Story of a book: Democracy in France



Commentary on the recently released book by Marisa Midori Deaecto

“A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have allied themselves in holy persecution of this spectre, the Pope, the Tsar, Metternich, Guizot, French radicals and German policemen”. (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Communist Manifesto.

It is very rare, in Brazilian historiography, to come across authors who are willing to venture into deep international waters, perhaps because in certain cultures the criteria of excellence are very high. And, minus the exceptions, taken seriously.

Previously, the historian Marisa Midori Deaecto had already offered us books that have become classics, especially O book empire. Institutions and reading practices in nineteenth-century São Paulo (São Paulo: EDUSP, 2019), with which he received the Jabuti Prize (2012) and the Sérgio Buarque de Holanda Prize, from the National Library Foundation (2011). Marisa now appears with a highly challenging, erudite, important study. Its about Story of a book: Democracy in France, by François Guizot (1848-1849), a work/essay by this famous liberal French politician, historian and publicist who was active in French and European political life in the first half of the 1830th century. An Orleanist militant, historian, he became a reference in the field of constitutional law, according to the victorious principles of the July Revolution (XNUMX).

François Pierre Guillaume Guizot was born in Nîmes in 1787. His grandparents were shepherds. In 1794, his father, a jurist, was guillotined after joining the federalist movement, in the midst of struggles between mountain people e girondins. The family then moved to Geneva, where Guizot completed his studies. In 1805, he entered the Faculty of Law of the Sorbonne, key to the Parisian salons, in particular, the circle of Suard, director of the newspaper You advertised. In 1814, he became the chair of Modern History. He began his political career under the Restoration regime, in Talleyrand's cabinet, however, after the assassination of the Duc de Berry, which marked the rise of the ultra to power, he became a virulent opponent of the Bourbon king.

The most forceful writings on representative government date from that period, hence the interest in the English model, which became an inspiration for the defense of the just environment French. At that time he published History of the Revolution in England (2 vols., 1826-1827) and modern history course (6 vols., 1829-1832), which comprised the volumes on the History of European and French Civilization, with several re-editions revised and expanded by the author.

In his political career, Guizot was Minister of Public Instruction, having created, in 1834, the Chair of Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Law in Paris. He appointed the Italian constitutionalist Pellegrino Rossi to succeed him, who published the course on Constitutional Law in several volumes (Paris, 1866).

Guizot was also, for a brief period, Prime Minister of France, from September 19, 1847 to February 23, 1848. He died in Val-Richer, in Normandy, far away from Parisian agitations, in 1874.

if, in The empire of books, the approach is comprehensive and diachronic, now, from the methodological point of view, the historiography is enriched with the approach concentrated in time and in a single object: the edition of Of the democracy in France, conceived at the end of 1848 and published in January 1849.

Indeed, the author reveals, as a historian and critic of culture, new perspectives for historical and historiographic work. And it does so on two planes, largely conjoined. In the strictly academic-scientific monographic field, by focusing as an object, and with the utmost rigor, a single book in its multiple dimensions: technical, bibliographical, historiographical-ideological, historical-social, marketing, contextual, political. And, on the methodological level, for applying an inspired, rigorous and innovative approach in the perception of the impacts of this work on criticism and on European and American political-cultural life, considering its national and international historical contexts.

The reader of this university thesis, presented to obtain the title of professor at USP, at the end of the author's analytical journey, from the reasons for choosing the book to be examined, passing through the meticulous technical examination of its invoice, and the detailed study that involved the life, ideas and production of the author-character, the ideologist Guizot, his editors, distributors, traders, critics and finally the readers, will have the correct, complete and complex dimension of what the object-book means, in particular a book of this small size, written according to the tides, currents and countercurrents of the thought of the time. In other words, an object that is undoubtedly differentiated, understood by the author as a synthesis of multiple determinations.

The analysis of the stages of events and the repercussions of Guizot's book is exquisite, accompanying him both in Europe and in the United States and reverberations in Brazil.

The author traveled and researched in the countries covered by the work of Guizot, and in which thinkers and militants of the level of Proudhon, certainly the most outstanding figure of French socialism, acted against. And the historian launches a discreet and not at all subtle note at the end of the chapter, in which he reminds us that, “months before the February Revolution, Minister Guizot ordered the persecution and expulsion of several foreign socialists from Paris, among them Karl Marx and his family. ”.

One of the highlights of his analysis is the sophisticated handling of the authors, especially specialists in the History of the Book (Frédéric Barbier, Robert Darnton) and my late master Jacques Godechot, among many others. But also on a conceptual level, Marisa's rigor is exemplary: take as an example the key concept of civil society, the touchstone of liberal thought, or Guizot's rapprochement with Alexis de Tocqueville: “Denouncing the ' democratic idolatry', Guizot echoes the liberal creed, in whose textbook democratic representation, in the form of universal suffrage and the expansion of means of forming public opinion, constitutes the main element in the destabilization of politics, society and the economy of a nation. In other words, of the bourgeois order.”

And the historian completes: “The people – writes Guizot, in evident Tocquevilian inspiration – have the right to the empire alone; and no rival, old or new, noble or bourgeois, can be admitted to share with him the power”. (In a note, he records: “It is interesting to note that Guizot only offers an open and nominal criticism of Poudhon… As far as the criticism of property is concerned, perhaps the most important study was that of Proudhon, the hostility of our author, Guizot, is notable. ”…).

In addition to the study of the author-characters, the author's care with key concepts, such as that of civil society. When discussing the Tocquevillian inspiration in the elaboration of Democracy in France, shows the historian that “it is in French politics, in which the author went from protagonist to spectator, that he makes his most radical dive”:

“It is not, therefore, a historical reasoning about the destinies of government and democracy over the course of the century. By reaffirming his position as a doctrinaire, Guizot takes possession of “concepts and analytical categories that are on the agenda, such as class, society, State, representation, power”, with a view to building a political platform for his party. Democracy in France, as a journalist later said, represents his return and that of his supporters to the political scene”.


Finally, the study of Marisa Midori Deaecto allows us to understand not only the dilemmas, but the essential ambiguity of liberalism: “We have seen that François Guizot recognizes the victory of the Third Estate and the bourgeoisie as an irrevocable legacy of the Revolution. But he fears the people. The common enemy, against which he exhorts the propertied classes and the liberal sectors, is socialism. In France, the republic, suffrage, the supremacy of the working class, anti-religious sentiment, the loosening of family values ​​in one word, is socialism. In him is the root of all evil. In it is the robbery of property, man's sacred conquest.”

And, by providing the key to understanding the book and its author, the author warned, already at the opening of her analysis: “In order to carry out his struggle, Guizot will spare no energy. The construction of the book in the French editorial and political arena, but also internationally, is the most eloquent proof of all its effort to reach its readers on the flanks” (p. 73).

In short, by reestablishing the link between men and books, based on the political trajectory of François Guizot, at a particularly critical moment, in the midst of the Revolutions that shook Europe in 1848, the author sheds light on the portrait of a great figure of the XNUMXth century. In a nutshell: a conservative liberal, Constitutionalist and Presbyterian.

*Carlos Guilherme Mota, historian, is Emeritus Professor at FFLCH-USP and full professor of Cultural History at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie. Author, among other books by Idea of ​​Revolution in Brazil (1789-1801) (Cortez Publisher).


Marisa Midori Deaecto. Story of a Book: Democracy in France by François Guizot. São Paulo, Ateliê Editorial, 2021, 368 pages.


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