Thursday, October 29, 2009

The French Revolution

The French Revolution

(1789 – 1799)

Fall of the Bastille[1]

French Revolution is the main transformation of the society and political system of France (1789 to 1799). During the course of the Revolution, France was temporarily transformed from an absolute monarchy, where the king has the absolute power, to a republic of theoretically free and equal citizens. The effects of the French Revolution were widespread, both inside and outside of France, and the Revolution is one of the most important events in the history of Europe.

I. Introduction

The French Revolution is happened in (1789 – 1799). It was the landmark for the France Monarch to Republican. These changes were followed by violent disorder which included the trial and execution of the king, an enormous bloodshed and repression during the Reign of Terror, and the war involving every other major European power. Subsequent events that can be traced to the Revolution include the Napoleonic Wars, two separate restorations of the monarchy, and two additional revolutions as modern France took shape. And In the following century, France would be governed at one point or another as a republic, constitutional monarchy, and two different empires[2].

The French revolution emergence can not be released from the practice of government that lasted nearly absolute in all of Europe. Absolutism initially taught by an original thinker Niccolò Machiavelli.[3] In his book entitled "Il Principe", which means the king, Machiavelli explains that in the reign, a king should have the absolute power without limit to the country, property and people for as long as the triumph of the country.[4] Machiavelli thought this can not be separated from the background of his life in Italy at that time together difficult. Italy is the European country which is early formed in 1861as the united state.

During the ten years of the Revolution, France first transformed and then dismantled the Old Regime, the political and social system that existed in France before 1789, and replaced it with a series of different governments. Although none of these governments lasted more than four years, the many initiatives they enacted permanently altered France’s political system. These initiatives included the drafting of several bills of rights and constitutions, the establishment of legal equality among all citizens, experiments with representative democracy, and the incorporation of the church into the state, and the reconstruction of state administration and the law code.

French Revolution brought a very large influence, in a political aspect it was triggering the birth of a new understand-liberalism, democracy and nationalism as the development of revolutionary motto liberte, egalite, and franternette. In the economic ones, it was abolishing the economic system of feudal, the occurrence of industrialization in Europe as a result of economic blockade by the UK initiated by Napoleon and finally they lost the market in Europe.

II. Research Question

Why the French Revolution is happened and what are the influences for France as well as the world?

III. Causes of the Revolution

The foundations of absolute power have been developed in France by King Louis XIII (1610-1643) and the peak period of Louis XIV (1643-1715). He was well – known by his famous words are L'Etat c'est moi (I am the State), Detroit devin (I am ruling over) the top command of God). His Versailles Palace is known by the name of the Surya (Le Roy Soleil). The King and the elite live with the luxury and welfare while the people are suffering because they are already burdened by the various taxes.[5]

The absolute of power is basically the major causes why the French Revolution is happened but besides that there are a lot of causes also triggered the emergence of it, and here are some causes[6]:

1. The Absolute Monarch Government

The Absolute government in France was begun in the king Henry IV Navare tenure (1589-1610) continued by Louis XIII since 1610-1643 and accompanied by the Prime Minister Lous XIII Richellieu stated that "the king will not share authority with anyone as well, including the elite ones." Louis XIV is the most absolute rule for 72 years (1643-1715). In ruling, the king accompanied by the Cardinal Prime Minister Mazarin and Minister of finance named Colbert.

The characteristic of Louis XIV government:[7]

Ø He has the title the king of Sun (Le Roi Soleil)

Ø Considering him self as the representative of God (Le Droit Devine) and every people have to bow to him as same as they obey the God

Ø The motto of (Letat Eest Moi) “I am the state”

Ø Building the luxury Versailles Palace[8]

Ø Ruling over the state without constitution

Ø The absence of parliamentary watch because the abolition of House of Representative by Louis XIII

Ø There is no any definite rule and law for every people and the government can arrest them according to their heart’s content

Ø There is no limitation of budget and the elites can spend the national budget freely.

2. The Social and Economic Discontent

In the late 18th Century the peasant population increased dramatically. This growth in population increased the demand for more land. Land was being divided into smaller and smaller sections to cope with this problem. Eventually some sections of land were not even enough for a peasant to support his own family.[9]

The wars in America left France in huge debt. To try and pay this debt the aristocratic social rank increased the feudal taxes for the peasants. The peasants' hardships increased greatly which further increased their resentment towards the nobility. Poor harvests in 1787 and 1788 led to a food shortage. The peasants could barely feed themselves let alone pay taxes. The peasants started to threaten violence if their situation wasn't improved.

The major economic discontents are:

1. Taxation

Unlike the trading nations, France could not rely almost solely on tariffs to generate income. While average tax rates were higher in Britain, the burden on the common people was greater in France. Taxation relied on a system of internal tariffs separating the regions of France, which prevented a unified market from developing in the country.

The system also excluded the nobles and the clergy from having to pay taxes (with the exception of a modest quit rent). The tax burden was thus paid by the peasants, wage earners, and the professional and business classes. These groups were also cut off from most positions of power in the regime, causing unrest.

