Sociology Index

FRENCH REVOLUTION

Russian Revolution, Xinhai Chinese Revolution, American Revolution

French Revolution is generally considered to be the revolution of 1789-99, in which the Bourbon monarchy in France was overthrown. The French revolution brought the ideas of liberty, equality and democracy to continental Europe and set off a profound and irreversible historical transformation.

French revolution began in 1789 and some historians have traced the end of the French revolution to the overthrow of Robespierre, its most radical leader in 1794. Some historians have traced the end of the French revolution to the seizure of power by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 and yet others have traced the end of the French revolution to final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. From 1789 to 1815 France was transformed by French revolution.

It began with the overthrowing of the monarchy and soon became a reign of revolutionary terror. The King and Queen and many of the aristocracy were executed and there were mass executions of political opponents. Attempts were made to export the revolution to the rest of Europe as the French armies moved east and forced monarchs to give up power, granted freedom and land to the serfs and recruited thousands of the ordinary people into the French army to help carry forward the message of equality and liberation. Then began a period of international wars against Britain and the old powers of Europe finally leading to ultimate defeat of the French forces at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

For the social sciences, the French revolution is important for representing the triumph of the liberal claim that all humans are essentially equal and all have a right to liberty and freedom of choice. Along with the Bloodless Revolution in England of 1688, which irreversibly established the principle of a limited constitutional monarchy, the Industrial Revolution, which gained momentum in the mid 1700's and the American Revolution of 1776, this event ushered in the social, economic and political transformation of western societies and helped create the age of modernity, democracy, economic development and legal equality for all citizens.

The history of the French revolution has fascinated social scientists since the early nineteenth century and continues to shape modern culture and intellectual ideas.

An idea and its destiny - French Revolution - 1789: An Idea That Changed the World
UNESCO Courier, June, 1989 by Francois Furet
THE French Revolution was an attempt to legislate in the name of universality. Its aim was the emancipation not only of the French but of all mankind. To this extent it was an event that was not merely of national but also of international scope, not simply a political but also a philosophical revolution.
One of the ambiguities of the revolutionaries' ambition to emancipate humanity springs from the fact that their vision of the world was very eurocentric. When the French spoke of the universal, they meant by that the bulk of Europe together with the European appendix consisting of the newly-independent former British colonies of America. This was the extent of their horizon. There can, then, be no doubt about it, the French Revolution legislated in the name of European man.

The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution
Daron Acemoglu, Davide Cantoni, Simon Johnson, James A. Robinson
March 19, 2009, MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 09-08
Abstract: The French Revolution of 1789 had a momentous impact on neighboring countries. The French Revolutionary armies during the 1790s and later under Napoleon invaded and controlled large parts of Europe. Together with invasion came various radical institutional changes. French invasion removed the legal and economic barriers that had protected the nobility, clergy, guilds, and urban oligarchies and established the principle of equality before the law. The evidence suggests that areas that were occupied by the French and that underwent radical institutional reform experienced more rapid urbanization and economic growth, especially after 1850. There is no evidence of a negative effect of French invasion. Our interpretation is that the French Revolution destroyed (the institutional underpinnings of) the power of oligarchies and elites opposed to economic change; combined with the arrival of new economic and industrial opportunities in the second half of the 19th century, this helped pave the way for future economic growth.

Fairy Tales, Popular Fiction and the French Revolution - Young, Margaret
Abstract: In the decades preceding the French Revolution one of the common tropes in popular fiction, particularly popular French fiction, was that of the child (or adult) discovering that their parentage was other than that they had assumed. This discovery allowed the protagonist to, at worst, symbolically kill their actual parents or, at best, discover the joy of finding that their parents were other than they had assumed them to be.

Louis XVI’s chapel and the French Revolution (1789–1792)
Ambrogio A. Caiani - French History 2008 22(4):425-445
Abstract: The close association of Christianity with the late Bourbon monarchy's style of governance has often been interpreted as a burdensome legacy, which impacted greatly on the period preceding the French Revolution. In recent years, historians have referred to the ideological, juridical and intellectual assaults on the religious foundations of the French crown, throughout the eighteenth century, either as a process of ‘desacralization’ or as the religious origins of the French Revolution. This article, though inspired by this school of thought, takes a different approach by examining the less well-known ceremonial and ritual components of this form of kingship, with particular reference to the king's chapel. Louis XVI's ecclesiastical household was both the centre of royal patronage for the Gallican Church and the chief regulatory authority of the monarch's personal religious devotion. Its actions, transformation and fate during the Revolution are instructive in two ways.

