Jacobin (politics)

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A Jacobin (French pronunciation: ​[ʒakɔbɛ̃]; English: /ˈækəbɪn/) was a member of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary political movement that was the most famous political club during the French Revolution (1789–1799).[1] The club got its name from meeting at the Dominican rue Saint-Honoré Monastery of the Jacobins. The Dominicans in France were called Jacobins (Latin: Jacobus, corresponds to Jacques in French and James in English) because their first house in Paris was the Saint Jacques Monastery.

Today, the terms Jacobin and Jacobinism (also known as "Robespierrism")[2] are used in a variety of senses. In France, Jacobin now generally indicates a supporter of a centralized republican state and strong central government powers[3] and/or supporters of extensive government intervention to transform society.

In the French Revolution[edit]

The Jacobin Club was one of several organizations that grew out of the French Revolution and it was distinguished for its left-wing, revolutionary politics.[4][5] Because of this, the Jacobins, unlike other sects such as the Girondins (who were originally part of the Jacobins, but branched off), were closely allied to the sans-culottes, who were a popular force of working-class Parisians that played a pivotal role in the development of the revolution.

The Jacobins had a significant presence in the National Convention, and were dubbed "the mountain" for their seats in the uppermost part of the chamber. Eventually, the Revolution coalesced around The Mountain's power, with the help of the insurrections of the sans-culottes, and, led by Robespierre, the Jacobins established a revolutionary dictatorship, or the joint domination of the Committee of Public Safety and Committee of General Security.

The Jacobins were known for creating a strong government that could deal with the needs of war, economic chaos, and internal rebellion (such as the War in the Vendée). This included establishing the world's first universal military draft as a solution to filling army ranks to put down civil unrest and prosecute war.[6][7] The Jacobin dictatorship was known for enacting the Reign of Terror, which targeted speculators, monarchists, right-wing Girondin agitators, Hébertists, and traitors, and led to many beheadings.

The Jacobins supported the rights of property, but represented a much more middle-class position than the government which succeeded them in Thermidor.

They favored free trade and a liberal economy much like the Girondists, but their relationship to the people made them more willing to adopt interventionist economic policies.[4]: 81–82  Unlike the Girondins, their economic policy favored price controls (i.e., General maximum) on staples like grain and select household and grocery goods to address economic problems.[6] Using the armée revolutionnaire, they targeted farmers, the rich and others who may have stocks of essential goods ("goods of the first necessity") in service of a national distribution system with severe punishment for uncooperative hoarders.[8]

Another tenet of Jacobinism is a secularism that includes the elimination of existing religions in favor of one run by the state (i.e., the cults of Reason and the Supreme Being).[9][10]

Jacobinism was as an ideology thus developed and implemented during the French Revolution of 1789. In the words of François Furet, in Penser la révolution française (quoted by Hoel in Introduction au Jacobinisme..., "Jacobinism is both an ideology and a power: a system of representations and a system of action." ("le jacobinisme est à la fois une idéologie et un pouvoir : un système de représentations et un système d'action"). Its political goals were largely achieved later during France's Third Republic.[11]


Jacobinism did not end with the Revolution. In the 1930s, the Popular Front coalition included the French Communist Party or Parti communiste français (PCF), who along with portions of the alliance's socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) party increasingly emphasized patriotism.[12] The PCF were characterized as "New Jacobins" and their leader Maurice Thorez as a "Stalinist Jacobin".[12]

October 4, 1919, Alexandre Varenne founded the socialist daily La Montagne, Quotidien de la Démocratie Socialiste du Center.[13] The title was selected to reflect its alignment with the ideas of the Montagnards.[13]

Russia and Soviet Union[edit]

In the early 20th Century, Bolshevism and Jacobinism were linked.[14] Russia's notion of the French Revolution permeated educated society and was reflected in speeches and writings of leaders, including Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin.[15][16] They modeled their revolution after the Jacobins and the Terror with Trotsky even envisioning a trial for Nicholas II akin to that for Louis XVI.[17] Lenin regarded the execution of the former tsar and his immediate family as necessary, highlighting the precedent set in the French Revolution.[18] At the same time, the Bolsheviks consciously tried to avoid the mistakes they saw made by the French revolutionaries.[17]

