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A Past of PossibilitiesA History of What Could Have Been$

Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravelou

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780300227543

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2022

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300227543.001.0001

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“Today, Only the Language of Dreams Can Translate History”

“Today, Only the Language of Dreams Can Translate History”

Futures of Possibility, Fear, and Hope in 1848

(p.213) Chapter 10 “Today, Only the Language of Dreams Can Translate History”
A Past of Possibilities

Quentin Deluermoz

Pierre Singaravélou

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter highlights the revolutionary moment from February to June 1848 and the difficulty of establishing the Second Republic in France that offers a particularly rich area of investigation. It describes 1848, which was the year of the third revolution since 1789 and has generated ample scholarship. It also mobilizes the most promising and the less convincing forms of counterfactual reasoning: causal or interpretative analysis, futures that were imagined or possible, paths not followed, and evaluation of changes, counterfactuals on the part of researchers and actors, and unique and multiple bifurcations. The chapter looks at the clusters of potentiality that constitute the 1848 movement. It begins with a banquet campaign that had been taking place for the last seven months across all of France, demanding that the king Louis-Philippe expand suffrage under the July Monarchy.

Keywords:   King Louis-Philippe, 1848 movement, counterfactual reasoning, Second Republic, July Monarchy

The problem was not all that complicated: a parliamentary vote or a ministerial reorganization would have simplified it tremendously; a shift in the majority would naturally have resolved it sooner or later. But this was not the path chosen by those who lacked patience.

—Maxime Du Camp1

The first shots were decisive…. The thesis of a provocation was long argued. Today, we have returned to the hypothesis of an accidental shot. What temptation there is to be skeptical about the role of chance in history! One must nonetheless recognize that if chance decided the precise moment and the circumstances, it remained insufficient to create such an extraordinary tension between the monarchy and the Republic that their relationship could disintegrate at any possible moment.

—Maurice Agulhon2

Lest you forget, gentlemen of the monarchy, that it was not in order to remain slaves that we had our third revolution…. Since association is the only equitable institution to be found in nature, it is the only one that may give to the world, to all peoples, Liberty, true independence and universal peace. Without association, all of these beautiful speeches are little more than dead words that we read on our flags, but which have empty hearts.

—Placard signed Auguste Siberd3

Any event that significantly modifies power relations and the configuration of possibilities, is at once political and epistemological. In one single burst, overthrowing tyrants, hybridizing fields of meaning that have previously been distinct, and shifting the conditions of enunciation and the (p.214) content of the declaration, such an event cannot be reduced to the elements of a preexisting storyline. To the contrary, it should be understood as an action that rips protagonists from a situation, a context or a temporality.

—Alban Bensa and Éric Fassin4

We now shift from the global scale to the street corner; from the succession of centuries to the cacophony of mere hours; from the international balance of powers to the overthrowing of a regime; from historiographical novelty to a “classic” of French history: 1848 in Paris. We embark on the study of the event, which is equally relevant for the approach of past possibilities. We are not referring here to an “event” in the everyday sense of the word (simply what happens), but in the sense of a rupture or a crisis that was perceived by actors as such and that was reconstructed after the fact, following particular narrative story lines. The event was “brought back” into the social sciences some forty years ago and continues to be a subject of study.5 The revolutionary moment from February to June 1848 and the difficulty of establishing the Second Republic in France offers a particularly rich area of investigation for this field: the shots fired on February 23 on the Boulevard des Capucines have already been heard in these pages as one of the commonplaces for reflecting on accidents in history. 1848 was the year of the third revolution since 1789 and has generated ample scholarship. Moreover, the accusation that it was a mere “lyrical illusion,” which is still leveled at this mid-nineteenth-century string of uprisings, would seem to make it particularly promising for such an analysis. In what follows, we mobilize the most promising and the less convincing forms of counterfactual reasoning (causal or interpretative analysis, futures that were imagined or possible, paths not followed, and evaluation of changes, counterfactuals on the part of researchers and actors, unique and multiple bifurcations). In so doing, we leave historiographical debates behind and focus our gaze on a more interpretative analysis that hugs the terrain. The reader may begin to interpret alongside us the sources and the specific contributions of this approach for an understanding of this moment. So let us start by following a few of the clusters of potentiality that constitute the “1848 movement.”6

(p.215) Potentialities of the “1848 Movement”

February 23, 1848: The Reform

At the beginning of 1848, a “banquet campaign” had been taking place for the last seven months across all of France, demanding that the king Louis-Philippe expand suffrage under the July Monarchy (1830–1848). It would have increased suffrage to more Frenchmen. On February 21, 1848, the final banquet, which was to be held in Paris, was forbidden for a second time by the head of the government, François Guizot, who feared its success. The day the banquet was to take place, and then the following day, February 23, a crowd gathered from the working-class neighborhoods and headed toward the city center. The bourgeois National Guard, which had come to act against the first gunshots, shouted: “Guizot resign!” and “Long live the reform!” Amid the growing threat, the king accepted Guizot’s resignation, who had been in power for the better part of a decade and asked Count Molé to create a ministry. The news, which provoked an explosion of joy in the streets, has generally played a bit role in French political history of the nineteenth century because of the excitement of the events that followed: in particular the February Revolution and the republican regime that it brought forth for the second time in France. And yet it was an important moment, experienced as such by most of those who remembered it, including historians and journalists of the time no matter what side of the political spectrum they were on. Once the news spread, the moderate republican newspaper Le Siècle recounted:

The struggle came to an end as quickly as it began. The troops who were stationed on every street and on all of the squares disappeared as if a spell had been cast; and at 5:30 we could freely circulate in the streets of the capital; the population appeared content. People approached one another to announce the struggle’s happy end and the collapse of the retrograde and odious minister. When they heard the news at the stock market, the traders who were not known for being great patriots provoked an increase of forty centimes on the annuity.7

This narrative attempts to emphasize just how extraordinary the evening’s events were. The political decision was nonetheless adapted to the situation and marked a turning point in the regime. At that point, the Revolution had not yet taken place, or at least this was the general perception of the authors we are about to discuss, including: Alphonse de Lamartine, a key figure in the events and their immediate aftermath, partisan of the moderate Republic and (p.216) carried by the romantic thrust of the class unification; Daniel Stern (pseudonym of Marie d’Agoult), of a similar political tendency, author of an account of the revolution that has become a classic; Alexis de Tocqueville, deputy before and after the Revolution of 1848, a conservative and perceptive analyst of the social changes of the time; Maxime Du Camp, a member of the National Guard at the time, also a conservative and an insightful observer; La Rochejaquelein, a representative, head of the Legitimist Party, and reactionary; and to avoid an overly elitist vision, Louis Ménard, young leftist poet, republican, and socialist, who attempted to give a voice to the workers.8

In 1847, the conviction that other outcomes were possible was not widely shared. This is surprising considering the opening created by the French Revolution less than sixty years earlier and the gravity of the economic crisis since 1846. The idea of overthrowing the regime was not on the table. This was no doubt less true for the “republican party.” But representatives like Marie or Dupont (de l’Eure) were not calling for revolution, and the republican secret societies were more energetic but also less numerous and under close surveillance by the regime. The socialists (Icarians, phalansterians, Fourierists), who flourished in the 1840s, were in a similar situation. Their utopias opened up spaces of reflection that nourished a dynamic workers’ movement, while remaining distant from immediate and large-scale revolutionary practice. Their impact as a force for direct change was limited. The different forces came together and were carried on by a romantic elan that produced what Agulhon referred to as capacity for motivation.9 The dominant idea however was that an equilibrium had been found after 1830 between national representation and royal stability, and that 1789 had come to its logical “resolution,” even if the situation could have been improved. This position was shared by political elites and the general population. Looking back retrospectively, Louis Ménard recalled “the universal calm of nature that precedes the storm [and which] provides the image for the torpor of public opinion during the years of the monarchy.” Among the numerous critics that developed during the period, including during the banquet campaigns, there were more often calls for “expanding” suffrage10 than for universal suffrage. If the hatred for the regime was widely expressed, it continued to be expressed within a political framework: “reform” was the order of the day.

Was the outbreak of the revolution really the result of one gunshot on the Boulevard des Capucines, which in turn provoked a response by the soldiers? This mysterious shot, which according to Maxime Du Camp was fired accidentally by a Corsican sergeant of the 14th line,11 has been the starting point (p.217) for all narratives on the 1848 Revolution. Numerous scholars have explored the question of the causes of the 1848 Revolution. In a famous text by Ernest Labrousse, he argues for the importance of the economic and social crisis, to such an extent that in his view the popular and spontaneous revolutions took place in spite of the “average revolutionary.”12 Recent studies have placed more emphasis on the political and cultural dimensions of the event. For example, historian Vincent Robert has reconsidered the role of the banquet campaigns: outlawing a banquet, he notes, meant outlawing social freedom (celebrating together) and weakening any chance for hope. This in itself was a sufficiently strong motivation. The historian has also suggested that the revolution was “one of many possibilities” in 1847, a moment when the majority of elites and a good share of the population remained skeptical of revolutionary action. And then there was also the question of why these conditions conjoined in one direction or another: Was it the result of the gunshot? The relationship between the events and the realization of the deeper tendencies is always difficult to determine.13 In any case, if we consider the potentialities of the evening of February 23, 1848, it is clear that the situation remained uncertain. There was still the possibility that the regime would survive, even if the tension in the air remained palpable. The new ministry should no doubt have responded positively to the calls for expanded political rights, progressively expanding suffrage toward the creation of a strictly parliamentary monarchy, without ever actually bringing an end to the opposition. Within this thicket of complex interdependencies, there remained a “cluster of potentialities.”

February 24, 1848: The Regency

Next came the events themselves: after the gunfire on the Boulevard des Capucines, the transportation of the dead bodies on the boulevards strengthened the resolve of the working-class neighborhoods and the young students. The combats—we have forgotten how bloody it was—multiplied on the barricades that had been quickly erected on the night of February 23–24. The king Louis-Philippe hesitated, taking contradictory steps. Then, overwhelmed and probably remembering 1830, he abdicated in favor of his son, Louis-Philippe of Orleans, Count of Paris. It is surprising how quickly power shifts in these moments, when suddenly everything is slipping away.

Constitutionally speaking, a regency was still possible. On February 24, the Duchess of Orleans brought her ten-year-old son to the Bourbon Palace, home to the legislative body. A surprising episode began in which the regent (p.218) was introduced to the representatives by the Orleanist André Dupin. At the same moment, the insurgents noisily entered the building, while another impressive crowd headed off for the Hôtel de Ville. At that moment, it was as if power, legitimacy, and sovereignty were suspended.

The idea of setting up a regency was not unthinkable. Alexis de Tocqueville’s reasoning may have had its political biases, but its subtlety remains unquestionable. His Recollections propose an interesting perspective between the “first causes” and “chance.” The first causes, he argues, are insufficient. At the same time, however, he notes that “chance accomplishes nothing that has not been prepared in advance”—a powerful formulation that effectively explains the relationship between constraints and possibilities and merits further consideration.14 On that day, Tocqueville stayed on the benches of the National Assembly and observed that most of the representatives would have accepted the regency in spite of their divisions. Some would have favored a slow return to a more powerful monarchy, while others would have supported a clearer power sharing between monarchy and democracy. The archconservative royalist Henri de La Rochejaquelein would even have been open to such a compromise with extended suffrage. The insurgents dominated the situation within the parliamentary building. At the same time, however, Tocqueville notes the ambiguity of their political demands. The younger revolutionaries, the National Guard, the workers, and others spoke more in terms of democratic and social principles than rewriting the constitution. A compromise within such chaos was therefore possible.

