French Revolution:- For Ras Rts Mains exam and Ras RTS Prelims Exam

  • It gave birth to ideas of liberty, freedom and equality
  • It led to the end of monarchy in France
  • A society based on privileges gave way to a new system of governance
  • The Declarations of the Rights of Man during the revolution, announced the coming of a new time.
  • The idea that all individuals had rights and could claim equality became part of a new language of politics.
  • These notions of equality and freedom emerged as the central ideas of a new age; but in different countries they were reinterpreted and rethought in many different ways

Ideals of Revolution

  • The collapse of the old regime was the consequence of many factors – economic problems, social unrest, conflicting ambitions of groups and individuals.
  • In the unfolding of the Revolution, what was thought, what was said, and what was advocated, was expressed in terms categories that came from political theorists of the Enlightenment such as Montesquieu, Locke and Rousseau.
  • Montesquieu, the most important political philosopher of the French revolution claimed that a liberal constitutional monarchy was the best system of government for a people who prized freedom, on the grounds that by dividing the sovereignty of the nation between several centres of power, it provided a permanent check on any one of t hem becoming despotic.
  • Mirabeau, the leading orator among the revolutionists of this early phase, was very much the disciple of Montesquieu in his demand for a constitutional monarchy. Mirabeau was born in a noble family but was convinced of the need to do away with a society of feudal privilege. He brought out a journal and delivered powerful speeches to the crowds assembled at Versailles.
  • Then, there was Locke’s theory of the natural rights of man to life, liberty and property. The French revolutionists were influenced by Locke’s theory as  merican revolutionist had done so in 1776
  • Where Montesquieu had understood freedom as being unconstrained and unimpeded in doing what one chooses to do so as long as it is lawful, Rousseau defined freedom as ruling oneself, living only under a law which one has oneself enacted.
  • On Rousseau’s philosophy of freedom “The Social Contract” there was no question of the people dividing and diminishing  sovereignty, because the people were to keep sovereignty in their own hands. In Rousseau’s conception of a constitution, the nation became sovereign over itself.

Stages:-

  • 1774: Louis XVI becomes king of France, faces empty treasury and growing discontent within society of the Old Regime.
  • 1789: Convocation of Estates General, Third Estate forms National Assembly, the Bastille is stormed, and peasant revolts in the countryside.
  • 1791: A constitution is framed to limit the powers of the king and to guarantee basic rights to all human beings.
  • 1792: Overthrow of the Constitutional Monarch—oftencalledthe“SecondRevolution”—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 Vendee 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 Maximiliean 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.
  • After the overthrow of Robespierre, the revolution continued still longer as the moderate leaders of the newly established government called the Directory (1795-1799) 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.

Role of leaders, philosopher

  • In the unfolding of the Revolution, what was thought, what was said, and what was advocated, was expressed in terms and categories that came from political theorists of the Enlightenment such as Montesquieu, Locke and Rousseau.
  • Montesquieu, the most important political philosopher of the French revolution claimed that a liberal constitutional monarchy was the best system of government for a people who prized freedom, on the grounds that by dividing the sovereignty of the nation between several centres of power, it provided a permanent check on any one of them becoming despotic.
  • Montesquieu suggested that the English had achieved this by sharing sovereignty between the Crown, Parliament and the law courts.
  • The French, he suggested, would need, if they were to adopt the same idea, to make use of the estates with which they were themselves already familiar: the Crown, the aristocratic courts, the Church, the landed nobility and the chartered cities.
  • Mirabeau, the leading orator among the revolutionists of this early phase, was very much the disciple of Montesquieu in his demand for a constitutional monarchy. Mirabeau was born in a noble family but was convinced of the need to do away with a society of feudal privilege. He brought out a journal and delivered powerful speeches to the crowds assembled at Versailles.
  • Then, there was Locke’s theory of the natural rights of man to life, liberty and property. The French revolutionists were influenced by Locke’s theory as merican revolutionist had done so in 1776.
  • Where Montesquieu had understood freedom as being unconstrained and unimpeded in doing what one chooses to do so as long as it is lawful, Rousseau defined freedom as ruling oneself, living only under a law which one has oneself enacted.
  • On Rousseau’s philosophy of freedom “The Social Contract” there was no question of the people dividing and diminishing  sovereignty, because the people were to keep sovereignty in their own hands. In Rousseau’s conception of a constitution, the nation became sovereign over itself.  

Limitations

It would be unfair to Rousseau to say that Robespierre put the theory of The Social Contract into practice, but he used Rousseau’s language, and exploited – while distorting –  several of Rousseau’s ideas in the course of his reign of terror.


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