Revolutionary Popular Thought and Culture in France

The French Revolution transformed France from a society based on the tradition of divine right rule of kings and fixed social status of clergy, nobility, and peasantry, to a new political order based on the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The new political order sought to change virtually everything the monarchy had established. The tax system was abolished and decision-making was taken out of the hands of the monarchy and clergy. The third estate was able to attain the rights to land ownership, which provided financial relief such that a larger more diverse population could now live prosperously. This empowered the people. The popular cultural mindset of the revolution was based on individual freedoms and equality.

The Age of Enlightenment brought significant changes to popular culture. Institutions were confiscated from the church and turned into secular based schools, and churches themselves became temples of reason. The old scientific academies were replaced with ones that used the new scientific method. The metric system was established and days of the week were extended from seven to ten. Society was moving away from a religious based culture to one of reason and virtue.

Music had the most significant influence on the people, and served to propel the revolution. Not only was the song culture a method to build solidarity among the working class and the illiterate, it delivered strong political messages. Songs played a vital roll in unifying the citizenry and ultimately created an early French feeling of nationalism. Music was so easily transferred and contagious that it became a revolutionary weapon. Through music, the people joined forces, regardless of social class, and became united in purpose. Today, the French populace continues to rally through song at social events, and will always find significance in their national anthem, La Marseillaise.

3 thoughts on “Revolutionary Popular Thought and Culture in France

  1. I think it’s interesting to consider enlightenment of society as whole, along with enlightenment of one individual, or ones self, as Kant centers on. The two are distinctly related. I believe societies owe their achievement of enlightenment to a compilation of enlightened individuals- musicians, songwriters (like Rouget de Lisle), artists, architects, writers, et cetera. These individuals are responsible for shaping pop culture and influencing society through their own works and achievements.

  2. I like how you mentioned music as a powerful driving force for the revolution. I think it’s important to note that unlike complicated texts or various forms of written news and messages, music is something that all people across all social classes can understand and contribute to. Music is able to convey emotions in a way that is not possible for various other forms to achieve and this becomes evident from its use in the revolution.

  3. I’m not sure I would say that music was the MOST influential change. Singing does build camaraderie and present a sense of togetherness, but keeping in mind the numerous traditional changes that occurred during the Revolution, it may be hard to pinpoint what was most important to the French at the time. Certainly the change in dress had a heavy hand in influencing the population as well, for example.

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