Before the French Revolution, there was a separation of power in France based on the way the country segmented their society. The society was split into three groups: the clergy, the nobility and the third estate. The leaders of the French Revolution sought to alter the power and create their own culture to overthrow the monarchy run under Louis XVI and establish an entirely new society.
In Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes’ What is the Third Estate? he argues that the Third Estate of France was entitled to more respect and power than they were currently given, being that the Third Estate makes up the majority, “nineteen-twentieths”, of France (Blaisdell 72). Sieyes motivates his people in the text by challenging them to rise up against the limitations placed on the third estate, as it “contains everything that pertains to the nation” (Blaisdell 74). Sieyes pushes this revolution on the grounds that a monarchy isn’t necessary for the people of France to operate and that they would live in a better society if they were to overthrow the monarchy.
In order to unite the people of France, culturally speaking, Maximilian Robespierre wrote The Cult of Supreme Being, advocating for the revolution under religious grounds. He advocated against the catholic church because many of the followers perceived the church as a way of repression and subjugation by the monarchy. Robespierre incorporates many atheistic views, under the concept of reason in his new religious system. Under this system there are many religious views of deism, where there was belief in a god, but a god that didn’t intercede with the plans of the people of the Third Estate. He also argues that humanity was designed to exist in harmony but the tyrants in power have polluted the system of power in France by oppressing its people. Without the writings and leadership of Robespierre, the French Revolution may not have been possible.
The French Revolution’s success can be attributed to the combination of the political and cultural revolution that occurred before it. Without revolutionary writers and leaders like Robespierre and Sieyes, motivating the majority of the Third Estate wouldn’t have been possible and the shift towards a more enlightened society would never have became a reality.
Questions to consider:
Do you think the French Revolution would’ve been possible without the combination of the political and cultural revolution?
Are there any power shifts (clergy, nobility, third estate) throughout world history similar to the one caused by the French Revolution?