Lenin referred to Robespierre as a "Bolshevik avant la lettre" and erected a statue to him.[19][20] Other statues were planned or erected of other prominent members of the Terror as well as François-Noël Babeuf.[21] The Voskresenskaya Embankment in St. Petersburg was also renamed Naberezhnaya Robespera for the French leader in 1923; it was returned to its original name in 2014.[22]

Relying on Karl Marx, Lenin saw the overall progress in events in France from 1789 through 1871 as the French Bourgeois Revolution.[23] He adhered to the Montagnards' policies of centralization of authority to stabilize a new state, the virtue and necessity of terror against oppressors and "an alliance between the proletariat and peasantry" ("the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants").[24] He would refer to his side as the Mountain or Jacobin and label his Menshevik opponents as the "Gironde".[25]

United Kingdom[edit]

The conventionalized scrawny, French revolutionary sans-culottes Jacobin, was developed from about 1790 by British satirical artists James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. It was commonly contrasted with the stolid stocky conservative and well-meaning John Bull, dressed like an English country squire. C. L. R. James also used the term to refer to revolutionaries during the Haitian Revolution in his book The Black Jacobins.

Thomas Paine was a believer in the French Revolution and supported the Girondins. At the same time, Protestant Dissenters seeking for relief from the Test and Corporation Acts supported the French Revolution at least in its early stages after seeing concessions to religious minorities by the French authorities in 1787 and in the Declaration of Rights of Man.[26] Paine's publications enjoyed support by Painite Radical factions like the Manchester Constitutional Society. Prominent members of the Society who worked for the Radical Manchester Herald newspaper even contacted the Jacobin Club in France in April 13, 1792. Thus, Radicals were labeled Jacobins by their opponents.[27] Regional Painite radicalism was incorrectly portrayed as English Jacobinism and were attacked by Conservative forces including Edmund Burke as early as 1791.[28] The London Revolution Society also corresponded with the National Assembly starting in November 1789. Their letters were circulated among the regional Jacobin clubs, with around 52 clubs corresponding with the society by the spring of 1792.[29] Other regional British revolutionary societies formed in centers of British Jacobinism.[30] English Jacobins included the young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and others prior to their disillusionment with the outbreak of the Reign of Terror. Others, such as Paine, William Hazlitt and Whig statesman Charles James Fox, remained idealistic about the Revolution.

Overall, after 1793 "Jacobin" became a pejorative for radical left-wing revolutionary politics[31] and was linked to sedition.[32] The word was further promoted in England by George Canning's 1797-8 newspaper Anti-Jacobin and later, John Gifford's 1798-1821 Anti-Jacobin Review, which both criticized the English Radicals of the 18th and 19th centuries. Much detail on English Jacobinism can be found in E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class.

Welsh Jacobins include William Jones, a radical patriot who was a keen disciple of Voltaire. Rather than preaching revolution, Jones believed that an exodus from Wales was required and that a new Welsh colony should be founded in the United States.[33]

The socialist Chartist movement in the first half of the 19th Century was inspired by Robespierre.[2] Chartist leader James Bronterre O'Brien defended Robespierre, describing him as "one of the greatest men, and one of the purest and most enlightened reformers, that ever existed in the world."[34][35] He came to Robespierre through his studies of Filippo Buonarroti.[2]


In the correspondence of Metternich and other leaders of the repressive policies that followed the second fall of Napoleon in 1815, Jacobin is the term commonly applied to anyone with liberal tendencies, such as the emperor Alexander I of Russia.[36]

United States[edit]

Federalists often characterized Thomas Jefferson, who himself had intervened in the French Revolution,[37] and his Democratic-Republican party as Jacobins.[38] Early Federalist-leaning American newspapers during the French Revolution referred to the Democratic-Republican party as the "Jacobin Party".[39] The most notable examples are the Gazette of the United States, published in Philadelphia, and the Delaware and Eastern-Shore Advertiser, published in Wilmington, during the elections of 1800.[citation needed].

