In the final years of the eighteenth century, political insurgents on both sides of the Atlantic attempted something radically new: to institute government by the consent of the governed. Yet these efforts played out rather differently in France and the United States. As exemplars, these two cases have long informed the theoretical imaginations of political sociologists and social movement scholars. Two recent works at the intersection of history and social theory, however, suggest that we may all need to recheck some of our basic assumptions.
With American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill & Wang, 2010), T.H. Breen has produced that rare work of scholarship that one actually might want to read in a hammock or a beach chair. Exploiting the organized obsession with the American Revolution, embodied in so many wonderful local history associations and library collections, Breen reconstructs the close-to-the-ground processes by which some communities remained loyal to the British Empire while in others the social network pressures to join the insurgency became close to irresistible. Continue reading