The problem at that moment, Tocqueville continues, was that the most influential representatives had abandoned the parliamentary building for the Hôtel de Ville. This had been a mistake in his view. He highlights the symbolic importance of these institutions, which provided continuity, especially the Bourbon Palace, where the legislative body gathered. A decision made in this location would have been significant. “Had the deputies been able to proclaim the Regency, the latter might have triumphed, in spite of the unpopularity of the deputies.” He observed the unfolding of a political configuration, in which the symbolic landmarks retained their effectiveness. Tocqueville’s counterfactual reasoning is not a mere examination of unintended consequences. To the contrary, it provides for a reactualization of the uncertainty of the situation and the persistent influence of institutions even in moments of revolutionary action. Specialists of political crises have explored how certain landmarks can maintain their importance during such events.15 In other words, one must not overestimate the structural force of (p.219) institutions nor set their referential tenacity aside too quickly. This tension must be considered as such, as precisely what was at stake in this “elastic” moment on February 24. It is in this situation that one finds the second “cluster of possibilities”: the regency could have succeeded.

The site of decision-making power had nonetheless shifted toward the Hôtel de Ville, creating a surprising spectacle of the dilution of power and its diffusion onto the streets. Lists were drafted opposing bourgeois republicans, liberals, and nonsocialists of the newspaper Le National on the one side and democrats who were interested in the social question of La Réforme, those won over by socialist ideas and numerous skilled workers who supported a “people’s” candidate on the other. While the proclamation of a new government was made at the Hôtel de Ville, its legitimacy remained relatively weak. The word “republic,” with its traditional connotations, was present in everyone’s mind. But it was not immediately accepted. It was only after a show of force between the crowd and the new Provisional Government, some of whose members wanted to wait for elections and the creation of a new parliament. This new body, they argued, would have had the legitimacy to declare a republican regime or not.16 The Republic was therefore a widely recognized semantic framework, filled with uncertainty.

After February 24: The Opening of the Field of Possibilities

But the scene had changed. In Paris and in the provinces, when people learned of the new revolution (sometimes with a delay of a few days) old republican practices reappeared: liberty trees were planted, people greeted each other as “citizen” in the streets, missives were signed “Health and Fraternity.” A new universe took form. Clubs reopened in which orators rose up one after the other calling for the immediate satisfaction of their present demands, both traditional (“Liberty, Fraternity, Equality”) and more recent (right to work, humanity, and so on). While the Springtime of the Peoples in Europe began boiling over, the Provisional Government in Paris was, by definition, only that—provisional. It was a time of ideals and expectations. In keeping with their opinions, under the pressure of the streets and the crowds at the events, the members of the government took decisive measures at the end of February and early March: universal manhood suffrage, abolition of the death penalty for political crimes, abolition of slavery, liberty of the press and association, and right to work. Breaking with the July Monarchy and its spirit, these decisions appeared extraordinary. They gave the contemporaries (p.220) the impression of having opened a new field of possibilities. Without this, one cannot understand, for example, the revolts in the Pyrenean forests: in a regime now based on “liberty,” the peasants hoped to “reclaim their rights” by reappropriating the communal lands or commons. The situation was similar for the series of machine sabotages that hit recently mechanized regions. Some of the destruction was done in the name of “customary right” (bon droit) against the (out)dated reign of “feudal industry.”17 For many, the coming of the revolution was indeed accompanied by a new relationship to time and a new way of participating in history. The past futures of the actors themselves seemed to open up once again. Those of former revolutions—July 1830, of course, but also the great Revolution of 1789–1793—seemed reanimated after an interruption of “unfortunate vicissitudes” (funestes aléas) as they were referred to it at the time. The references to the previous revolutions brought with them into the present of 1848 promises and possibilities of change that never came to pass—which could have, or should have, been realized, but never were.18

Among others, the republicans of the 1830s–1840s expressed this idea. G. Desjardins, former editor in chief of the Tribun du peuple and former president of a secret society, explained the end of the monarchical regime:

Now that this government has fallen, we can agree that it was entirely in keeping with the political premises of 1789 that had begun the emancipation of the French people…. But this government of privilege of a minority could only have a temporary significance, a temporary efficacy, with regard to the social considerations and the general principles of a higher order than those clearly posed by the democratic period of 1792: principles that may not have been the order of the day in 1830 but that, without a doubt, would inevitably have reconnected with their traditions and their times because they remained alive in all tough minds, because they were a real progress over their forebearers, because in the end, the future belonged to them.19

“Reconnected with their traditions”—this is a perfect example of Walter Benjamin’s “revolutionary messianism.” These futures of the past that were made present once again, were not necessarily reproduced in exactly the same terms. For those who carry them, the idea is obviously to improve them in alignment with the spirit of the age. Some have insisted on the idea of a humanitarian revolution, which was achieved without any casualties (which was not exactly the case, since the confrontations in various places in Paris— (p.221) notably at Château d’Eau—were bloody). Most of all, it has been highlighted that a new Reign of Terror was avoided. Others have emphasized that this was the first social revolution, centered on questions of work and justice. In this view, the revolution continued the abandoned projects of 1793–1794, or even those of 1795–1799, more than those of 1791–1792.20 But the change expected was of a different scale: “1793 and 1848,” Le Journal des travailleurs recalled in early June “are two sisters who are closely related but do not look alike…. Our Republic is entirely social.”21

This dual sensation of an acceleration of the course of events and a contraction of time seems to have been widely shared. It was as obvious for those who were directly involved as those who resisted the movement. One can see it in a variety of formulations, in Le Siècle, for example, as well as in the more conservative Journal des débats. The “broken lines” of past futures, as Sophie Wahnich eloquently put it, were plural. In the heat of the moment, their messianic dimension was equally patent; one could hear references to providence across widely varied milieus. Monsignor Sibour saw in this beneficial revolution the work of “he who reigns in heaven and to whom all empires owe their allegiance,”22 announcing a more just world. The workers’ club of Sedan recalled: “these memorable events which have been accomplished in our dear fatherland and that carry the visible mark of the HAND of GOD have finally given us the rights we are due as citizens and free men. For too long our rights have been unknown and even boldly denied; but they will inevitably triumph.”23 The bishop and the worker were clearly not expressing the same type of religious conviction. Nonetheless, these references attest to the unanimity of the moment and the almost sacred character with which it was infused. Present, past, and future melded.

How might one make sense of this baffling eruption? Historians have often evoked an essentially oral “underground memory” that tied together these events but escaped the archives. One must also draw attention to the disparate array of texts, images, monuments, signs, and rituals, which were polysemic and filled with anachronisms, creating virtual connections across multiple levels of interpretation.24 In the words of Aby Warburg, there was a phenomenon of “survival” made up of overlap, reinterpretation, and slippage that prolonged the eruption of polyvocal meanings and therefore potential future actions. The latter remained latent and unstable, generally pushed underground below the normal course of events. They were not singular, nor were they tied to the events through a causal chain. Hence, the fracture provoked by the event also plays a role. Emmanuel Fureix has shown how the symbols (p.222) of power (crosses, statues, effigies, and plaques) were literally “re-charged” with meaning during the events, notably in 1848 leading to specific gestures and actions.25 It would be worth investigating the idea of sacredness further. In particular, it would be interesting to explore, beyond actual religious institutions, relationships to the perception of suspended time, the revolution’s eschatological dimension, and, over the long run, what Alphonse Dupront referred to as the “phenomenon of the return” in Western history.26 The framework for making sense of the world was modified. The subterranean potentialities of the past were subject to a variety of interpretations. In so doing, they created the backdrop of the situation, nourishing the idea that this was a moment of great change.

Instituting the Future

The fact is that expectations of other futures were not only a product of isolated discourses or acts. In a number of minds, they were the manifestation of a power (puissance), in the deepest sense. They contributed to the construction of a new world whose force seemed even more real since the actual organization of institutions remained uncertain.

The wave of petitions was one sign of this phenomenon.27 Its development was remarkable because, after an initial phase of decline in the 1840s,28 it vigorously gained steam again afterward. If one only considers the petitions that were received and registered by the legislature, the numbers went from five hundred per year between 1846 and 1848 to almost seventy-four hundred received by the Constituent Assembly between May and December 1848.29 They were sent to the legislature by private individuals or collective groups from throughout France and different social groups. As of February, the demands were globally addressed toward bodies with some public power: the Provisional Government, the Luxembourg Commission (created on February 28 to manage the organization of labor), and then the Constituent Assembly and Executive Commission after the first elections by universal suffrage on April 23, 1848.30 The extent of the demands for change sent to the sites of power is striking compared to previous ones. Such a practice may appear strange for those of us who live in societies with stable and professionalized liberal democratic institutions. There was already a tradition of sending petitions prior to 1848. Moreover, even if other opportunities to vote existed (in local elections, for example), this was the first time universal manhood suffrage was practiced at such a scale. The vote therefore took on a particular (p.223) aura and appeared to be an act of fraternity and communion between the people and its representatives.31 One can imagine the expectations placed in these institutions.

We will return to the workers’ petitions further on in order to highlight the diversity of the demands; for example, the demands of colonization, which, in keeping with the previous chapter, show the importance of empire in the middle of the century. “We would like to submit to your wisdom and your patriotism,” explained a petition from the Committee of Colonization of Eastern France, “a project whose execution will inaugurate a new era of power for the French navy, prosperity for our trade and grandeur for the French name. We ask for the colonization of Madagascar…. What we are proposing is nothing new, Citizen Representatives, it is merely reconnecting with the work of Richelieu, Colbert, Choiseul, the Convention and the Empire.”32 There were also petitions sent in favor of the “office employees,” such as Ferdinand Jammes, who called for the creation of a philanthropic society on the model of an association: “This organized Association would put an end to all difficulties, would perfect professional education, provide the state with good employees, facilitate access to all positions that are currently reserved for a few privileged individuals, and would bring an end to the variety of solicitors and protectors who are a plague on government as well as the insatiable parasites within society.”33 A similar phenomena could be seen in the requests for improvement of the situation in the countryside, which were hardly forgotten.34 Some seemed to use this tone and its formulations in a more instrumental way, since there seems to have been a kind of grammar of justification that was popular at the time. This is another indicator of how widespread expressing ideals for the future had become. The petition of banks and insurance companies provided numerical and juridical data as it responded to a bill discussed by the Assembly to put fire insurance under the control of the state:35 “The minister’s bill not only undermines private interest; it not only is an error and a financial illusion that will send the National Assembly in an onerous and fatal direction; it is an infringement on Liberty and Equality, which are your political symbols; … the respect for property without which neither the Republic nor Society is possible.”36 It would be interesting to analyze the tenses employed. One observes, for example, a relatively moderate use of the conditional, the future is common, and from time to time, the present is used, as if the new world were already there. In order to paint a more complete picture, it would be necessary to explore a larger range of projects and authors (individual or collective, elite or militant or the (p.224) “people”). In any case, it is clear that this phenomenon was generalized, as attested to by the “dreams of police,” proposals by citizens for reorganizing the police that were addressed the Parisian prefecture of police.37 Attached to specific institutions, these futures that were hoped for, but never realized had a real capacity for projection in the eyes of those who wrote them. They bore witness to a moment when, to borrow the elegant formula of the Journal des débats: “today, only the language of dreams can translate history.”38

