• French Revolution also called Revolution of 1789, the revolutionary movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first climax there in 1789. 
  • Hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” denoting the end of the ancient régime in France and serving also to distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848
  • French Revolution 1789–1799, was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France that had a lasting impact on French history and more broadly throughout Europe.
  • The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed within three years.
  • French society underwent an epic transformation, as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from radical left-wing political groups, masses on the streets, and peasants in the countryside.
  • Old ideas about tradition and hierarchy regarding monarchs, aristocrats, and the Catholic Church were abruptly overthrown by new principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. 
  • The royal houses across Europe were horrified and led a counter crusade that by 1814 had restored the old monarchy, but many major reforms became permanent.
  • So too did antagonisms between the supporters and enemies of the Revolution, who fought it out politically over the next two centuries. 
  • Amidst a fiscal crisis, the common people of France were increasingly angered by the incompetency of King Louis XVI and the continued indifference and decadence of the aristocracy.
  • This resentment, coupled with burgeoning Enlightenment ideals, fuelled radical sentiments, and the French Revolution began in 1789 with the convocation of the Estates-General in May.
  • The first year of the Revolution saw members of the Third Estate proclaiming the Tennis Court Oath in June, the assault on the Bastille in July, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August, and an epic march on Versailles that forced the royal court back to Paris in October.
  • The next few years were dominated by struggles between various liberal assemblies and a right wing of supporters of the monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms.
  • A republic was proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed the next year.
  • External threats shaped the course of the Revolution.
  • The French Revolutionary Wars began in 1792 and ultimately featured spectacular French victories that facilitated the conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the Low Countries and most territories west of the Rhine – achievements that had eluded previous French governments for centuries. Internally, popular sentiments radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins and virtual dictatorship by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794 during which between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed.
  • After the fall of the Jacobins and the execution of Robespierre, the Directory assumed control of the French state in 1795 and held power until 1799, when it was replaced by the Consulate under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.
  • The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution.
  • The growth of republics and liberal democracies, the spread of secularism, the development of modern ideologies, and the invention of total war all mark their birth during the Revolution. 
  • Subsequent events that can be traced to the Revolution include the Napoleonic Wars, two separate restorations of monarchy (Bourbon Restoration and July Monarchy), and two additional revolutions (1830 and 1848) as modern France took shape.

Causes of the French Revolution

  1. International: struggle for hegemony and Empire outstrips the fiscal resource the state 
  2. Political conflict: conflict between the Monarchy and the nobility over the “reform” of the tax system led to paralysis and bankruptcy. 
  3. The Enlightenment: impulse for reform intensifies political conflicts; reinforces traditional aristocratic constitutionalism, one variant of which was laid out in Montequieu’s Spirit of the Laws; introduces new notions of good government, the most radical being popular sovereignty, as in Rousseau’s Social Contract [1762]; the attack on the regime and privileged class by the Literary Underground of “Grub Street;” the broadening influence of public opinion.
  4. Social antagonisms between two rising groups: the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie 
  5. Ineffective ruler: Louis XVI
  6. Economic hardship, especially the agrarian crisis of 1788-89 generates popular discontent and disorders caused by food shortages.

Revolutionary situation 

  • When the government’s monopoly of power is effectively challenged by some groups who no longer recognize its legitimate authority, no longer grant it loyalty, and no longer obey its command, Dual or multiple sovereignty is the identifying feature of a revolutionary situation – the fragmentation of an existing polity into two or more blocs, each of which exercises control over some part of the government and lays claim to its exclusive control over the government.
  • A revolutionary situation continues until a single, sovereign polity is reconstituted.
  • The Third Estate’s Oath of the Tennis Court in June 1789 and its claim of representing the sovereignty of the nation create a revolutionary situation in France.

