Tribune of the People
Date Written: 2014-07-01
Publisher: Against the Current
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20792
A book review of "Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution" by Clifford D. Conner.
Conner, a longtime socialist activist and Marxist historian with a special interest in science, published an intellectual biography of Marat in 1997, focusing on Marat's career as an 18th century scientist. The present book is the fourth in a series by Pluto Press titled Revolutionary Lives, edited by Brian Doherty, Sarah Irving and Paul LeBlanc.
The French Revolution is one of history's most researched subjects. Professional academic historians, journalists, political theorists of all sensibilities, novelists and playwrights have produced a staggering amount of printed material. Enormous quantities of primary source documentation produced during the revolution itself -- some published, most unpublished -- are available in archives, a portion of which is online.
Scholarly treatments of aspects of the Revolution by academic historians usually draw heavily on primary sources and are set in the context of specific scholarly debates. Conner relies heavily on primary sources but leaves broader scholarly debates aside.
The distortions of Marat's life and ideas being so great, Conner begins his book with posing and answering a series of questions related to these distortions. He asks and provides evidence to answer in the negative whether Marat was a "common criminal" as had been alleged, whether he was "clinically insane" or a "charlatan."
Conner carefully reviews each of these claims against the evidence and persuasively rejects them all. Conner draws on his research on Marat's life as a scientist in the years before finding his avocation as revolutionary agitator, as well as his broad knowledge of 18th century intellectual life in France and Europe, to refute some of the calumnious claims against Marat.