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Organizing International Society: The French Peace Movement and the Origins of Reformist Internationalism, 1821-1853


This dissertation seeks to contribute to the history of internationalism through an examination of the early nineteenth century French peace movement. It argues that the French movement contributed to the international peace movement both in theory and practice, by drawing on the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment to make peace the subject of organized activism.

The early nineteenth century international peace movement is seen as the work of Dissenting sects in Britain and America, with the assistance of Free Traders like Richard Cobden. The French peace advocates' ideological roots, in contrast, can be found in the Enlightenment - in the peace thinking of the philosophes, but also in debates on economy, culture, religion, politics, etc. They drew upon the work of particular authors like Jean-Baptiste Say, Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, but above all continued general Enlightenment notions like historical progress and human perfectability. This intellectual heritage helped French peace advocates to imagine a distinct model of international cooperation, one in which political, cultural and economic borders remained in flux. It also gave them the tools to denounce colonialism - all while attempting to maintain forms of soft power for French `civilization'.

French peace advocates were more restricted than American and British pacifists in their forms of activism, but they also published a wide range of materials on peace, developed arguments for peace within associations, and participated in and promoted the international congresses. Through these practices, French peace advocates contributed to the development of civil society, nationally and internationally. A study of their movement shows how and why this transition from philosophy to organized action became possible.

Often dismissed as utopian, the history of the early peace movement can help us to better understand the development of French, European and international history. Like many groups in the early nineteenth century, French peace advocates were deeply optimistic about their program and their potential agency. However, this seemingly utopian program continues to have considerable resonance today, in contemporary international institutions as well as in ongoing debates about democracy and political change.

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