2. Debt

By 1789, France was bankrupt. The country could no longer pay its debts, debts that were all the result of war. One example says a great deal about this situation. By 1789, France was still paying off debts incurred by the wars of Louis XIV, that is, wars of the late 17th and early 18th century. Furthermore, a number of social groups and institutions did not pay taxes of any kind. Many universities were exempt from taxation as were the thirteen Parlements, cites like Paris, the Church and the clergy, the aristocracy and numerous members of the bourgeoisie.[10]

This led to the long-running fiscal crisis of the French government. On the eve of the revolution, France was deeply indebted, so deeply as to be effectively bankrupt. Extravagant expenditures by Louis XIV on luxuries such as Versailles were compounded by heavy expenditures on the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence.

Edmund Burke, no friend of the revolution, was to write in 1790, "...the public, whether represented by a monarch or by a senate, can pledge nothing but the public estate; and it can have no public estate except in what it derives from a just and proportioned imposition upon the citizens at large." Because of the successful defense by the nobles of their privileges, the king of France lacked the means to impose a "just and pro portioned" tax. The desire to do so led directly to the decision in 1788 to call the Estates-General into session.[11]

3. The Emergence of Expert Opinion Thought

3.1 John Locke[12]

John Locke (1632-1704) believed that a government's primary goals should promote moral responsibility and protect individuals within that government and viewed civil society as an artificial condition that enforced the laws of man. Locke's views were aimed toward modern democracies and were meant to clarify the relationship between man and state. He believed that government should be selected by and follows the will of the majority, which was a fundamental claim of the Revolution.

Locke’s views, in his Two Treatises of Government (1690), attacked the theory of divine right of kings and the nature of the state as conceived by English philosopher and political theorist Thomas Hobbes. In brief, Locke argued that sovereignty did not reside in the state but with the people, and that the state is supreme, but only if it is bound by civil and what he called “natural” law. Many of Locke’s political ideas, such as those relating to natural rights, property rights, the duty of the government to protect these rights, and the rule of the majority, were later embodied in the Constitution of the United States.

In Two Tracts on Government, Locke argued that the state resulted from a voluntary agreement between individuals who established a sovereign power to protect them from the insecure conditions that accompanied the state of nature that existed without prior to a government and laws. However, Locke insists that there must be limits to political authority, which the French monarchy did not have. Locke contended that the aim of a supreme power is to preserve the state and improve the quality of life for individuals in that society, and the authority of the government must be limited by the will of the people. Contrary to the practice of a monarchy, Locke asserted that the majority of the people are responsible for the nomination and appointment of that government, rather than a divine succession based on bloodlines. This means that the individuals in a society may appoint new leaders if they are unhappy with their government's actions, as in the case of the French population in 1789. Locke's concept of limited sovereignty is fundamental to a democratic society; it is the basis of majority rule in which the majority of citizens elects the leaders of the sovereign nation.[13]

3.2 Baron de Montesquieu[14]

Montesquieu 1689-1755. His famous opinion is well –known by “Trias Politika”. He was distributing the power into three separated institutions; legislative (the policy maker), the executive (the constitution implementer), and judicative (supervising the executive).

Liberty is perhaps one of the most important things in a person life. In France before the revolution, many people did not have this because the government was controlled entirely by the king, who would not listen to their proposals. The French Revolution was geared towards ending this and balancing out the power among the people. A French philosopher, Charles Louis de Secondat, or Baron de Montesquieu, had he been alive at the time, would have supported this. Montesquieu?s main belief was in separation of powers in a government, because ?When the lawmaking and law-enforcing powers are united in one person,? he says, ?there can be no liberty.? Montesqueiu himself lived in France before the revolution and had seen some of the corruption there. Though he may not have agreed with some of the more radical actions taken during the revolution, he would probably agreed with it, as he did not believe in absolute monarchy and the revolution would be the only way to separate and balance out the government.[15]

Montesquieu followed earlier thinkers in arguing that there was a necessary relationship between social divisions and these different powers. In particular, Montesquieu contended that executive power could be exercised only by a monarch and not by an elected administrator—a view wholly discarded in the Constitution of the United States. Harrington, Locke, Montesquieu, and other writers saw the concept of the separation of powers as a way to reduce or eliminate the arbitrary power of unchecked and unmanaged rulers. Separation of powers thus became associated with the closely related concept of checks and balances—the notion that government power should be controlled by overlapping authority within the government and by giving citizens the rights to criticize state action and remove officials from office.[16]

3.3 Jean-Jacques Rousseau[17]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau influenced the revolution by altering the idea of the effects of civilization upon natural freedoms. Rousseau mainly effected the French perception of civilization's consequences upon liberty and "most of his works deal with the mechanisms through which humans are forced to give up liberty". His main idea can be summed up in the first line of his most renowned work, The Social Contract (1762): "Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains". Rousseau argued that civilization affected liberty in a negative way, as opposed to the original perception in which civilization enhanced human liberty. Rousseau's idea of a perfect government was a republic. He believed that "a people could only be free if it ruled itself". He also believed that freedom was, in effect, "ruling oneself, living under a law which one has oneself enacted" or a system approved and made by the people. [18]

