Capitalism and the Emergence of Civic Equality in Eighteenth-Century France (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning) (Hardcover)

Capitalism and the Emergence of Civic Equality in Eighteenth-Century France (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning) Cover Image
Usually Ships in 1-5 Days. Please note that sometimes a book is available on our website but not currently on the store shelves


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.

About the Author

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.

Praise For…

“This superb book will be recognized immediately as a classic in the rich historiography of the French Revolution. It is the first major rethinking of the relationship of the old regime to the Revolution since Furet’s Interpreting the French Revolution was published four decades ago. Sewell’s book is elegantly and lucidly written, persuasively argued, and of fundamental importance for scholars in the broad spectrum of humanistic and social scientific disciplines who seek to understand the major transformation that gave birth to modern political culture.”
— Keith Michael Baker, Stanford University

“Sewell offers a detailed history of how our world, through the proliferation of physical objects, came to be experienced as less concrete and more abstract. Ranging from promenades to taxation by way of fashion, philosophes, and political economy, this magisterial synthesis shows that eighteenth-century capitalism both profoundly challenged existing regimes of privilege and, eventually, created entire new ones.”
— Rebecca L. Spang, Indiana University

“In his bold rethinking of Marx, Sewell restores capitalism to the debate on the origins of the French Revolution. With his signature clarity, he offers us a novel interpretive framework for understanding how subversive notions of equality upended a traditional society to ignite the Revolution. This book is essential reading for all French historians, social theorists, and students of capitalism.”
— Michael Kwass, Johns Hopkins University

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226770321
ISBN-10: 022677032X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: May 6th, 2021
Pages: 416
Series: Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning