The full title of the question that was posed to the candidates in the 2021 common competition to integrate the regional Institutes of Political Studies was:
“In light of your historical, cultural or artistic references, do you think that revolutions wipe the slate clean?”
Since the theme of Revolutions should be renewed for next year, we wanted to provide a more complete correction than the one for the question that focused on secrecy: Corrections: is it still possible to preserve secrecy today?
This time, the mock exam question that was closest was undoubtedly: “Are revolutions the condition of progress?” notably because it confronted revolutions with time and history. Many of you had proposed your ideas for this training subject, which was also the one we had chosen for our Method in Contemporary Questions. It was therefore quite timely, and we hope that it was useful to you!
The correction: Do revolutions wipe out the past?
As with any subject, there is not just one possible solution. So we suggest one way of dealing with the question that would have worked, but if you did it differently, it might be just as good or better!
Answer Key for the Introduction
Accroche : In the 17th century, the Ancients, including La Bruyère, Boileau, and La Fontaine, defended the idea that it is the past that gives works their prestige. A contemporary work can also be full of qualities, but it is only in connection with the past that it becomes illustrious.
Counter-hook: On the contrary, the moderns like Perrault and Fontenelle claim a break with the past. It is indeed through totally new works, which surpass the past, that creations can acquire their prestige and excellence.
Bringing out the paradox: In this quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, it is finally a question of the interest of making a break, of the opportunity that exists to make use of a certain heritage, or rather to aim at an entirely modern creation, without being chained to this past. But more than that, whether it is desirable or not, is it nevertheless possible? Is it not in the nature of revolutions that they are literary, cultural, historical, political, symbolic, scientific, to destroy the past to create the present and its future?
Definitions: This reflection joins the ambiguities resulting from the multiplicity of definitions around the world revolution: Definitions of Revolutions [develop here all the definitions, in particular in the astronomical domain, to show clearly that the paradox of the question is already in the word itself]. To make a clean slate is to start again from scratch, and to have nothing to do with what existed until now, to rebuild everything from scratch. The notion of tabula rasa, even if it is different from the expression to make a clean slate, keeps a philosophical connotation, this blank paper being the symbol of various philosophical doctrines from Aristotle to Immanuel Kant.
Problematic: If revolutions constitute by definition a renewal of the existing system, do they escape perfectly from this past from which they want to break? How can revolutions tear themselves away from the past in order to be no longer reaction, but authentic novelty? To what extent can revolutions emancipate themselves from what produces them?
The announcement of the plan: [see below]
Answer key to the development
I. The aspiration to wipe the slate clean by means of a revolution…
A. The desire to break with the past
“The French Revolution, by wiping the slate clean of the institutions of the past, by leaving only the individual and the State to exist opposite each other, gave itself the difficult task of creating everything anew on the model of pure logic Ernest Renan, Contemporary Issues, 1868
B. The imperative to make a clean slate
“It is necessary to be absolutely modern” Rimbaud, April-August 1873.
History of the revolutions.
II. … can never perfectly get rid of the past
A. Against an idealist naivety, the materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
“Each generation therefore continues, on the one hand, the mode of activity transmitted to it, but in radically transformed circumstances, and on the other hand, it modifies the old circumstances by engaging in a radically different activity; these facts can be distorted by speculation by making recent history the goal of previous history: this is how, for example, the discovery of America is given this end: to help the French Revolution to break out.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, 1846
B. Man cannot totally reinvent himself
“God has marked the minds of men with certain characters, which, like the defects of their bodies, maybe slightly amended, but which cannot be entirely reformed and changed into quite contrary characters.” Locke
III. … but can be used to create something new
A. It is by relying on the past that revolutions allow for progress
“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and farther than they do, it is not because of the perspicacity of our sight, nor because of our greatness, it is because we are raised by them.” Bernard of Chartres
Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962.
B. Revolutions alone do not determine the future
“One of the great vices of history is that it paints men much more by their bad sides than by their good ones; as it is only interested in revolutions, catastrophes, as long as a people grows and prospers in the calm of a peaceful government, it says nothing about them”, writes Jean-Jacques Rousseau in book IV of his work Emile, or On Education.