Revolutionary Process or Stages:

  • One interpretation is that a revolution will continue until a single sovereign order has been restored either by agreement or force.
  • As the French Revolution demonstrated, the level of violence is likely to be greater after the first outbreak of revolution or revolutionary situation, as one group claiming sovereignty seeks to vanquish one or more other rival groups also claiming sovereignty.
  • A good example in the French Revolution is the events leading up to the overthrow of the Constitutional Monarch on August 1792—often called the “Second Revolution”— and the establishment of the First French Republic.
  • After the establishment of the Republic, the level of violence grew as the Republican regime sought to repress counter-revolutionary movements in France (Federalist revolts and the Vendée uprising) while struggling at the same time to prevent defeat in war by the combined forces of Austria, Prussia, and Britain.
  • The so-called reign of Terror was instituted to quash both internal and foreign forces of counter revolution. But once these internal and foreign threats were under control in the spring of 1794, Terror continued at the direction of the Committee of Public Safety, the most famous member of which was Maximilien Robespierre.
  • This last period of Terror was aimed at eliminating political rivals of Robespierre and the Committee, which included Danton. The excesses that resulted led to the overthrow of Robespierre and the Committee on the 9th of Thermidor, Year II 
  • After the overthrow of Robespierre, the revolution continued still longer as the moderate leaders of the newly established government called the Directory (17951799) attempted to bring the revolution to a close in keeping with the principles of 1789 that would be under bourgeois control and freed from the intervention and pressures of the popular movement.
  • This effort entailed the forceful repression of the popular movement in Paris by Napoleon’s so-called “whiff of grapeshot.” the overturning of elections in 1797 (to oust neo-Jacobins seen as too radical) and again in 1798 (to oust ultra conservatives).
  • The Directory relied on the army and military force to carry out these repressive acts at the same time it supported the army and Napoleon in an aggressive war of expansion in Europe and Egypt.
  • Having relied on the army so much, the Directory was in the end overthrown by Napoleon and military might. Another interpretation of the Revolution divides the period of 1789-1799 into stages or phases:
  • A liberal, constitutional phase of 1789-1792
  • A radical, republican phase that led to authoritarian terror of the Committee of Public Safety August 10 1792 to 1794
  • Thermidor: A reactionary phase in response to the excesses of radical republicanism (universal male franchise) and of Terror.
  • The Napoleonic coup d’état, the ending of the Revolution by military coup and the restoration of “order” and domestic peace through an authoritarian regime.

Events of French Revolution

Feudalism and Unfair Taxation

  • No one factor was directly responsible for the French Revolution. Years of feudal oppression and fiscal mismanagement contributed to a French society that was ripe for revolt. Noting a downward economic spiral in the late 1700s, King Louis XVI brought in a number of financial advisors to review the weakened French treasury. 
  • Each advisor reached the same conclusion—that France needed a radical change in the way it taxed the public—and each advisor was, in turn, kicked out.
  • Finally, the king realized that this taxation problem really did need to be addressed, so he appointed a new controller general of finance, Charles de Calonne, in 1783. 
  • Calonne suggested that, among other things, France begin taxing the previously exempt nobility.
  • The nobility refused, even after Calonne pleaded with them during the Assembly of Notables in 1787. Financial ruin thus seemed imminent.

The Estates-General

  • In a final act of desperation, Louis XVI decided in 1789 to convene the Estates General, an ancient assembly consisting of three different estates that each represented a portion of the French population. If the Estates- General could agree on a tax solution, it would be implemented. 
  • However, since two of the three estates—the clergy and the nobility—were tax-exempt, the attainment of any such solution was unlikely. 
  • Moreover, the outdated rules of order for the Estates-General gave each estate a single vote, despite the fact that the Third Estate— consisting of the general French public—was many times larger than either of the first two. 
  • Feuds quickly broke out over this disparity and would prove to be irreconcilable. 
  • Realizing that its numbers gave it an automatic advantage, the Third Estate declared itself the sovereign National Assembly. 
  • Within days of the announcement, many members of the other two estates had switched allegiances over to this revolutionary new assembly.

The Bastille and the Great Fear

  • Shortly after the National Assembly formed, its members took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing that they would not relent in their efforts until a new constitution had been agreed upon.
  • The National Assembly’s revolutionary spirit galvanized France, manifesting in a number of different ways.
  • In Paris, citizens stormed the city’s largest prison, the Bastille, in pursuit of arms.
  • In the countryside, peasants and farmers revolted against their feudal contracts by attacking the manors and estates of their landlords. Dubbed the “Great Fear”, these rural attacks continued until the early August issuing of the August Decrees, which freed those peasants from their oppressive contracts.
  • Shortly thereafter, the assembly released the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which established a proper judicial code and the autonomy of the French people.

