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 "A review by Carroll Quigley
in The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 29, No. 2 (July 1943), pp. 251-252
of a book. THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEES IN THE DEPARTMENTS OF FRANCE, 1793-1794,
by John Black Sirich. 422 pages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1943.

 

 

The Revolutionary Committees in the Departments of France, 1793-1794.
By John Black Sirich. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1943. Pp. xii, 238. $2.50.)

 

 

    The author of this monograph aspired to do for the revolutionary committees in France in 1793-1794 what Professor Crane Brinton did for the Jacobin Clubs or what Mr. Donald Greer did for the victims of the Terror. It must be stated with regret that he has not fulfilled his ambition. This failure is one of method rather than material. It is not to be expected that every monograph will bring forth new facts. But it is to be expected that its facts will be supported by the evidence, or at least that it will make manifest the materials upon which its conclusions are built. Proving the obvious is the chief activity of the social and natural sciences. While most of Mr. Sirich's generalizations are obvious, they are merely illustrated and almost never proved. In most cases they could have been proved only by quantitative evidence and we are given almost no materials of this kind. The impression the reader receives is that the study is based on random and inconclusive sampling.

   For example, the author says that the members of the committees were sans-culottes: in the cities, chiefly artisans and workingmen (p. 58). This is what would be expected, but to prove it calls for quantitative methods. Instead the author gives us the composition of three committees (why these particular three? was it because they were the only lists available in secondary works?). Not only is this sample too small, but it does not support the generalization: of a total of thirty-three members, the occupations of thirty are known, and only eighteen of these are clearly workingmen. This is not more than the proportion which chance might give from the local population. Moreover, the author says that three frequent occupations are barber, innkeeper, and saloon-keeper. This may be true, but of the thirty-three he lists none is a member of any of these three vocations. Priests, he says, are " occasionally encountered ", but in his fist two of thirty-three (or 6%) are ex-priests. This is three times the ratio of clergy to the whole population. He speaks of the patriotic ardor of the city committees and the complete lack of interest of those in the country which, he says, were under the influence of larger landowners. But the author does not contrast the two, prove any part of these statements, or explain how the difference arose.

   Again, in regard to the activities of these committees in the food crisis, the author gives us in Chapter XI a number of conclusions which are just what we might expect. But the evidence in most cases seems inconclusive. Nor are the conclusions and the evidence always in accord. We are told that the committees were vigorous in their efforts to prevent hoarding (p. 157), then that the registers carry few notices of seizures and that the registers of the smaller communes "are almost devoid of activity" (p. 158). Here as elsewhere too much reliance is placed on unproved assumptions: "The fear of the committees and the penalties for hoarding must have served their purpose in many cases" (p. 157), although the author has just informed us that neither of these sanctions was effective in enforcing the maximum. In this whole chapter the only statement which gives us any concrete impression, because it is the only quantitative one, is that the records of 200 committees show no effort to enforce the maximum on salaries (p. 157). That is something, but does this mean that the rest of this chapter and, for that matter, the rest of the book, is based on 200 committees? If so, why not say so?

   Mr. Sirich is conscious of the above criticism but dismisses it as the carping of a "hundred percenter " (p. 7). One does not have to be a perfectionist to feel that his time would have been better spent on a solid and quantitative study of five or ten committees instead of a random sampling of the records of 200 out of the existing 3605.

Carroll Quigley

 

 

Scans of original

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