Different claims, which seemed either fanciful or maximalist, had different chances of success. For example, the claim for political equality between the sexes met with fierce resistance. Women like Eugénie Niboyet, Jeanne Deroin, Pauline Roland, or Désirée Gay attempted to make their voices heard. Arguing for the extension of citizenship and the overcoming of social barriers, they made their demands for suffrage in the name of “true” equality: “The servitude of women must come to an end with the servitude of work. They, too, are able to provide good work; they, too, want to live in the center of progress, escape the numerous dangers of ignorance and misery.”39 The argument was strong but unsuccessful. These women remained political “minors,” unable to vote, sometimes disagreeing among themselves, as indicated by the famous address of George Sand, who called for a staged40 increase of feminine awareness. While their words, which reconnected with the feminist calls of the 1790s, challenged the established political and symbolic order, the established norms in this domain remained too powerful.41 Public power therefore remained male. This was not to deny the importance of what the historian Joan W. Scott has referred to as a “fantasy echo,” a mode of political awareness that links different moments and disrupts existing social orders.42 Other requests may seem less pertinent. “L. L. T. V.” from Saint-Brieuc thus called for a “Republic of fathers,” where only fathers had the right to vote. The first paragraph of the proposed bill stated: “National sovereignty being only the natural and divine sovereignty of the fathers of families, under the universal sovereignty of God, the father of all, France declares itself a Representative Republic, rooted in the universal vote of national paternity.” This would, according to its author, ensure a return of authority that could be combined with the demands of the new citizens while dismissing women who were seen as unimportant and youth who were considered impetuous. According to this logic, the dream was to create a solid basis for social order under the double law of nature and of God and a republican return to patriarchy.43 This aspiration contained implicit notions of legitimacy. For example, the “republic of fathers” was first formulated in 1792 and continued up to the (p.225) Directory,44 but in this case it was at once isolated and far from the preoccupations of its audience. At the very least, these hopes offered by L. L. T. V. make it possible to measure the extent of the changes that could be imagined at this moment and reveal how History (with a capital H) was constantly intertwined with the history of social groups and the more intimate hopes of individuals. Tensions and social differences were palpable, not to mention indifference and flat out refusal: in Marseille, which was politically “white” (that is, royalist), the unrealized outcomes of the Revolution, even in their milder form, generated distrust. But expectations and suspense prevailed.

These futures that were feared, hoped for, possible, and always plural were also complementary, competing, and antagonistic. They may therefore be considered together as a whole. First of all, this allows us to go back to these early moments of the Revolution, which constituted an exceptional moment of social communion and the promise of a bright future—a promise that continued in France as well as in Europe. It was the “collective effervescence” coined long ago by Durkheim,45 a suggestive concept that should perhaps be exploited more often. Now that the rest of the story is known, this moment has often been referred to as a naïve time of “illusion.” Interrupting the narrative, listening to alternative voices, pushing the movement beyond its standard account may therefore help reassess the dynamics of the revolutionary fervor, before the disenchantment that followed. Such an exercise does not take anything away from the suspicions, antagonisms, or strategies for escape. It does, however, offer an opportune insight into the tensions of this particular moment when, gripped by the shivers of reality, it was in the process of becoming possible. This exercise also makes it possible to feel the effects of the shock wave that spread across social organization, inviting one to consider the various forms of political awareness, or the way in which “ordinary” individuals or those excluded from fields of power hoped to participate in the production of history. Though difficult to uncover, such suspended moments deserve more careful analysis. As with other crises, it would seem that historians are somehow embarrassed by the slightly exacerbated and confused expression of hope. A second area of interest may be found in the relationships, at this moment, between these alternative futures and institutions (we have not discussed the local level, which is decisive). There is then a tension between the collective form of desire and the organizations responsible for making the social world function. In psychoanalytic terms, desire is the expression of a lack as well as a process of production of the real (and of oneself);46 while the organizations depend on order or the capacity (real or supposed) to realize (p.226) and guarantee the routines that reduce the margins of uncertainty. This also explains why these institutions can become formidable echo chambers of contemporary hopes and appear to be endowed with an original institutional force, and also why at the same time they already impose constraints and make limitations felt.47 The stakes are high in this realm of uncertainty. So perhaps this may help us to better understand the troubled but vibrant feeling of living a key moment when the future remains open and slowly, over the course of weeks, becomes increasingly threatening and uncertain.

The Social Democratic Republic at Work

Some demands were voiced by groups or individuals that had greater ability to act at the same time that social divisions increased. The strongest and most visible demands emanated from the workers and popular circles of Paris. It must be remembered that this “class” did not imagine itself to be in opposition: these social milieus were rather trades that were unified and grouped together (typographers, locksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, and so on).48 Social ties, an “ideological and cultural homogeneity,”49 connected the most skilled workers and the most well-structured trades, united under the banner of the principles of association, social justice, the right to work, price controls, and so on. Louis Ménard gives a good account in his Prologue of this outlook and these ideals, which were also expressed in petitions sent to the Provisional Government, the Labor Committee, the Constituent Assembly, and the Executive Commission. The demands were at once very concrete (prices of fabrics for tailors, master-worker relationship among bakers, critiques of machinery50 and so on), and at the same time draped in the generous and universalist rhetoric of the moment. Hence, a worker from Mâcon proposed to set up a “national labor bank” to improve commerce and keep cost of living down.51 Or, for example, the declaration of faith in the “Manifesto of the Delegates of the Guilds of Luxembourg Commission,” called upon the “sovereign people” to “Open your eyes and step out from your darkness to see the light! Unite your strength into a single force, come put an end to your misery through holy ASSOCIATION that the fortunate of this century, in their egoistic perspective, have the audacity to consider a utopia.”52 These were perhaps utopian opinions for the historian who looks at them from above, with the impression of being aware of the “reality of the situation.” But by adopting the perspective of these groups through a comprehensive approach, and recalling the singularity of the context opened by the revolution and the first (p.227) measures of the Provisional Government, these positions gain credibility. Above all, they acquired a capacity to bring people together, as groups of referents that structure expectations, actions, and policies. Beyond this diversity of positions, there was a silent undercurrent in favor of the “universal” democratic social Republic: the idea that one could not change the political order (the creation of the Republic and the exercise of popular sovereignty) without changing the social and economic order along with it (with the introduction of the right to work and the establishment of a fairer process of exchange between the producer and the consumer). This project would necessarily take the very concrete form of association between different “workers’ guilds” (the term returns at this point), which claimed responsibility for implementing this true Republic and allowing for the emancipation of all, bourgeois as well as worker. The union of all classes remained the principal horizon of expectations.

Could these “February promises”—for example, a greater presence of workers within the executive, the implementation of proposals from the Luxembourg Commission, notably the right to work, which was granted for a brief moment and then withdrawn—have been realized? The hypothesis is not as wild as it sounds. Workers already occupied a place in the new political organization. The worker “Albert,” who was a modeler, member of secret republican societies, and founder of the newspaper L’Atelier was part of the Provisional Government, which was in itself a considerable achievement. At the Luxembourg Commission, presided over by Louis Blanc, the speakers debating the new organization of work were for the most part representatives of workers’ guilds. There was an increased working-class presence in Lyon as early as February 25. Moderate republicans like Joseph Bergier succumbed to the force of persuasion of the famous silk workers called the canuts. He therefore established a municipal commission dominated by “workers” in Lyon’s Hôtel de Ville, waving a red flag. The experiment lasted for a few days until the arrival of the commissioner of the Republic.53 These demands were part of a tradition, a social fabric, and a unique organizational dynamic. This was even more the case in Paris, the seat of power and revolution. At mid-century, 52 percent of the Parisian population lived on industrial labor.54 There was a tradition of associationalism, which could be traced back to the eighteenth century55 and was renewed in the 1830s and 1840s and then modified again in 1848 (this increased its strength and reinforced its credibility). There was a fabric of popular sociability on the streets, in the cabarets and the neighborhoods, whose roles were at least as important as the trades themselves.56 Institutionalization, on the other hand, rose out of the effervescence of 1848 and (p.228) was reflected in the vast creation of mutual-aid societies, corporations, associations of production and consumption, as well as the local committees that provided members of the Luxembourg Commission.57 Like most of these bodies that operated in the form of committees or assemblies with blurry contours, proposals and decisions were part of a complex process of confrontations and exchanges. Sociologists have shown the mechanisms of these kinds of “decision-making arenas,” operating through the multiplication of options, the alignment of collective scenarios, and their possible effects, in contexts where they have purchase.58 The result was a vast, socially anchored, but also random and unstable movement that generated an active social force. This can also be found in other clusters of potentiality, which no longer appear to be simple “anecdotes of history.” On March 17, for example, during the “walk of the two hundred thousand,” the Provisional Government was saved by a thread thanks to Louis Blanc, who was at the head of an imposing popular demonstration. On April 16, nervous Parisian workers spontaneously organized a gigantic demonstration to demand once again that their claims be taken into account. The bourgeois National Guard reacted quickly, the workers’ procession arrived, unarmed, at the Hôtel de Ville in front of one hundred thousand bourgeois guards. This radical potential among the workers, often neglected because of the focus on the events that followed—these were the people crushed in the June insurrection—seems credible. It would have been conceivable that, on one occasion or another, certain claims had been successful. The conjunction between future hopes, albeit plural and diffracted, and concrete possibilities for change was remarkable in this instance.

At this stage it is interesting to imagine a more social turn within the Republic if the Provisional Government had been more shaped by the presence of workers. The provinces (a range of cities and the majority of the countryside) would probably have rejected this particular form of republican government. While February had a strong following in these areas, the importance of conciliation as well as class unity is well known, especially across the varied modes of acceptance of the Republic in each of the French regions, cities, and villages.59 A more social Republic would have been perceived as more aggressive. Moreover, the provinces could not impose their own vision of the Republic: before the elections, uncertainty was too great, and after April, the power of the National Assembly was still undermined by the other sites of decision-making power that maintained their legitimacy. Two solutions were therefore imaginable: a separation between Paris and the provinces in the shorter or longer term; or, more probably, a polarization of the opposition (p.229) within Paris (between the advocates for a more direct democratic and social republic on the one side and a regrouping of the republican positions, moderate and frankly conservative on the other) and a rejection on the part of the provinces, except in a few places such as Lyon and perhaps Limoges. In this context, the Republic could have failed. It would have generated a wave of rejection, promoting the idea that “this isn’t working,” since the “the republican experiment,” as we know, was carried out step-by-step. The relationship between the French and the idea of the Republic would have been changed. The Third Republic, which today is considered foundational, would not have existed in the form it came to take. Perhaps a constitutional monarchy would have been put into place, a change that would probably have had more general repercussions on Western countries and their empires.

