Printed Drug: Banned Books and Political Change in Eighteenth-Century France

Yu Sasaki, Kanazawa University

This article explores the diffusion of illegal literature and its impact on the French Revolution. Extant literature focuses on the role of modern communications technologies in understanding authoritarian longevity. I argue that pre-modern print media can be a powerful tool to generate support for political change. I construct a new data set by drawing on a corpus of more than 600 illegal books circulated in the eighteenth century. Using the number of émigrés and death sentences as my proxies for the revolution, I show that the diffusion of illicit literature has a positive and significant impact on nobles and clergymen who fled from France but not those who received death sentences. My analysis provides evidence that foreign publishers play a crucial role in the growth of the clandestine market and suggests that technological progress strengthens contemporary authoritarian survival by controlling the flow of information in society.

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 Presented in Session 84. Concrete Circuits of Ideational Power, Print and Digital