“Une Veritable Question d’État”: Controversies over Ceremonial Robes and Corporate Citizenship at the University of Paris

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:50 AM
Columbia 10 (Washington Hilton)
Adrian O'Connor, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
Eighteenth-century France saw the gradual waning of a corporatist social order and the ascension of a political culture predicated upon the individual’s standing as a legal and social entity. How this happened – how the shift from one concept of the body politic to another took place – has been and remains the subject of a great deal of historical scholarship. The question’s persistence, and its allure, stem at least in part from the fact that it touches upon the history of Enlightenment thought, the contested practices of eighteenth-century politics, the premises of Ancien Régime jurisprudence, and the interpersonal dynamics of pre-revolutionary society. It entangles the political, intellectual, institutional, and legal cultures of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary France, with each facet enriching and complicating our view of the others.

The hydra-headed nature of this political, legal, and institutional history is evident in a dispute that took place within the Faculty of Law at the University of Paris in the 1760s and 1770s, during which the professors and the agrégésof that faculty argued about their respective honors, privileges, and obligations. Sparked by a dispute over who could and who could not wear honorific red robes on ceremonial occasions, the case would ultimately hinge on competing views of legitimate social hierarchy, institutional organization, and corporate citizenship.

This paper will examine the “entreprise de la robe rouge” as a case study in how corporatist and individualist views of the social order, and of the relationship between individuals and institutions, came into conflict in the decades prior to the French Revolution.