Rifts in the Assembly

  • Though the National Assembly did succeed in drafting a constitution, the relative peace of the moment was short-lived.
  • A rift slowly grew between the radical and moderate assembly members, while the common laborers and workers began to feel overlooked. When Louis XVI was caught in a foiled escape plot, the assembly became especially divided.
  • The moderate Girondins took a stance in favor of retaining the constitutional monarchy, while the radical Jacobins wanted the king completely out of the picture.
  • Outside of France, some neighboring countries feared that France’s revolutionary spirit would spread beyond French land.
  • In response, they issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which insisted that the French return Louis XVI to the throne.
  • French leaders interpreted the declaration as hostile, so the Girondinled assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia.

The Reign of Terror

  • The first acts of the newly named National Convention were the abolition of the monarchy and the declaration of France as a republic. 
  • In January 1793, the convention tried and executed Louis XVI on the grounds of treason. Despite the creation of the Committee of Public Safety, the war with Austria and Prussia went poorly for France, and foreign forces pressed on into French territory. 
  • Enraged citizens overthrew the Girondinled National Convention, and the Jacobins, led by Maximilien Robespierre, took control.
  • Backed by the newly approved Constitution of 1793, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety began conscripting French soldiers and implementing laws to stabilize the economy. 
  • For a time, it seemed that France’s fortunes might be changing. But Robespierre, growing increasingly paranoid about counterrevolutionary influences, embarked upon a Reign of Terror in late 1793–1794, during which he had more than 15,000 people executed at the guillotine.
  • When the French army successfully removed foreign invaders and the economy finally stabilized, however, Robespierre no longer had any justification for his extreme actions, and he himself was arrested in July 1794 and executed.

The “Thermidorian Reaction” and the Directory

  • The era following the ousting of Robespierre was known as the Thermidorian Reaction, and a period of governmental restructuring began, leading to the new Constitution of 1795 and a significantly more conservative National Convention.
  • To control executive responsibilities and appointments, a group known as the Directory was formed. Though it had no legislative abilities, the Directory’s abuse of power soon came to rival that of any of the tyrannous revolutionaries France had faced. 


  • Meanwhile, the Committee of Public Safety’s war effort was realizing unimaginable success. 
  • French armies especially those led by young general Napoleon Bonaparte, were making progress in nearly every direction. Napoleon’s forces drove through Italy and reached as far as Egypt before facing a deflating defeat. 
  • In the face of this rout, and having received word of political upheavals in France, Napoleon returned to Paris. He arrived in time to lead a coup against the Directory in 1799, eventually stepping up and naming himself “first consul”— effectively, the leader of France. With Napoleon at the helm, the Revolution ended, and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule.
  • In 1799, Napoleon staged a coup d’état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later the French Senate proclaimed him emperor, following a plebiscite in his favor. 
  • In the first decade of the 19th century, the French Empire under Napoleon engaged in a series of conflicts— the Napoleonic Wars—that involved every major European power.
  • After a streak of victories, France secured a dominant position in continental Europe, and Napoleon maintained the French sphere of influence through the formation of extensive alliances and the appointment of friends and family members to rule other European countries as French client states.
  • The Peninsular War and 1812 French invasion of Russia marked turning points in Napoleon’s fortunes.
  • His Grand army was badly damaged in the campaign and never fully recovered.
  • In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig; the following year the Coalition invaded France, forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba. 
  • Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and returned to power, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.
  • Napoleon spent the last six years of his life in confinement by the British on the island of Saint Helena.
  • An autopsy concluded he died of stomach cancer, but there has been some debate about the cause of his death, as some scholars have speculated that he was a victim of arsenic poisoning. 


