HIS104: World Civilizations II
Instructor Jill Walsh
11 February 2013
The French Revolution
The Enlightenment refers to the intellectual developments of the eighteenth century. Those men and women who were a part of this movement were called philosophes. Their work set the stage for much of our thinking today about personal freedoms and the reform of existing conditions and institutions. France was the heart of the movement. The reforming ideas of the Enlightenment found expression in the American and French Revolution (Keough, 2010).
The French Revolution represents a culmination of the eighteenth century ideas and economic transitions. It was a direct response to the obvious abuses of the French absolute monarchy or the “old regime”. The Enlightenment was a significant factor in bringing on the French Revolution but the financial crisis of the monarchy was the spark. This was the result of economic problems due to wars of Louis XIV and Louis XV, the upkeep of Versailles and its hangers-on, poor harvests, and inequitable taxes. Louis XVI’s decision to convene the Estates-General led to the revolution. The nature of the French Revolution was not immediately radical nor a movement of the masses. By 1791 the radicals began to take control of the revolution. The character of the revolution was also changed by foreign threats. By accepting the radical rule, the French people chose to save the revolution in fear of foreign domination. The Reign of Terror which was a part of the radicalization of the revolution was ended with the “Thermidorian reaction”. The corruption of the Directory resulted with the coup of 1799 and the establishment of the First Consulate under Napoleon who proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804 (Keough, 2010).
The Enlightenment not only changed the way the people viewed religion, but it also changed the way people viewed the government and its political and social policies. Citizenship, democracy, and human rights were all important aspects of the Enlightenment. As a result, the phrase “liberty, equality, fraternity,” became a popular slogan of the French Revolution. Revolutionists fought for a government for the people by the people. They wanted a government where all men had a right to vote and all citizens were equal before the law. Revolution offered a chance to make these ideas a reality (Elton, 2007).
The most meager effects of the French Revolution can be displayed in the category of culture. The French Revolutionary government adopted the use of the metric system, which spread to other countries. Now only three countries: the USA, Myanmar, and Liberia do not use the current metric system. A more significant effect of the French Revolution was the spread of French culture by Napoleon through the Great French War. Napoleon would “appropriate all of Western Europe culture as French.” This can be seen primarily in fashion as well as customs. The Great French War allowed the spread of French fashion throughout Europe. French fashion has a profound effect of the runway even in a modern sense. The world of contemporary fashion is ruled by most French (mostly Parisian) clothiers including: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Hermes, and Yves Saint-Laurent. Also during the revolution citizens began dressing more modestly. Men and women began cutting their hair closer to their scalps and some wealthy men began wearing beggar clothing, while women wore “fashions which imitated the thin gowns of the ancient Pagan Greeks.” The peasants were dressing poorly as ever. Human customs changed dramatically: men no longer raised their hats to the ladies, obscene graffiti appeared everywhere on walls and within the reformed calendar (10 days), and men began shaving more infrequently (Wannamaker, 2007).
A more profound social and political effect of the French Revolution was the birth of Nationalism, not only in France, but in many neighboring countries. The revolution aligned...