The Debate on the French Revolution, 1789-1800

The Debate on the French Revolution, 1789-1800

The Debate on the French Revolution, 1789-1800

The Debate on the French Revolution, 1789-1800

Excerpt

The eighteenth century for Great Britain was an age of progress and prosperity at home, and victory and expansion abroad. The loss of the American colonies, regarded by many as inevitable, especially after it had occurred, left no serious scar on the prevailing national complacency. Agricultural productivity was mounting and with it population; the beginnings of a new industrial revolution were making themselves felt; trade was expanding, and -- at least until the last quarter of the century -- all classes shared in the general economic improvement. The desirability of maintaining a political and economic system which had such consequences seemed the mere dictate of common sense. Eighteenth-century England, therefore, without abandoning the revolutionary principles which it had inherited from the previous century, transformed them into a profoundly conservative social and political creed.

It would not be correct, however, to suggest that the eighteenth century was merely concerned to preserve the past. On the contrary, the very climate of political and economic stability provided growing weather for social experiment. Politically conservative, the prevailing utilitarianism was socially progressive, and in this soil were sown many seeds which were to bear fruit later. Even in the eighteenth century the list of effective reforms, which culminates between 1784 and 1789 in the . . .

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