We have obviously gone too far. Such “leaps into the void” are fun for the vertiginous thrills they provoke. But they also bring us back to our analysis. In the first place, they reveal a certain sympathy on our part for this democratic and social perspective as well as a disenchantment that seems to characterize the period when this chapter was written. Can we not also imagine that, by giving more institutional form and facilitating the associational movement that was germinating in the large cities, the democratic and social hypotheses, whatever their eventual limits, would have gained more credibility and legitimacy—along with the demands for popular sovereignty, the rejection of the “hoarders,” or the development of more local rules of production? But these are once again subjective biases that generally underlie usual historical narratives and are precisely those that must be generally uncovered and set aside in order to further the analysis itself.60 In the second place, this leap is a timely reminder that the Parisian situation was part of a larger political terrain that was taking a less malleable form (after which Paris no longer made revolutions by itself). This also suggests, therefore, the plasticity of political forms, which were not yet fixed. Finally, it encourages us to formulate new questions: Did the Second Republic not also succeed in establishing itself because it relied in part on a certain ambivalence and on the mobilization of slogans or previous institutional forms? In general, the opening of horizons is justly emphasized, but to imagine another probable future also underlines the role of the reappropriation of legacies necessary for the acceptance of any new political framework. On the other hand, if these workers’ expectations had potentially more weight than in the Luxembourg Commission alone, is it not appropriate to ask, once again, about their imaginaries, the workers’ expectations, their positions, and their organization? This would make for a (p.230) fascinating object of historical study, often overlooked because these perspectives have not taken hold. It is also the result of a discourse that developed later, inspired by a certain Marxism, which has discredited these modes of action. These problems are more and more frequently addressed by historians.61 But the counterfactual detour renders them more salient. The “forgotten” revolution begins to resurface.

Union and Disunion

No matter how likely it was or not, in the end the scenario was highly credible to the minds of many protagonists. The insistent demands on the part of the workers aroused a great deal of fear, enflamed discourses, and pushed them to share the perception of possible futures. A gap seems to have opened. This was the great anxiety from March to June 1848 for the leaders who were gathered under the term “communism.” “Communism,” said George Sand suggestively, is “the calumniated and misunderstood future of the people.”62 The debate began in February, when the labor commission was set up at the Luxembourg Palace to reorganize labor in the country, but also to remove the pressure (which weighed upon the slightest deed or gesture within the government). Afterward, it continued to grow.

Three points merit clarification. First, individual positions and commitments also varied according to given situations (lives can be transformed by the choices that are made or the events that are experienced); the effect of February, therefore, remained suspended, and the theme of the union of classes constantly chipped away at the sociopolitical divisions. Otherwise, it is unclear why a year later, in 1849, under the conservative Republic, Jeanne Deroin regretted that such high levels of class antagonism had returned at the expense of social union, appearing increasingly inevitable.63 Finally, the situation changed as other institutional forms, including those sanctioned by universal manhood suffrage, were more firmly established. This was demonstrated on May 15, 1848. On that day the crowd of club leaders, workers, and curious people, who came to speak about Poland and then make their demands heard, invaded the National Assembly. Barbès, who joined the protesters, proclaimed the names of a new Provisional Government amid total confusion. The guard arrived, the protestors were evacuated, the leaders were arrested and then marginalized. Tocqueville, our privileged witness, noted that the tumult saved the Republic, either conservative or moderate, depending on one’s choice. For “if Barbès had succeeded in voting his motion,” the (p.231) rupture of the tacit agreement that controlled the situation would have been achieved. The chamber would then have “had to show its true face” and the conflict would have broken out, unleashing popular anger, leading to the emergence of new possible outcomes.64 The example confirms the potentiality within the workers’ movement. But it also suggests that the possibility of bifurcation was based more and more on parliamentary speeches, which signaled the structuration taking place within the political process. The insurgents then tried to repeat the events and appoint a new Provisional Government at the Hôtel de Ville, amid mass confusion. The attempt failed. Acclamation was not enough to produce the event: its effectiveness depended on the context, and its time had perhaps already passed. The field of possibilities was thus modified piece by piece.

June 23–26, 1848: Was Class Warfare Avoided?

In May and June, frustrations and tensions were particularly high as a result of the persistent economic crises. They came to their climax, and a partial resolution, in the famous June Days (23–26, 1848). These terrible battles on the streets of Paris have long been considered to be the inevitable outcome of preexisting social tensions. Against the reading of “bourgeois” republicans and conservatives who spoke of a struggle of civilization against the expression of despair, chimeras, and even barbarism, Karl Marx described these events as the consequence of class struggle, naïvely masked by workers in late February. June 1848 was considered by Marx to be the first great battle between the two classes that divided modern society, and its beginnings were perceptible as early as the clumsy and unequal compromises of February.65 Marx’s analysis, which he presented in the heat of the event, later sedimented into an overly simplistic reading. We know, thanks to work by historians, that in June there were also two visions of the Republic opposing one another: a liberal, orderly republic supported by elites, conservatives, sincere republicans (like Cavaignac), and even many workers (either because they supported this vision or followed their company in the National Guard).66 Facing this coalition was the democratic and social republic, defended for the most part by skilled workers bound by important neighborhood social networks. In some cases, they were more focused on defending their neighborhoods or on a particular conception of trampled dignity.

It is also important not to neglect, as we have seen, the role of evolutionary and unpredictable dynamic situations. This has been suggested by Mark (p.232) Traugott’s analysis of organizations created in February. According to Traugott, three collective actors had an important role in mobilizing Parisian workers:67 the Luxembourg Commission, the Parisian mobile guard, and the national workshops. We have already discussed the first. The second was set up on February 26 in order to provide work for workers and to secure a “popular” force for maintaining social and political order. It was composed of relatively young workers, who had been pushed out of the labor market by older workers. This guard was initially disobedient until military experience and effective management by the hierarchy succeeded in creating an esprit de corps among its members. The national workshops were created at the same time, also designed to provide work for laborers as part of the new right to work. The initial ambitions were quickly diminished, however, as the workshops started filling the role of containing the social crisis and unemployment, before becoming, at the end of April, a breeding ground of opposition and politicization once the workers’ clubs and associations were crippled. To this should be added the democratized National Guard, and the important role it played.68 Injected into political and economic dynamics, which were sometimes convergent, sometimes divergent (they were progressively pathdependent), these organizations, according to Traugott, exerted semidependent causal influences and thus participated in contingent outcomes. Counterfactuals are therefore necessary to clarify these heterogeneous relations: if the government had not provided uniforms to the mobile guard in time (this was an early object of recrimination), a revolt would certainly have taken place and the guards would not have marched against the insurgents in June. On the other hand, if the government had kept the director, Émile Thomas, at the head of the national workshops, perhaps the insurrection would not have occurred.69 June no longer appears in this perspective to be the result of an inevitable movement of history, but rather a probable outcome among others, which makes sense in that particular context. Would the confrontation have taken place afterward? No one knows. The reasoning suggests, in any case, how sensitivity to unrealized outcomes can lead us to question categories of analysis that have become too rigid (the class struggle between “bourgeois” and “proletarians” as the engine of history), and how it can make the thickness of collective trajectories felt, without neglecting the reality of powerful social antagonisms whose explicit crystallization also depends on specific situations.

Once the fight was on, the tensions became more clear. According to specialists, the military balance of power remained indefinite during the early (p.233) hours of fighting, especially as the military hesitated on the proper course of action. But the presence of troops, the bourgeois National Guard, the mobile and republican guards, commanded by General Cavaignac, left little room for the insurgents to express their despair. The massacre was horrible; all ambiguity disappeared. The “democratic and social” perspective, which had been the motor behind the revolution and fueled hopes during the first months of the Republic, would seem to have been closed. This time, the Republic, which had no doubt integrated some elements of social democracy, was to be parliamentary and moderate. The unfulfilled path, however, literally fed hopes for generations and had a profound impact on French political and social life.

1848–1851/1852: The Elections, Parliamentary Life, and the Coup d’État

After June, the elected Constituent Assembly became the key reference point. We could have insisted more on the elections of April 23, 1848, which would have made it possible to note that by definition, in a democratic parliamentary framework, elections are (or at least are supposed to be) a time of uncertainty: in spite of social, political, and geographical determinations, there is little room for maneuver, leading to results that are more or less predictable and decisive.70 Moreover, the consensual nature of the electoral results was astonishing in this case, since moderate republicans occupied the majority of the Assembly. The parliamentary speeches that were organized after June were also part of a response to these same tensions. The debates on the inclusion of the right to work in the constitution, as studied by Thomas Bouchet, reveal, for example, the importance of the representatives’ habits, paths, social and ideological positions, as well as the decisive impact of interactions, the mastery of eloquence, and the more or less local contexts in which they spoke (as well as very simply the number of people present in the Assembly).71

Let us now look at the presidential election of December 1848, which of course led to the overwhelming victory of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I. It was indeed, for the majority of those who thought they knew public opinion, a surprise. If Lamartine, among others, represented a bygone moment, Louis-Eugène Cavaignac aroused real interest. Historiography has largely held him accountable for the June 1848 massacre, followed by the repressive policies that followed: the victor of June was the “villain” of history. But he was also “the most authentic and loyal example imaginable of a ‘long standing’ republican”72 and had organized the killing of (p.234) Parisian workers in the name of universal manhood suffrage, which had just spoken in May. For him, the Republic, or this republic in any case, even with its faults, had been in danger. Maxime Du Camp noted in his Souvenirs that Cavaignac could easily have taken power after the June Days. The workers had been dispersed, the army supported him, his name was spoken with a sigh of relief. Moreover, the legislative chamber was a disappointment and Cavaignac presided over the government. He could perfectly well have set up a republican dictatorship (in the Roman sense, since the model was so present among these elites who bathed in the culture of ancient Rome) and maintained universal manhood suffrage for the election of the legislative chamber. This was yet one more possibility for the republican regime, another “cluster of potentialities.”

But he did not establish a republican dictatorship, no doubt emboldened by the same convictions and respect for the institutions he had tried to save. So when he ran for election in December, he seemed to many the best guarantee of a republic of order and liberty. This was the position of most of our authors (Louis Ménard excepted), whether they were moderate or conservative republicans. Daniel Stern concluded her history of 1848 on this missed rendezvous with the one who could have been, according to the logic of the time, a “great man.” Cavaignac lacked “a penetrating intelligence and spontaneity of action.” If he had been elected, she continued, the Republic could have been what it should have been. And this perspective was a real option if one reads the newspapers and follows the political calculations of the moment.

However, it was also an error of analysis: if the rejection on the part of the workers was predictable, the vote in the countryside had not been sufficiently taken into consideration nor were the subterranean attachments to a Napoleonic figure (which Bernard Ménager reminds us was hardly discussed in the Parisian or regional newspapers73). Louis-Napoleon’s skillfulness did the rest. But this time, the hidden and unexpected was clearly on the side of what actually happened.

The regime, under the influence of the “party of order,” underwent a conservative turning point the following year. The elections of May 1849 produced a legislative assembly filled with tension. Debates were lively between the most conservative members and the démoc-socs (democratic-socialist) minority, who nevertheless had a strong presence on the benches of the Assembly (about five hundred “Whites” [conservatives], one hundred republicans, and two hundred “Reds” [far left]). Tensions also opposed, little by little, the parliamentary representatives from the party of order and Louis-Napoléon (p.235) Bonaparte. A majority of the former desired a return to the monarchy and had the means to attempt a restoration. Historians have had a tendency to chart the “other paths,” which in general followed more or less what we would consider, the “right direction” (more democratic, more just, and so on). Nonetheless, the monarchical restoration, most likely with an elected legislative body, was still another possible outcome of 1848. The power of this dynamic, based on the disappointments of February, on a local anchoring that was still strong, though being eroded, and supported by a “red” scare after June, remained consistent. Probably based on a less expansive version of universal manhood suffrage, it would have been part of a set of deep social and cultural forces, which would have been reinforced at the same time, also changing the lines of opposition. The story scatters here into multiple vanishing lines. The restoration of the monarchy was avoided in part thanks to the president’s cleverness, who began to break with his allies, as well as the organizational difficulties of the “Whites.” There was also the weight of the republican idea, which was old and fragile, but remained present in the institutional dynamics at the most local level. This process of crystallization and progressive attenuation of certain options was also decisive. The movement alternated between expansion, retraction, and the displacement of opportunities.

