The French Revolution and The Enlightenment - Rebecca Van...

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Rebecca Van Sciver Mr. Lewison Modern European History May 27, 2011 Enlightenment Ideas and The French Revolution Introduction Before the onset of The French Revolution, society in France was based on certain accepted principles concerning social, political, and economic hierarchy. Those of certain races, religions, bloodlines, and classes were awarded the highest standing in society and granted the most political power. Ideas that surfaced during the Enlightenment, however, discredited these assumptions and proved the immorality of practicing such conventions, refuting the underlying foundations of French society. Without these foundations, previous allegiances to leaders and loyalty in the practice of leaders’ philosophies disintegrated, and France fell into chaos. The spread of this new understanding, combined with the economic instability of late eighteenth century France, inspired the lower and middle classes to revolt, causing what is known today as The French Revolution. I. The Issue of Slavery The ways of the Old Regime, the ancient monarchy that ruled France, were attacked and discredited piece by piece. One of the key issues to be considered was slavery. Slavery was profitable and increased the power of those who controlled the industry. However, as new ideas
about race came into play during the Enlightenment, mainly those concerning “human rights,” the original logic behind the concept of slavery was proven to be wrong and immoral. This revolutionary thinking is clearly demonstrated in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen , a document penned by the revolutionaries who later dethroned Louis XVI: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits…”(p 77). Slavery not only severely restricted the natural rights of those enslaved, but also clearly injured them. Thus slavery is a double violation of this concept. As Marquis de Condorcet wrote in his pamphlet Dedicatory Epistle to the Negro Slaves, “…slavery takes from the slave, not only all forms of property but also the ability to acquire it, the control over his time, his strength, of everything that nature has given him to maintain his life and satisfy his needs…”(p 56). Slavery was an obvious restriction of the rights

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