  • People of France had a strong belief that they could establish a new national community based on reason and natural law according to the spirit of enlightenment, without reference to the customs of the past.
  • Such high ambitions demanded new political practices for their realization.
  • As Franqois Furet suggests, France through revolution invented democratic culture and revealed to the world one of the basic forms of historical consciousness of action.
  • If the Revolution invented new structures and upset the old ones, it also set in motion new forces to transform the traditional mechanisms of politics.
  • The Revolution took over an empty space and then proliferated within that For Furet, the French Revolution was essentially a political phenomenon. 
  • It led to a profound transformation of political discourse involving new but powerful forms of political symbolism and experimented in radical forms of political action which was unprecedented and unanticipated. 
  • In the political dialogue between societies and their states, the Revolution tipped scales in favour of society against the state. 
  • The ancient regime was dominated by the king; the Revolution turned it into people’s achievement. From the ‘kingdom of subjects’ France became a nation of citizens.
  • The old society was based on privilege; the Revolution established equality.
  • The Revolution created an ideology of a radical break with the- past. Everything the economy, society and politics yielded to the force of new ideology.
  • The revolution, according to Keith Michael Baker, marked the transformation of the discursive practice of the community, a moment in which social relations were reconstituted and the relationship between individual, community and state radically transformed.
  • As the Revolution progressed, it coined new vocabulary of politics and culture. It accumulated its own symbols and religious overtones and provided new definitions of patriotism and war. 
  • For Robespierre, the famous Jacobin leader, the revolution became a war of liberty against its enemies. ‘Its intensity, its reforming zeal and its war against privilege made it’ as Mcmanners writes, a fort of forcing house where in the ideals of the future, and their perversions, were brought early maturity’.
  • It should also be borne in mind that the Revolution in France was not pre-planned.
  • The overthrow of the government was followed by intense confusion and opened the gates of political discourse and contestations.
  • In this situation, certain kind of actions and arguments took on meanings that often went far beyond what the actors or leaders intended.
  • The emergence of modem political culture destroyed the absolutist monarchy and brought about a political order under which the nation existed as a collective body. Various efforts were made to reconstitute the meaning of public right and redefine the nature of social order.
  • According to K.M. Baker, the three strands of discourse in the late eighteenth century were -justice, will and reason. The emergence, elaboration and interpretation of these three discourses defined the political culture that emerged in France and provided the ideological framework to the subsequent changes.
  • These discourses provided grounds for the abolition of feudal structure in France. 
  • Thus, the Revolution had begun a new era but its ideologies and institutional framework gradually developed as a consequence of debates and struggles within as well as outside France. 

The Ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

  • No doubt, the ideas like liberty, equality, Fraternity and so on had existed sometimes in a very confused or abstract form in many societies but in France, during the revolutionary era, these became the guiding principles for me law makers.
  • The American Revolution of 1776 had also declared all men born ‘free and equal’.
  • The Congress of the representatives of the thirteen colonies had asserted that all men are born equal and have certain natural rights which are inalienable and cannot be taken away. 
  • But the American Constitution remains silent on the significant question of slavery and postponed the demand for extension of the franchise to them.
  • The slavery issued had divided the American nation during the Civil War (1861 – 1865).
  • In France, these ideas became the defining concepts that had impact not only upon the western civilization but also worked their way into the history of 19″ and 20″century Europe, America and Asia.
  • By liberty, the revolutionaries meant the right to act within the world with responsibility to no one but oneself. 
  • It was an idea that remained dear to those who made the French Revolution and one which pervaded the reforms. 
  • The Revolution founded a potent new tradition of liberty. Protestants, Jews and Free Thinkers gained toleration both in France and in the French dominated regions. 
  • The first official document of the French Revolution – the Declaration of the Rights of Man – stated the ideas of liberty and equality and efforts were made to embody them in the new regime to form the chief theme of the French politics in the nineteenth century.

The Concept of Republican State

  • The idea of a Republican state was not the product of the French Revolution as there existed many republican states in the ancient world- in Greece, Rome and in India. 
  • But the French Republic was based on a modem ideological platform. It was created with the support of a liberal constitution and popular base.

The world ‘republic’ has become inseparable from the Revolution with two high points:

  • The year 1789 when the sovereignty of the monarch was replaced by the sovereignty of the nation; and
  • The 1792 when the monarch was deposed and the liberal republic was established. 
  • Interestingly, in the French tradition, the word ‘republic’ has retained a powerful emotional importance even though its institutional structures remained weak.
  • The principle of republic was subverted by persons of despotic traits on many occasions.
  • Modem politics can be said to have begun in the revolutionary decade, giving birth to terms like ‘right’ and ‘left’. 
  • The French Revolution had divided the people between liberals and conservatives. 
  • The liberals generally moved towards republicanism with wide suffrage, individual rights, freedom of speech and expression, and election of the head of the State.
  • The conservatives resisted change and laid stress on discipline, duties and social hierarchy.
  • The unprecedented challenge of the Revolution crystallized the political thinking of the conservatives.
  • Many of them opposed reforms based on the ideas of the Enlightenment. Both these ideologies played a determining role in popular movements creating a sharp and anti-pathic division in nineteenth century Europe.
  • The French exported the idea of republicanism against the English preference for monarchy and conservatism. The Republic in France is now firmly established.
  • The “Mareillaise” is no more a battle song but her national anthem and the Fourteenth of July is the national holiday, remembered as the Republic Day.
  • So ‘the currents of turbulence and ideological dissidence which flowed most strongly after 1789’ according to C.A. Bayly, ‘forced ruling groups to reconstitute the ideological foundations of the state and partially to modernize it
  • They drew from a variety of sources, especially the Enlightenment. 
  • It was this shift in the basis and structure of traditional states that led to the popularity of new principles like republicanism and liberalism.

