By Charles Walton
In Policing Public Opinion within the French Revolution, Charles Walton strains the origins of this reversal again to the previous Regime. He indicates that whereas early advocates of press freedom sought to abolish pre-publication censorship, the bulk nonetheless firmly believed injurious speech--or calumny-constituted against the law, even treason if it undermined the honour of sovereign authority or sacred collective values, corresponding to faith and civic spirit.
With the cave in of associations answerable for regulating honor and morality in 1789, calumny proliferated, as did obsessions with it. Drawing on wide-ranging resources, from nationwide meeting debates to neighborhood police documents, Walton indicates how struggles to set felony and ethical limits on loose speech ended in the radicalization of politics, and finally to the brutal liquidation of "calumniators" and fanatical efforts to rebuild society's ethical starting place through the Terror of 1793-1794.
With its emphasis on how revolutionaries drew upon cultural and political legacies of the previous Regime, this research sheds new mild at the origins of the fear and the French Revolution, in addition to the background of loose expression.