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 (1789–99). [1] The club was so called because of the Dominican convent in Paris in the Rue Saint-Jacques (Latin: Jacobus) where they originally met.


Today, the terms Jacobin and Jacobinism 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 [2] and/or supporters of extensive government intervention to transform society. Jacobin is sometimes used in Britain as a pejorative for radical, left-wing revolutionary politics. [3]

In the French Revolution

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] Because of this, the Jacobins, unlike other sects like the Girondins, 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). The Jacobin dictatorship was known for enacting the Reign of Terror, which targeted speculators, monarchists, right-wing 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. Their economic policy established the General maximum, in order to control prices and create stability both for the workers and poor and the revolution. 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

Jacobin ideology

Jacobinism is an ideology 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" ) This ideology presents, according to Hoel, in L'idéologie jacobine, the following 6 characteristics: 1. Omnipotence of the State (« Omnipotence de l’État »); 2. Despotism of Paris (« Despotisme de Paris »); 3. Colonialism (« Colonialisme »); 4. Cultural genocide (« Génocide culturel »); 5. Rejection of the Social Contract (Rousseau) and federalism (Rejet du Contrat social (Rousseau) et du fédéralisme); 6. Hypocrisy, lies, double speeches (Hypocrisie, mensonge, double discours).

Allegorical usage

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 .

United Kingdom

In England, the word was also popularized in George Canning's newspaper, The Anti-Jacobin, or Weekly Examiner, which criticized the English Radicals, of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The English who supported the French Revolution and Parliamentary reform to expand suffrage during its early stages (or even throughout) were early known as Jacobins by their opponents. These 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 William Hazlitt and Thomas Paine, remained idealistic about the Revolution. 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. [5]


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. [6]

United States

Early Federalist-leaning American newspapers during the French Revolution referred to the Democratic-Republican party as the "Jacobin Party". 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 1798.

In modern American politics, the term Jacobin is often used to describe extremists of any party who demand ideological purity. For instance, in the lead-up to the 1964 Republican National Convention, the press referred to supporters of the insurgent Arizona conservative Barry Goldwater as "Cactus Jacobins" in their effort to unseat the moderate East Coast branch of the party (see Rockefeller Republican). [7] 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." [8] In 2010 an American left-wing publication, Jacobin , was founded.

Tea Party

In 2008–2010, the term was employed and started as a movement for presidential hopeful Ron Paul before being taken over by mainstream conservatives. For example, Eve Fairbanks described right-wing opponents of moderate Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest as "Jacobin conservatives" in The New Republic . [9] In the 27 May 2010 issue of The New York Review of Books, Columbia professor Mark Lilla analyzed five recent books dealing with American political party discontent in a review titled "The Tea Party Jacobins". [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

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  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. Alain Rey, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, Le Robert, 1992. [ page needed ][ ISBN missing ]
  3. Charles Brockden Brown; Philip Barnard, ed.; Stephen Shapiro, ed. (2009). Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland, Ormond, Arthur Mervyn, and Edgar Huntly. Hackett Publishing. p. 360. ISBN   9781624662034.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. 1 2 Rudé, George (1988). The French Revolution.[ page needed ][ ISBN missing ]
  5. 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.
  6. Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Phillips, Walter Alison (1911). "Jacobins, The". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 119.
  7. Donaldson, Gary (2003). Liberalism's Last Hurrah: The Presidential Campaign of 1964. Armonk, NY: Sharpe. p. 174. ISBN   0765611198.
  8. Goldwater, Barry M. (1960). The Conscience of a Conservative . Shepherdsville, KY: Victor Publishing Company. p.  12.
  9. Fairbanks, Eve (5 November 2008). "Unsafe At Any District". The New Republic . Canwest . Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  10. "The Tea Party Jacobins", Mark Lilla, The New York Review of Books , 27 May 2010, p.53