A deadline was quickly approaching, however: 1852. According to the regime’s constitution, a new president of the Republic needed to be elected (the president could not run for reelection) as well as a new legislative body. The game of representative democracy was set to be played: in the language of the time, it was the “deadline of 1852.” For the republicans, it represented a real hope. In spite of the police pressures and the restrictions on universal suffrage (May 31, 1850), the movement for the diffusion of republican ideas had begun to spread. It was spreading within the popular culture of villages (carnivals and processions), building on secret societies and partially on the phenomenon of worker associationalism, which was benefiting from a strong resurgence. It was a vast extra-institutional movement. But many local leaders, often those close to the juridical community, made a choice in accordance with their principles to pursue the lawful route and privilege the vote. As a result, the election took on the character of a call for a truly republican political future. The singer Pierre Dupont captured this idea as early as 1850: “It is in two years, two years / That the Gallic rooster will sing / Come let your light shine / 1852.” For the monarchists and conservatives, both moderate and radical, the challenge was to maintain a dominant position in order to avoid what was perceived as republican anarchy and to ensure a return to “natural” (p.236) order. 1852 was therefore cause for concern. The famous propaganda pamphlet of Auguste Romieu offered a good illustration of this.74 “The signs are accumulating: everyone can see them now; a brand of mute terror has chilled the bones of the smallest and the greatest; the Red Specter of 1852, which we have not wanted to see and that I bring before you once again, is revealing itself to a society in shock.” The range of appreciations obviously varied. But the long-awaited “year of 1852,” with its hopes, expectations, projections, positions, and tensions, suggests that the regime hardly collapsed of simple “old age.”75

This year that had been the object of so much projection was interrupted by the coup d’état. After the failure of the constitutional revision, which would have allowed Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte to run for president a second time, it increasingly appeared to be the only option—although the president apparently took some time to accept it, according to his biographers.76 The operation was well prepared and enjoyed the success that we now know. The republican opposition had been brought under control, especially in the provincial towns, through the campaigns of repression from 1849 to 1851. The Parisian workers did not intervene, or only very few did, feeling excluded from the political game since the June Days. As for the deputies, while Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte tried to control them, they met at the town hall of the 10th arrondissement on December 2 to declare the former president unlawful. Constitutionally speaking, they had a window of opportunity during this moment of suspension: Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who was in the process of taking power, was marginalized. The decision could have had an impact if the rogue president had failed or made a misstep. Up to that point any variety of political forms was still a possibility. But the chances of success on the part of the deputies were slim. The main opposition, as we know, came from certain parts of the countryside, which had become “red” (that is, republican) in the previous months, testifying to the extent of the growing process of politicization that marked the nineteenth century. The refutations, however, followed a complex path, mixing a variety of references and problematics. If a majority of the rebels were not looking to defend the Constitution but “to reclaim their rights,” as the Republic of the Peasants promised in 1852, other motivations ended up being more surprising for historians. In the Dauphiné, the rebels called for the defense of the Christian faith, which they thought was under attack. In Ardèche, they imagined that they had been called upon by Louis-Napoléon to march against other provincial towns. Elsewhere, there were calls to avoid a return to the Old Regime.77 On the ground, the differences (p.237) were no doubt more subtle. But all these reasons combined with future hopes, which were coherent within the current systems of representation and provided opportunities for intervention. The new power in place also used them effectively: playing off the “fear of 1852” (a possible victory of the démocsocs in the elections) and the specter of the jacqueries of the Old Regime, Louis-Napoléon acquired a new legitimacy by transforming these rebellions into threats against the social order. With time, the coup d’état became a canonical date in the history of contemporary France. By reintegrating it into the uncertain mutations of the years 1848–1851 and not simply waiting for the deadline of 1852, one understands better what a shock it was—a final jolt in a situation that had long been suspended and full of tension. After the crushing of the opponents, proponents attempted to impose a new reading of the event almost immediately. The din of 1848 had been quieted—and even silenced.

Fractured Dimensions and Echoes of the “1848” that Never Came

Some Problems of Interpretation

Such an exercise would seem to provide a series of tests of the events and offer a way of reading the situations experienced by the actors against the grain, opening up a myriad of new possible directions. It provides an opportunity to grasp, perhaps better than the standard historical narrative, the importance of the successive actualizations that modified the previous situation.78

In doing so, the exercise helps measure the extent of the displacements involved, regardless of the ultimate vanishing point. When faced with the uncertainty of the events, the conventional account of the 1848 Revolution generally focuses on the “end of the story”: the slow creation of the Republic. The counterfactual approach, or possible futures, invites us to explore “as if” we didn’t know the end of the story. It modifies the implicit hierarchy of the dynamics involved and pushes us to think differently about their articulation. It can thus make the revolutionary moment feel like a succession of situations with intermediate outcomes and plural meanings.

Thus, it builds on approaches to the event that have been proposed in other disciplines.79 It is no longer a question of an analysis based on the outcome of the events, but from the perspective of the experiences they generate. These possible futures make it conceivable to experience concretely an evolving sociopolitical configuration, which is often the aim of researchers, by sharpening the corners. They help to take into account the problem of the (p.238) opening of possibilities, of grasping the weight of shifting determinations and bringing into light forgotten or neglected episodes.

The approach also facilitates the apprehension of the perception by the actors. By showing the dynamics of coalescence, crystallization, disintegration, and rupture, it shows why 1848 appeared to the protagonists, direct and indirect, as a time of profound indeterminacy, where the routines and norms that organized social life seemed suspended. In particular, one understands the omnipresence in the newspapers, speeches, and correspondences, both among elites and more “popular” genres, of references to “eddies,” “waves,” or “sinking.” Similarly, the approach helps to interpret the strategies of the individuals. Perceived afterward as illusory or useless, through this approach they become the motors of these mobile situations. As we have seen, it is not a question of calling upon some abstract rational actor, but of grasping the rationalities inherent in the “zero hour” of such events.80 It is therefore necessary to add to the calculations and the ideological orientations the importance of social trajectories, formulations of hope, emotion, the experience of the sacred, and political awareness. At the same time, various forms of avoidance and indifference must not be forgotten. The approach helps us find an original point of entry into the logic and the specificity of the event.

There remain three aspects that must be considered. The question of the status of these possible futures, especially those on which we have insisted, is still a problem. Are they pure fictions? Yes and no. Michel Dobry’s analyses of “situational logics,” or Luc Boltanski’s “regimes of action”81 suggest that these nodes are virtual real worlds, from which thoughts, choices, ideas, actions, and groups are articulated. They are, in a way, “real” without having happened. As such, these interpretive fictions are at once the fruit of a risk on the part of the researcher at the same time that they give relief to the blanks within the sources and the unknowns of events.

No doubt it is necessary to avoid typifying the stories and actors in this process of exploration. Categories like “workers” and “monarchists” do not always favor a deep analysis, and there is a great risk of closing oneself off from the fundamental uncertainty of these moments.82 The “possible futures” of workers are different according to whether we adopt the point of view of the educated and politicized Parisian typographer or the weaver working at home in misery. Moreover, there are multiple points of bifurcation that have been set aside here. It is unthinkable to grasp them in their entirety (a completely reliable analysis would imply an impossible total mastery of all the variables at play). These possible futures should be considered benchmarks to (p.239) improve the analysis, or tools likely to prevent the mechanical use of categories, in order to open our eyes to a particular situation.

The last point touches upon modes of narration. These possible futures seem to offer an original way of restoring the specificity of the historical or revolutionary event. They propose a narrative form that is at least as appropriate as the classical ones for exposing what was happening. In particular, it allows a more fragmented, analytical, and kaleidoscopic appraisal, while avoiding chance and psychologisms.

There is nothing absolutely new in these remarks, either in the discussion of clusters, the writing of the event, or the opening of opportunities. Nonetheless, the paths of possibility allow these different problems to be articulated at the same time that they put into practice proposals that oftentimes remain at the level of theory: they therefore allow for a broader mode of analysis.

Evaluating 1848

What emerges when we expand the temporal horizon? It is useful, at this level, to consider the variety of possible bifurcations as a whole, in order to escape a simplistic schema (a cause, an event, a change). Global transformation is irreversible and obvious. But the ultimate result appears to be the product of negotiations, of reduced possibilities, and of a permanence that remains salient (institutions, personnel, political practices, perceptions, and so on). Thus, in 1851, the institutional, economic, and social extensions are as surprising as the reality with which the word “Republic” (with or without content) is endowed; and the shifting coordinates seem to undermine the foundations of old social structures, forced to adapt once again.

Can a more precise account of this transformation be provided? Another type of counterfactual, which would be less interpretative and more evaluative, might provide a response to this question. What was, for example, the impact of the 1848 Revolution in Paris on the European “springtime of peoples?” The international dimension has not been sufficiently treated in the analysis provided here. We are, of course, familiar with the progress of the revolutionary process: the movement in Switzerland in 1847, revolts in the Italian peninsula, and so on. Some have argued that these movements took two paths forward, one through Vienna and the other through Paris, before reverberating outward. For others, only the Parisian path was decisive and initiated the movement.83 No doubt, the process was multifaceted. It may be argued that without the Revolution of February 1848, in the cradle of the French Revolution of (p.240) 1789, the springtime of peoples would not have spread so widely. In this argument’s favor, one may cite the circulation of slogans and French practices, such as the barricade, which could be found throughout revolutionary Europe.84 Moreover, without the Viennese revolution, the impact of the Parisian revolution would probably have remained just as important. An examination of the dissemination of information and a comparison with the beginnings of the different revolutions would allow for a more elaborate set of conclusions. If 1848 was a polycephalic revolution, its organization was not without its own hierarchies or points of reference.85 These explorations remind us that the Paris event also fits into a transnational framework.86 The European dimension in turn influenced the Parisian and French dynamics, undoubtedly contributing to the reinforcement of the actors’ beliefs. It reveals, in fact, a rich and complex system of interactions and co-definitions between these different places.

What about the economic significance of 1848? A broader look is equally necessary here. German researchers have recently reassessed the importance of the economic crisis of the years 1846–1848 in triggering or not triggering revolutionary episodes in Europe: “without the economic crisis of 1845–1848, which so obviously endangered the economic welfare of so many people and discredited the old regime so thoroughly, there would not have been the critical mass to support these new ideas. Hence, no explanation of the European revolutions of 1848 should neglect short-term economic factors.”87 The regional or national trajectories that followed were also part of this matrix. The French situation is well known: the 1848 Revolution took place in a context of crisis, while the beginning of the reign of Napoleon III in 1852 opened a period of prosperity. For example, according to Maurice Agulhon, the Republic accentuated the crisis by delaying essential investments (banks, railways, and so on)88 because it was caught between so many contradictory crosswinds. The earlier ends to the crisis in England and other European states bear witness to this effect. In other words, if 1848 had not occurred, the economic trends would not have been fundamentally any different. Simply, the moment of economic growth would have come earlier and the social crisis would have been less pronounced. The impact here was therefore a question of lag time.