Outcomes of the French Revolution, 1789-1799(1815)

  1. Representative government vs. authoritarianism (the Terror, Napoleon): two different new models of government
  2. Stronger, further centralized state with a larger, more effective and more intrusive administration. 
  3. Abolition of special fiscal privileges, seigniorial dues owed by peasants to lords, internal tariffs, and the establishment of uniform tax system based in principle on one’s income.
  4. Creation and extension of new civil rights: a. Equality before the law b. careers open to talent c. participation in elections or certain government positions based on property qualifications 
  5. Socio-economic changes

a. single commercial code

b. abolition of guilds, i.e., workers right to organize in “unions”

c. business becomes an honorable profession

d. (wealthier) peasants acquire land and more peasants become independent proprietors

e. increase in the size and influence of the bourgeoisie, through the acquisition of church lands, greater wealth, and offices as political representatives and government officials

6. Changes in ideas and political culture:

a. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity ; popular sovereignty : sovereignty rested with the “people” not in the king, or any narrower group such as the aristocracy; democratic republicanism

b. Nationalism

c. decline in religiosity, in the influence and authority of the church

d. formation of a revolutionary tradition centered on the belief that revolution was a means for bringing progressive change and further extension of popular participation and popular sovereignty. 


  • The French Revolution was like an explosion and a violent upheaval. Events like this often destroy many aspects of the past culture.
  • The destructive experience of the revolution was not expected to give birth to durable creations but the Revolution of 1789 signifies an idea of fundamental change. 
  • The French people had to confront the collapse of the whole social order. 
  • What is termed as the ancient regime, and from its rubbles and chaos they had to assemble a new order.
  • This provided limitless possibilities of innovation to the revolutionaries. 
  • Like the people of other regions, the Frenchmen did not have much of a political vocabulary before 1789 as politics centered at Versailles, the royal court.
  • However the elections to the Estates General brought the common man of the street into the national politics.
  • The lower section of the populace began participating in street marches and political insurrections. 
  • It affected not only the nature of politics but contributed to the sudden formation of a revolutionary language based on new political vocabulary.
  • New words or phrases were coined to express popular demands. 
  • Words like citizen rights, sovereignty, representation and patriotism received new meanings.
  • Thousands of brochures, pamphlets, caricatures and cartoons, plays, newspaper articles came out explaining the new ideology.
  • Stage plays were enacted on political and revolutionary themes, folk songs were sung with changed meanings, popular fetes were organized and a revolutionary calendar was introduced in France.
  • All these developments were contributing to the creation of new revolutionary culture. 
  • Traditional centers of public sphere were adapting themselves according to the revolutionary atmosphere. New concepts of time and space came into being based on the principles of rationalism and naturalism. 
  • The revolutionaries had provided a new division of time by preparing a revolutionary calendar in which a month was to consist of three weeks of ten days each, and a year divided into twelve months.
  • The remaining five days were declared patriotic days to include civil qualities like virtue, genius, labour, reward and opinion. 
  • Each day of the week was given a new name, which was dedicated to some aspect of rural life.
  • The names of the rulers and queens were swiftly removed from Paris streets and new names were given.
  • Words like the king were replaced by the liberty. Even the pictures of king, queen and jack were replaced with revolutionary symbols. 
  • The new expressions and political vocabulary had eroded the sacred position of the king. The ritual use of the language like swearing and oaths provided to the revolutionaries a means of reconstituting moral basis of the community.
  • The formation of new political culture had its stamp on the French culture. Theatre, art and music came under strong revolutionary influence. The coming of the Revolution influenced the journalistic press.
  • The newspapers like Mercure, Brissot’s Patriote Francaise (French Patriots) and Barere’s provided direct message to the people and popularized the revolutionary ideology. 
  • These papers demonstrated the role of political journalism to the future revolutionaries including intellectuals like Karl Marx.
  • There was a sudden growth of readership and a revolutionary change in the content of newspaper. This contributed to the formation of public opinion.
  • In the sphere of drama, every crisis in the revolution had its commentary on civic stage. Political themes were extensively borrowed. Stage plays became a source of political propaganda.
  • Chenier’s Charles IX is said to have baptized the stage in the name of nation, law and constitution. It was the most popular play reflecting the spirit of revolution.