Liberty and Death: The French Revolution - By Jennifer Heuer, University of Massachusetts
Abstract: This article explores recent developments in scholarship on the French Revolution and new strategies for teaching about it as a cauldron of both rights and violence. Historians have increasingly moved beyond the schools of Marxism, “revisionism,” and “political culture” that dominated earlier interpretations. Although individual approaches differ radically, they reveal several general trends. Scholars are rethinking the narrative of the Revolution, emphasizing unexpected turning points and previously neglected periods. Many insist that revolutionary politics and culture were always multi-vocal, even during the most repressive moments. Historians have also turned towards apparently marginal groups and actors, attempting to assess not only how the French Revolution affected them, but also how their stories affect our understanding of the dynamics of historical change. These trends are intensified, and to some extent, challenged, by attempts to situate the French Revolution within comparative history.

NOTES ON THE FRENCH REVOLUTION:THOMAS JEFFERSON'S FOREIGN PERSPECTIVE - Kimberly Barrett, Mark Schantz, Department of History, Hendrix College, 1600 Washington Avenue, Conway, AR 72032
In August 1784 Thomas Jefferson arrived in Paris as America's foreign minister at Versailles and commissioner to negotiate commercial treaties. He remained in France for five years, departing in September 1789. During his stay, France felt its first revolutionary throes. Because of his position and connections with the forward-thinking nobility like the Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson had a front row seat at the escalating turmoil that began as political upheaval and turned into mob violence. Jefferson's letters outline two very different revolutions. The first was a revolution of the public mind that began in 1787 with the first meeting of the Assembly of Notables. Jefferson perceived this revolution as a moderate path by which the French could come slowly into the full blessings of liberty, an emancipation for which they were not yet prepared. He did not foresee nor did he immediately embrace the second revolution that began in March 1789 and escalated throughout the summer. Until the storming of the Bastille Jefferson continued to believe that a moderate path could be followed. However, after this event he was quickly convinced that mob violence was an effective tool of the national cause. This second revolution of the public deed was still in full swing when Jefferson left the country. Traditional French Revolutionary historians do not give much significance to Jefferson's analysis of this event. However, Jefferson's capacious writings present the historian with a unique perspective of an outsider who is simultaneously invested in and detached from the nation's goals. His correspondence presents a careful portrait of the early days of the French Revolution as he experienced them before his return to the United States. As Georges Lefebvre discussed what the Revolution meant from the peasant's perspective, this paper explores its significance to an American in Paris.

Writing Revolution: British Literature and the French Revolution Crisis, a Review of Recent Scholarship - By M. O. Grenby, Newcastle University (November 2006)
Abstract: The French Revolution had a profound effect on almost all aspects of British culture. French events and ideas were avidly discussed and disputed in Britain. Long-standing British political and cultural debates were given new life; new socio-political ideologies rapidly emerged. The sense of political, religious and cultural crisis that developed in the 1790s was only slowly to dissipate. Generations afterwards, many British thinkers and writers were still considering and renegotiating their responses. The effect of the Revolution Crisis on British literature was particularly marked, something that was widely recognised at the time and has been the focus of much scholarship since. It has become something of a cliché that British literary Romanticism was born out of the Revolution. The last few decades have produced new waves of powerful criticism which has re-examined the relationship between the French Revolution Crisis and the works it shaped.

Jeremy Bentham, the French Revolution, and Political Equality - Schofield, Philip
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association
Abstract: An unresolved debate in Bentham scholarship concerns the question of the timing and circumstances which led to Bentham's 'conversion' to democracy, and thus to political radicalism. Given the importance of Bentham's thought in the history of radical politics in the nineteenth century-in Britain, Europe, and indeed elsewhere-the question of the inspiration for Bentham's own political radicalism is of more than biographical significance.
It is not disputed that in the early stages of the French Revolution, roughly from 1788 to 1792, Bentham composed material which appeared to justify equality of suffrage on utilitarian grounds. Most commentators, however, claim that the early period of the French Revolution was not the decisive moment in the development of Bentham's thought, though there are differing interpretations concerning the extent and depth of Bentham's commitment to democracy at this time.

The Limits of Terror: the French Revolution, Rights and Democratic Transition
James Livesey, University of Sussex, Trinity College, Dublin
Thesis Eleven, Vol. 97, No. 1, 64-80 (2009)
The French Revolution has ceased to be the paradigm case of progressive social revolution. Historians increasingly argue that the heart of the revolutionary experience was the Terror and that the Terror prefigured 20thcentury totalitarianism. This article contests that view and argues that totalitarianism is too blunt a category to distinguish between varying experiences of revolution and further questions if revolutionary outcomes are ideologically determined. It argues that by widening the set of revolutions to include 17th and 18th century cases, as well as the velvet revolutions of the 1990s, we can reinterpret the French Revolution as a characteristic case of democratic transition with particular features.