The century of possibilities (E. Fureix)

The collection " A personal history of France "(PUF) opens the contemporary period with" The century of possibilities ", Work ofEmmanuel Fureix, specialist in the cultural and political history of France in the 19th century. A century running from 1814, a year before the fall of Napoleon, to 1914, the eve of World War I, a date often considered the beginning of the 20th century. A decisive period for France, with its revolutions, its changes in political regimes, and its social and economic changes.

The unknown nineteenth century

As Emmanuel Fureix remarked very well in his introduction, the 19th century “is like a strange neighbor, both familiar and unknown”. By learning a little around you, we notice that when people hear "XIXth century", they will think above all of literature (Hugo, Zola, ...), perhaps of painting (Delacroix), and vaguely. remember that the emergence of the “republican values” so rehashed today dates from this time. The same goes for the economic and social upheavals caused by the industrial revolution. We may hear a few words about the Dreyfus affair, the Commune, or Napoleon III, but most of the time it will be very vague. And the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 will often be forgotten ...

The author thus tries here to enlighten us on the complexity and the richness of this century; is it that of the bourgeoisie? Revolutions? For Emmanuel Fureix, it is first of all "the century of politicization", often with violence. It was then the century of industrialization, but also of urban (Haussmann) and scientific (Pasteur) revolutions. Finally, it is “the century of a revolution in time and space”, notably with the birth of history as a science. A very rich program, therefore, that the historian summarizes in three main parts.

"Monarchies in the Age of Romanticism"

In this first part, Emmanuel Fureix goes back one year in time, compared to the previous volume, “Lights and revolutions” (O. Coquard). This part combines chronology and very different themes to illustrate these thirty years, which go from the Restoration to the revolution of 1848, with a difficulty to last for the constitutional monarchy (Hundred Days, revolution of 1830) before the advent of the Second Republic.

The part opens with the Restoration, a constitutional monarchy with absolutist accents, but also liberal. The second chapter passes rather quickly on the short "return of the Eagle" to evoke more at length "the White Terror" and "the centrist interlude (sic)", before the third chapter explains "the failure of utopia. reactionary ”which led to the revolution of 1830.

The next two chapters finally deal with the establishment of this “bastard regime”, led by Louis-Philippe, influenced for a time by “the spirit of July”, before the regime was finally overthrown in 1848.

"Between order and revolutions"

The two decades which follow are even richer than the preceding ones, in the upheavals of all kinds and the events. We go from one Republic to another, but with, in the same period, a coup d'état leading to the Second Empire, and a revolution as short as it is violent, the Commune. The historian logically begins with the revolution of 1848, an experiment in democracy, marked in particular by "fraternity". But quickly came, from June 1848, “the other Second Republic”, the subject of Chapter II, with the coming to power of Napoleon III, who quickly replaced the Republic by a Second Empire, “authoritarian political machine”.

Less well known is the relationship to modernity of this Second Empire, to which Emmanuel Fureix devotes his third chapter, which ends with the fall of the regime following the war of 1870. Finally, let us welcome the relatively developed chapter on the Municipality, dealt with in all its complexity, far from the caricatures that we read too often.

"The Republic in the making"

For this final part, entirely devoted to the Third Republic, Emmanuel Fureix chooses to open with a strictly chronological chapter, embracing the entire period (1871-1914), which he breaks down into “five acts”. Then, he goes into more thematic chapters: "the Republic, political form and social compromise", where we will particularly remember the part on "Marianne, the revolution and secularism"; and its chapter III, “the confrontations and contradictions of a liberal Republic”. Here, if we can welcome the pages on the Dreyfus affair or the exclusion of women from the Republic, we can on the other hand be a little disappointed with the little space dedicated to the “colonial Republic”, even if the historian makes us understand the essentials perfectly.

This “century of possibilities” is therefore proving to be a success for all those, and in particular teachers, who want to get to know this so complex and so rich (but so little known, or little known) 19th century. We will only reproach him, like the other volumes, for passing a little quickly on themes that we can judge as essential today (here, colonialism, or in "Le temps des Valois", the national sentiment. ).

E. Fureix, The Century of Possibilities (1814-1914), PUF, 2014.

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