How did the French Revolution impact French society?
The French Revolution had a huge impact on society, though often in ways that were unintended. In its early days, the Revolution brought about greater equality between the classes. The old distinctions between the Estates were abolished; now France was one nation, in which everyone was a citoyen, or citizen. Even King Louis XVI entered into the new spirit of egalitarianism—albeit reluctantly—openly wearing the Phrygian cap of liberty in response to the demands of the mob that stormed the Tuileries Palace.
This public gesture of solidarity with the Revolution wasn't enough to save Louis's life, however. After his execution and the subsequent establishment of the Republic, the Revolution took a more radical turn. In political terms, this involved a concerted effort by the Jacobins to bring about greater social and economic equality. Radical measures such as controls on the price of bread were put in place to ensure that the nation's economic wealth was distributed more equally.
There were limits to the Jacobins' radicalism, however. For instance, they forbade workers from organizing themselves to agitate for higher wages and better conditions. Despite their radical, egalitarian rhetoric, the vast majority of French Revolutionaries, including the Jacobins, were men of the professional middle classes. Robespierre and Danton were lawyers; Marat had worked as a scientist and society physician.
As such, the political and economic interests of the Third Estate—who, after all, had originally led the Revolution—were those that tended to prevail. It was the Third Estate that had been the driving force behind the French Revolution, and it was the Third Estate that benefited the most. The wealth and political power previously enjoyed by the old aristocracy was now in the hands of a new social elite. After the dust had settled, after all the massive convulsions had finally died down, French society remained as unequal as before, only now it was a different class in charge, its power more secure on account of widespread loyalty to the new nation and the political order it had engendered.
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