The French Revolution

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What were the long-term effects of the French Revolution?

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Some long-term effects of the French Revolution include the spread of Enlightenment thinking across Europe, a cascade of subsequent revolutions, and the establishment of a large number of democracies and republics across the globe.

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The French Revolution was one of the major turning points of world history, critical in shaping much of the modern world. For example, it introduced the modern notion of nationalism, as the Revolutionaries raised the ideal of nationhood as a primary rallying symbol and source of collective identity and pride. Even after the defeat of Napoleon, the aristocratic monarchies of Europe were unable to suppress the ideals and energies unleashed by the Revolution and were forced to confront a series of Revolutionary outbreaks throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, culminating in the Year of Revolutions, 1848. In addition to the European Revolutions, you must reckon with the Latin American Revolutions as well.

With all this being said, however, the French Revolution also entailed a radical restructuring of French politics, culture and society. Some of these attempts ultimately proved fleeting: for example, the Revolutionaries famously tried to impose a new Revolutionary calendar for the nation of France. Other innovations, however, proved far more lasting. For example, the National Assembly divided France into a series of approximately-equal administrative zones known as departments, and this same administrative system remains in use in the present age. In addition, the Revolution had a lasting impact on the very language of France. Before the Revolution, there was a wide variety of local dialects across France. Driven by the desire to achieve national unity, the Revolutionaries sought to impose linguistic uniformity throughout the nation of France. The legacy of those efforts can still be seen today in the example of Standardized French and the degree of linguistic uniformity that can be observed throughout the country today.

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One of the main long-term effects of the French Revolution was the growth of nationalism. Nationalism as we understand it today, the belief that ultimate political sovereignty resides in the nation, was largely unheard of prior to 1789. Political sovereignty was generally thought to reside in the social and economic elite of any given territory rather than the nation as a whole.

But in the wake of the French Revolution, a more expansive and inclusive concept of the nation emerged, based on the ideal of popular sovereignty, the notion that it was the people as a whole, rather than a small, unrepresentative class, which constituted the nation.

In one respect, this concept of nationalism was emancipatory in that it encouraged the common people to believe that the nations in which they were lived belonged to them and that they could shape their future political direction.

On the other hand, it also encouraged the unfortunate belief that certain groups and individuals did not belong to the nation—such as the French aristocracy, for example—and therefore could safely be marginalized and ignored.

In practical terms, this often led to the repression of those deemed not to belong to the nation—a feature of nationalism which still exists to this day.

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The French Revolution had several long term outcomes:

It led to the fast development of republics and democracies around the world. The French Revolution occurred due to the oppressive nature of the French feudal system of governance where the clergy and aristocracy oppressed the rest of the population, including the Bourgeoisie and the peasants. The Bourgeoisie claimed their rights to be involved in leadership, politics and administration while the peasants claimed land ownership rights and their ability to expand their estates. Similar oppressive systems were entrenched around the world but with the success of the French Revolution other territories sought to wipe out the aristocracy and oppression that existed in their territories.

Establishment of human rights. The French Revolution led to the Declaration of Rights of Man in France which led to much discussion and deliberations around the issue of human rights including the rights of slaves and women. It formed the basis of human rights recognition by creating movements to fight slavery and support feminism around the world.

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The French Revolution had two main outcomes:

1. Spread of Enlightenment ideas around Europe.  One of the biggest effects the French Revolution had was spreading the "revolutionary" ideas of the Enlightenment around Europe.  During the revolution, monarchies around Europe were disturbed by what was happening in France.  For the people to rally together and behead a king meant trouble - what happens if the rest of Europe's lower classes did the same?  This ultimately did occur with the Revolutions of 1848 in Russia, Italy, Austria, etc.  But the Enlightenment itself didn't just spread on its own like the plague; after the revolution, when Napoleon took power, he attempted to create a French Empire, where he conquered much of Europe for a short time.  While his dream of a French Empire failed, his legacy was to spread Enlightened ideas around Europe.

2. Domino Effect of revolutions.  During the French Revolution, all French men were freed and considered equal citizens under the law - this included all slaves on the French island of Haiti.  Haitians enjoyed their freedom temporarily - when Napoleon seized power, he eventually reinstated slavery in Haiti in order to make more money for his wars across Europe.  This resulted in the only successful slave revolt in history.  But Haiti wasn't alone in its revolution - much of Latin America learned from Haiti's example, and men like Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin led independence movements in South America.  Bolivar helped create Gran Colombia (which freed itself from Spanish control but later split into three countries- Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador) and Jose de San Martin helped liberate Argentina, Chile, and Peru.  So while France gained its freedom from monarchy (until King Louis XVIII took over after Napoleon...whoops!), revolutions sprang up in new world colonies in a domino effect.  By 1830, most Latin American countries were independent.

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