It struck me recently that the first few years after the Revolution in France, they could not seem to get their act together. The French seem to have stumbled around looking for an acceptable alternative to the Ancien Regime and did not find anything, ever. Napoleon provoded the most stable regime but was he not just a different form of aabsolutism? Even after the Allies re-imposed the monarchy after Vienna the French have struggled to find a form of government that works for them. They have flirted with democracy and monarchy several times since 1815.It is my contention that the vast majority of the French disliked and loved the Monarchy. They wanted relief from the abuses of absolutism but the stability and continuity from a monarch. It is almost as if in 1789, the French said we love Kings just not this one, and ever since but especially in the first 20 years have struggled to find a replacement for the absolute Monarchy. It seems that if they had been able to achieve some sort of constitutional monarchy on the British mold that Europe would have been saved the struggle of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary wars and Europe would be a much different place today.
As it has been said elsewhere, whereas the American Revolution tore down one form of government but kept its institutions, the French Revolution tore down both government and institutions. And yes, this did replace one form of absolutism with another. I think the French Revolution provides us with a case study of liberalism taken to its logical conclusion, and a valuable lesson: the more one undermines the institutions and ideals that have traditionally defined society, the less recognizable (and predictable) that society becomes.
What I find the most fascinating about the French Revolution is how quickly they threw their ideals away and descended into the Terror ostensibly to “protect” the revolution. The change from freedom to totalitarianism and the jettisoning of the cry of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” is amazing. I am certain that Robespierre and gang thought they were really doing something good. The leaders of the revolution took an extremely paternalistic attitude to the masses.
There?s a different between a war of independence and a revolution. A total revolution makes political, economic, and religious changes. Look at the Russian revolution. Russia went from being ruled by monarchy to being ruled by an oligarchy (the communist party). Economically it went from capitalism to communism. In religion it switched from Christianity to atheism.The biggest change in the French revolution was political. They went from being ruled by an aristocracy to being ruled by the middle class. Economically in essence they went from feudalism to modern capitalism. Religious changes were not as drastic, but the church lost power and influence.Although it was a period of anarchy, events were controlled by the middle class. While France has made changes in its form of government over the years the middle class has never lost the power in seized during the French Revolution. And economically France has never abandoned modern capitalism. Why did the French Revolution give rise to such an unstable regime? Because they French don't care as much about their form of government as they do about which social class controls the country.
The Jacobins were just as anti-religious as the Bolsheviks ever were.Couldn't it be said that the revolutionary governments were unstable because in fact the French did care very much about their for of government and the instability reflected their desire for the perfect form of government?
The problem with radical revolutions is that after they take place, things will eventually go bad to one degree or another. The response by the revolutionaries is to hold firm its iron grip and prevent insurgents from “spoiling the revolution”. Revolutionaries are all for a better way of life so long as it’s their vision for a better life, whether or not the rest of the people agree.
An interesting question is why the United States didn’t follow the same path of iron-fisted revolution that some other countries have taken.