Behind the glittering facade of 18th century European civilization lurked some of the most brutal and cynical power brokers ever to practice the art of diplomacy, and ironically it was their blueprint for conquest that the French Revolution was to utilize so well. Europe Under the Old Regime is actually the preface to Sorel's tremendous and magnificently elaborate work, Europe and the French Revolution. In this brief introduction to his mighty history, Sorel gives us a sweeping and incisive understanding of the workings of court diplomacy as practiced from the time of Louis XIV up to the Revolution itself. It is an ugly picture of beautifully dressed women and gentlemen behaving in the most barbarous fashion, while doing so with grace and in a mannered style that was so brilliant and compelling that we can only wonder how they could carry out their perfidy and remain outwardly so cavalier. And yet, in the midst of sordid intrigue and heinous butchery, they did just that.
Never in European history has such elaborate courtesy and refined behavior so thoroughly masked a vile intent. No one could be trusted. Thrones and kingdoms were partitioned and absorbed willy-nilly and their rulers sent packing...if they were lucky. Wars were frequent and horrible. Revenge, secret agreements, assassination: all in a day's work for an 18th century enlightened despot. When it came to "reasons of state", no kingdom was secure and no treaty sacrosanct. Diplomatic and military success were the only things that counted, and they were pursued with deadly zeal.
This miniature masterpiece pierces the veil of 18th century manners and refinement to reveal the shocking truth of a "polite" aristocracy on the verge of self-immolation. Even after a hundred years, Europe Under the Old Regime remains one of the greatest historical essays ever written.
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A book about everything and nothing
- Jean Le Lupi