than the government, or even language theorists, who had principally concerned themselves with the practical questions raised by linguistic diversity. Indeed, far from leaving the countryside in a linguistic state of nature, the Catholic church had, since the sixteenth century, carried out what amounted to its own linguistic policies among the peasants. The revolutionary policies did not take shape in a vacuum but, rather, in imitation of and in reaction to these earlier efforts, thereby transforming a religious issue into a political one-and a nationalist one. Benedict Anderson has fruitfully speculated on the way modern nationalism arose out of, and in opposition to, predominantly religious cultural systems. Even he, however, still treats nationalism essentially as the product of a secular, capitalist moderni- ty.l9 The revolutionary experiments with language not only show a direct and specific connection between French nationalism and the nation's earlier religious experience but also reveal how changes within the religious sphere, as much as the shriveling of this sphere in the face of secularization and capitalism, made it possible for the French to form themselves into a nation in the way they did.20


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