The French Revolution, although violent and brutal, was the blueprint for many revolutions to come, changing the face of the European world, permanently. In this article, you will find the brief history of French Revolution.
‘Revolution’ is an omnipresent term we have come to take for granted in modern society, but its origins are deeply rooted in historical concerns. Through examining the political, economic and social effects of the French Revolution, it can be defined as destroying the current social order to accomplish what had never been achieved before, leaving far-reaching and permanent consequences for the future with the aim of improving society in general.
Firstly, “revolution” can be defined as destroying or overturning the known social order to create a newer and better one for good. While there are many debates about the causes of the revolution, what is really more important for defining revolution are the changes it brought about for Europe. It was the first time that feudalism and the system of privilege had been abolished.
The society where the clergy, the nobles, and the ordinary people had different privileges, such as exemption from taxation, was suddenly overturned in this violent upheaval. With the accepted way of being suddenly destroyed, people felt incredibly displaced about their role in society; yet at the same time it created a sense of “possibilism”, the belief that anything can happen in the post-revolutionary period, instilling hope. Suddenly, men’s rights were affirmed in the Declaration of the Rights of Men and the Citizen, a concept that has lasted until now, being the basis of international human rights law.
What would have been even more unsettling was the fact that the long established traditions of hereditary absolute monarchy and religious sovereignty were overthrown, with the king himself guillotined for treason, raising questions about the validity of the governmental structure: if the king can be a traitor to the country, how can a monarch ensure the public will is met?
It is this notion which caused the authorities of other nations to fear for their own security, and indeed the French Revolution began the chain of events which led to revolutions upon revolutions, such as 1848, the year of revolutions for Italian unification. Thus, it can be seen that revolution is a permanent overturn of social order that extends its power beyond politics – it recreates the people’s way of thinking by giving them a sense of possibilism, causing other nations to follow suit.
In order for a revolution to be accomplished, however, there must necessarily be sacrifices and destructions made to fulfill its true definition, for if remnants of the old regime remained men could easily revert back to that, finding it more comforting because that is what they have known their whole lives. The French Revolution exemplified this. The storming of the Bastille was only the prelude to the violent reign of Terror which dominated under leaders like Robespierre.
In order to complete suppress any attempts of counterrevolution, drastic action was taken: the guillotine was used as a fear-inducing deterrent, and through paranoia, anyone who showed even a hint of counter-revolutionism was executed. Thus, violence became the new temporary oppressor to ensure success of the Revolution, and people became desensitized to bloodshed, caught up in the passion of revolution.
The turmoil was also reflected in political power struggles: while the Girondists and Montagnards were essentially striving for the same goal, they were bitter enemies; yet it the same time it was this which gave rise to the republic known today. Therefore, although ultimately sacrifices and destruction must occur, it is exactly this which made the French Revolution the revolutionary template for the rest of Europe – its ability to ruthlessly pursue its ideals to the very end.
Finally, for a revolution to be defined as such there must be far-reaching consequences that affect society permanently. The French Revolution certainly did that: its abolishment of feudalism and privilege meant that wealth could be better distributed between aristocrats and bourgeois, an important economic step in the direction of modern society. People cherished the concepts of fraternity and equality, deciding to similarly abolish the formal “vous” form to reinforce the intimacy between a man and his compatriots.
These concepts of equality led to the rise of democracy and government began heading toward Rousseau’s ideal of being ruled by body politic, a significant feature in European politics that has lasted. Furthermore, the fraternity between people generated a strong nationalism, where citizens felt fiercely and strongly about their identity as a Frenchman, a concept that has since invaded Europe both via the state and popular nationalism.
Also, in conforming with Enlightenment ideals French society sought to conform to rationality, thereby redefining time and space through the revolutionary calendar and the metric system, of which the latter now dominates our view of space. The effects of this revolution became truly pervasive in Europe due to Napoleonic conquests, and have therefore solidified their importance in European history.
Therefore, it can be seen through exploring the political, economic and social effects of the French Revolution that revolutions represent the permanent destruction of social order to create a better society. The French Revolution was not simply a revolution for France, it became a template for future revolutions in Europe, marking the end of the despotic state and the beginning of modernity, capturing the full essence of what a revolution should entail.