Two hundred years after the French Revolution controversy still surrounds all of its important events, personalities, and features. Although perhaps less heated than the debates over the roles of some of the revolutionary leaders, or the various social and economic aspects of the Revolution, discussion of its international dimension has also given rise to widely varying interpretations. While the purpose of this chapter is the limited one of assessing the interaction between the Revolution and the established society of states within which it took place, it is impossible to address this issue without paying some attention to the larger debate over the foreign policy of the Revolution. Inevitably this discussion is dominated by the question of the origins and nature of the French revolutionary wars.
Three schools of thought concerning the origins of the wars may be discerned. The first, and oldest, sees the wars as primarily ideological: as a French crusade to spread revolution abroad that inevitably provoked the formation of a coalition of conservative powers against it. This view of the wars as fundamentally involving a clash of principles was widely accepted at the time and later became the corner-stone of interpretations of the wars by von Ranke and others. 1 In sharp contrast with this approach is the perspective, first and most emphatically set out by Sorel and adopted with variations by numerous twentieth-century historians, from which the wars are seen as merely a continuation of the power politics and traditional rivalries of eighteenth-century Europe. For