Blumenfeld, Callie

french revolution

The French Revolution dismantled the long standing political and social structure in France over the time span of 1789 to 1799. The revolution had its largest inciting with the attack on Bastille in July of the first year. This revolution indicated the downfall of the classic ruling monarchies and the dissolution of the ideals of the aristocratic elite. In place of the older monopolistic principles arose a democratic and nationalistic social structure comprised of the revolting middle class. Leading up to the revolution, popular sentiments of unrest were felt among the majority of French peoples in the middle to lower classes. These citizens resented the special entitlements allotted to the aristocracy and other ruling classes, and when two years of drought and bad harvests plagued the country, a demand for a change of social structure was prevalent. The economic crises continually occurring within the older regime of France indicated a dire need for adjustment in the eyes of the lower classes. In addition to sentiments of unrest within the greater population, increasing discord could be felt within the military culture of the French in the late eighteenth century. The aristocratic were the commonplace officers within the armies of the period, and the “rank and file” were thought to be insignificant and unable to think for themselves. The prevalent view was that the soldiers required constant supervision in order to effectively fight, and that fear was the proper incentive for obedience.

The revolt of the middle and lower class citizens in France drastically shattered the previous social structure involving monarchs and aristocracy and developed a new structure implementing democratic ideals and beliefs. In order for this more democratic social structure to emerge, the preceding aristocratic privileges needed to dissipate during the Revolution. The ideals of the Enlightenment period assisted the commoners with their encouragement of citizenship and unalienable rights for all peoples of the country. In the prior social structure, almost ninety percent of people living in France were poor peasants and farmers. The society was divided into three estates depending on class, with the nobility and aristocracy retaining the highest estate. Following the revolution this structure was broken as all positions and offices within society were open to the public masses, and rank within them was determined by talent rather than socioeconomic standing. In addition to the inclusion of the peasants as a part of the new democratic society, soldiers were no longer thought of as vile, but rather as valuable and brave citizens of the nation. The dissolution of the officer elite allowed for movement within the ranks of the French military. One occurrence that severely altered the previous social structure was the execution of the King, symbolically and temporarily ending the reign of monarchs in France. Following this action, multiple forms of government and democratic rule were attempted, and these actions incited the formation of an entirely new social structure within France. The nobility was ended, and mass taxing altered the economic structure of the burgeoning country during the initial stages following the revolution. The alteration of culture and social structure in France during this period took place in a relatively short time span of around two to three years, therefore the social change was not evolutionary but considerably rapid cultural change. The initial actions of the French commoners to revolt against the monarchy incited years of social reconstruction leading to the creation of an entirely new social structure, illustrating the innate ability of the masses, if disconcerted with current socioeconomic situations, to rise up and demand an alteration to the system, if not to the structure as a whole.

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