Mar 14, 2020 in History
French Revolution

The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle

The main goal of William Doyle’s book, which he wrote back in 2001, was to elucidate the way in which the revolution happened by focusing on factors such as why the revolutionists were against the king, the church, and Europe as a whole and the impact of this struggle that included the establishment of general rule according to Doyle (2001).

The book has been divided into six main chapters of titled “Echoes,” “Why It Happened,” “How It Happened,” “What It Ended,” “What It Started,” and “Where It Stands.” The chapter “Echoes” is a chapter that focuses on examining the legacy of the revolution through the works of the nineteenth century literature and culture. The chapter entitled “Why It Happened” discusses the reasons that led to the revolution taking place. The third chapter “How It Happened” is a description of the events that took place during the revolution. The fourth chapter, “What It Ended,” illustrates the various factors of the old regime that were brought to an end as a result of the revolution. “What It Started” is a description of the changes that were realized following the revolution. The final chapter, “Where It Ends,” is an examination of the legacy of the revolution.

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For the Defense of the Committee of Public Safety by Maximilian Robespierre

The aim of Maximilian Robespierre speech, For the Defense of the Committee of Public Safety, is to defend the actions of Robespierre and the committee following the attack of armies of the North as opined by Robespierre.

The summary of the defense is as follows. Robespierre asserts that war is the only means through which freedom can be defended. He defends the significance of the committee by asserting that it is only concerned with the interest of the father land and for this reason, it is concerned with bringing the actions of the tyrants to an end. He asserts that the committee carries out acts in secret and in a way that may be deemed cruel, all in a bid to defend the father land. He also adds that it is wrong for the committee to be denounced because the changes it has made in the armies are noble and patriotic in regard to the nation and its people. This passionate defense of the committee of Public Safety by Robespierre achieves the goal of restored confidence n it.

The Memoirs of Madame Roland

The memoirs of Madame Roland are writings about her life which she wrote in prison during the early years of the French revolution. According to Roland and Johnson (1901), the Madame was born Marie-Jeanne Roland. She became a political figure that was very influential in her husband’s political career before being arrested and later being executed for treason. The main thesis of her memoirs was her personal reflection on her studies, passions, and political events. The essays played a significant part in demonstrating the role of women in the French revolution as she proved to be valuable to politics. The memoirs capture biographical notes that include the early years of her life such as place of birth, parents, and schooling. They further discuss her marriage to her husband and how she came to be his right hand in his political career, writing and managing his correspondence. They further reveal her political contributions not only in her husband’s career but also her political influence as she entertained guests in her salon.

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The Old Regime and The Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville

The idea of the Old Regime and the Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville, which was first published in 1856, is to discuss the beginning of the revolution by focusing on the challenge of preserving both individual and political freedom. Furthermore, it shows the continuity of the French political and social atmosphere before and after the revolution as illustrated by de Tocqueville (1856).

The book is divided into twelve chapters. In the first chapter, he asserts that it was in France where feudal rights carried the least weight. Through chapters two to seven, he focuses on the ancient regime, and then the impact of it all is described in chapters eight to twelve.  

French Revolution

The French revolution was a real-life occurrence that took place in France. It was a watershed event that foresaw tremendous changes in the social and political life of France as a nation. It can further be understood as an upheaval that led to the French people razing and redesigning their political landscape thereby bringing to an end old systems such as the monarchy style of rule and replacing them with democracy as France became a republic. Shwartz (2012) asserts that the revolution commenced in 1789 and came to an end in 1799 following the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte, who established military rule. The thesis of the current essay is that the French Revolution was a real and significant event that illustrated the power and the desire of the people of France in terms of the democratic nature of the government they wanted as opposed to a monarchy.

By relying on the position of de Tocquieville, several aspects could be directly linked to the French Revolution. First of all, the people wanted change, and due to enlightenment ideals they desired sovereignty and inalienable rights. Economic uncertainty was significant in the commencement of the revolution. This was brought about by France’s participation in the American Revolution and King Louis XVI spending, which was highly extravagant as reiterated by de Tocqueville (1856). This forced the King to decree increased tax and taxation of the privileged, a matter that was not well received. Following the meeting of the Estates-General, there was disagreement as the third estate wanted abolishment of the veto power. They broke away and took the famous tennis court oath forming the National Assembly.

The French revolution was marked with mass suffering and violence. Doyle (2001) asserts that though there was success in the breakdown of royal power as King Louis XVI was overthrown, the people started getting anxious following the rumor of military rule. One of the violent events that took place at that time was the storming of the Bastille fortress in a bid to secure gun power and weapons. This event is considered to mark the beginning of the revolution.

Other aspects of the revolution include increased hysteria that swept the countryside leading to peasants and farmers revolting against their landowners. Hibbert (2002) affirms they looted and burned down their homes as they protested against years of exploitation in their lands. This event came to be known as the Great Fear. A significant change took place following this event. The nobles started moving from the country and influenced the National Constituent Assembly to abolish feudalism.

The radical aspect of the revolution that brought about terror occurred when war was declared against Austria and Prussia. In the views of de Tocqueville (1856), a political crisis emerged and quickly took a radical turn when insurgents under the leadership of the Jacobins arrested King Louis XVI. A wave of violence continued leading to the massacre of hundreds of people. The king was condemned to death. The monarch was officially abolished, and France became a republic.

