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The History of French Revolution


Many different incidents that happened around Europe inspired the people in France to go for a revolution. The enlightenment ideas that started in England reached in France through a number of philosophers. This essay deals with how enlightenment ideas affected political, social and cultural policies of France.

Enlightenment ideas

Even though people in France had started to think against the rulers, the enlightenment ideas, which grew among them, were the most important thing that led to French revolution. Earlier, people were not brave enough to participate in discussions against the rulers. But, the enlightenment ideas which started from England started to affect the people in France. It was in France, the ideas of enlightenment reached to its extreme success. The popularity of these ideas is the main reason that brought revolution in France. Enlightenment thoughts in England derived the discoveries of great scientists like Isaac Newton. The revolutionary discovery made by them changed the way people used to view nature. The beliefs about the universe existed until then began to undergo ultimate change.

Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Russo etc. were the main people who spread the ideas of enlightenment into France. Voltaire was the most important person to bring the light of these ideas to France. But, all French philosophers contributed well to this. “Not all Enlightenment thinkers were like Voltaire in this. His chief adversary was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who distrusted the aristocrats not out of a thirst for change but because he believed they were betraying decent traditional values.” (Brians, 1998). They were just not philosophers or thinkers; they also acted as the leaders to spread their ideas among French society.

People were not ready to question the injustice that was happening around them and in their own life. The leaders of enlightenment ideas began to influence the attitude of people in different ways. It ultimately changed the view on religious beliefs of French people. Influenced by enlightenment ideas, people questioned the ultimate authority of church that had on French society. “The Enlightenment not only changed the way people viewed religion, but it also changed the way people viewed the government, and it’s political and social policies. Citizenship, democracy, and human rights were all important aspects of the Enlightenment. As a result of the phrase “Liberty, equality, Fraternity” became a popular slogan of French revolution.” (Elton, 2007).

Enlightenment ideas and political policies

Political attitude of common man was influenced by the enlightenment thoughts in many ways. The movements against dictatorships in other parts of the world made French people think about a revolution against the church and monarchy. The enlightenment ideas added fuel to this thought. Church continued to campaign that they can bring miracle in life of French people, but they were not ready to stop their oppressing actions against common people.

Enlightenment philosophers spread the knowledge that a revolution can bring real miracle in people’s life which will offer real freedom and better living standard. Enlightenment ideas were getting worldwide power during this time. When the practical applications of these ideas began to be successful, more people got inspired to act for an ultimate revolution in France. ” By 1792 France was a constitutional monarchy, feudalism was abolished, liberal principles echoing Enlightenment thought were formally recognized, Church lands were confiscated, and government administration was reorganized.” (The French Revolution).

Enlightenment ideas and social policies

Society of France was divided into different estates before the beginning of revolution. The first estate consisted of leaders of Catholic Church and they enjoyed all kinds of freedom in society. The second estate of the French society consisted of very rich people. Even though the first and second estate consisted of small population, they owned the majority of land in France. The first estate was known as Clergies and second estate as Nobles.

Clergies and Nobles were exempted from all kinds of tax payments. The third estate consisted of bourgeoisies, different professionals etc. “Peasants made up the largest group 0within the Third Estate. They were forced to pay hefty taxes, tithes to the church, and rents to their landlords for the land that they lived on. The last group within the Third Estate was the city workers. They were servants, apprentices, and household maids.” (Analysis of the French revolution. 2009).

The first two estates had many intentions while the revolution was going on. They thought that power would come to their hands after the revolution. But, all things didn’t happen as they thought, because the ideas of enlightenment had great role in directing the way the revolution should go. And these ideas emphasized on equality of citizens.

Contribution of women in supporting enlightenment ideas and French revolution was really great. Indeed, the enlightenment ideas were supportive to equality of women in society.” Women were prominent in the Enlightenment, especially in France where they were the hostesses of the salons. Wealth and aristocratic women helped out the philosophers in ways to avoid censorship. Even though women helped a lot in the Enlightenment, the philosophers barely mentioned the rights and abilities of women. Rousseau said that men and women were in separate spheres and that women should not be granted equal education to that of men.” (The age of enlightenment, n.d).

Cultural policies of the French Revolutionary period

The Enlightenment is a name given by historians to an intellectual movement that was predominant in the Western world during the 18th century.” (18th century European enlightenment, 2009).

The enlightenment ideas greatly influenced the cultural policies. During this period, many developments took place from the side of the philosophers. The work from them showed people’s high-quality way to follow in their life. It spread the light mainly in education. Different authors comment about this enlightenment in different ways. Reilly mentions that this enlightenment brought thrust in scientific activities. Another author Kant mentions this provided oneself to courage in thinking uniquely. Cultural changes happened in the France during this period is not just what happened in America.

This had brought liberty and equality for the people in France. In America, these factors did not take place. Another important issue happened during this period was incredulity of various philosophers swept away. Evolutions of many of the educated businessmen were took place during this period. This resulted in vanishing of the leadership of the aristocratic men. Another issue to be highlighted was that most of the churches lost their powers during this revolutionary period.

Most of the people believed that this revolution will bring some miracle to their life. One such miracle was ability to work in own fields. Men’s attitude towards their custom and their traditional activities changed a lot within this period. Different kinds of progresses took place during this revolutionary period. But, in concise much of the social changes took place during this era. Many of these changes brought or opened the door for industrial revolution.


Different thinkers interpret French revolution in different ways. There are many economic, social, and political reasons for the beginning of French revolution. Anyway, contribution of enlightenment thinkers had great role in fuelling revolution and giving it an appropriate direction.

Reference List

Analysis of the French revolution. 2009. Cyber Essays. Web.

Brians, Paul. 1998. The enlightenment. Web.

Elton, Matthew. 2007. The enlightenment and the French revolution. Scribd. Web.

The age of enlightenment. n.d. Tripod. Web.

The French Revolution. Western Civilization Interpreting the Past. Web.

18th century European enlightenment. 2009. Cyber Essays. Web.

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