"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
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
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.