EPILOGUE: THE PARADOXICAL HISTORY OF
SIEYES'S RHETORICAL DEVICES
Atate?
OOK ON THE RHETORIC OF WHAT IS THE THIRD ES-
can hardly end on such a negative note. It is true that
Sieyes failed to institute the sort of bourgeois revolution
he had hoped for: the French revolutionaries did not establish a "rep-
resentative order" devoted to the peaceful pursuit of material comfort
and led by specialized elites. So far as we can reconstruct Sieyes's
political intentions, they were largely unfulfilled. But the failure-
or, more precisely, the only partial success-of Sieyes's intentional
projects hardly exhausts the effects of his political rhetoric. For ifhis
positive rhetoric of division of labor and representation was ignored,
the exclusionary rhetoric of anti-aristocratic social revolution was
taken up very widely and sustained, in varying forms, over a long
period. The literary devices that characterized Sieyes's rhetoric of
social revolution quickly became standard elements in a revolution-
ary rhetorical lexicon. His language, it seems fair to say, had much
more enduring and powerful effects on French political culture than
did his intentions. The effects, however, were ironic: Sieyes's rhetoric
was soon used primarily against the very classes he had meant to
empower and the very political positions he had meant to support.
Consider the fate of the terms "aristocrat" and "privilege." Sieyes,
as we have seen, established a fundamental opposition between aris-
tocrat and nation, one that excluded the aristocracy from member-
ship in the nation. The use of the term "aristocrat" as a means of
exclusion was one of the most distinctive rhetorical developments of
French revolutionary political language. "Aristocrat" turned out to
Previous Page Next Page