Politically, the recurrent question has been: Was the Revolution of 1848 and the Second Republic a “success” or a “failure”? The key question in response is: Compared to what? If the comparison concerns our current norms (a liberal democratic republic in a capitalist economy), the question is necessarily anachronistic. If it takes into consideration what could (or should?) have happened, it is engaging in a counterfactual that is moral rather than analytical. Picking (p.241) up the question on a more social or cultural basis may be more helpful. The positions of elites, especially those with political power, survived the event relatively well.89 While the Republic brought a new set of political elites onto the scene through universal suffrage and provoked shifts in power relations, the old structures seemed to return as early as 1851: socially speaking, the legislative body of the very young Second Empire closely resembled that of the July Monarchy (a majority of civil servants, rentiers, and businessmen). The shakeup of 1848, in this case, was not as pronounced, nor were the continuities that helped consolidate Napoleon III’s regime. Was the experience of 1848–1852 merely a parenthesis then? Obviously not. As Philippe Vigier has shown, the perception of social relations shifted, clearly modifying their base and the ways they were maintained.90 Similarly, without 1848, universal male suffrage would not have been instituted, or at least not as early as it was. And after the event, it was never called into question again. The Republic had also come into existence, had been invested with hopes and concerns, had shown it could be real, and became a memory enriched with its own set of values, heroes, and events.

We could continue this line of reasoning, whether for the growth of the state or for socialist thought91 or the accentuation of a national culture. 1848, as we know, also played a decisive role in the awareness of the importance of the nation and in the will of nations to assert greater control over national identities.92 In this sense, 1848 does appear to be a tipping point.

What emerges from this investigation, therefore, are the economic, social, and cultural permanencies, as well as the real power of the event, which disembeds, suspends, or displaces them for a moment or for a longer period. One comes into contact here with the creative dimension of the event, which profoundly reorients previous lines of development. The result is an irreversible and uncertain ensemble between the short and the long term, latency and potentiality. One comes then to an original type of political form, inscribed in the longue durée of French and European history, that develops with a coherence that may be retraced afterward, without being predictable: the face of republican and then imperial France appears anew, while having been drawn by its old features and unrealized expressions.

Regrets and Anger

These periods, which were also experienced by the actors in a mode that bordered on counterfactual reasoning, left echoes in their memories in the form of other futures past. There is then a history of these unrealized ’48s. The (p.242) memory of the new regime constantly employed the imagery of the Second Republic and the dangers that France would have faced if it had been abandoned to “parties” and “systems.” This memory fits into the “temporal discordance” that characterized nineteenth-century modernity.93

The “what if” is also systematic in memories, memoirs, and histories. We have already mentioned those of Stern or Tocqueville. It can also be found in Louis Ménard and Maxime Du Camp: “If the Republic had been possible in France, it would have been founded by Cavaignac,” he noted regarding Cavaignac.94 A careful reading of these texts invites us to take another step: generally speaking, the events are analyzed from the angle of a “lack,” or a fault—Alphonse de Lamartine even speaks of a “betrayal of the moment”: “Great services were rendered, mistakes were made,” he said in his conclusion. “I ask God, my contemporaries and posterity to pardon me.”95 The sense of regret and the feeling of having deviated off course are by definition modes of counterfactual reasoning: we compare the situation to what could have been. Everything happens as if there had been a gap between what the Revolution carried within itself (good or bad) and what it became.

The counterfactuals produced after the fact by the actors themselves then makes it possible to study their aims and political ideas, especially since we are dealing here with subsequent narratives that clarify uncertainties. This implies a certain shared perception of historical development: we discover once again the modern “regime of historicity” that was peculiar to the nineteenth century, directed toward progress and heightened by the surprise of the revolutionary event.96 No doubt this temporal relationship makes it possible to understand why the feelings of frustration were so strong. During this period, there was a particularly strong projective force in the very idea of a possible future, which may have faded today for those of us who are going through what some would call a “crisis of temporality.” Restoring this impulse allows us to analyze how intense it was to live through these three years of transformation. In return, it legitimizes many aspects of the approach discussed earlier.

Revolution and Possibilism

One question remains: What relationship is there between revolution and possible futures? Is every revolution marked by possible futures, and can we identify specific developments from this perspective?

Moving forward in time, to 1870: after a period of stability, the Second Empire underwent an accelerated phase of liberalization, which was brutally (p.243) interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War. Few moments have been the object of so many “what-if” reflections, even fleeting ones. Such analyses can be found among all the specialists of the period, French or Anglo-American.97 These reflections are, moreover, necessary for bringing the Second Empire out of the republican narrative reconstructed in the 1880s, where it was presented as a kind of error in the irresistible advance of the (good) republican ideal.

Counterfactual reasoning usefully sheds light on the process that lasted from September 4 to March 18 in Paris, and then, following the “week of uncertainty” (March 18–26), to the election of the Commune. This week was marked by intense negotiations between the mayors and deputies of Paris, the Assembly of Versailles, and the revolutionaries who occupied the Hôtel de Ville.98 As opposed to February 1848, the advent of the Commune was in this sense a “slow journey,” which, according to Robert Tombs and Jacques Rougerie, invites us to relativize a priori political and sociological readings.99

The approach would be equally relevant for the Commune itself. Once the revolutionary moment began, the scene changed, in line with the discontinuity discussed earlier: the actors, the words, and the referents were revived. The idea of unrealized futures made its return, those of the Great Revolution, of 1830 as well as 1848 and 1851: the democratic and social republic was present once again. Changes also unfolded in a confused brouhaha. The Paris Commune of 1871, like the ephemeral communes of the provinces, was more positivist, more bound to workers, more bellicose. At the same time, the will to build a new world and to eradicate the traces of the old remained intense (this time the city was fully in the hands of the revolutionaries). The unanimity of the moment, however, was less apparent.

The possibility of variation was perhaps no longer the same. The Commune itself did not really represent an alternative: it maintained a distance from elected power, it had relatively little following in the provinces (even if we now have a better sense of the cities that, during the few weeks before and after, followed the movement100), and did not have the military means to impose itself. Regrets that a Communard offensive had not been carried out before the mobilization of Versailles were numerous, but the Communard army itself was not structured at that point. The paradox of the Commune may be then combining the expression and the implementation of a profound change of political forms and social relations, which ran deeper in some senses than in 1848 (with a resurgence of the social democratic expectations that had been disappointed in 1848), and, unlike 1848, a lesser capacity for mobilization and transformation. Not that the situation of the insurgent Paris wasn’t (p.244) gripped by uncertainty, but there was little immediate grasp on the whole of the French or European political future. The force of change may have been playing out elsewhere at that stage, in the legislative body, in the provinces, or in the army, and so on. What appeared was another political space of possible alternatives, that operated on a more national scale and resulted from the social, political, and cultural changes of the 1860s. The Commune revived the revolutionary experience while at the same time updating it. Its failure weighed upon memories for a long time to come. The revolutionary idea then continued in the French political field of the 1900s and in the redefinition of the workers’ movement.101 It was transformed, adopted other modes of expression, and became more organized before resurfacing elsewhere later. We are thus witness to the burial of a field of possibilities (and constraints), those of the first half of the nineteenth century, and the emergence of another. It remained marked by the reinvigoration of previous moments, while remaining offbeat and following other lines of force.

There would seem to be a historicity to the relations between revolution and possible futures, and the use of the approach must adapt to concrete situations. This is another way of extending the analysis of the revolutionary phenomenon. The moment of crisis, and then of revolution when it takes place, is by definition the crisscrossing of time, the heterogeneity of cases, the suspension of power relations. At the same time, these power relations do not disappear. Crisis or revolutionary moments resist the ordinary approaches of historians, who often struggle to bring these different dimensions together. Distanced observation and observation from within, comparative historical sociology and the study of lived experience do not always work well together. They make reference to very different phenomena: long-term social mutations, anthropological transformations of the relationship to time, transnational circulation of revolutionary experiences, rupture within the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary idea, the cycle of forms of violence, the resurgence of political projects and repertoires of action, the thickness of local situations, experiences, and the emergence of the previously unknown. What these pages would like to suggest is that the “what-if” approach offers an original way of articulating these dimensions, their connections, and disjunctions, without imposing a predetermined fixed relationship.

These remarks, then, make it possible to return to the perspectives drawn by different historians, such as Martin Malia, American specialist of the Soviet Union and revolution in the twentieth century.102 In his last work, published shortly after his death, he proposed a vast study of revolution defined (p.245) as a phenomenon peculiar to European political lifestyles from the fourteenth century to 1989. A “revolution,” in this long-term perspective, is a generalized revolt against an old regime. In this context, 1848 and 1871 are not revolutions, but rather echoes, reverberations of 1789: 1848 marks the end of a lyrical moment; 1871 is an anachronism. The real relationship was the one shared by 1789 and 1917. This perspective has the merit of offering significant points of comparison for the analysis of the two revolutions. Nevertheless, since it is entirely focused on 1917, the analysis tends to blur the revolutionary moment itself, its intensity, its capacity to shift—even just a touch—the contours and finally its echo within memories and policies. To the contrary, the approach discussed here pushes us to take them into account. More precisely, in this case it is a question of reevaluation: the relationship between the time of the crisis and the revolutionary upheaval, which is only one of the possible outcomes; suspending the “end” of the event to explore the displacements or the role of dispersed fragments; apprehending the compression of the experiences and the fluidity of crisis situations; rediscovering the variety and vigor of political expectations; returning to the role, the meaning and the functions of violence; integrating into the analysis the latency of social, mental, and material constraints, as well as the role of contingency; penetrating into the thick web of pasts, presents, and futures; thinking about the spatial connections and the complex temporal leaps that can tie these experiences together. This is a different kind of reading. One that invites us in return to leave room for the upsurge or the unforeseen in the most constrained or established social orders (whatever one’s judgment on it may be). This is partly what we learned from the round of revolutions during the Arab Spring of 2010–2012 and, in another register, the Maple Spring of 2012.103 What emerges is a form of history that is less certain about its closures.

By definition, the events and, in particular, crises and revolutions are moments of “what ifs,” be they actors, situations, readings after the fact, or distant observations. It therefore seems logical to use a mode of reasoning that follows the characteristics of its object.

By examining the tensions between what has happened and what has not happened, this approach compels us to reject perspectives that hover too distantly at the same time that it can help us distance ourselves from present perceptions. For a long time, revolutions have appeared to be engines of history, moments of desire and fear that shake worlds. Then, with the changes in the relation to time and shifts in the post-1989 geopolitical situation, the revolutionary (p.246) experiences were eroded, sometimes even erased from history—with the exception of 1789. This approach, with its artful exploration of setbacks and connections, offers a way of approaching and restoring anew a phenomenon that still seems to undermine many of the implicit elements of the historian’s narrative, either modern or postmodern.

Through this approach, stimulating perspectives await for reconsidering more classical sets of problems, such as the events and processes of social transformation, the entanglement of temporalities and temporal experiences, the lived and the situated, the closed and the opened, the naturalized and the possible.


(1.) Maxime Du Camp, Souvenirs de l’année 1848 (Paris: Hachette, 1876), 9.