  • Art, too, was used in public festivals and in the visual pageantry of the large-scale spectacles. The decade of the Revolution produced thousands of printed images through allegorical composition, political caricatures, portraits of leaders, letterheads, playing cards, children’s games, civil manuals and many other forms.
  • These images are called ephemera and these proved to be more effective means of drawing people into political debates.
  • Art in this period acquired a strategic and explicitly political function. 
  • The revolutionaries had great faith in the power of images and art was used to perform the role of social and moral regenerator.
  • The imagery of the French Revolution was created through all these means.
  • However, it is very difficult to say as to how much of these changes survived the Revolution.
  • Perhaps very little of it accept its imagery and memory. This was because the Revolution had completely rejected the old culture of ancient regime, while the new culture that was imposed from above was seen as a product of socio-political interests and charged up emotions of a few. Its survival became precarious.
  • The French society had reached a stage of disorder and sharp divide with the collapse of the old moral foundations. The new ruling class was unable to provide an alternative. 
  • Yet those projects which were universal in scope, such as the metric system, secularism, legal code and democratic principles – they survived to a large extent.
  • It can be said that the principal legacy of the French Revolution was the Revolution itself. Even after two hundred years, its memory persists. 
  • Many religions of humanity during the nineteenth century religions which made humanity their objects of cult -were born out of this revolutionary faith.
  • It marked the overthrow of the old regime and the establishment of a free fraternal and egalitarian-society.it forced a historical reconsideration of tradition.
  • The revolutionary faith became a tradition that relieved itself in the events of 1830, 1848 and 1871 in France and inspired many others in Greece, Belgium, Italy and Germany. 
  • However, some people question, the use of term ‘revolutionary culture’ for this memory, tradition and ritual enactments. 
  • Whichever way one looks at the Revolution, its most important legacy was democratic republicanism – an ideology embraced by a large section of the middle class all over the world.
  • The ideology experienced stiff resistance from the European officials during the nineteenth century, as it was achieved either through war or terror.
  • However, the radical republicanism in France had to adjust with more moderate forms of government, public education, secularism and the desire for individual liberty in order to find a permanent place in Europe and the outside world.
  • The French Revolutionary culture had a deep influence over the reformulated postcolonial world that emerged after the Second World War.
  • The French Revolution has received enormous amounts of historical attention, both from the general public and from scholars and academics.
  • The views of historians, in particular, have been characterized as falling along ideological lines, with disagreement over the significance and the major developments of the Revolution.
  • Other thinkers, like the conservative Edmund Burke, maintained that the Revolution was the product of a few conspiratorial individuals who brainwashed the masses into subverting the old order—a claim rooted in the belief that the revolutionaries had no legitimate complaints.
  • Other historians, influenced by Marxist thinking, have emphasized the importance of the peasants and the urban workers in presenting the Revolution as a gigantic class struggle. 
  • Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history, and the end of the early modern period.
  • The Revolution is, in fact, often seen as marking the “dawn of the modern era”.
  • Within France itself, the Revolution permanently crippled the power of the aristocracy and drained the wealth of the Church, although the two institutions survived despite the damage they sustained.
  • After the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, the French public lost the rights and privileges earned since the Revolution, but they remembered the participatory politics that characterized the period, with one historian commenting: 
  • “Thousands of men and even many women gained firsthand experience in the political arena: they talked, read, and listened in new ways; they voted; they joined new organizations; and they marched for their political goals. 
  • Revolution became a tradition, and republicanism an enduring option.” 
  • Some historians argue that the French people underwent a fundamental transformation in self-identity, evidenced by the elimination of privileges and their replacement by rights as well as the growing decline in social deference that highlighted the principle of equality throughout the Revolution. 
  • The Revolution represented the most significant and dramatic challenge to political absolutism up to that point in history and spread democratic ideals throughout Europe and ultimately the world. 
  • Thus, it had a profound impact on the Russian Revolution and its ideas inspired Mao Zedong in his efforts at constructing a communist state in China.

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