Week 7 French Revolution: The Birth of the Modern World.
Perhaps one of the most important events of European History is the French Revolution (this is not hyperbole: some historians divide the history of civilization from before the French Revolution and after the Revolution). It changed the power dynamics of France and Europe and created a new form of government that fully embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment.
The demands of the Third Estate, the Tennis Court Oath, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and early constitutional reform showed a revolutionary shift that embodied the hopes for progressive change. However, the French Revolution also exhibited many elements of political radicalism that will dominate politics and Western society to this day (the political protests that have rocked our world in recent months have some striking parallels to France at the end of the 18th century). The overthrow of the King and the eventually Reign of Terror of the likes of Robespierre were driven by a desire to fundamentally shift the way people lived their lives on almost every level, from the way they voted, to the way they conducted business, to even the nature of time itself. This change, as is usually the case, resulted in a conservative backlash that would eventually see the rise of everyone’s favorite Corsican, Napolean Boneparte.
In the end, the French Revolution may be more important as a symbol than as a true political change that took place within Europe. Many historians have written on the French Revolution and its impact and importance have been debated even to this day. Sadly, we will not be able to experience the intensity of those debates in the readings this week (though the podcast may give you a taste of some of the contention).
The Revolution is very complicated and stretched for decades from the Tennis Court Oath of 1789 to the eventual defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The question remains as to how much the Revolution changed France. It is evident that it did have an impact on Europe and its development, but the Revolution had essentially come full circle with the defeat of Napoleon and the return of the Bourbons in 1815. However, the ideals of the Revolution, the rise of the masses, the role of the people in government, and nationalism, would forever change the shape of Europe.
Remember, in many ways, the nineteenth century (and much of the remainder of this course) will be charted by the three main ideas of the Revolution: Liberty (Liberalism), Equality (Socialism), and Fraternity (Nationalism).
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