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Assigned: Hazlitt's "The French Revolution" (84-98), "On Personal Identity" (190-202), "Originality" (270-77), "On the Elgin Marbles" (277-96). Selections aren't in the Norton Anthology — see below for edition details.
For Week 3
"The French Revolution"
1. Hazlitt clearly believes that the press played an important role in bringing on the French Revolution. What, specifically, did the French press do to prepare the way for revolution? What philosophical and/or political assumptions underlie Hazlitt’s claims in this regard?
2. Hazlitt describes with gusto the decayed state of the old regime in France — how it had already lost its legitimacy well before the Revolution. But what, according to him, accounts for the fact that the old regime and its supports lasted so long in such a sorry state – what kinds of attitudes and practices can protect even discredited authority?
3. Hazlitt writes perceptively about the character of fanatics such as Maximilien Robespierre, the Jacobin leader often associated with the Revolution’s worst excesses. Why did Robespierre mostly succeed in achieving his designs? That is, what were his qualities, and how did those qualities suit the revolutionary times in which he lived?
4. To what extent, if at all, does Hazlitt, a persistent supporter of the French Revolution, excuse the authoritarian, guillotine-happy direction the Revolution took during the period known as “The Terror” (i.e. 1793-94)? How, in any event, does he explain this violent episode?
5. A general question – with regard to the journalistic press today and its coverage of momentous political and social events, do you share Hazlitt’s optimism about the great power of a free press to inform and shape public opinion? Or do you feel that the press mostly fails to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time? Give an example one way or another with respect to current affairs in the national/international news.
For Week 15
"On Personal Identity"
"On the Elgin Marbles"
Edition: Hazlitt, William. Selected Writings. Ed. Jon Cook. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. ISBN 0192838008.