The period of the French Revolution is one of the most important in modern history. The Revolution swept away the old order in France and replaced it with a succession of new regimes, each ultimately unable to win consensus and provide stability. But they were all conscious of being a part of the same great project, to regenerate France, indeed humanity, to make a new world. The Revolution proclaimed equality before the law, the abolition of the vestiges of the feudal regime of peasant dues and services, and gave new social groups the opportunity to exercise power. These were the Notables — a growing combination of liberal nobles and the bourgeoisie of the liberal professions — and, for a brief and intense period of conflict, the artisans and masters of the popular classes. It consolidated the peasantry in their landowning traditions but attacked and alienated the Catholic Church, to which they were also attached. Reactions to the initial constitutional projects, and to the more leveling politics of virtue as the revolution radicalized, created the fundamental division between Right and Left that still characterizes modern politics. Although the twentieth century was profoundly conditioned by two equally great revolutions, the Russian and the Chinese, the nineteenth century lived in the shadow of the French Revolution as its aspirations commanded either allegiance or resistance. New nations adopted the tricolor flag, self-conscious revolutionaries sought to emulate its policies and leaders, while its opponents sought above all to avoid revolution — and of course its true significance began to be evaluated by historians.
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- Introduction The Origins of the French Revolution in Focus
Peter Robert Campbell
- Macmillan Education UK
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