The Era of the French Revolution, 1789-1799: Ten Years That Shook the World

The Era of the French Revolution, 1789-1799: Ten Years That Shook the World

The Era of the French Revolution, 1789-1799: Ten Years That Shook the World

The Era of the French Revolution, 1789-1799: Ten Years That Shook the World

Excerpt

As the title of this small book suggests, the French Revolution was much more than a revolution in France. It was, of course, within the country of its origin, an upheaval which shattered the structure of royal absolutism and forever destroyed a social order based upon aristocratic privilege. It became the central social and psychological fact in French history for the following hundred years.

Nevertheless, the French Revolution was also a central fact in the history of Europe and the western world, the most significant and the most comprehensive of the several revolutions that occurred in the later eighteenth century. Outside France, for reasons that varied according to the region, up to 1789 the protests of the nonprivileged social groups had been stilled and the aspirations of liberal reformers denied. When the Revolution broke out in France, its doctrines were already familiar and dear to the progressives of the neighboring states. These admirers hailed its achievements, organizing themselves, too, where they could for political action.

The ten years from 1789 to 1799 which are examined here saw only the beginning of revolutionary change in Europe. In most of the states the Revolution was less welcomed than almost hysterically rejected during this decade. But it had the whole nineteenth century in which to work. For the practices of princely absolutism the revolutionaries substituted the principles of political liberty and government by discussion. In the place of the class society dating back to mediaeval days which prevailed everywhere on the continent, they introduced a social order based on the equality of man. No one who has studied their work will attempt to deny that they advanced ideals which they failed to live up to, and that they made many mistakes and committed many crimes. But for a simple reason the ideals by which they were . . .

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