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Science and Polity in France

Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years

Charles Coulston Gillispie
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 752
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  • Book Info
    Science and Polity in France
    Book Description:

    From the 1770s through the 1820s the French scientific community predominated in the world to a degree that no other scientific establishment did in any period prior to the Second World War. In his classicScience and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime, Charles Gillispie analyzed the cultural, political, and technical factors that encouraged scientific productivity on the eve of the Revolution. In the present monumental and elegantly written sequel to that work, which Princeton is reissuing concurrently, he examines how the revolutionary and Napoleonic context contributed to modernization both of politics and science.

    In politics, argues Gillispie, the central feature of this modernization was conversion of subjects of a monarchy into citizens of a republic in direct contact with a state enormously augmented in power. To the scientific community, attainment of professional status was what citizenship was to all Frenchmen in the republic proper, namely the license to self-governance and dignity within the respective contexts. Revolutionary circumstances set up a resonance between politics and science since practitioners of both were future oriented in their outlook and scornful of the past.

    Among the creations of the First French Republic were institutions providing the earliest higher education in science. From them emerged rigorously trained people who constituted the founding generation in the disciplines of mathematical physics, positivistic biology, and clinical medicine. That scientists were able to achieve their ends was owing to the expertise they provided the revolutionary and imperial authorities in education, medicine, warfare, empire building, and industrial technology.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6531-4
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    The modern period in the history of both politics and science opens out of the quarter century of the French Revolution and its Napoleonic sequel. In both respects the relative importance of developments in France then reached a maximum in ways that were reciprocally reinforcing although neither one, in my view, was reducible to the other, nor were they to any further sector of historical change. In an earlier volume treating the last decades of the old regime, I ventured to identify and analyze loci of interaction between politics and science. The present purpose is to continue that approach throughout...

  5. CHAPTER I Science and Politics under the Constituent Assembly
    (pp. 7-100)

    In the history of science, narrowly speaking, the year 1789 is notable for several events, foremost among them publication by Lavoisier ofTraité élémentaire de la chimie.That supremely lucid manual draws together the oxygen theory of combustion, the gravimetric method of analysis, and the modern denotative nomenclature into a coherent foundation for a reformed chemistry. Lavoisier and the associates who had gathered round him thereupon launchedAnnales de chimie,the earliest journal consecrated to a single discipline. The first three volumes were approved for publication by the Academy of Science respectively in April, June, and September 1789.¹

    Equally important...

  6. CHAPTER II Education, Science, and Politics
    (pp. 101-164)

    Condorcet took his seat at the opening session of the Legislative Assembly on 1 October 1791. Three of his colleagues among resident members of the Academy of Science were also deputies, namely, two naturalists, Auguste Broussonet and Bernard de la Ville-sur-Illon, comte de Lacepéde, and one surgeon, Jacques Tenon. Tenon was the best known of the trio, not for his contributions to anatomy, but for his expertise in the regime of hospitals. HisMémoires sur les hospitaux de Paris(1788) had provided the substance of the report of the Academy’s commission on hospitals in the 1780s and was, as we...

  7. CHAPTER III The Museum of Natural History and the Academy of Science: Rise and Fall
    (pp. 165-222)

    On 8 August 1793 the Convention acted on the draft of a law submitted two days previously by the Comité d’Instruction Publique. The first article is curt and to the point: “All the academies and literary societies licensed or endowed by the nation are abolished.” The seventh and last article placed their facilities—botanical gardens, observatories, apparatus, libraries, museums, and other appurtenances—under the oversight of unspecified governmental authorities pending dispositions to be made when a system of public education should be organized. The intervening five articles, framed by friends of the Academy of Science on the committee, exempted it...

  8. CHAPTER IV The Metric System
    (pp. 223-285)

    The genius of liberty has at last made its appearance, and has put this question to the genius of science: What is the unit that is fixed and invariant, independent of any arbitrary element, a standard such that there is no need to move it from place to place in order to know its value, and such that it may be verified at any time and place? Estimable scientists, it is through you that the Universe will owe this benefit to France. You have drawn your theory from nature. Among all the lengths that have been determined, you have chosen...

  9. CHAPTER V Science and the Terror
    (pp. 286-338)

    The inescapable human and political scandal of the French Revolution is that such an apologia for the uses of power should have been seen as appropriate in the eyes of the foremost person exercising it a scant four years after the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. That Robespierre and his Jacobin confidants perceived no inconsistency between natural rights and terror is a dismaying instance of the dictum that hypocrisy is a relatively rare quality and self-deception very common and infinitely more dangerous. This book is not the place, nor is its author the person, to essay yet...

  10. CHAPTER VI Scientists at War
    (pp. 339-444)

    According to Madame Roland, Condorcet was the one who, amid the turmoil following the fall of the monarchy on 10 August 1792, suggested to her husband, who then returned to the Ministry of the Interior, that Gaspard Monge become Minister of the Navy in the provisional Council of Ministers dominated by Danton at the Ministry of Justice.² Monge held the post, which carried responsibility for the Navy, Merchant Marine, and Colonies, from 12 August 1792 until 10 April 1793. Only one of his original colleagues, LeBrun at Foreign Affairs, was still in office when he resigned. In effect, though not...

  11. CHAPTER VII Thermidorean Convention and Directory
    (pp. 445-550)

    In the classical historiography of the French Revolution, the final ten years of the First Republic have had a bad press. The political drama from the convening of the States-General to the overthrow of Robespierre, with all its portents for the nineteenth century, lapses into a dispiriting prospect of reaction, corruption, profiteering, and instability at home, tempered by military conquest abroad. Failed royalism alternates with failed populism until the politically bankrupt Republic collapses into the receivership of a vulgar and factitious, albeit glorious, empire.

    The historian of science reads different kinds of evidence. If one pays attention to the views...

  12. CHAPTER VIII Bonaparte and the Scientific Community
    (pp. 551-651)

    The curve of Bonaparte’s historical trajectory turned sharply upward with the Italian campaign of 1796–97 and the landing of his expeditionary force in Alexandria in August 1798. Italy was the making of his military reputation, legendary from the outset, and Egypt the proconsular, and as it turned out pre-Consular, interlude before seizing power. Monge and Berthollet were at his side throughout. Invasion of Italy and occupation of Egypt had, one will not say a cultural justification, but a cultural or, perhaps better, a modernizing component. Later conquests, after Bonaparte declared himself Napoleon I in 1804, were merely imperial.


  13. CHAPTER IX Positivist Science
    (pp. 652-696)

    The sciences that emerged phoenix-like and transformed from the fires of revolutionary change have been well studied for themselves and will continue to be.¹ Let us attempt in conclusion not a full, documented account but a summary portrayal of the character of the scientific action—“mouvance” says it better—in this, the second generation of French preeminence in science.

    With respect to organizational aspects, the keynotes were professionalization and discipline formation. Although the two were intimately connected, the one concerns primarily the situation of science in the larger society, the other primarily the practice of science within itself. Professionalism, indeed,...

    (pp. 697-698)
    (pp. 699-716)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 717-751)