The Spirit of Revolution in 1789

The Spirit of Revolution in 1789

The Spirit of Revolution in 1789

The Spirit of Revolution in 1789

Excerpt

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 is taken by historians to symbolize the end of the ancien régime in France and the beginning in modern Europe of rule by the people. Popular government was not at first put into practice by the Revolutionists, but its basic ideals were launched with so much official endorsement and general approval in 1789 that one is justified in attributing to that year the birth of the Revolutionary spirit.

That spirit -- epitomized by the First Republic in the slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" -- is very much alive today. After the passage of over one hundred and fifty years, it serves as a torch -- by no means the only beacon, but one of the best -- which lights the way for the democratic peoples in their effort to preserve popular government and safeguard the freedom of the individual.

In 1789, Frenchmen projected a new order of society, in which economic, political, and religious enthusiasms blended in a common set of purposes. Their program of regeneration might today be called an "ideology." In the present study, however, I have avoided the word, since it was not used by the Revolutionists themselves and, especially, since it has current connotations which might be misleading. But it is a word that I abandon with reluctance, for it conveys the idea of an organic interrelationship of dogmas and sentiments. It is like the word "faith," as applied to a religion, which embodies many different tenets articulated in relation to a total outlook on life. In using the word "spirit" in the title of this book, I wish to imply an equally all-embracing mood -- and by no means a single and isolated trend of spontaneous enthusiasm. For the spirit of an age, it seems to me, is never a simple melody, but rather a symphony, with certain dominant notes that ring out clearly in an atmosphere of contrast and dissonance, and with somewhat elusive overtones that are often as revealing as the main theme. It has been in the expectation of finding contradiction and frustration, as well as achievement, that I have examined the emotional and intellectual trends which together, in their dynamic interdependence, come to life as the spirit of 1789.

The end of the old regime was proclaimed in that year, but at first reform was relatively moderate. The men of 1789 still took for granted the continuance of monarchy; hoped to preserve peace . . .

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