In modern American politics, the term Jacobin is often used to describe extremists of any party who demand ideological purity.[40]

Evidencing the antagonistic relationship between the press and insurgent Arizona conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater,[41][42][43] The New York Times attacked Goldwater in their Bastille Day coverage of the 1964 Republican National Convention. The paper called his supporters "Cactus Jacobins", comparing their opposition to "establishment" Eastern Republicans (see Rockefeller Republican) and “sensation‐seeking columnists and commentators" as expressed by moderate former president Dwight Eisenhower to the execution of representatives of the Ancien Régime in the Reign of Terror.[44] In contrast, L. Brent Bozell, Jr. has written in Goldwater's seminal The Conscience of a Conservative (1960) that "Throughout history, true Conservatism has been at war equally with autocrats and with 'democratic' Jacobins."[45]

In 2010 an American left-wing socialist publication, Jacobin, was founded.[46][47]

In the 27 May 2010 issue of The New York Review of Books, left-wing Columbia professor Mark Lilla analyzed three recent books dealing with American political party discontent in a review titled "The Tea Party Jacobins".[48] On the other side, historian and conservative Victor Davis Hanson likened the rise and policies of leftists in the Democratic Party in 2019 to the Jacobins and Jacobinism.[49]


The political rhetoric and populist ideas espoused by the Jacobins would lead to the development of the modern leftist movements throughout the 19th and 20th century, with Jacobinism being the political foundation of almost all leftist schools of thought including anarchism, communism and socialism.[50][51][52] The Paris Commune was seen as the revolutionary successor to the Jacobins.[53][54] The undercurrent of radical and populist tendencies espoused and enacted by the Jacobins would create a complete cultural and societal shock within the traditional and conservative governments of Europe, leading to new political ideas of society emerging. Jacobin rhetoric would lead to increasing secularization and skepticism towards the governments of Europe throughout the 1800s.[55] This complex and complete revolution in political, societal and cultural structure, caused in part by the Jacobins, had lasting impact throughout Europe, with such societal revolution's throughout the 1800s culminating in the Revolutions of 1848.[56][57]

