What impact did totalitarianism during the French Revolution have on current day society?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The French Revolution particularly gave rise to totalitarianism under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, who led the Reign of Terror during the revolution, which led to 16,594 death sentences in all of France, and 1,376 of those death sentences happened "in only 47 days" (HistoryToday"Robespierre and the Terror"; Geib, "The French Revolution"). It can be said that the moment the revolution became so violent was also the moment it also ceased being a movement to achieve equality for all. As Richard Geib points out, Mme. Jeanne Roland de la Platiere, a member of the Republican party, expressed the loss of liberty well in her final words before death by guillotine: "O liberty! how they have played you" ("The French Revolution").

Geib informs us that this violent drive toward liberty stems from philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who justifies rulers having men "forced to be free" if necessary, a philosophy that "has been called the precurser of modern pseudo-democrats such as Stalin and Hitler" (Philosophy, et cetera, "Rousseau and the 'General Will'"; "The French Revolution"). Both Stalin and Hitler became guilty of shedding even more blood than was shed during the Terror in the name of liberty.

At the birth of the Nazi Party, Germany was in a state of economic depression as a result of its losses during the First World War and its people were looking for a way out of the depression. Hence, inspired by a sense of Nationalism as well as racial prejudice, the Nazis produced propaganda that "many Jewish citizens were still wealthy while everyone else was monetarily suffering" ("Motivations Behind the Holocaust: German Nationalism and Economic Growth"). They preached that getting rid of the Jews would put an end to "economic disparity" ("Motivations Behind the Holocaust"). Stalin used his own reign of terror to eliminate any so-called traitors to the efforts in building a communist government, which if established, was believed would create equality. We can see similar ideas behind many other totalitarian governments. Violence is used by governments to improve situations, which, ironically, only creates more oppression.

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