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As #7 suggests, what occurred during the French Revolution appears to continue to happen throughout history, where in the end people are worse off than before. Beginning with a corrupt monarchy, they ended with an Emperor with absolutist powers. Revolutions generally swing to such extreme that no one supports them, then swings violently back beyond the beginning point. This has become known as a "Thermidorian Reaction," because it occurred during the month of Thermidor (roughly July / August.) The revolution went so far as to remove the Christian calendar with its Roman month names in favor of a revolutionary calendar system, which was replaced with the old system after Napoleon took over.
Let us remember that the Revolution occurred over a numbe of years, and of course, as time went by, its principals and aims were going to change as a result of their initial success and circumstances as they developed. We can see this in terms of the scope of the Revolution and how it increased as years went by. Due to initial successes, the demands of the Revolution grew accordingly.
Historian Crane Brinton's work Anatomy of Revolution outlines a broad interpretation of the phases of the French Revolution. According to Brinton, the French Revolution went through five stages with an ironic ending. I've included a general assessment of Brinton's work.
1. The Absolute Monarchy- the Old Regime of Louis XVI
2. The Moderate Control- of the Estates General and Assembly-The storming of the Bastille-the establishment of the Constitutional monarchy
3. The Radical Control- Robespierre and Danton-Reign of Terror
4. The Return of Moderate Control- the Directory- filled with corruption
5. The rise of Napoleon as a powerful leader-the French Consulate 1799-1804-First French Empire 1804-1815-Napoleonic Code of Laws
With all of the chaos and confusion in the French government between 1792 and 1804 Napoleon was able to concentrate his power in France. Interestingly, Napoleon's power (for a time) would prove to be quite similar to the powers the absolute monarchs of France...what the French were originally revolting against...ironic...
I think the biggest factor in radicalizing the revolution was the outbreak of war in 1792. Not only were the Jacobins able to mobilize popular support for the revolution through appealing to patriotism, but it eventually provided a pretext for the most radical steps in the Revolution, including the economic and social reforms urged by the sans-cullotes and of course the Reign of Terror. As far as building on successes, I'd actually argue that most of the radical reforms were responses to the failures of the more moderate reforms to ameliorate the social and especially economic conditions that helped to precipitate the revolution in the first place.
Things deteriorated partly because of resistance from opponents of the Revolution. Such resistance led to counter-measures by the revolutionaries and ultimately to the execution of the king.
As pohnpei points out, once things began to "get started" and the revolutionaries began to feel more comfortable, things began to change dramatically. The actions of the revolutionaries were very similar to those of others who initially succeed with "modest" proposals. As the changes were accepted, the revolutionaries felt as if they could not be stopped. Piggy-backing on the successes, others felt as if they could begin to make changes in the same way. This is why so many forms and results were seen.
I think that this reflects the degree to which changes occurred, making the revolutionaries more or less radical in their outlook. Early on, for example, when there was not yet much hope of complete change, the demands were relatively modest. As things progressed, however, the revolutionaries came to feel more and more as if they could have everything and so they became more radical.
I'd say that the French Revolution is an interesting case in World History. Not just the irony of it all. What I will like to bring up is this:
Before things got all hairy, the french were broke or something and were starving. Yes, the rich were pampering themselves out like Paris Hilton (before she was up to her knees in trouble) and were still expecting taxes from the poor , who were already broke. Yes, that was a good reason to make their point about needing to be compensated for.
But this whole reveolution thing was lame-o because not one of them, the revolutionaries, had solved the issue of starvation.
If I were to travel into that time, I'd bring up that question to break the atmosphere of illogical inanity: How is this going to help your starvation?
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