Jean Nagle

A Form of French Pride Publication date : February 21, 2008

Under the French Ancien Régime, public office was for sale. The law, the police, public finances, the war department and even the royal domain were run by officials who could afford to pay for their positions. The absolute monarchy had decided to sell public office so as not to submit to the financial control of the Estates General.

Jean Nagle shows how holding public office conferred dignity, so that officials gradually came to rival the nobility in honour and power. This is what made possible the confrontation between the Third Estate and the nobility during the Estates General of 1789, a prelude to the French Revolution. The rival claims could confront one another because the Third Estate had acquired a portion of the king's holy authority.

Nagle describes how the passion for office took hold of French society under the Ancien Régime. He brings to life the tens of thousands of officials who, in each era, represented the French State and maintained its authority.

How did France's absolute monarchy — a system in which public office was in private hands — actually work?

Jean Nagle writes about public office under the Ancien Régime as if he were studying today's high-ranking civil servants.

This book helps us understand the workings of the Ancien Régime and of some of its surviving forms (notaries, lawyers in the Supreme Court of Appeal and in the Council of State). It may also help us understand a future privatisation of the civil service.

Jean Nagle is a historian. He was formerly a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure's institute for contemporary world history. He is the author of Luxe et charité (1989) and La Civilisation du cœur : histoire du sentiment politique (1998).