François Furet

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François Furet (French:  [fʁɑ̃swa fyʁɛ] ; 27 March 1927, Paris – 12 July 1997, Figeac) was a French historian, and president of the Saint-Simon Foundation, well known for his books on the French Revolution.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

Figeac Subprefecture and commune in Occitanie, France

Figeac is a commune in the Lot department in south-western France. Figeac is a sub-prefecture of the department.

The Saint-Simon Foundation was a French think tank created in 1982 by the historian François Furet. Its membership included intellectuals, journalists, high-ranking civil servants, industry leaders including businesspeople and trade unionists, and academics. It was a member of The Hague Club international network of think tanks. It dissolved in 1999, and many of its former members have now joined Le Siècle circle.


He was elected to the Académie française in March 1997, just three months before he died in July.

Académie française Pre-eminent council for the French language

The Académie française is the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored as a division of the Institut de France in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the oldest of the five académies of the institute.


Born in Paris on 27 March 1927, into a wealthy family, François Furet was a brilliant student who graduated from the Sorbonne with the highest honors and soon decided on a life of research, teaching and writing. [1] He received his education at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and at the faculty of art and law of Paris. In 1949, Furet entered the French Communist Party, and in 1956, he left the party. [2] After beginning his studies at the University of Letters and Law in his native Paris, Furet was forced to leave school in 1950 due to a case of tuberculosis. After recovering, he sat for the agrégation and passed the highly competitive exams with a focus in History in 1954. After a stint teaching in high schools, he began work on the French Revolution at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, supporting himself with a job at the France Observateur between 1956–64 and Nouvel Observateur between 1964-66. In 1966, he began work at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, where he would later be president (from 1977 to 1985). [3] Furet served as Director of Studies at the EHESS in Paris and as a professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. In March 1997, he was elected to the Académie française. He died in July 1997 in a Toulouse hospital while being treated for head injuries he incurred in an accident on a tennis court. He was survived by his wife Deborah, daughter Charlotte, and son Antoine from a previous marriage. [4] There is now a François Furet school in the suburbs of Paris, as well as a François Furet prize given out every year.

French Communist Party left-wing political party in France which advocates the principles of communism

The French Communist Party is a communist party in France.

Tuberculosis Infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It was historically called "consumption" due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Furet's major interest was the French Revolution. Furet's early work was a social history of the 18th century bourgeoisie but, after 1961, his focus shifted to the Revolution. While initially a Marxist and supporter of the Annales School , he later separated himself from Les Annales and undertook a critical re-evaluation of the way the French Revolution is interpreted by Marxist historians. He became the leader of the "revisionist" school of historians who challenged the Marxist account of the French Revolution as a form of class struggle. As other French historians of his generation like Jacques Godechot or Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Furet was open to ideas of English language historians, especially Alfred Cobban. Likewise, Furet frequently lectured at American universities, from 1985 onwards, taught at the University of Chicago. In his first work on the Revolution, 1966's La Révolution, Furet argued that the early years of the Revolution had a benign character but, after 1792, the Revolution had "skidded" off into the blood lust and cruelty of the Reign of Terror. The cause of the Revolution going "off course" was the outbreak of war in 1792, which Furet controversially argued was intrinsic to the Revolution itself, rather than being an unrelated event as most French historians had argued until then.

Alfred Cobban was an English historian and professor of French history at University College, London, who along with prominent French historian François Furet advocated a classical liberal view of the French Revolution.

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.

Reign of Terror Period during the French Revolution

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.

The other major theme of Furet's writings was its focus on the political history of the Revolution, and its relative lack of interest in the Revolution's social and economic history. Other than a study of Lire et écrire (1977), a study co-edited with Jacques Ozouf concerning the growth of literacy in 18th century France, Furet's writings on the Revolution tended to focus on its historiography. In a 1970 article in Annales, Furet attacked "the revolutionary catechism" of Marxist historians. Furet was especially critical of the "Marxist line" of Albert Soboul, which Furet maintained was actually more Jacobin than Marxist. Furet argued that Karl Marx was not especially interested in the Revolution and that most of the views credited to him were really the recycling of Jacobinism. [3]

Albert Marius Soboul was a historian of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. A professor at the Sorbonne, he was Chair of the History of the French Revolution and author of numerous influential works of history and historical interpretation. In his lifetime, he was internationally recognized as the foremost French authority on the Revolutionary era.

Karl Marx Revolutionary socialist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

Furet, following Hannah Arendt and others, considered Communism and Fascism to be "totalitarian twins," as both had their origins in socialism and anti-liberal sentiments.

