Values and Goals of the French Revolution

The bloodiness of the French Revolution came from its values, which are especially seen in La Marseillaise and The Cult of the Supreme Being. The French National anthem is drastically different from the American equivalent. It promotes values of war and violence to achieve liberty. La Marseillaise inspired citizens to take up arms to end government tyranny. The anthem is appropriate for troops marching into combat under heavy fire whereas the Star-Spangled Banner focuses on the values achieved by the war’s success such as liberty and equality.

The Cult of the Supreme Being, written by Robespierre in the Reign of Terror, represents similar values of violence and rebellion but from a very different angle. Robespierre justifies the call to arms with religion. He merges God with war by saying the He created men to help one another and that it is their duty to “purify the earth which they have soiled.” His radical writings are faith with fanaticism. Robespierre is careful to give “Him” a new name–The Supreme Being–to avoid losing the supports of more religious people of the Third Estate.

The dramatic text is an extreme, twisted version of civil religion. Instead of creating loyalty to the state through religious symbolism, he creates loyalty to the French Revolution with religious symbolism. He is certainly not the first to make his own perspective on religious to further violent goals.

The goals of the famous texts which inspired the revolution were corrupted during the actual revolution. Instead of achieving enlightenment through thinking for oneself or engaging in intellectual debate to better civil society, the goal became a violent overthrow of government tyranny. The French Revolution was an accurate depiction of Hobbes’ state of nature. Perhaps a contributing factor to the French Revolution’s unsuccessfulness (as compared to America) was that the civil religion used to inspire and justify the bloody revolution was never adapted for peacetime. Just a speculation…

2 thoughts on “Values and Goals of the French Revolution

  1. I think the contradiction within Robespierre’s “Cult of the Supreme Being” is quite evident between what he says about the rulers and what he expects the revolutionaries to act upon. Near the beginning of this document he states that “He did not create kings to devour the human race,” explaining to the revolutionaries that their disagreement with the monarchy does not mean they disagree with religion: In Robespierre’s mind, the Supreme Being would not authorize tyranny such as that. However, this takes place during the Reign of Terror, a time where many killings were authorized and violence ravaged the country. It is almost humorous to hear the contradiction in his words, as he basically calls upon people to devour the human race themselves, and to “Perish the tyrants who have dared to break it!” And yet, the killings are authorized by him as he prefaces that declaration by letting the readers know that “The Author of Nature has bound all mortals by a boundless chain of love and happiness,” so that their actions of violence are accepted by the Supreme Being because they’re supported by Robespierre and his cause.

  2. Robespierre’s The Cult of the Supreme Being certainly advanced feelings of violence and anger among the revolutionaries. When Robespierre refers to the Supreme Being’s work, he is contrasting the justice or fairness of the Supreme Being against the tyranny of kings. “All that is good is His work, or Himself. Evil belongs to the depraved man who oppresses his fellow man or suffers him to be oppressed.” Robespierre is essentially giving the revolutionaries another reason to add to their long list of grievances against the king.

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