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The period 1786–9 saw the collapse of the old regime, and the rise of a revolution that would transform the nature and practice of politics.

Source: Marisa Linton: Choosing Terror, p. 48.

My question concerns the use of "would" in the above sentence. I suppose that "would" here indicates neither conditional nor "repeated activities, habits or events in the past" ("transformation" was difficult but one-time and completed action). Is "would" used because the mentioned transformation is in the clause in the future from the point of view of the period 1789–9 but in the past from the point of view of our present. – Is it possible to use just simple past tense, i.e. "transformed"?

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    Is "would" used because the mentioned transformation is in the clause in the future from the point of view of the period 1789–9 but in the past from the point of view of our present. -- I agree with this part. – Damkerng T. Sep 7 '15 at 13:29
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You understand this correctly: would here is a backshifted will with 'future-in-past' sense: it designates an eventuality which occurs after the 'Reference Time' which the sentence takes as its immediate focus.

The past-tense transformed is grammatically acceptable, but it means something quite different: in the immediate context it would be taken to imply that we were speaking of a transformation which took place during the years 1786-89. Prof. Linton, however, is centrally concerned with the gradual realization of the transformation in later years—specifically, in the Terror of 93-94, but also in the much longer term:

The French Revolution brought about the invention of modern politics.

She is therefore careful to mark this transformation as a future event.

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