He also affected the development of the psychological literature, psychoanalytic theory, and philosophy of existentialism of the 20th century, particularly in his insistence on free will, his rejection of the doctrine of original sin, and his defense of learning through experience rather than analysis. The spirit and ideas of Rousseau’s work stand midway between the 18th-century Enlightenment, with its passionate defense of reason and individual rights, and early 19th-century romanticism, which defended intense subjective experience against rational thought.[19]

IV. The influence of French Revolution

1. The Effect of the France Revolution to the France Government

The French Revolution, though it seemed a failure in 1799 and appeared nullified by 1815, had far-reaching results. In France the bourgeois and landowning classes emerged as the dominant power. Feudalism was dead; social order and contractual relations were consolidated by the Code Napoléon.[20] The Revolution unified France and enhanced the power of the national state. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars tore down the ancient structure of Europe, hastened the advent of nationalism, and inaugurated the era of modern, total warfare.

Although some historians view the Reign of Terror as an ominous precursor of modern totalitarianism, others argue that this ignores the vital role the Revolution played in establishing the precedents of such democratic institutions as elections, representative government, and constitutions. The failed attempts of the urban lower middle classes to secure economic and political gains foreshadowed the class conflicts of the 19th cent. While major historical interpretations of the French Revolution differ greatly, nearly all agree that it had an extraordinary influence on the making of the modern world.[21]

2. The Influence of the French Revolution on 19th Century Literature and Romanticism

The French Revolution inspired writers of the Romantic period, who supported the revolution at first because of its potential for political and social change. Effects of the revolution in later years, however, including the impact of Napoleon, led Romantic writers to write of Napoleon's cruelty, escaping to nature to get away from the real world and its problems, victims of war, and other related topics. The work of Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge offer good examples of this development.

The French Revolution had an important influence on the writing of the Romantic period, inspiring writers to address themes of democracy and human rights and to consider the function of revolution as a form of change. In the beginning, the French Revolution was supported by writers because of the opportunities it seemed to offer for political and social change. When those expectations were frustrated in later years, Romantic poets used the spirit of revolution to help characterize their poetic philosophies.[22]

V. The Critical Review

In my opinion besides the absolutism which is taught by Machiavelli, there is the influential factor that triggers the king to implement the absolute monarch government. The leadership concept of church is the determinant aspect of it. The absolute power of the pope towards its followers was stimulating the kings at that time to get the equal power as same as the pope. In Greek, the Caesar position is playing double role, He is the Head of the church and also the leader of the country. And the obedience of the people to God must be shown by the obedience to the Caesar as the representative of God.

Finally, the kings has the absolute power as same as the pope in one country. And it’s inexorable they indirectly create the despotized government or tyranny. It was bringing about to several negative impacts such as ruling over the country without constitution, ruling over without parliament supervision, ruling without definite law and also ruling without the determined national budget. The main thing there is no any limits for the king to do everything and determine every policy.

The French revolution brought about the positive effects to the people and the government it self. The election of representative government has been implemented. The codification of Law, Slavery was also abolished, and the people live in the equal right and law.

The French revolution also was resulted to the positive effects in the global world such as the influence of the French Revolution on 19th century literature and romanticism, and the inspiration for another country to have the revolution and to get rid of the absolute monarch government. The main significant effect from it is the liberal thought taught about the freedom, the equality of law and the equality of right among people. And this Liberian thought has been widely spreading all over countries and as the main step of the Democracy system.

VI. Conclusion

Finally, we have to pay close attention that basically every people have the right, the freedom that must be appreciated and protected by the government. And the French revolution is the crucial lesson that the absolute power of King which limit the freedom of their people and strictly impose his will to the people only resulting to the riots and rebellions.


1. Lieberman, Jethro K. "Separation of Powers." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008

2. "Jean Jacques Rousseau." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008











[1] On July 14, 1789 an angry mob, tired of the oppressive brutality of the French monarchy, captured the Bastille, the royal prison in Paris


[3] Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian historian, statesman, and political philosopher, whose amoral, but influential writings on statecraft have turned his name into a synonym for cunning and duplicity.




[7] Ibid.

[8] In 1678 King Louis XIV of France entrusted French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart with a major expansion of the Palace of Versailles. One of Hardouin-Mansart's most noted additions was the Hall of Mirrors, added to the palace in 1684. ("Palace of Versailles." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008.)


[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher, who founded the school of empiricism. Locke was born in the village of Wrington, Somerset, on August 29, 1632. He was educated at the University of Oxford and lectured on Greek, rhetoric, and moral philosophy at Oxford from 1661 to 1664.


[14] Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), French writer and jurist. Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, was born in the Château of la Brède and educated at the Oratorian school at Juilly and later at Bordeaux. He became counselor of the Bordeaux parliament in 1714 and was its president from 1716 to 1728.


[16] Lieberman, Jethro K. "Separation of Powers." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008.

[17] Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), French philosopher, social and political theorist, musician, a composer, music theorist and novelist, as well as a political thinker of the Enlightenment.


[19] "Jean Jacques Rousseau." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008

[20] French legal code; the codification of French laws drawn up under Napoleon between 1804 and 1810 and forming the basis of modern French civil Law




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