(2.) Maurice Agulhon, 1848 ou l’apprentissage de la République 1848–1852 (Paris: Seuil 1992), 398. Maurice Agulhon, The Republican Experiment, 1848–1852, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). (This quotation translated by S. Sawyer.)

(3.) Placard signed Auguste Siberd, brigadier, 82, rue de la Tixéranderie, cited by Jean-Claude Caron, Les Feux de la discorde. Conflit et incendie dans la France du XIXe siècle (Paris: Hachette-Littérature, 2006), 73.

(4.) Alban Bensa and Éric Fassin, “Les Sciences sociales face à l’événement,” Terrain 38 (2002).

(5.) Pierre Nora, “Le Retour de l’événement,” in Faire de l’ histoire, ed. Jacques Le Goff and Pierre Nora, vol. 1: Nouveaux Problèmes (Paris: Gallimard, 1974), 210–229; Andrew Abbott, “From Causes to Events: Notes on Narrative Positivism,” Sociological Methods & Research 20, no. 4 (May 1992): 428–455; Bensa and Fassin, “Les Sciences sociales face à l’événement”; Marc Bessin, Claire Bidart, and Michel Grossetti, eds., Bifurcations. Les sciences sociales face aux ruptures et à l’évènement (Paris: La Découverte, 2010); François Dosse, Renaissance de l’évènement. Un défi pour l’historien: entre sphinx et phénix (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010); Jacques Revel, “Retour sur l’évènement: Un itinéraire historiographique,” in Le Goût de l’enquête. Pour Jean-Claude Passeron, ed. Jean-Louis Fabiani (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001), 95–118; William H. Sewell Jr., “Historical Events as Transformations of Structures,” Theory and Society 2 (1996): 841–881.

(p.352) (6.) The expression is from Rémi Gossez, Les Ouvriers de Paris. L’organisation, 1848–1851 (Paris: Société d’histoire de la révolution de 1848, 1967).

(7.) “Les Événements de la journée,” Le Siècle, February 24, 1848, 2.

(8.) Alphonse de Lamartine, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Perrotin, 1849); Daniel Stern, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Charpentier, 1862); Alexis de Tocqueville, Souvenirs (1850; Paris: Gallimard, 1964–1978); Maxime Du Camp, Souvenirs de l’année 1848 (Paris: Hachette, 1876); Henri de La Rochejaquelein, À mon pays. Défense de ma proposition sur l’appel à la nation (pour opter entre république ou monarchie) (Paris: Garnier, 1850); Louis Ménard, Prologue d’une révolution. Février–juin 1848, Au bureau du people (1849; Paris: La Fabrique, 2007). We have also consulted numerous newspapers and petitions for this study, including Le Siècle and Le Journal des débats (one week of each month from February to June), the entirety of the Tocsin des travailleurs, which appeared from June 1 to 23, and the excerpts from L’Ami du peuple and the Journal des travailleurs. We also consulted the Procès-verbaux du Comité du travail à l’Assemblée constituante de 1848, 3 vols., vol. 3 (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Révolution de 1848, 1908) and thirty-some petitions focused on the Provisional Government and the Constituent Assembly conserved in the National Archives (C 2226–2227) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

(9.) Agulhon, The Republican Experiment. On the context more generally, see also Bertrand Goujon, Monarchies postrévolutionnaires, 1814–1848 (Paris: Seuil, 2012).

(10.) Suffrage was based on a poll tax. One needed to pay a certain amount of tax in order to be able to vote.

(12.) Ernest Labrousse, “1848–1830–1789. Comment naissent les révolutions,” Actes du congrès historique du centenaire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948), 1–20. Regular revisions have followed. In one of the most recent focusing on 1848, we see that it followed a very winding path. Vincent Robert, “Comment naît une révolution?” in Le Temps des banquets (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2010), 382–384.

(13.) See the approaches of Maurizio Gribaudi and Michèle Riot-Sarcey in 1848, La Révolution oubliée (Paris: La Découverte, 2009), 31–32.

(14.) Alexis de Tocqueville, The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville, ed. Comte de Tocqueville, trans. Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (New York: Macmillan, 1896), 80–81.

(15.) See Boris Gobille, “De l’étiologie à l’historicité des crises. Sociologie des crises politiques et sociohistoire du temps court,” in La Logique du désordre, relire Michel Dobry, ed. Myriam Aït-Aoudia and Antoine Roger (Paris: Presses de Sciences-Po, 2015), 153–176.

(16.) Alain Garrigou, Histoire sociale du suffrage universel en France, 1848–2000 (Paris: Seuil, 2002).

(17.) François Jarrige, “Dire le refus des machines: Les pétitions ouvrières et les représentations de l’ordre économique (France, 1848),” Annales des Mines, Série réalités industrielles, 2009, 99–118.

(p.353) (18.) Here we are drawing on the reflections that were proposed in the workshop: “References to the Past” co-organized by Claude Moatti and Michel Riot-Sarcey. For 1830, see also Sylvie Aprile, Jean-Claude Caron, and Emmanuel Fureix, “Introduction,” in La liberté guidant les peuples (Paris: Champ Vallon, 2013).

(19.) G. Desjardins, De l’organisation de la fraternité ou d’une constitution sociale à donner au people (Paris: Perrotin/Furne, 1848), 3.

(20.) Jean-Pierre Gross, Fair Shares for All: Jacobin Egalitarianism in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Bernard Gainot, “La République comme association de citoyens solidaires. Pour retrouver l’économie politique républicaine (1792–1799),” in Pourquoi faire la revolution, by Jean-Luc Chappey, Bernard Gainod, Guillaume Mazeau, Frédéric Régent, and Pierre Serna (Marseille: Agone, 2012), 149–180.

(21.) Le Journal des travailleurs, June 11, 1848 (newspaper founded by the worker delegates at the Luxembourg Commission).

(22.) Cited in Yves Deloye, Les Voix de Dieu. Pour une autre histoire du suffrage électoral: le clergé catholique français et le vote. XIXe–XXe siècles (Paris: Fayard, 2006), 72.

(23.) Société des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité unité,” Placard, Sedan, France, imprimerie de Laroche-Jacob, April 11, 1848 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, FOL-LB53–1084).

(24.) Aby Warburg, Essais florentins (Paris: Klincksieck, 1990). On the invisible but constant anachronisms and heterogeneous discourses that rip open the normal course of things and leave the door open behind them, see, for example, Georges Didi-Huberman, Devant le temps. Histoire de l’art et anachronisme des images (Paris: Minuit, 2000). The banquets were part of this, as was the theater. For a precise example of the shift in meaning, see Vincent Robert, “Théâtre et révolution à la veille de 1848. Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 186–187 (March 2011): 30.

(25.) Emmanuel Fureix, “L’Iconoclasme politique: Une violence fondatrice? (1814–1848),” in Entre violence et conciliation. La résolution des conflits sociopolitiques en Europe au XIXe siècle, ed. Jean-Claude Caron, Frédéric Chauvaud, and Emmanuel Fureix (Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008), 231–241; and Emmanuel Fureix, ed., Iconoclasme et révolutions, de 1789 à nos jours (Seyssel, France: Champ Vallon, 2014).

(26.) Alphonse Dupront, “Temporel et éternel, anthropologie religieuse et histoire,” in Du Sacré (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 467–537.

(27.) The declarations of the candidacies in April 1848 and the innumerable posters produced after February 24 are other such sources.

(28.) Benoît Agnès, “L’Appel au pouvoir. Essai sur le pétitionnement auprès des chambres législatives et électives en France et au Royaume-Uni entre 1814 et 1848” (PhD thesis directed by Christophe Charle, Université Paris 1, 2009); François Jarrige, “Une ‘barricade de papiers’: Le pétitionnement contre la restriction du suffrage universel masculin en mai 1850,” Revue d’ histoire du XIXe siècle 29 (2004): 53–70.

(29.) Archives nationales, C 2428–2430. (The National Assembly received 3,097 petitions between 1849 and 1851.)

(p.354) (30.) The Constituent Assembly replaced the Provisional Government on May 10, 1848.

(31.) Pierre Rosanvallon, Le Sacre du citoyen (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), 372–387.

(32.) “Pétition du comité de colonisation de la France orientale à l’Assemblée nationale,” Paris, imprimerie de Schneider, June 1, 1848. This committee consisted of an exmissionary, a lawyer at the Paris Court of Appeal, and a student of medicine (Bibliothèque nationale de France, 4-LK11–83).

(33.) Ferdinand Jammes, “Pétition à l’Assemblée nationale en faveur des employés de bureau,” Batignolles, France, imprimerie de Hennuyer, 1848 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, 8-LB54–1320).

(34.) Among other petitions recorded in the registers of the Labor Committee in the Constituent Assembly one finds: “The establishment in the countryside, with the support of the state, of small industries such as silkworm manufactures, extraction of potato starch, beet sugar, by a delegation of mechanics for agricultural instruments, rue Paradis-Poissonière.” May 11, in Procès-verbaux du Comité du travail à l’Assemblée constituante de 1848, vol. 3 (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Révolution de 1848, 1908).

(35.) This was a crucial problem in the nineteenth century: Jean-Claude Caron, Les Feux de la discorde. Conflit et incendie dans la France du XIXe siècle (Paris: Hachette-Littérature, 2006); François Jarrige and Bénédicte Reynaud, “Les Usines en feu. L’industrialisation au risque des incendies dans le textile (France, 1830–1870),” Le Mouvement social 249, no. 4 (2014).

(36.) “Pétition contre le monopole des assurances par l’État,” Paris, imprimerie de Delanchy, 1848 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, 4-LB54–525).

(37.) The expression “dreams of police” comes from Vincent Denis, Paris Police Prefecture Archives, DB 31, 1829–1852.

(38.) Journal des débats, March 6, 1848.

(39.) Eugénie Niboyet, La Voix des femmes, March 21, 1848.

(40.) George Sand, “Lettre aux membres du comité central,” April 1848, in Correspondance, vol. 8 (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1971), 400–408.

(41.) Michèle Riot-Sarcey, La Démocratie à l’épreuve des femmes. Trois figures critiques du pouvoir, 1830–1848 (Paris: Albin Michel, 1994).

(42.) The expression refers to “a set of psychic operations by which certain categories of identity are made to elide historical differences and create apparent continuities.” Joan W. Scott, “Fantasy Echo: History and the Construction of Identity,” Critical Inquiry 27, no. 2 (2001): 284–304.

(43.) L. L. T. V. “La République des pères de famille devant l’Assemblée nationale, ou pétition motivée en faveur de leur imprescriptible et inaliénable souveraineté,” Saint-Brieuc, France, imprimerie de L. Prud’homme, 1848 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, 8-LB54–969). “If you accept the task of formulating into law the fundamental principles which have nonetheless withstood the test of time and consistently saved societies at risk, and which alone, inscribed in a European charter, would gradually lead all peoples toward a future that was indefinitely and wisely progressive.”

(44.) Anne Verjus, Le Bon mari. Une histoire politique des hommes et des femmes à l’époque révolutionnaire (Paris: Fayard, 2010).

(p.355) (45.) Émile Durkheim, Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1912).

(46.) On desire, see Sigmund Freud, L’Interprétation du rêve (1900; Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2012); on the creative dimension, see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, L’Anti-OEdipe (Paris: Minuit, 1972), 32–35.

