The Headless Republic: Sacrificial Violence in Modern French Thought

The Headless Republic: Sacrificial Violence in Modern French Thought

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In The Headless Republic, Jesse Goldhammer explores how the French revolutionaries retrieved a set of ideas about founding violence from the classical Romans and early Christians and incorporated it into postrevolutionary debates that echoed into the twentieth century. By linking sacrifice as expressed in revolutionary practices to modern French theory, Goldhammer shows how ancient ideas of violent political renewal made their way into the contemporary age.Goldhammer elucidates the theoretical and practical significance of sacrificial violence during the Revolution, and then turns his attention to postrevolutionary intellectuals whose work is inspired by the founding sacrifices of the French Republic. Showing how Georges Bataille, Joseph de Maistre, and Georges Sorel adapted concepts of sacrifice to their own particular political agendas—whether reactionary or revolutionary—Goldhammer challenges conventional readings of these three thinkers as "bloodthirsty intellectuals." Instead, he argues, their work reveals the limits of violence as an agent of political change and attacks the forms of violence later adopted by fascist regimes. More broadly, Goldhammer makes the case for including ancient concepts of collective bloodshed in the modern lexicon of political violence.

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