The Abbe Gregoire and the French RevolutionThe Making of Modern Universalism

The Abbe Gregoire and the French RevolutionThe Making of Modern Universalism

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

Print publication date: 2012

ISBN: 9780520241800

Publisher: University of California Press

Abstract

In this age of globalization, the eighteenth-century priest and abolitionist Henri Grégoire has often been called a man ahead of his time. An icon of anti-racism, a hero to people from Ho Chi Minh to French Jews, Grégoire has been particularly celebrated since 1989, when the French government placed him in the Pantheon as a model of ideals of universalism and human rights. In this biography, based on newly discovered and previously overlooked material, we gain access to the full complexity of Grégoire's intellectual and political universe as well as the compelling nature of his persona. His life offers an extraordinary vantage from which to view large issues in European and world history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and provides provocative insights into many of the prevailing tensions, ideals, and paradoxes of the twenty-first century. Focusing on Grégoire's idea of “regeneration,” that people could literally be made anew, the book argues that revolutionary universalism was more complicated than it appeared. Tracing the French Revolution's long-term legacy, it suggests that while it spread concepts of equality and liberation throughout the world, its ideals also helped to justify colonialism and conquest.