Jacobin populism and complete structural destruction of the old order led to an increasingly revolutionary spirit throughout Europe and such changes would contribute to new political foundations. For instance in France, Georges Valois, founder of the first non-Italian fascist party Faisceau,[58] claimed the roots of fascism stemmed from the Jacobin movement.[59] This would also lead to far-right reactionary movements to rise in response, including ultranationalism.[citation needed] Leftist organizations would take different elements from Jacobin's core foundation. Anarchists took influence from the Jacobins use of mass movements, direct democracy and left-wing populism which would influence the tactics of direct action.[citation needed] Some Marxists would take influence from the extreme protectionism of the Jacobins and the notion of the vanguard defender of the republic which would later evolve into vanguardism.[citation needed] The Jacobin philosophy of a complete dismantling of an old system, with completely radical and new structure, is historically seen as one of the most revolutionary and important movements throughout modern history.[51][55][57]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Tony Judt (2011). Marxism and the French Left: Studies on Labour and Politics in France, 1830–1981. New York & London: New York University Press. p. 108.
  2. ^ a b c Mathiez, Albert (1910). La Politique de Robespierre et le 9 Thermidor Expliqués par Buonarroti. Le Puy-en-Velay, France: de Peyriller, Rouchon et Gamon. p. 2.
  3. ^ Alain Rey, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, Le Robert, 1992.[page needed][ISBN missing]
  4. ^ a b Rudé, George (1988). The French Revolution: Its Causes, Its History and Its Legacy After 200 Years. ISBN 1857991265.[page needed]
  5. ^ Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, ed. (2007). Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760–1815. 1. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 307, 403. ISBN 978-0313334450.
  6. ^ a b Schama, Simon (1989). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 760. ISBN 0-394-55948-7.
  7. ^ History.com editors (24 January 2020). "The Draft". A&E Television Networks.Retrieved April 25, 2021
  8. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 757–8.
  9. ^ Gottschalk, Louis R. (1929). The Era of the French Revolution (1715–1815). Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 258–259.
  10. ^ Brinton 2012, p. 126.
  11. ^ Brinton, Crane (2012). The Jacobins: An Essay in the New History. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. pp. 227–228. ISBN 9781412848107.
  12. ^ a b Wardhaugh, Jessica (2007). "Fighting for the Unknown Soldier: The Contested Territory of the French Nation in 1934–1938". Modern and Contemporary France. 15 (2): 185–201. doi:10.1080/09639480701300018. S2CID 143962782.
  13. ^ a b "La Montagne (1919-1944)". Clermont-Ferrand, France: Clermont Auvergne Metropole Bibliothèques et médiathèques. Retrieved May 10,2021
  14. ^ Mathiez, Albert (1920). Le Bolchevisme et le Jacobinisme. Paris: Librairie du Parti Socialiste et de l'Humanite.
  15. ^ Jackson, George (1995). "24. The Influence of the French Revolution on Lenin's Conception of the Russian Revolution". In Schwab, Gail M.; Jeanneney, John R. (eds.). The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 273. ISBN 031-329-339-2.
  16. ^ Schoenfeld, Gabriel (1995). "25. Uses of the Past: Bolshevism and the French Revolutionary Tradition". In Schwab, Gail M.; Jeanneney, John R. (eds.). The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 287. ISBN 031-329-339-2.
  17. ^ a b shadmin (26 December 2016). "Cromwell, Robespierre, Stalin (and Lenin?): must revolution always mean catastrophe?". Counterfire. Retrieved April 27, 2021
  18. ^ Volkogonov, Dmitri (1994). Lenin: Life and Legacy. Translated by Shukman, Harold. London: HarperCollins. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-00-255123-6.
  19. ^ Mathiez 1920, p. 3.
  20. ^ Jordan, David P. (2013). Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. New York City: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-147-672-571-0.
  21. ^ Schoenfeld 1995, p. 286.
  22. ^ "Voskresenskaya Embankment". St. Petersburg: SP SBI Mostotrest. Retrieved April 27, 2021
  23. ^ Jackson 1995, p. 275.
  24. ^ Jackson 1995, pp. 275–8.
  25. ^ Jackson 1995, p. 277.
  26. ^ Goodwin, Albert (1958). "A comparative study of regionalism in politics in Lancashire and Normandy during the French Revolution". Annales de Normandie. Université de Caen Normandie. 8 (2): 239–40. doi:10.3406/annor.1958.4377.
  27. ^ Goodwin 1958, pp. 242.
  28. ^ Goodwin 1958, pp. 241–3, 254.
  29. ^ Duthille, Rémy (4 October 2007). "London Revolution Society". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 239–40. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/96833. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  30. ^ Brown, Richard (2002). Church and state in modern Britain, 1700-1850. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781134982707.
