French Revolution

The French revolution, although confined to France, signaled a shift in perspective on the way European societies and governments were viewed, structured and practiced. Lasting from 1789-1799, the french revolution replaced the absolute monarchial structure of the “Old Regime” which had ruled over France since its inception.  Post revolution France slowly transformed into a more egalitarian society in which free will, citizens’ rights and decision by consensus became the supporting infrastructure of government.

Typically, when discussing the french revolution, the two main groups of dissenters examined are the Parlements and Philosophes. Both groups were responsible for questioning the monarchy structure, although each took a much different approach and attitude towards the needed change.

The Parlements were comprised of thirteen regional courts which drafted decrees which would later become laws. The Parlements protested absolute rule, arguing that the citizens should have their natural civil rights upheld as well as having an audible voice in government. Additionally, the Parlements opposed the imposition of new taxes as well as the levying of religious taxes calling them an abuse of power.  The Parlements urged change by looking to a historically free France in which individual liberties were valued and upheld.

The Philosophes however, were a group of French intellectuals who advocated governmental change but did not support a violent revolution. Believing that the government should work solely on behalf of its’ citizens, the Philosophes disseminated satirical pamphlets and inflammatory articles designed to encourage critical thought and provoke questioning of the practice of the Old Regime.

During and after the french revolution, many new forms of government were established to rule over France, all short lived and replaced by the next. From this period of transition however, many of the founding principles of French law and government were derived and remain in practice today, such as the bill of rights, equality among citizens and a form of representative democracy.