Henry Kissinger once queried the Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai for his views on the consequences of the French Revolution and, Zhou famously responded that, ‘it was too early to tell’. Is it too early to tell, or did something fundamental to the future of
This article argues that it did. It throws light on manifestations of the Revolution on three different, but overlapping, entities.
The French Revolution was inspired by the ideas of The Enlightenment. This was a predominantly European affair which was characterised by men who forged their wills in an age of significant scientific progress. Given this progress, it was easy for someone to accept the idea that reason and science should play the preeminent role in guiding human affairs.
Thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau set the tone for the new age and, men of action like Robespierre and Napoleon, implemented them. It is this uniquely European adoption of this idea, that is partly the cause of the long trending divorce form Religion and Politics in
It is interesting to note that the American Revolution (only 20 years earlier) was also inspired by Enlightenment thinking. However, ideas do not acquire resonance unless they are accompanied by emotional experience. Although the founders of the
God and the oppressive aristocracy were cast aside, in favour of a new, universal, society based on rules made by science and reason. The French Revolution was not just a revolution for
The repercussions of this rupture in thinking are still evident in
If the French revolution created a universal, rational, secular approach to affairs then surely this should express in itself in
France and the European Union
The driving force for the European Union (EU) is
Inspired by Marx the EU believes that man’s primary motive is an economic one, and that the struggle over capital is the primary question. According to this thinking, if the economic motive can be satiated, then man will be happy. Hence, the desire of the EU to include ever more diverse and disparate countries.
From Hegel, the EU believes that the ultimate reality of an individual can and, must be, subsumed by the State. Therefore, an ever powerful expanding EU will overcome parochial national interests once the benefits of political and economic union are apparent to each constituent country.
It is not hard to see the Enlightenment thinking behind these ideas. Not only are they based on rationalism but they are also avowedly secularist. There is no role for the primacy of nationalism or religion in such thinking. The echo of the French Revolution is clear!
Here, again the repercussions of French Revolution can be seen, but in this instance, with its former colony countries. The French installed their secular or laic system of Government onto a largely Islamic population. The results are still being fought over today, with varying degrees of success.
Adoption of ideas inspired by the muscular French approach to secularism, were undoubtedly a source of creation of friction. This was most notably apparent being in the Algerian Civil War, between the Army and the Islamic Salvation Front. Whereas the Bastille rebels were jejune over separating religion form the states, the Islamic movements in
Whilst these ideas may cause tension, they also caused significant change and progress. In particular, Habib Bourguiba in
In conclusion, the French Revolution has far, and ruminating, consequences. It is hard imagine that the rabble storming the Bastille had this mind, but that should not underplay its significance. The interesting thing is that the French Revolutions consequence may well turn out to be more pervading than Zhou En Lai and Mao’s revolution , or is it too early to tell?
Corwin, Edward S. "French Policy and the American
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels "The Communist Manifesto" Penguin, 2004
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques "The Social Contract" Wordsworth, 2004
de Tocqueville,Alexis "Ancien Regime and the French Revolution" Penguin, 2008