French Revolution - Montesquieu & Voltaire

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French Revolution: The Influences

When the Enlightenment occurred, it established some modern-day ideals such as religious toleration, separation of powers, and natural rights. These Enlightened principles eventually spread throughout France, causing the people to question the current state of their society, and ultimately causing the French Revolution. Montesquieu and Voltaire were two very major Enlightenment figures whose beliefs had a huge impact on the French Revolution.

The ever-growing middle class of France had begun to have access to and absorb some writings and ideas of philosophes like Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot. In addition, the recent American Revolution proved to the people of France that Enlightenment ideals could be implemented into their government. Montesquieu, a philosophe who believed strongly in the separation of power, was one person who had a dramatic impact on the French Revolution. He was born into the French nobility, received a classic education, and became well known for his Persian Letters. In these he pretended to be two Persian travelers commenting on French society. These allowed him to criticize the Catholic Church and the French monarchy. Montesquieu was just one of many factors in the Revolution that, in Edmund Burke’s words, caused “the French to rebel against a mild and lawful monarch with more fury, outrage, and insult than any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper or the most sanguinary tyrant” (Doc. 9). Later, Montesquieu published his most famous work, The Spirit of Laws, which compared three basic different government types: republics, monarchy, and despotism. He believed that monarchy was best for middle-sized states and made sure the ruling class holds fast to the law. These ideas of Montesquieu eventually led to his most notable contribution – the development of separation of powers – something that not only greatly influenced the French Revolution, but is something...
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