Once you have read Spielvogel, please briefly comment on how you see the influence of Rousseau's view on politics and religion on the French Revolution. In this post, you must use at least one direct (and properly cited) quote for “The French Revolution” (pages 575–593) in chapter 20 of Spielvogel's Western Civilization.
According to Spielvogel, the influence of philosophes such as Rousseau on the French Revolution is "difficult to prove" (page 569). But he then goes on to say that "revolutionary leaders frequently quoted Enlightenment writers, especially Rousseau." On page 581, Spielvogel attributes the radical revolutionaries' notion of popular sovereignty to the influence of Rousseau's concept of the general will.
This question is subjective and asks for your own thoughts on the matter, though there can be little doubt that the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a significant impact on the French Revolution. For centuries, opponents and supporters alike have cited the eccentric Swiss thinker as being one of the major intellectual influences on the momentous events of 1789 and their earth-shattering aftermath.
Yet, when completing this exercise, it is important that you keep in mind that the precise level of Rousseau's influence on the French Revolution has been difficult to determine with any degree of precision. Some historians have argued that the revolution would've taken place even if Rousseau's radical ideas had never been formulated. They tend to downplay the intellectual background to the revolution, emphasizing instead the material factors—such as bad harvests and the near bankruptcy of the French state—that sparked off this historical cataclysm.
While it wouldn't be fair to place Spielvogel in this category, he does nonetheless show a fair amount of caution in attributing influence to Rousseau on the ideas of the French Revolution. In one passage you might consider quoting, on page 569 of Western Civilization, he says,
The actual influence of the ideas of the philosophes is difficult to prove, but once the Revolution began, the revolutionary leaders frequently quoted Enlightenment writers, especially Rousseau.
Later on, however, Spielvogel is a little more forthcoming in his recognition of the importance of some of Rousseau's key ideas on the French revolutionaries. Referring to a speech by Saint-Just—one of the most radical and ruthless of the Jacobins, the extremist faction that ran France during the Terror—Spielvogel quotes him as saying that "Whatever is outside the sovereign is an enemy." Spielvogel then goes on to say on page 581 that
Clearly, Saint-Just was referring to Rousseau's concept of the general will.
The implication is that the Jacobins believed they were putting Rousseau's ideas into effect by arrogating to themselves the right to determine the sovereign will of the French people and to kill all those who were not a part of that sovereign will.
Successive generations of critics have criticized Rousseau for what they see as the potentially tyrannical repercussions of his political thought, especially his concept of the general will. And the adoption by bloodthirsty Jacobin terrorists like Saint-Just would appear to lend credence to such criticisms.
For Rousseau, the general will constitutes the collective political will of a given society in which all citizens have put aside their selfish interests for the common good. Only in the general will could true sovereignty be found. Citing Spielvogel's quotation from Saint-Just, one can see quite a resemblance between the Jacobin notion of the sovereign will of the French people and the general will of Rousseau's Social Contract.
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