and swallowed them. Mayer argues that we have ignored an essential part of all revolutions: the resistances to revolution, both domestic and foreign, which help fuel the spiral of terror.

In his sweeping yet close comparison of the world's two transnational revolutions, Mayer follows their unfolding--from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Bolshevik Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Masses; the escalation of the initial violence into the reign of terror of 1793-95 and of 1918-21; the dismemberment of the hegemonic churches and religion of both societies; the "externalization" of the terror through the Napoleonic wars; and its "internalization" in Soviet Russia in the form of Stalin's "Terror in One Country." Making critical use of theory, old and new, Mayer breaks through unexamined assumptions and prevailing debates about the attributes of these particular revolutions to raise broader and more disturbing questions about the nature of revolutionary violence attending new foundations.

Author Notes

Arno J. Mayer is Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He is best known for his last two books: The Persistence of the Old Regime and Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?: The "Final Solution" in History . He is also the author of Political Origins of the New Diplomacy and Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking .

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Mayer (history, Princeton Univ.) uses a vast array of secondary sources to analyze the role of violence and terror in the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. This topic covers relatively new ground for Mayer, but one can detect influences from his earlier Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe 1875-1956 (LJ 7/71). Like most left-of-center historians, Mayer stresses that it was violent resistance to profound societal change that gave birth to the fear-inspired whirlwind of enraged vengeance that consumed both revolutions and has left us arguing about their legacies. Mayer's absorbing recapitulation of these ultimately tragic events leaves the reader with the desire to read more about the French and Russian Revolutions--the best compliment any historical work can receive. The Furies is a needed corrective to currently ascendant Burkean critiques of the French and Russian revolutions (e.g., Richard Pipes's Russian Revolution, LJ 11/1/90, and Robert Conquest's Reflections on a Ravaged Century, LJ 10/15/99). Recommended for academic and public libraries.--Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib. Rome, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Mayer (Princeton, emer.) has long engaged the history community with dense, contentious, and important books. The Furies continues this tradition, asking very important questions about the origins and nature of violence in the French and Russian revolutions. Part 1 of the book is an extended debate with the vast secondary literature over the components of revolutionary violence. Mayer insists that there can be no revolution without "violence and terror; without civil and foreign war; without iconoclasm and religious conflict; without collision between country and city." Succeeding sections examine these components of the revolutionary experience in France and Russia. Mayer suggests that revolutionary terror is the product of neither individuals nor ideologies; rather, it is a primal force that once unleashed takes control of both actors and events. He insists that counterrevolutionaries play a crucial role in creating this climate. The Furies is polemical: the dust jacket quotes one reviewer praising its refutation of "misleading conservative interpretations." Although this conservative reviewer finds much to argue with in The Furies, he recommends it for all academic library collections. Mayer's contentions provide the grist for important comparative and thematic arguments: let the debate begin. G. P. Cox; Gordon College

Table of Contents

Preface xiii
Introductionp. 3
Part 1 Conceptual Signposts
1 Revolutionp. 23
2 Counterrevolutionp. 45
3 Violencep. 71
4 Terrorp. 93
5 Vengeancep. 126
6 Religionp. 141
Part 2 Crescendo of Violence
7 The Return of Vengeance: Terror in France, 1789-95p. 171
8 In the Eye of a ""Time of Troubles"": Terror in Russia, 1917-21p. 227
Part 3 Metropolitan Condescension and Rural Distrust
9 Peasant War in France: The Vendeep. 323
10 Peasant War in Russia: Ukraine and Tambovp. 371
Part 4 The Sacred Conteste