Revolution

For this Discussion, answer ONE of the instructor-provided questions:

  1. The French revolutionaries claimed that they were inspired by the Enlightenment philosophes.  Would the philosophes we studied back in Week 2 have approved of how the Revolution started?  What about how it developed through the 1790s?
  2. In his Reflections on the Revolutions in France, British member of Parliament Edmund Burke predicted the Terror.  Was this a lucky guess on his part or were the seeds of of the Terror part of the Revolution from the beginning?  Why?
  3. The motto of the Revolution was “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”  How well or badly does the Revolution embody each of these concepts?
  4. The historian Owen Connelly claims that Napoleon “has become a legendary hero with worldwide appeal.” Does he deserve to be called a hero? Why or why not?.

Answer:

I will address the question: “The French revolutionaries claimed that they were inspired by the Enlightenment philosophes. Would the philosophes we studied back in Week 2 have approved of how the Revolution started? What about how it developed through the 1790s?”

The Enlightenment philosophes, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu, advocated for ideals such as liberty, equality, and justice, which were central to the goals of the French Revolution. However, their approval of the Revolution’s beginnings and its development through the 1790s would likely have varied among them.

At the outset of the Revolution, with the convening of the Estates-General in 1789 and the subsequent storming of the Bastille, the philosophes might have initially approved of the revolutionaries’ efforts to challenge the absolute monarchy and demand political reforms. The principles of popular sovereignty and constitutional government resonated with Enlightenment ideals of democracy and the social contract.

However, as the Revolution progressed, particularly during the radical phase of the Reign of Terror in the early 1790s, some philosophes might have become disillusioned with the excessive violence and authoritarianism displayed by revolutionary leaders such as Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. The Reign of Terror, characterized by mass executions and suppression of political dissent, contradicted the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason, tolerance, and the rule of law.

Overall, while the Enlightenment philosophes may have initially supported the Revolution’s goals of overthrowing despotism and establishing democratic governance, they likely would have been critical of the violence and chaos that ensued, particularly during the radical phase of the Revolution. Some may have even feared that the Revolution had deviated from its original ideals and descended into tyranny, echoing Edmund Burke’s later criticisms in “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”

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