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The growing frequency of peaceful expansions of human rights, private property, and market capitalism lead many to consider violent revolutions a thing of the past. In light of, for example, the dismantling of the Soviet Empire, the reunification of Germany, and the Czechoslovakian "velvet Revolution," violence as a mechanism for institutional change seems immoral and counterproductive, an anachronism in our age of global economies and shuttle diplomacy. Arno Mayer takes a contrarian position in The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. Throughout his comparative study, he maintains that "there is no revolution without violence and terror." Contrary to popular belief, Mayer argues, ideologies and personalities did not control events. Rather, the tide of violence overwhelmed the political actors who assumed power, and even the best-laid plans could not stem the chaos.
Mayer structures his study around what he considers integral components of revolution: civil and foreign war, iconoclasm and religious conflict, and collision between city and country. The Furies begins with a theoretical examination of revolution in general, counterrevolution, violence, terror, vengeance, and religion. Its second portion offers a close comparison of the revolutions in 1789 France and 1917 Russia, following each from their outbreak to the foreign and civil wars that ensued. Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University, Mayer belongs to the major league of heavy-hitting academic historians, and to a large degree, The Furies is written for his colleagues. Footnote heavy, it assumes a studied familiarity with both revolutions, and Mayer's abundant theoretical references quickly frustrate the lesser informed. However, in maintaining the integrality of violence in revolution, Mayer challenges many unexamined assumptions about the two most influential revolutions of modern times, and he forces reexamination of the nature of violence in the revolutionary process. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack [via]