The Importance of Being Revolutionary: Oath-taking and the 'Feeling Rules' of Violence (1789–1794)
Historians of the French Revolution have identified many cultural and ideological sources of its violence: ideological commitments to virtue, the inevitable clashes involved in founding a new order, the emotions of fear and anger unleashed by political upheaval, and religious commitments to Catholicism. Rarely, however, have they explored how civic religious practices gave rise to violence. This article shows how the practice of oath-taking generated emotional "sacred" commitments and a
... ments and a propensity for violence in maintaining them. Given the legal and institutional weaknesses of the new regime, oath-taking helped establish political allegiances, but oaths often came into conflict with other sacred commitments, old and new. The widespread practice of oath-taking during the Revolution offers a revealing vantage point to understand the sacred, civic-religious dimensions of these various political commitments. The imperative to maintain vows, I argue, prompted contemporaries to see violence as extreme but necessary. Liberty or death is probably one of the most popular quotes historians use to explain the entanglement between death and revolutionary enthusiasm in France during the years 1789-99. The expression was already embroidered onto the banners of certain districts of Paris in the summer of 1789 and, evoked many times in the debates of the Assembly, it was the favoured wording for the first federative oaths coming from the provinces.