Spurred on by the success of the American Revolution, the expectant French Revolution began in 1789. The Bourbons were overthrown in a turmoil more violent than what transpired in the thirteen colonies. Unlike the American Revolution, which occurred 3,000 miles from Europe, the French upheaval occurred in the belly of the beast and drew into its swirling vortex the princely houses of Europe. What began as an attempt to rid the French of the scourge of the Bourbons degenerated into a continental war that would last for 23 years. We trace the economic, social and political justifications for the revolution and why it evolved into a dictatorship… Napoleon.
Week 1: Harbinger of Revolt
This introductory session will explore the political, social and economic pressures that will push the French to violence. Explored as well are the plethora changes effervescing and ready to suborn convention and establishment; indeed, harbingers of stark changes due to leach like a plague through the 19th century and the 20th towards . . . 1914.
Week 2: End of the Ancient Regime, 1789-1793
The revolving door of changes that are hastening the demise of a decrepit regime: Estates General. National Assembly. Tennis Court Oath. On to the Bastille! Rise of the Jacobins. Declining power of Louis XVI. Origins of “Left” and “Right.” Civil Constitution of the Clergy. National Assembly gives way to the Constituent Assembly. Radicalism of the Peasantry. Robespierre. Mirabeau. Lafayette. Danton. The Girondists. Constituent Assembly gives way to the Legislative Assembly.
Week 3: Spotlight: Maximilian Robespierre
The eventual leader of the Committee of Public Safety began as a supporter of Louis XVI. Liberal in his perspectives; willing as a lawyer to protect the downtrodden; anti-Catholic Church as opposed to being a Deist; opposed to Capital Punishment . . . but will later wield the guillotine to eliminate opponents. Indeed, Robespierre is truly one of the outstanding personalities of the Revolution.
Week 4: Levee en Masse
Lazare Carnot, one of the “Twelve Disciples” on the 1793 Committee of Public Safety; better known as the “Organizer of Victory.” The Trotsky of the French Revolution who readied Revolutionary France for war . . . Levee en Masse, organizing entire populations and economies for war. Such will set the trend as the Industrial Revolution transforms economies, politics and societies, eventually leading to global conflict.
Week 5: The Terror
The middle years of the French Revolution. Fraught with the breakdown in parliamentary procedure, as the execution of King Louis XVI leaves a political void to be filled. Violence begets violence, as old institutions come under savage assault, including the Church, the target of de-Christianization. The Bourgeoisie, the emerging Working Class and the Peasantry jockey for position in the wake of weakening Royalty and Nobility . . . setting the stage for the Dictatorship to come.
Week 6: Liberalism or Dictatorship
The hardening of the Revolution for the Capitalist-Bourgeois Class. Importance of property and political primacy. The printing of money, inflation and growing impoverishment. From the Liberalism of the Directory to the Authoritarianism of the Consulate.
Week 7: Bonapartism
The promise of the ideas of the Age of Reason/Enlightenment give way to dictatorship in the wake of revolutionary violence and a continental wide war. General Napoleon Bonaparte will become dictator of France. Wielding Nationalism as a faith, he leads his minions to empire. Included will be an analysis of Napoleon’s rise to power and that phenomenon known as Bonapartism.
Week 8: The French Revolution: Weighed and Measured
The English Revolution helped to end Feudalism; French Revolution still a decisive event ending Feudalism and hastening the rise of Capitalism. Despite “Democratic” precepts of American Revolution, events still worked to the advantage of the wealthy. Italy, Il Risorgimento, Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie colluded to the disadvantage of the masses to keep control, setting the stage for Fascism; while German unification was more socialistic and nationalistic. Russia, Worker/Peasant Revolution leads to Stalinist State Capitalism.