Another significant aspect of the revolution was the tension that ensued between the conservative Girondin-led National Convention and the radical Jacobins that urged citizens to overthrow the Girondin’s leadership and give it to the Jacobins, making it possible for Maximilien Robespierre to take over the country. It was during the rule of the Jacobins through the Committee and of Public Safety that another significant aspect of the revolution emerged. This aspect was dubbed the Reign of Terror. During this period, Robespierre oversaw the execution of more than 15000 people at the guillotine, as it is pointed out by Hibbert (2002). He was, however, ousted when his violent actions reached a turning point. The leader was replaced by the Directory. The Directory abused its power and led to further suffering of the people bringing about the Thermidorian Reaction. According to Doyle (2001), it too was ousted following the return of Napoleon Bonaparte who led a coup against it in 1799, marking the end of the revolution.

Applicability of Huntington’s Theory to the French Revolution

The Huntington’s theory, which is sometimes referred to as the lead-lag theory, states that revolutions take place when political institutionalization proceeds too slowly for the pace of large-scale social change and mobilization. Huntington (1993) explains that a revolution occurs when political modernization and development lag behind the processes of social and economic change. This theory is to a large extent applicable to the French revolution. However, it is also significant to acknowledge there are some aspects of the revolution that do not fit the theory thus making it inapplicable to the revolution.

Huntington’s theory is applicable to the French Revolution in a number of ways. The aspect of political institutionalization proceeding too slowly for the pace of large-scale social change and mobilization in France can be demonstrated by the following facts. The slow pace of political institutionalization was the result of the old regime of absolute monarchy, which had become an unpopular form of government. This old regime confirmed that political modernization and development had lagged behind, as many European nations were doing away with monarchical rule and adapting a modern form of rule that led to nations becoming republics. Significantly large-scale social and political changes were taking place in France. On the economic front, one such change was the growth of the prosperous elite of wealthy commoners, the bourgeoisie who aspired for political power as postulated by Shwartz (2012). Additionally, many peasants had come to own land. With regard to social changes, ideologies of enlightenment had spread in France. For instance, peasants had acquired education and thus became enlightened. These ideologies of enlightenment desecrated and debased the king’s authority and thus the monarchy and instead supported a new society that would be based on reason and ruled by a constitution. In this regard, Huntington’s theory applies to the French revolution, as the above changes taking place in France were doing so at a pace that was faster than the changes taking place in the political system of the day. This led to dissatisfaction among the people, thereby triggering the commencement of the revolution.

This theory is not completely applicable to the French revolution as there are some facts that are not accounted for by this theory. That is, there are some factors that contributed to causing the revolution but were not the results of the lag in political modernization and development and the fast-paced social and economic changes. One such fact is France’s participation in the American revolution that led it into bankruptcy. This economic aspect played a significant role in setting the stage for the events that brought about the revolution. Another fact is the disagreement between the estates, in particular, the call for change by the third estate of the voting process and consequently for formation of the constitution as reiterated by de Tocqueville (1856). Their action was significant in bringing the revolution closer. In addition, high food scarcity at the time, which was a consequence of crop failures, further illustrates that Huntington’s theory was not completely applicable to the French revolution. The failure of crops and the resulting food scarcity that played a vital role in motivating the revolution had nothing to do with the slow pace of modernization of the current political system or the fast rate of social and economic changes. It is sometimes insinuated that it was this food scarcity, and in particular, the shortage of bread, a staple food of the French, that was the engine of the revolution.

The French Revolution as a Benchmark for the Study of Revolutions

The French revolution has become a benchmark for the study of revolutions and also a reference point for radicals considering revolutions. First of all, it is during the French revolution that the term revolution took on its modern meaning—the rise of the population in a revolt against the authority. Thus, the revolution was significant in bringing to birth a number of essential characteristics of modern politics that have become vital for rapid political change bringing about the revolution. Such characteristics include ideological contention, democratic participation, and political party organization. Furthermore, the revolution has become a benchmark for the study of revolutions, as it facilitated the loosening of new possibilities for democratic politics upon the world that enabled government to be interpreted in many alternatives that range from socialist to authoritarian.

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The outcome of the French revolution was essential in making it a benchmark for the study of revolution and subsequently a reference point for radicals considering revolutions. In this regard, the revolution was really effective in bringing about change. In the first place, it brought about new forms of government, bringing to an end the old form of governance. According to Doyle (2001), the representative government came into ending the monarchical style of rule. This caused the development of a stronger, further centralized state that had an effective form of administration. A uniform tax system was introduced, replacing the old system that burdened the commoners, as the nobles and clergy were exempted from paying tax. New civil rights were created promoting equality of all people before the law. Other changes included socio-economic changes such as single commercial code and increase in the influence of the bourgeoisie and wealthier peasants. All these changes proved that revolutions were effective and thus helped those with the desire to receive significant changes like these to apply some of the techniques used in the French revolution if they too are to realize such changes.

The French revolution has become the reference point of radicals considering revolution because it confirmed that it was the most effective way of gaining the right to rights, which people were entitled to on the basis of being human beings. In highlighting the goals of the revolution, Robespierre emphasized that the end of the revolution was the celebration of liberty and equality. He gives other reasons for the revolution: to enchain low and cruel passions and bring about beneficial passions through the law. Other reasons were for morality to be substituted with egotism and to bring to an end the long reign of crime and tyranny. Therefore, it was the success of the French revolution that created the amount interest it received and made it the epitome of a revolution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the French Revolution was a real phenomenon that could be explained by relying on de Tocqueville’s position. It occurred because people started to become enlightened and wanted a democratic system of government as opposed to the existing monarchy. It was evidenced by massive violence and subsequent suffering. Huntington’s theory is partly applicable to the revolution and partly not applicable. It is specifically applicable to the extent that political institutionalization was necessary, while it is not applicable in explaining the link to the American Revolution. The French Revolution stands out as a benchmark for all similar processes, since it was a modern occurrence of people having the power to revolt against their incumbent government.

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