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Abstract

David A. Bell, Lawyers and Citizens: The Making of a Political Elite in Old Regime France. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp., 280. $35.00.

It seems clear enough that there is some link between the legal profession and the making of revolutions in the Western world. It is clear, at the very least, if we consider the Big Three liberal revolutions of the early high era of revolutionary activity: the American Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789 (as opposed to 1793), and the German Revolution of 1848, all three of which began in fevered deliberations in lawyer-dominated representative assemblies; all three of which, we might argue, failed at first to create satisfactory political institutions; but all three of which, we might further argue, ultimately gave rise to lasting, if troubled, liberal traditions, founded in that characteristic lawyer's concept, "rights." But the story well predates the great modern liberal revolutions. The Glorious Revolution too shows, in its way, much the profile of a lawyers' revolution, with lawyers in leadership positions, working hard to fix lawyerly guarantees of "rights." For that matter, we can push the story back yet a century further, to the beginnings of the modern revolutionary tradition: We can see that the great resistance theorists of the late-sixteenth century, the Calvinist pamphleteers who stand at the headwaters of modern revolutionary thought, were very much working in a lawyers' tradition.

But what is the link, precisely? What is it that lawyers do that contributes to the making of our great political upheavals, premodern and modem? The superficially obvious answer is that lawyers have skills, oratorical and organizational, that make them particularly useful to revolutions. But focusing on lawyers' skills really does seem superficial. Lawyers were not just useful tools of the great revolutions. They made those revolutions in some fundamental way, or so one senses: Our revolutionary tradition has in fact been a lawyers' tradition from a very early date and (one suspects) in some very deep way. But just what is it, in the works and days of lawyers, that has made them instigators and leaders of revolution? How should we analyze what seems so much the tradition of the "lawyers' revolution"?

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