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Democracy and the Revolution
http://forum.marie-antoinette.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1285
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Author:  Christophe [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 3:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

What a horrible notion: that the Revolution has any connection with Democracy! The FR is certainly not a good example, considering it completely failed, resorted to a Dictatorship (Robbespierre), followed by Napoleon. The FR quickly betrayed all of its own principles, criminalizing people for speaking their minds, restricting liberties, arrests and executions without trial---not a good example of Democracy. I think the French people had more freedom under the Monarchy than they did during the Revolution.

Author:  Hellou_Librorum [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 3:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

Horrible? I don't think it's horrible, it's ironic. I am not able to concur enough with you Christophe! Well said!

Author:  dreamoutloud [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 5:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Universal (male, of course, but including Jews, Protestants, and actors, groups denied civil rights under the ancien régime) suffrage under the Republic. Representational government. The abolition of slavery (which actually occured during the Terror), something that the US managed only after a century and a civil war. These have nothing to do with democracy?

These were all part of the Revolution, some in its earlier stages and some in its later. The ideals of the Revolution had everything to do with democracy. The Revolution is a case of good ideals that come against a harsh reality. To say that the Revolution had nothing to do with democracy is to deny the very principles that began it.

It is correct that during the Terror many liberties were restricted, including the freedom of the press and habeas corpus. I do not intend to defend these restrictions, as they destroyed the ideals of the Revolution, but to contextualize them. The Terror was not the inevitable outcome of the Revolution. It was a result of the pressure from multiple foreign and civil wars, economic collapse, food shortages, factional in-fighting, and the pressure of the Parisian populace on the Convention. There there were many circumstances early in the Revolution that pushed things to this point of Terror or complete destruction. The royal family and (even more importantly, in the long run) the National Assembly's move to Paris. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The Flight to Varennes. The Massacre on the Champs de Mars. Declaration of war with Austria. All events prior to the fall of the monarchy. If these things had different outcomes (or not happened at all), the Revolution would have followed a very different course.

The Terror destroyed the ideals of the Revolution, but this was recognized at the time. "The Revolution is frozen... The use of Terror has desensitized crime, as strong liquors do the palate," Saint-Just wrote privately. The politicians during the Terror honestly believed they were struggling for the ideals of the Revolution, but they also realized that they were growing further and further from them. The problem was that their solution, more Terror, was a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction.

In retrospect, with many other revolutions to cement the example, we can see this fault, and by the end of the Terror people were growing cynical and aware of the self-destruction inherent in it. But this was the first time a Revolution of this type, a total social and cultural- as well as political -revolution, had been attempted. If you read the speeches -and even more so the private writings- of the members of the Convention, there is a genuine naivety and confusion about the self-destruction of the Terror. They truly believed if they could only remove the members of counter-revolutionary factions, then peace would automatically reign. The Revolution became the precedent for how this line of thought leads to destruction of self and others, but at the time they had no examples to show them otherwise. They were products of the Enlightenment and especially Rousseau: man is good and rational, remove the bad and corrupt and the General Will of the people will reign in justice and happiness. It was towards the end of the Terror, after the Germinal executions and the Law of Prarial, that people really began to see the Terror for the self-destructive cycle that it was, but by then they were all caught up in it, at the expense of the ideals of the Revolution and many lives.

From December 1793 on, France was governed by the war-time dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety (not Robespierre. It was not Robespierre's Committee, nor was it Robespierre's Terror. He was a part, but not the whole). The Terror had very different methods and results in different times and places, but overall it undermined the ideals of the Revolution. The tragedy of the French Revolution lies in the fact that it was born from beautiful ideals and, had things not happened the way they did, it could have had very different results. The Terror is an inescapable legacy of the Revolution, but it is only part of its legacy. Democracy was one of the key ideals of the Revolution, one cannot deny its share in the Revolution's legacy.

Author:  Christophe [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 6:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

You are correct, I can not honestly say that the Revolution had nothing to do with democracy. I believe what I meant was, the Revolution does not represent a positive example of democracy: precisely because of the Terror and the politicians who led it (who were governed more by power-lust and self-interest than democratic ideals). For a study of the spread of democracy and its effects, there are much better examples in history (Britian, America). The FR is a very bad example, more a study of what can go wrong.
On a personal note, I think the real tragedy is that the revolution happened at all.

Author:  Christophe [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

BTW, civil rights were accorded to the Jews and Protestants in 1787, during the reign of Louis XVI.

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 12:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

A very good point to make Christophe. Louis XVI put through many good reforms during his reign, something for which he is not always recognised for.

Author:  dreamoutloud [ Tue Aug 26, 2008 8:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Democracy and the Revolution

Excuse me, that was my mistake. Louis XVI did grant certain civil rights to Protestants in 1787, but not political rights. The Edict of Toleration of 1787 stated that Protestants "will receive from the law only what natural law will not permit them to be refused by us, namely, the certification of their births, marriages, and deaths; so that, like all our other subjects, they may benefit from the civil effects consequent upon those acts." However, they still had no political rights, and it only applied to French Calvinists, not Jews or Lutherans. In 1789, Zalkind-Horowitz published his "Vindication of the Jews" petitioning for the Jews for right to own property, to freely choose a profession, and to be educated in public schools. They were not granted full rights of citizenship until September 21, 1791.

And I agree with you that Louis XVI did make many reforms with which he was not (and even today is not) fully credited for. Had he been a truly absolutist monarch, the Revolution probably would not have happened. However, Revolutions often occur when things are starting to get better, but not quickly enough. The social and political structure of the ancien régime had ossified to the point where the changing reality of 18th century France was bound to break it. The way things were, I would say that the Revolution was inevitable, but not the way that it turned out.

There were huge differences between the American Revolution for colonial independence and the French Revolution, which was an attempt at a complete political and social revolution (and later a cultural one) taking place all within France. Although they were both products of Enlightenment political thought, it would not have been so simple for France to replicate America's experience. It's one thing to rebel against your king when he is across the ocean, it's another thing when he is in Versailles. The American Revolution was primarily a war of political independence, whereas the French Revolution sought to completely overturn the foundations French society. America had also had some decent experience at semi-autonomous government in the period before England began focusing attention on the colonies again after the Seven Years' War; France had no such experience. As for England, the Glorious Revolution only came after the English Civil War, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate. The French were quick to remind England that they were not the first country to execute their king.

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