In what ways did the Enlightenment contribute to the buildup of the French Revolution?
Most historians agree that it is too simple to say that the Enlightenment caused the French Revolution, but the ideas of the Enlightenment were certainly influential among the revolutionaries, especially in the early years. A number of Enlightened philosophers (and some even earlier, like John Locke) had voiced criticisms about various aspects of the absolutist Bourbon regime in France, or about absolute monarchies in general. Voltaire, for instance, was harshly critical of the established Catholic Church, a major pillar of society under the Bourbons. Montesquieu, writing in the first half of the eighteenth century, argued for a balanced government along the lines of the English (unwritten) constitution. Many of the reform-minded nobles and bourgeoisie that made up the National Assembly in the early days of the Revolution were influenced by these liberal philosophers, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, approved by the Assembly, strongly reflects their influence. These writers were not that widely read among the French people, but they were well known to the liberal nobility and educated middle class who first struck at the unfair privileges and arbitrary power that characterized society under the Bourbon monarchy.