What's in a Name? Republicanism and Conservatism in France 1871-18791

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Abstract:

This paper focuses on the appropriation of the label 'conservative' by republican politicians and intellectuals during the early years of the French Third Republic. It is a strategy in need of explanation because until then 'conservative' was used pejoratively by republicans as a synonym for 'reactionary' to describe their monarchist and clerical adversaries. Adopting the label conservative was an attempt to change the hearts and minds of the French public, and to secure support for the institutions of the new republic and for the democratic principles upon which they were founded. The paper analyses a number of senses in which republicans defined themselves as 'true conservatives': as defenders of the established political order, as representatives of a tradition inaugurated by the French Revolution, and as political realists. The paper concludes by assessing the significance and consequences of adopting this strategy for republican political thought in France.
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