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Did the French Revolution contribute to or hinder the advance of democracy?

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brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:23 PM via iOS

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Did the French Revolution contribute to or hinder the advance of democracy?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:27 AM (Answer #1)

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I think that this is going to be a challenging question because of the lack of consensus on the issue.  The reason for this is because both answers are represented in the French Revolution.  I think that the advance of democracy is evident in how the French Revolution removed the monarchy.  The groundswell of support in the body politic for a government that represented democratic notions such as equality and liberty is representative in the French Revolution.  I think that even the most conservative of thinkers would concede that the will of the majority was evident in the first phase of the French Revolution.  The aristocratic monarchy was not listening to the will of the people and they people spoke.  In this, there is the advancement of democracy.  In the subsequent phases of the French Revolution, I think a more modernist and less democratic cause was advanced.  The Reign of Terror and the jockeying for political power was factionalized.  Through its use of violence, primarily directed against the people, I am not sure democracy was advanced, for the will of the loudest, and not the most, was being heard.  Certainly, with the ascension of Napoleon, democratic principles were abdicated in favor of order.  If there is a premise here, it would be that democracy can only be advanced if there is a clear understanding that law and order can be established in the wake of any revolutionary action.  In the end, though, I think that it is easier to point to the advance or decline of democracy in specific portions or phases of the French Revolution as opposed to speaking of such terms as a whole.

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