  31. ^ Brown, Charles Brockden (2009) [1799]. Barnard, Philip; Shapiro, Stephen (eds.). Ormond; or The Secret Witness: with Related Texts. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. p. 360. ISBN 978-1-6038-4126-9. After 1793 'Girondin' and 'Jacobin' increasingly became keywords in the period's culture wars [...] Conservative publicists inflated 'Jacobin' into an all-purpose insult or epithet used to tar all progressive ideas as dangerously subversive
  32. ^ Goodwin 1958, pp. 243.
  33. ^ Davies, John; Jenkins, Nigel; Menna, Baines; Lynch, Peredur I., eds. (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 434. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6.
  34. ^ Bronterre O'Brien, James (1837). The Life and Character of Maximilian Robespierre, Proving by Facts and Arguments, that that Much-Calumniated Person was One of the Greatest Men, and One of the Purest and Most Enlightened Reformers, that Ever Existed in the World: Also Containing Robespierre's Principal Discourses, Addresses, Reports, and Projects of Law, &c., in the National Assembly, National Convention, Commune of Paris, and the Popular Societies; with the Author's Reflections on the Principal Events and Leading Men of the French Revolution, Etc., Etc., Etc. 1. London: J. Watson.
  35. ^ Mathiez 1910, p. 1.
  36. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainPhillips, Walter Alison (1911). "Jacobins, The". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 119.
  37. ^ Meacham, Jon (2012). Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Random House LLC. pp. 222–3. ISBN 978-0-679-64536-8.
  38. ^ Cunningham Jr., Noble E. (1957). The Jeffersonian Republicans: The formation of Party Organization, 1789–1801. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-835-73909-2.
  39. ^ Cunningham Jr. 1957, p. 187.
  40. ^ Baumgarten, Grace (2016). Cannot Be Silenced. Westbow Press. ISBN 978-1-5127-3697-7. OCLC 1147801436.
  41. ^ Friedman, Richard A. (23 May 2011). "How a Telescopic Lens Muddles Psychiatric Insights". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 April 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  42. ^ "PRESS RELATIONS OF SENATOR GOOD; But Columnists Sometimes Draw Goldwater Ire". The New York Times. 16 July 1964. p. 19.
  43. ^ Buckley, William F. (13 May 2001). "Goldwater and the Press". Townhall.com.Retrieved March 31, 2021
  44. ^ "Cactus Jacobins Ready for Revolt on Bastille Day; G.O.P. Delegates Determined to Unseat Establishment Over the Party Platform". The New York Times. 15 July 1964. p. 21. The makers of the new conservatism's revolution will put the press to the guillotine, too, if the fervor of the demonstration was any guide to their mood.
  45. ^ Goldwater, Barry M. (1960). The Conscience of a Conservative. Shepherdsville, KY: Victor Publishing Company. p. 12.
  46. ^ "This is what you need to know". Bookforum. 28 September 2010. Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  47. ^ "Raison d'Etre". Jacobin. Brooklyn, NY. Retrieved March 30, 2021
  48. ^ Lilla, Mark (27 May 2010), "The Tea Party Jacobins", The New York Review of Books, p. 53
  49. ^ Hanson, Victor Davis (5 February 2019). "Remodeling America". National Review. New York, N.Y. Retrieved April 1, 2021
  50. ^ https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/sites/default/files/as22.2_02cutler_0.pdf
  51. ^ a b Gluckstein, Donny (2011). The Paris Commune: A Revolution in Democracy. Haymarket Books. ISBN 978-1-60846-118-9.
  52. ^ Loubère, Leo A. (December 1959). "The Intellectual Origins of French Jacobin Socialism". International Review of Social History. 4 (3): 415–431. doi:10.1017/S0020859000001437. ISSN 1469-512X.
  53. ^ Price, R. D. (1972). "Ideology and Motivation in the Paris Commune of 1871". The Historical Journal. 15 (1): 75–86. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00001850. JSTOR 2638185.
  54. ^ "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State".
  55. ^ a b Keefe, Thomas M. (1986). "Review of The Jacobin Republic 1792-1794, ; The Thermidorean Regime and the Directory 1794-1799". The History Teacher. 20 (1): 131–133. doi:10.2307/493198. ISSN 0018-2745. JSTOR 493198.
  56. ^ https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1497&context=facsch_papers
  57. ^ a b Jullien, Marc-Antoine (4 October 1993). From Jacobin to Liberal: Marc-Antoine Jullien, 1775-1848. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-2101-3.
  58. ^ Sternhell, Zeev (1976). "Anatomie d'un mouvement fasciste en France : le faisceau de Georges Valois". Revue française de science politique. 26 (1): 5–40. doi:10.3406/rfsp.1976.393652.
  59. ^ Camus, Jean-Yves; Lebourg, Nicolas (20 March 2017). Far-Right Politics in Europe. Harvard University Press. p. 20. ISBN 9780674971530. Archived from the original on 9 June 2020. Retrieved 9 May 2020.