New Book | Capitalism and the Emergence of Civic Equality

Posted in books by Editor on May 2, 2022

From The University of Chicago Press:

William Sewell, Capitalism and the Emergence of Civic Equality in Eighteenth-Century France (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021), 416 pages, ISBN: 9780226770321 (cloth), $105 / ISBN: 9780226770468 (paper), $35.

There is little doubt that the French Revolution of 1789 changed the course of Western history. But why did the idea of civic equality—a distinctive signature of that revolution—find such fertile ground in France? How might changing economic and social realities have affected political opinions? William H. Sewell Jr. argues that the flourishing of commercial capitalism in eighteenth-century France introduced a new independence, flexibility, and anonymity to French social life. By entering the interstices of this otherwise rigidly hierarchical society, expanded commodity exchange colored everyday experience in ways that made civic equality thinkable, possible, even desirable, when the crisis of the French Revolution arrived. Sewell ties together masterful analyses of a multitude of interrelated topics: the rise of commerce, the emergence of urban publics, the careers of the philosophes, commercial publishing, patronage, political economy, trade, and state finance. Capitalism and the Emergence of Civic Equality in Eighteenth-Century France offers an original interpretation of one of history’s pivotal moments.

William H. Sewell Jr. is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Political Science and History at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation, published by the University of Chicago Press.


Introduction: The French Revolution and the Shock of Civic Equality
1  Old Regime State and Society
2  The Eighteenth-Century Economy: Commerce and Capitalism

I. The Emergence of an Urban Public
3  The Commercial Public Sphere
4  The Empire of Fashion
5  The Parisian Promenade

II. The Philosophes and the Career Open to Talent
6  The Philosophe Career and the Impossible Example of Voltaire
7  Denis Diderot: Living by the Pen
8  The Abbé Morellet: Between Publishing and Patronage
9  Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Self-Deceived Clientage

III. Royal Administration and the Promise of Political Economy
10  Tocqueville’s Challenge: Royal Administration and the Rise of Civic Equality
11  Warfare, Taxes, and Administrative Centralization: The Double Bind of Royal Finance
12  Political Economy: A Solution to the Double Bind?
13  Navigating the Double Bind: Efforts at Reform

Conclusion: The Revolution and the Advent of Civic Equality
Epilogue: Civic Equality and the Continuing History of Capitalism


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