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Paris Babylon: Grandeur, Decadence and Revolution 1869 – 1875
By Rupert Christiansen
Published by Pimlico (2003)

Review by Cardinal Cox


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The Paris Commune of 1871 is regarded curiously by aspiring revolutionaries. For a few brief months the heart of the French capital was an independent state in which power was devolved to a mixed group of radicals; Proudhonian Anarchists, Communists, Social Democrats and even Jacobins who looked back nearly a century to the earlier French Revolution.

The background was the decadent society of the Second Empire that over-reached itself by declaring war on Prussia (over who should be foisted on Spain as its new monarch). The Germans invaded and laid siege to Paris, forcing hardships upon those who had not escaped. Infamously the zoo was used as a source of fresh meat for the city. While what government there was sued for peace the besieged capital became a carnival of libertarianism.

However, this did not last, and when France reclaimed that which it thought was its own, twenty-five thousand communards died, fourteen thousand were imprisoned, five thousand deported to colonies and many more fled into exile.

This book covers it all with an eye for the fascinating minute and the curious characters. American doctors, symbolist poets, daring balloonists, all get their space.


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