A History of Modern France - Vol. 1

By Alfred Cobban | Go to book overview

II
THE AGE OF REFORM

1. THE REVOLUTION IN IDEAS

WHILE eighteenth-century France remained politically the France of Louis XIV without the Grand Monarch, socially the nation was changing rapidly and the conflict of social realities with the juristic and formal pattern of society was becoming increasingly acute. Moreover, in ideas this was already a century of revolution, though of a revolution the roots of which lay deep in the past. Even while Reformation and Counter-Reformation were tearing France to pieces in the Religious Wars, Rabelais and Montaigne had initiated a more sceptical attitude to religion, which was continued by the libertine writers of the next century. In the seventeenth century Pascal challenged the moral basis of orthodox thought and Descartes provided an intellectual alternative to it. While Louis XIV was on the throne there had been little possibility of the open expression of unorthodox ideas, but under the more liberal English and Dutch régimes new ideas were developing rapidly. Newton provided a mathematical system which reduced the physical world to order and demonstrated the reign of law. Locke evolved a theory of human psychology which, through the principle of association, showed how complex ideas could be built up out of the simple data of sensory experience without assuming any innate ideas. His theory of morals marks the emergence of utilitarianism; in politics he justified the English Revolution of 1688 and parliamentary government, and in religion deism.

The infection of new ideas could not be wholly excluded from France during the reign of Louis XIV, even if those who were tempted by dangerous thoughts kept silent or

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A History of Modern France - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • EDITORIAL FOREWORD 7
  • I- The Old Régime 9
  • II- The Age of Reform 79
  • III- The Decade of Revolution 149
  • FURTHER READING 268
  • Index 279
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