Did the French Revolution live up to its ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity?Explain.

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the previous educators have mentioned, the answer to this question is very subjective. Some people have very pure ideas of these concepts, while others base them within personal needs and biases.

The French Revolution had immediate successes, including the elimination of the monarchy in 1789, and the abolition of slavery in 1793. The problem was that it could not sustain those successes. The monarchy was restored several more times over the course of the next century, including the coronations of Napoleon as Emperor and later, after the Revolution of 1848, the coronation of Napoleon's nephew, Louis-Napoleon, or Napoleon III, who ruled during the Second Republic. Slavery was reinstated in 1802, during the first Napoleon's rule, and was not abolished until 1848. The slave trade had ended, effectively, in 1826.

Political turmoil, wars, and crises in leadership are some of the major causes of France losing sight of the ideals it had set in 1793. Currently, the nation is in its Fifth Republic. It would, perhaps, be best to regard the maintenance of its values from the contemporary standpoint. For example, France makes a point of insisting that all of its diverse citizens are French, united by a common language and common values. However, the nation still struggles with racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia, as well as class inequities which stem from these prejudices.

It is a nation that tries to protect the rights of its workers, and one that unabashedly embraces the Socialist values that it developed shortly before the Revolution of 1848. However, some view its labor system as restrictive to employers, while others worry over Emmanuel Macron's plans to revise the Code de Travail.

Like many modern democratic nations, France is one that strives to live up to the ideals that it proposed during the French Revolution. Sometimes, it lives up to those goals and, in other instances, it falls short. However, our understanding of these limitations is based on whom you ask, and when.

nr2014 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anytime a social or revolutionary movement proposes ideals which they stand for, they are all but guaranteed to not live up to them on some level. The reason why is pretty simple: The huge numbers of people within any movement mean that there will be a wide range of opinions, motivations, and individual ambitions, and this results in a movement falling short of the ideals they original set for themselves.

But that does mean a revolutionary movement cannot achieve those ideals at all. It merely means that if they are attained, they will probably be achieved to varying degrees. The French Revolution is one of those cases where one could argue that the ideals were achieved initially: the oppressive monarchy that was overthrown and the freeing of prisoners—many of whom were imprisoned for just about anything—could be said to have achieved the ideals initially. But then, as with many revolutions, once their objective was achieved, many did not know how to continue. 

The Reign of Terror that ensued was perhaps in some way inevitable as different factions vied for power and ended up tearing down what they had achieved beforehand. This certainly was not living up to the revolution's ideals and arguably negated what occurred before. But that's looking at things in the short term. In the long term, did France eventually achieve, at least in part, the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity? I think we can say that the country eventually got there, albeit through a rather bloody route. But all societies following a state of revolution move in a haphazard way and never in a smooth, even line. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is tough to assess.  On one hand, a case can be made that the Revolution did live up to its ideals.  The abuses perpetrated by the rich over the poor, the nobility over the lower classes, and the idea of aristocracy being inherently better than all else were eliminated by the results of the Revolution.  The overthrow of the monarchy helped to accomplish the Revolution's ideals.  This is undeniable.  However, there has to be another side to this equation that lies in the setting of what happened after the Revolution.  The warring between rival factions, the Reign of Terror, and the absolute lawlessness that existed in post- Revolution France did a great deal of damage in seeking to accomplish the ideals that triggered change.  There was little in way of ideal accomplishment in the use of the guillotine and the mass executions that seemed to define the Revolution and its faithless government.  In the end, the seizure of power by Napoleon ended up removing any hope of the democracy sought by the Revolution.  I think that this might be the lasting legacy of the Revolution, that for a moment, success was tasted only to be supplanted by the bitterness of reality that comes with life after Revolution.