The Enlightenment era also referred to as the Age of Reason was a philosophical as well as an intellectual movement that had far-reaching impacts on the political arena in Europe (Andress, 2015). The Enlightenment encouraged critical and logical thinking about society in the 18th century. As such, Enlightenment thinkers questioned the old world and scientific reasoning was adopted to explain nature and society. In addition, the Enlightenment theory promoted philosophers to apply rational thoughts on the understanding of human existence and nature. As a result, the Enlightenment led to the birth of a new world-view inspired by scientific discoveries, intellectual accomplishment, and reason. In particular, the Enlightenment brought forth the notions of liberty, fraternity, and liberty that questioned political governance and the society in general. These ideals particularly inspired the French Revolution because they promoted individual freedoms and the French people were tired of the old monarchical regime. They wanted to create a government and society based on the attributes of the Enlightenment theory. In Europe, France embraced the new philosophies and ideals of the Enlightenment making people question their society in terms of economic, political, scientific, and social aspects sparking the French Revolution.
The French Revolution of 1789 lasted for a period of 10 years ending in 1799 (Ferrone, 2017). It was a period of change in France that shocked the whole of Europe. Before the revolution, the French citizens lived in a strictly limited society where people were denied freedom of expression. The people were divided into social groups renowned as 'Estates.' Since the old regime heavily relied on religion, the First Estate represented the clergy while the Second Estate was formed by nobles (Ferrone, 2017). Therefore, the government was composed of the First and Second Estates who enjoyed privileges. The Third Estate or commoners who were the majority suffered from heavy taxation while the nobles lived in luxury and enjoyed high-ranking government jobs. However, the Enlightenment theory influenced the French Revolution. France was the only country in Europe where Enlightenment philosophies were heavily read. The concept of a republic was born and the people were tired of the monarch. The enlightenment brought new political ideas about government. Since the monarch had failed France, there were financial misappropriations and wastage. French citizens were ready to form a new government and society that encouraged liberty, freedom, and fraternity. John Locke, for instance, was an Enlightenment thinker who argued that kings should not possess absolute power (Andress, 2015). He argued in favor of constitutional monarchies where rulers followed rules and no one had to take away natural rights from the people. Such ideals shaped the French citizens leading to the French Revolution.
The French philosophers Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire inspired revolutionary notions of equality and liberty in France. For instance, Montesquieu opposed the divine rule of kings and argued in favor of the separation of powers. Montesquieu argued that the government would be divided into three branches, the judicial, executive and legislative all of which would hold equal powers to avoid the creation of a tyrannical government. Montesquieu dominated the social and political thought in France during the eighteenth century (Andress, 2015). He condemned economic inequalities and religious intolerance spearheaded by the French monarch. On the other hand, Voltaire advocated for freedom of speech and religion. Voltaire as a writer represented the natural law of the free mind. He also encouraged human achievement and morality. Similarly, Rousseau laid forth his Enlightenment ideals in his book "Social Contract" where he argued that the popular will of the people held sovereign power (Andress, 2015). In other words, Rousseau endorsed democracy in political governance. These French philosophers had a great input in the creation of revolutionary ideas among the French people. Their ideas were liked and adopted by the French citizens inspiring them to control their destiny by creating a republic and society based on Enlightenment theory.
The Enlightenment created the rise of a group Frenchmen or physiocrats in the 18th century with the intent of reforming the archaic economic system in France. For example, Anne Turgot, Marquis of Condorcet, and Francois Quesnay were in favor of free trade and limited government control (Ferrone, 2017). They also emphasized on the importance of agriculture and land in the economy. With this note, the enlightenment theory created an opportunity for logical and critical thinking about the society that paved the way for revolutionary ideas that would shape the history of France. On the contrary, some argue that the Enlightenment did not influence the French Revolution. Before the revolution, France was facing a number of challenges that lead to the awakening of its citizens. Social inequalities, a weakened economy, and unfair voting practices were some of the challenges that inspired the revolution. The nobles and clergy had imposed strict laws on the commoners that created the need for change.
In conclusion, the Enlightenment theory had a great influence on the moderate phase of the French Revolution. The age of reason spearheaded the ideals of equality, fraternity, and liberty that were of great importance to the French people who lived in a limited society. The failures of the French monarch had created an opportunity for citizens to adopt new ideas. As a result, the Enlightenment gave the French public an opportunity to accommodate new notions and concepts of improving their society. It was time for the French people to do away with the old regime that had created massive suffering. Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu inspired the creation of a republic. However, the transition was not what the French expected. The Revolution was chaotic and haunted by the spill of blood.
Andress, D. (2015). The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press, USA.Ferrone, V. (2017). The Enlightenment-French Revolution Paradigm. The Enlightenment.
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