Although there is now a great deal of literature on the concept of public opinion in the 18th century France, it is almost entirely devoted to the pre-revolutionary years. No book has tackled the concept of public opinion in the French Revolution itself. "To Speak" "for the People " is a lucid and innovative study that finally fills this gap. Historian Jon Cowans adds a strong and genuinely original voice to the historical debate over the problem of legitimacy during the Revolution drawing on the works of such luminaries as Jurgen Habermas, Keith Baker, Francois Furet, and Nancy Fraser. He then examines the uses of terms such as "public opinion," 'the public," and "the people" in political debates during the Revolution and analyzes those terms' changing meaning and the role they played in attempts to secure political authority. While shedding new light on the Revolution itself, the book raises broader issues by addressing the problem of legitimacy that has haunted all revolutionary and democratic governments throughout the modern period. Jon Cowans is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He received his Ph.D. in History at Stanford University. He has published articles on French political culture, cultural politics, and memory in "French Historical Studies," the "Journal of Contemporary History," and "History and Memory." He teaches in the History Department of Rutgers University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
"This excellent book is the first legitimate study of the meanings of 'public opinion' in the French Revolution and the rhetorical force with which the term could be deployed. It adds substantially to our knowledge of the political discourse of the Revolution and of the history of one of the key concepts in modern politics."
-Keith Baker, Stanford University
"This timely study significantly contributes to continuing conversations among historians about the emergence of a public sphere at the end of the eighteenth century. Cowans masterfully guides us through the constructions and deployment of public opinion as an instrument of political legitimization and delegitimization."
-Darline Gay Levine, New York University
"Informed by the work of Jurgen Habermas and Keith Baker, Jon Cowans extends the study of public opinion and its linguistic context into the revolutionary era itself. The author demonstrates the remarkable change in the concept of public opinion during the revolution by examining the language of speeches in the various assemblies, deliberations of the Jacobin Club in Paris, and commentary in assorted contemporary publications.."
-"American Historical Review, Kenneth Margerison, Southwest Texas State University