Hannah Arendt German-American Jewish philosopher and political theorist

Johanna "Hannah" Cohn Arendt was an American philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology have had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is widely considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.

Communism socialist political movement and ideology

In political and social sciences, communism is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

Fascism Form of radical, right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism

Fascism is a form of radical, right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.

From 1995 until his death, Furet’s views about totalitarianism led to a debate via a series of letters with the German philosopher Ernst Nolte. The debate had been started by a footnote in Furet's Le passé d'une illusion criticizing Nolte's views over the relationship between Fascism and Communism, leading Nolte to write a letter of protest. Furet defended his view about "totalitarian twins" sharing the same origins while Nolte argued that fascism was a response to Communism.

French Revolution

Furet was the leading figure in the rejection of the "classic" or "Marxist" interpretation. Desan (2000) concluded he "seemed to emerge the victor from the bicentennial, both in the media and in historiographic debates." [5]

Furet, an ex-Communist, published his classic, La Révolution Française, in 1965-66. It marked his transition from revolutionary leftist politics to liberal Left-center position, and reflected his ties to the social-science-oriented Annales School. [6]

Furet then moved to the right, re-examining the Revolution from the perspective of 20th century totalitarianism (as exemplified by Hitler and Stalin). His Penser la Révolution Française (1978; translated as Interpreting the French Revolution 1981) was a breakthrough book that led many intellectuals to reevaluate Communism and the Revolution as inherently totalitarian and anti-democratic. Looking at modern French Communism he stressed the close resemblance between the 1960s and 1790s, with both favoring the inflexible and rote ideological discourse in party cells where decisions were made unanimously in a manipulated direct democracy. Furet further suggested that popularity of the Far Left to many French intellectuals was itself a result of their commitment to the ideals of the French Revolution. Furet set about to imagine the Revolution less as the result of social and class conflict and more a conflict over the meaning and application of egalitarian and democratic ideas. He saw Revolutionary France as located ideologically between two revolutions: the first an egalitarian one that began in 1789, and the second the authoritarian coup that brought about Napoleon's empire in 1799. The egalitarian origins of the Revolution were not undone by the Empire and were resurrected in the July Revolution of 1830, the 1848 Revolution, and the Commune of Paris in 1871. [7]

Working much of the year at the University of Chicago after 1979, Furet also rejected the Annales School, with its emphasis on very long-term structural factors, and emphasized intellectual history. Influenced by Alexis de Tocqueville and Augustin Cochin, Furet argues that Frenchmen must stop seeing the revolution as the key to all aspects of modern French history. [8] His works include Interpreting the French Revolution (1981), a historiographical overview of what has preceded him and A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989). [9] [10]

Because of his influence in history and historiography, Furet was granted some of the field's most prestigious awards, among them:


Furet's concerns were not only historical but also historiographical. He attempted particularly to address distinctions between history as grand narrative and history as a set of problems that must be dealt with in a purely chronological manner.



  1. Riding, Alan (1997-07-16). "Francois Furet, Historian, 70; Studied the French Revolution". The New York Times.
  2. François Furet (2004). Francouzská revoluce, díl 1., Prague: Argo ISBN   80-7203-452-9.
  3. 1 2 David Robin Watson (1999). "Furet, François", The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Volume 1, Chicago Fitzroy Dearborn, p. 426-427.
  4. "François Furet".
  5. Suzanne Desan, "What's after Political Culture? Recent French Revolutionary Historiography," French Historical Studies, Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2000, pp. 163-196 in Project MUSE
  6. Michael Scott Christofferson, "François Furet between History and Journalism, 1958–1965." French History, Dec 2001, Vol. 15 Issue 4, pp 421-447
  7. Michael Scott Christofferson, "An Antitotalitarian History of the French Revolution: Francois Furet's Penser la Revolution francaise in the Intellectual Politics of the Late 1970s," French Historical Studies, Volume 22, Number 4, Fall 1999, pp. 557-611
  8. James Friguglietti and Barry Rothaus, "Interpreting vs. Understanding the Revolution: François Furet and Albert Soboul," Consortium on Revolutionary Europe 1750-1850: Proceedings, 1987, (1987) Vol. 17, pp 23-36
  9. Claude Langlois, "Furet's Revolution," French Historical Studies, Fall 1990, Vol. 16 Issue 4, pp 766-776
  10. Donals Sutherland, "An Assessment of the Writings of François Furet," French Historical Studies, Fall 1990, Vol. 16 Issue 4, pp 784-91

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