(47.) It is also necessary to add that in spite of new social opportunities, a majority of the parliamentary and executive bodies were composed of the wealthiest sectors of society.

(48.) For a general sense of the context, see Gérard Noiriel, Les Ouvriers dans la société française (Paris: Seuil, 1986); on 1848, see Roger Price, Revolution and Reaction: 1848 and the Second Republic (London: New York, 1975); John M. Merriman, The Agony of the Republic: The Repression of the Left in Revolutionary France, 1848–1851 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978); on the world of Parisian workers in 1848, see Rémi Gossez, Les Ouvriers de Paris. L’organisation, 1848–1851 (La Roche-sur-Yon, France: Imprimerie de l’Ouest, 1968).

(49.) Alain Dewerpe, Le Monde du travail en France (Paris: Armand Colin, 1989).

(50.) Procès-verbaux du Comité du travail à l’Assemblée constituante de 1848 (Paris: Ed. Cornély, 1908).

(51.) Citoyen Martin (from Mâcon), “Pétition à l’Assemblée constituante pour la création d’une banque nationale ouvrière,” Paris, imprimerie de Vinchon, 1848 (Bibliothèuqe Nationale de France, 8-LB54–413).

(52.) “Manifesto of the Delegates of the Guilds of Luxembourg,” Journal des travailleurs, June 8, 1848.

(53.) Philippe Vigier, “Lyon, 25 février 1848,” in La Vie quotidienne en Province et à Paris pendant les journées de 1848 (Paris: Hachette, 1982), 81–109.

(54.) François Jarrige, “Artisanat et industrie,” in Le Peuple de Paris au XIXe siècle (Paris: Musée Carnavalet, 2012), 67. For a more detailed perspective, see Barrie M. Ratcliffe and Christine Piette, Vivre la ville. Les classes populaires à Paris (1re moitié du XIXe siècle) (Paris: La Boutique de l’histoire, 2007).

(55.) Jacques Rougerie, “Par-delà le coup d’État, la continuité de l’action et de l’organisation ouvrière,” in Comment meurt une République? Autour du 2 décembre, ed. Sylvie Aprile, Nathalie Bayon, Laurent Clavier, Louis Hincker, and Jean-Luc Mayaud, Actes du colloque de Lyon, December 2001, Société d’histoire de la révolution de 1848 et des révolutions du XIXe siècle (Paris: Créaphis, 2004), 267–284; Jacques Rougerie, “Le mouvement associatif populaire comme facteur d’acculturation politique à Paris de la Révolution aux années 1840. Continuité, discontinuités,” Annales historiques de la Révolution française 297 (1994): 493–516.

(56.) Laurent Clavier, “‘Quartier’ et expériences politiques dans les faubourgs du nord-est parisien en 1848,” Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle 33 (2006): 121–142.

(57.) Gossez, Les Ouvriers de Paris, vol. 1.

(58.) On this question, see Ivan Ermakoff, “Contingence historique et contiguïté des possibles,” Tracés 24 (2013): 23–45.

(59.) Vigier, La Vie quotidienne en Province et à Paris pendant les journées de 1848 (Paris: Hachette, 1982).

(p.356) (60.) Unless one adopted a perspective closer to that of Walter Benjamin, which would consist of expressing the presentism of these forms of action in our present. The choice is then more strictly historical and political, and adapted to contemporary transformation. On the changing presentism of 1848 between 1975 and 1991, see Maurice Agulhon, Les Quarante-Huitards (Paris: Gallimard-Julliard, “Archives,” 1976).

(61.) For example, Gribaudi and Riot-Sarcey, 1848, La Révolution oubliée; Louis Hincker, Citoyen-Combattant à Paris, 1848–1851 (Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2008); François Jarrige, Au temps des “tueuses de bras.” Les bris de machines à l’aube de l’ère industrielle (1780–1860) (Rennes, France: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009); Maurizio Gribaudi, Paris, ville ouvrière, une histoire occultée (1789–1848) (Paris: La Découverte, 2014).

(62.) George Sand, “Aux riches,” March 16, 1848, cited in Gribaudi and Riot-Sarcey, 1848, La Révolution oubliée, 113.

(63.) During the creation of a union of fraternal associations, Gossez, Les Ouvriers de Paris.

(65.) Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Collected Works, vol. 7: 1848 (New York: International Publishers, 1976).

(66.) Rémi Gossez, “Diversité des antagonismes sociaux vers le milieu du XIXe siècle,” Revue économique. 7, no. 3 (1956): 439–458.

(67.) Mark Traugott, Armies of the Poor: Determinants of Working-Class Participation in the Parisian Insurrection of June 1848 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985).

(68.) Laurent Clavier, Louis Hincker, and Jacques Rougerie, “Juin 1848, L’insurrection,” in 1848. Actes du colloque international du cent cinquantenaire, ed. Jean-Louis Mayaud (Paris: Creaphis, 2002).

(69.) Here we are following the argument of William Sewell based on his reading of Mark Traugott. See William H. Sewell Jr., “Three Temporalities: Toward and Eventful Sociology,” in Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 81–123.

(70.) Yves Deloye, Sociologie historique du politique (Paris: La Découverte, 2007).

(71.) Thomas Bouchet, Un jeudi à l’Assemblée. Politiques du discours et droit au travail dans la France de 1848 (Québec: Nota Bene, 2007).

(73.) Bernard Ménager, Les Napoléon du peuple (Paris: Aubier, 1988).

(74.) Auguste Romieu, Le Spectre rouge de l’année 1852 (Paris: Ledoyen, 1851).

(75.) Maurice Agulhon writes, “And yet, Merriman, like ourselves, does not think that democracy was necessarily destined to come to an end at the beginning of 1849. Far from drawing out a long terminal illness, it was a victim of strikes against it in a battle with exciting or minor episodes, provincial or Parisian, folkoloric or legislative, all of which formed the essential content of the three years of our story. This reevaluation of 1849, 1850 and 1851 in the chronological development is therefore bound to a reevaluation of political voluntarism in the explanatory mechanism.” Maurice Agulhon, book review of The Agony of the Republic, by John Merriman, in Annales, ESC 35, (p.357) no. 6 (1980): 1306–1307. On the fear of 1852, see also Guillaume Cuchet and Sylvain Milbach, “The Great Fear of 1852,” French History 26 (2012–2013): 297–324.

(76.) Morny still regrets in March 1851 in a letter to his father, his “loyal resignation,” in Éric Anceau, Napoléon III. Un Saint-Simon à cheval (Paris: Taillandier, 2008), 174–179.

(77.) Ménager, Les Napoléon du people.

(78.) From this perspective, the approach explored here is quite similar to the analyses proposed by Maurizio Gribaudi and Michèle Riot-Sarcey on the discontinuities used for the period from February to June 1848. See their 1848. La Révolution oubliée; Michèle Riot-Sarcey, “Temps et histoire en débat,” Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle 25 (2002), http://rh19.revues.org/index414.html.

(80.) We are borrowing the expression from Lynn Hunt, “The French Revolution: Time’s Degree Zero” (unpublished). We thank the author for sharing this text with us. See also “The World We Have Gained: The Future of the French Revolution,” American Historical Review 108, no. 1 (2003): 1–19. These works allow one to consider the impression of living “time’s degree zero,” where time accelerates, where the past, present, and future are confused and imbued with sacredness. The value of 1848 is that if the French Revolution is lived as an authentic “time zero” without a past, 1848 appears to be a “time zero” with a past, that is, the French Revolution.

(81.) Michel Dobry, “Ce dont sont faites les logiques de situation,” in L’ Atelier du politiste (Paris: La Découverte, 2007); Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur (Paris: Gallimard, 1991); Laurent Thévenot, L’Action au pluriel. Sociologie des régimes d’engagement (Paris: La Découverte, 2006).

(82.) Louis Hincker, Citoyen-Combattant à Paris, 1848–1851 (Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2008); Michel Dobry, “Les voies incertaines de la transitologie: Choix stratégiques, séquences historiques, bifurcations et processus de path dependence,” Revue française de science politique 50, nos. 4–5 (2000).

(83.) Christophe Charle, “Géopolitique révolutionnaire,” in Discordance des temps. Une brève histoire de la modernité (Paris: Armand Colin, 2011), 105–109; Robert J. W. Evans and Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, eds., The Revolutions in Europe 1848–1849: From Reform to Reaction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

(84.) Mark Traugott, The Insurgent Barricade (Oakland: University of California Press, 2010).

(85.) This hierarchy evolved over the course of time. Berlin and Vienna became more important as the French Republic was reduced.

(86.) But also within an imperial and global framework. See Miles Taylor, “The 1848 Revolutions and the British Empire,” Past and Present 166, no. 1 (2000): 146–180.

(87.) Helge Berger and Mark Spoerer, “Economic Crisis and the European Revolution of 1848,” Journal of Economic History 61, no. 2 (June 2001): 293–326.

(89.) Christophe Charle, Histoire sociale de la France au XIXe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 1991), 198.

(p.358) (91.) On the question of the impact of the 1848 on the development of the French state, see Stephen W. Sawyer, Demos Assembled: Democracy and the International Origins of the Modern State, 1840–1880 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). For the question of the development of socialism, one could ask: What would have come of the thoughts and socialist reforms without 1848? Did the failure of 1848 not contribute to the return of emancipatory thinking like the utopists at the very moment when they began to gain strength and legitimacy in the public sphere? Would Marxism have become so central without the Revolution of 1848, which seemed to corroborate his ideas in The Communist Manifesto published in 1848, when he referred to them as mere utopists? Loïc Rignol, Anne-Sophie Chambost, Ludovic Frobert, and Edward Castleton, “1848 as a Turning Point in Political Thought,” workshop at King’s College, Cambridge, April 11–12, 2012.

(92.) Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Anne-Marie Thiesse, La Création des identités nationales. Europe XVIIIe–XXe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 1999).

(93.) Christophe Charle, Discordance des temps. Une brève histoire de la modernité (Paris: Armand Colin, 2011).

(95.) Alphonse de Lamartine, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Perrotin, 1849).

(96.) Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004); François Hartog, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time, trans. Saskia Brown (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

(97.) Alain Plessis, De la fête impériale au mur des fédérés, 1852–1871 (Paris: Seuil, 1973); Charle, Histoire sociale de la France; Anceau, Napoléon III; Price, Revolution and Reaction; Philip Nord, The Republican Moment: Struggles for Democracy in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995). (This is a selected list.)

(98.) See Jacques Rougerie, La Commune de 1871 (Paris: Presses Universitaire de France, 2009), notably “La Semaine de l’incertitude,” 51–63.

(99.) Jacques Rougerie and Robert Tombs, “La Commune de Paris,” in Histoire des mouvements sociaux en France, ed. Michel Pigenet and Danièle Tartakosvky (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), 141–151.

(100.) Jeanne Gaillard, Communes de province, Commune de Paris (Paris: Flammarion, 1971); Marc César, Mars 1871: La Commune révolutionnaire de Narbonne (Sète, France: Éditions Singulières, 2008).

(101.) On the echoes, see Éric Fournier, La Commune n’est pas morte (Paris: Libertalia, 2013 ); Hongsheng Jiang, La Commune de Shanghai et la Commune de Paris (Paris: La Fabrique, 2014).

(102.) Martin Malia, Histoire des Révolutions (Paris: Tallandier, 2008).

(103.) Guillaume Mazeau, “La ronde des révolutions,” La Vie des idées, April 16, 2013.