The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period brought a wave of new ideas to Europe, differing from those of the Enlightenment. Events of these eras led to a deviation from the biased values of the middle Ages. Ideas such as liberty and equality, that could reform society, gave rise to the Revolution itself, and later Napoleon’s rule. However, those same events also led people to reconsider the specific enlightenment principles of society, politics, and human nature.
The French Revolution began in 1789 and ended in 1792, though certain people include Napoleon’s reign as part of the revolution, stating it ended in 1804. It was a time of confusion, disorder, and bloodshed. The commoners of France decided that they were being treated unjustly and planned to overthrow their king. The French Revolution was a long and terrible war, which promoted democracy and equality for the people of France and resulted, not only in the death of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, but with France becoming a more liberal country. This essay will investigate causes of the French Revolution such as enlightenment ideas, taxation and economical problems, and the political system of the time. It will be shown that there is not a single direct cause for the occurrence of the French Revolution, but many different reasons of varying importance.
A time period known as The Age of Reason or The Enlightenment was when philosophy, politics, science and social communications changed drastically. It helped shape the ideas of capitalism and democracy, which is the world we live in today. People joined together to discuss areas of high intellect and creative thoughts. The Enlightenment was a time period in which people discussed new ideas, and educated people, known as philosophers, all had a central idea of freedom of choice and the natural right of individuals. These philosophers include John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Philosophers Montesquieu and Rousseau influenced the French Revolution most, by changing the views of the power of man and government. They increased criticism of absolute monarchy and an increase in republican ideals. During this time, their words of criticism and beliefs on government encouraged the 3rd estate, the common people of France. The 1st estate, the Clergy, and 2nd estate, the Nobles, despised Montesquieu’s belief on government, and laughed upon Rousseau’s idea of “Equality in society.”
The French revolution was provoked by the changing ideology, the oppression felt by society because of taxation, and the need to form a constitutional government instead of an absolute monarchy. First, writers associated with Enlightenment thought—Rousseau and Voltaire—began to influence citizens, who recognized the inherent inequities in the French government systems. Those who revolted made “[the war into] an ideological war. Partisans of the Revolution differed violently [ideologically] with each other, as did their opponents” (Doc __). These views gave the people an awareness to see the need for change and the strong basis to advocate for it. Through the revolution, the French aspired to do away with the traditional philosophy retained through the practices of the old monarchy. Also, the French rebelled because of the persecution inflicted by the existing government. At the time in France, social equality before the law was non-existent and corrupt government officials were prevalent. Poorer citizens were forced to carry most of the tax burden while the monarchs enjoyed lavish lives. The peasants, consequently, despised the rich and carried out an assault ...
The French Revolution was also influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, a movement that promoted reason and science rather than traditions. The Enlightenment gave rise to ideas of equality and liberty of an individual, democracy in governments, nationalism, citizenship and freedom of speech. The Enlightenment also challenged the Catholic Church’s power and the rights of the nobles.
During this period, these enlightenment thinkers caused the working class to reform oppressive governments because they had the right to go against the government. The people had a democracy, which was unheard of in France (the will of the people, a popular idea called the sovereignty of the people, and the equality of the people). These thinkers revolutionized this period. The middle and working classes became mad at the government and determined to revolt against the king and nobility (upper classes). The nobility had special rights and privileges such as hunting and fishing without a permit.
The Enlightenment period in Europe was a shift in the way that society thought about power and liberty. The ideals of this period helped to inspire the revolutions of the 18th century. The American colonies desired liberty from foreign rule, the French wanted to increase the power of the people in their class structure, and the Haitians fought for representation for the millions of slaves on their island. While the ideas of the enlightenment were not fully employed in each of these revolutions, they brought the nations closer to a fully representative government, rather than one of absolute power.
Before the Revolution, France experienced a period of time called the Enlightenment. Traditional concepts, such as religion and style of government, were debated upon by scholars, philosopher, and ordinary people. One of the most famous writers of the Enlightenment was philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He introduced the concept that the people should be in charge instead of an individual ruler. This idea became known as the general will. In his “Ths Social Contract” Rousseau states, “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau). Throughout the future French Revolution, Rousseau’s writings became a cornerstone to the French people. His ideas gave the French people a definition on why the position of the King should be abolished. What was even better, Rousseau even described why the people be placed in charge. At the time of the Revolution an enormous amount of France’s power was allocated to the King and very little was left for the people. In order to achieve more power for themselves, the citizens of France lobbied against a monarchy and instead for Rousseau’s philosophy that the collective whole should rule. Under the ideas of Rousseau, all French citizens would receive power because the collective whole was the governing power. However, obtaining such intentions required that the people abuse the traditional powers of France as Furet
However, the social ideas were very powerful for the colonists and kept them motivated to win their independence. These ideas of John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, and Voltaire were called enlightenment ideas and these ideas helped shape America into what it has grown to be. John Locke believed in natural rights such as life, liberty, and property. He also believed in people having rights of revolution, and he supported limited government. The revolting colonists that wanted to be free and believed in a republic style of government shared John Locke’s ideas. Baron de Montesquieu had the idea of our modern style government, a government with the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This style of government has checks and balances to make sure that no single branch becomes too powerful. Voltaire believed in freedom of speech, which is our first amendment. From a British standpoint, these ideas are absurd and contradict all of the enlightenment ideas. Great Britain contradicts John Locke’s ideas because you are not allowed to revolt against the King and that the King and Parliament should control everything. The British ideals also contradict Baron de Montesquieu’s ideas in the sense that there are only two branches of government the King and Parliament and it lacks checks and balances. Voltaire’s beliefs are also contradicted