Unnaturally French: Foreign Citizens in the Old Regime and After
In his rich and learned new book about the naturalization of foreigners, Peter Sahlins offers an unusual and unexpected contribution to the histories of immigration, nationality, and citizenship in France and Europe. Through a study of foreign citizens, Sahlins discovers and documents a premodern world of legal citizenship, its juridical and administrative fictions, and its social practices. Telling the story of naturalization from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, Unnaturally French offers an original interpretation of the continuities and ruptures of absolutist and modern citizenship, in the process challenging the historiographical centrality of the French Revolution.Unnaturally French is a brilliant synthesis of social, legal, and political history. At its core are the tens of thousands of foreign citizens whose exhaustively researched social identities and geographic origins are presented here for the first time. Sahlins makes a signal contribution to the legal history of nationality in his comprehensive account of the theory, procedure, and practice of naturalization. In his political history of the making and unmaking of the French absolute monarchy, Sahlins considers the shifting policies toward immigrants, foreign citizens, and state membership.Sahlins argues that the absolute citizen, exemplified in Louis XIV's attempt to tax all foreigners in 1697, gave way to new practices in the middle of the eighteenth century. This "citizenship revolution," long before 1789, produced changes in private and in political culture that led to the abolition of the distinction between foreigners and citizens. Sahlins shows how the Enlightenment and the political failure of the monarchy in France laid the foundations for the development of an exclusively political citizen, in opposition to the absolute citizen who had been above all a legal subject. The author completes his original book with a study of naturalization under Napoleon and the Bourbon Restoration. Tracing the twisted history of the foreign citizen from the Old Regime to the New, Sahlins sheds light on the continuities and ruptures of the revolutionary process, and also its consequences.