Defend or challenge the question: Did the revolutions in Europe between 1789 and 1989 have more similarities or differences? Revolutions include 1789, 1848, 1917/18, 1968, and 1989.

This specific question is one that historians could legitimately challenge. Ultimately, it seems more rewarding, from a historical perspective, to either look at these various revolutionary contexts in isolation of one another, or to look at the continuities which link them together. However, measuring whether there are more continuities or differences between these various Revolutions is a question of more limited value. Furthermore, it risks detracting from those larger historical complexities.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I'd probably be more inclined to challenge this question than to defend it. While you can certainly draw parallels and shared continuities between various Revolutions, be aware that you are still looking across a two hundred year time-span. Even in the case of just one of these Revolutions (for example, the Revolutions of 1848), even then, you shouldn't expect the Revolutionary movement in France to be identical to the revolutions in Italy or Germany. Local context matters a great deal where the study of history is concerned. Now, applying that criticism to a 200 year time-span, stretching from the French Revolution of 1789 into the twentieth century, looking forward not just to the Russian and Bolshevik Revolutions, but also to the revolutions against Soviet authority... With that kind of time span, there is going to be an extraordinarily wide ranging variance, just based on how dramatically politics, culture, and society had evolved across that span of time.

That being said, continuities do exist and are well worth tracing and being aware of in and of themselves. The French Revolution, for example, restructured an antiquated political system according to enlightenment values (and only became more radical from there). In the process, it also continued to inspire liberals across the nineteenth century, who still fought for many of those ideals even after they had been suppressed with Napoleon's defeat. In this respect, historians can justifiably draw a direct line between the Revolution of 1789 into the Revolutions of 1848.

Beyond that, we can trace even more generalized thematic continuities and comparisons. The Russian Revolution and the French Revolution have been the subject to much comparison over the years, concerning, among other things, the history of Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence (even to the point of civil war), as well as the dramatic political and societal restructuring that ensued, and even the specter of the Revolutionary dictatorship. Similarly, you can even draw points of comparison between the Russian Revolution that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Soviet Union, and the Revolutions of 1989 that sought to escape the Iron Curtain. In all these cases, you will usually find an ideal of political and societal progress, of overcoming antiquated, autocratic or even tyrannical social structures to build something better in its place.

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial