Reflections on the Revolution in France

by Edmund Burke

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Explain the ideals and events leading up to the French Revolution based on Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke. 

French revolutionaries were fed up with economic hardship and political tyranny. Inspired in part by the American revolution, they hoped that they could liberate themselves from the socioeconomic inequality of their current society. Burke critiques their ideology and argues that achieving this concept of liberty, and governing successfully, can only be done with a lot of gradual planning.

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The French Revolution that occurred from 17871799 sought to redefine the structure of French political power. In the 1700s, the French economy was in a poor state. Peasants were fed up with the elites, the government was almost bankrupt, and the bourgeoisie was itching for more political influence. Things began to spiral when King Louis XVI was advised to tax the nobility, and they were outraged.

Overall, French revolutionaries wanted radical change. They were sick of tyranny and wanted social and political freedom. Inspired by the way Americans proclaimed independence from the British monarchy, they too wanted liberty.

But Burke critiques this quest for liberty, saying he likes liberty as much as the next person, but he doesn’t feel these revolutionaries understand the concept. For example he says, “What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?” (Burke 276). He warns that liberty is not the kind of thing that a country can one day lack and the next day proclaim to have. Liberating a people from tyranny can only be done through a gradual, well-thought-out process.

Burke also brings to light the idea that the revolutionaries were unprepared for the challenges that come with running a government. For example he writes, “To form a free government ... requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind” (277). He doesn't feel the revolutionaries are prepared for the intellectual reflection that would be required for them to successfully run the government.

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