This ambitious book is rooted in extensive archival research and an impressive grasp of the scholarly literature dealing with the Directory and the early years of Napoleon's reign. Brown focuses on "chronic violence, ambivalent forms of justice, and repeated recourse to heavy-handed repression" in an effort to explain the failure of liberal democracy in the French Revolution (1). He argues that the inability of the Directory regime to quell the endemic violence in France between 1795 and 1799 paved the way for the "security state" that Napoleon Bonaparte established after 1800. Brown prefers the term "security state" to "police state" because the former evokes better the willingness of much of the French populace to accept the level of repression to which the Directors and Napoleon resorted in order to restore civic order in France, particularly in rural areas of the west and south.
Brown's methodology is comparative, in a couple of senses. First, he has chosen four départements in different regions of France (the Sarthe in the northwest, the Haute-Saône in the east, the Hérault in the Mediterranean south, and the Haute-Garonne slightly west of the Hérault), in which to study patterns of violence (both violent crime and violent protest) and its judicial repression between 1795 and 1801. The aggregate data from that regional comparison are discussed both in the text and presented in table form in a series of Appendices.
Second, Brown undertakes a detailed narrative analysis, employing at times an approach that might be compared to the "thick description" of cultural anthropology, in a series of chapters that focus on each of the four départements at pivotal moments over this period of time. All of this analysis is couched within a theoretical framework addressing such issues as the nature of violence, theories of the social contract, and models of social protest and state repression. In Chapter 10, Brown borrows from physics in presenting a schematic figure illustrating the impact of royalism, war, Jacobinism, and Catholicism on the cycles of violence at local, regional, and national levels, suggesting the ways in which they interacted (268). That the interaction of these forces on social violence was complicated is beyond doubt. The degree to which the schematic figure helps to illuminate that complicated interaction is debatable.
Brown's conclusions, which sometimes overreach his evidence, will stimulate a good deal of debate among scholars in the field of Revolutionary and Napoleonic studies. For example, under the Directory, the west of France was plagued by what has been labeled chouannerie, personal violence generally directed against officials of the revolutionary regime that occasionally coalesced into larger uprisings at times of crisis. In the south, by contrast, the endemic violence of the period was more typically brigandage or highway robbery, a threat to the regime, to be sure, but less overtly political in nature. Though acknowledging that difference, [End Page 453] Brown uses the term "repression" to describe the extra-constitutional response of the state in both instances. Might it be desirable to distinguish "draconian punishment of crime" from "political repression" in this analysis? Furthermore, in arguing that the "end of the French Revolution" occurred in 1802 rather than 1799 (with the coup of Brumaire), Brown seems to define revolution in terms of "civil strife," which seems to come dangerously close to equating revolution with violence, an equation with which many would disagree.