French revolution of 1789 was and still is one of the great events of human history which affected the conduct of men and ideas,this was due to the unbearable conditions in France especially to the common people which led to a revolt and revolution that later led to emergence of a new state ,gave birth to the emergence of new men to power , the reorganization of French army,the overtaking of the land of nobility, catholic church by the peasants etc.in this article French revolution shall be briefly discussed ,the causes of French revolution with the Enlightenment been an important factor and the effect of enlightenment on the French revolution .all this and more shall be discussed below.
To start with on the eve of the revolution ,French society was divided into three society was divided into three estate on the bases of old feudal arrangements these were the clergy and nobility, which constitutes the privileged first and second estates, while merchants and professionals as well as rural peasants constituted the under privileged third estate third class were mistreated, they were made to pay expensive tax, that is the financial burdens also the gross social inequalities was a factor that led to the French revolution, the character of Louis XVI and his wife Maria Antoinette also the America revolution, the hard winter and bad harvest, financial crises and lastly the enlightenment which was mostly the writing of philosophers.
Now Enlightenment was an international philosophical and cultural movement which originated from the rationalism of the 17th and 18th century science revolution thus it was a body of intellectual and cultural ideas enlightenment was triggered by works of various philosophers among them was a French philosopher Diderot Montesquieu, Rousseau and Voltaire, English philosophers like Leibniz, Gibbon, Robertson, Isaac Newton and John Locke, German philosophers like Johann Goethe and Schiller etc. these works had its greatest effects on French revolution.
Enlightenment brought out or rather made the people of bourgeoisie which included merchants, traders, industrialists, lawyers etc. mind to be liberated from bondage to both classical and medieval authority which led to the middle class opposition towards absolutism of the French crown who wanted a stable society in which there would be order and security, the work of Baron Charles de Montesquieu opposed this in his Espirit des Loi, in which he propounded a philosophy of history which tried to explain the evolution of different types of Government among men in terms of prevailing geographical and climatic conditions and he believes that men as part of nature were subject to laws governing the natural world and with his visit to England, he believes that the success of the Irish constitution is safeguarding individual freedom was due to what he regarded as its perfect separatism of power. In France and his influence was great in a more strictly political sense which concern was to limit the power of the monarch, privileges of the nobility and at the time of the revolution his idea influenced strongly those who wanted to maintain the monarchy in France with the kind of checks on its power that existed in England.
Also enlightenment brought about the absolute reliance of the people to observe and reason in other to criticize and reject baseless superstition myths and dogmas that is with the works of Francis Voltaire’s lettres philosophies in 1731 which was about the political and religious freedom obtained in England and in his letters he mentioned about the religious toleration which admired in England, and that it should be introduced to France, the intolerance of the French church was to be reduced to the conditions of the English church, also one of his attacks were on the French catholic church and its institutions including Christianity in general was the expulsion of the Jesuits from France in 1762 and he was of the opinion that all necessary reforms should be brought under the French monarchy. He also demanded for religious freedom and equality before the law for the masses and a reduction of the tax burdens of the lower class. Thus the clearness of his language and humanities of his appeal prevailed the 18th century and French revolution.
Furthermore another philosopher was Jean Jacque Rousseau whose basic ideas was expressed in his famous work the social contract which denotes that the general will of the people should be the ruling force of any society and his theory of “social contract”was that when originally the people had given their assents to the existence of the king and government.then there had come into being a definite contract between king and people by which the former only ruled by the latter consent meaning that a theoretical constitution was aimed at achieving his(Rousseau) ideal state in which equality would be the supreme law and he wanted government by the people, for the people thus in the opinion of Rousseau,sovereignty rests with the people and whatever government that existed derives its authority from the people and this was a call to the revolution in which the watch word was “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and this was taken from the social contract thus making it the slogan for political moves.
Additionally other philosophers who were distinguished members of Enlightenment was Helvetius which he focused on the French Catholic church and gave a bitter critic such as “Christianity has always been opposed to good laws ,sound government and social morality” and therefore proposed a new rationalistic civil religion. Also Holback said that all phenomenal are explainable in terms of natural law e.t.c all these led to the French physiocrats whom established a journal in which they propounded their theories of economic freedom and capitalist production
In addition to this among great intellectual influences of the 18th century was the encyclopedist most notably Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert who edited the first volume of the Encyclopedia in1751, in which the basic theme was freedom; economic , personal, civil; freedom of thought and action. Another important theme of the French Encyclopedia was equality: equality between the privileged nobility and the bourgeoisie, and it was on this ground it attacked feudal land ownership and the whole system of French absolutism which favored its existence. To restore political equality, it demanded a constitution approved by the representative of the well-to-do and educated section of the nation .this two volumes of publication was suppressed by the French government because the encyclopedia became a successful means of spreading the ideas of the philosophers and this was essentially the political program of the French revolution.
Lastly the enlightenment was an attitude of the mind rather than a course in science and philosophy and despite the ideal variations and individual self-contradiction ,new values spread slowly through educated Europe including France ,common sense which was rampart like Enlightenment meant that everyday citizen had power to respect and write,it brought about a new attitude towards religious intolerance and also with the American revolution demonstrated that it was plausible for Enlightenment ideas about how a government should be organized and could really be put in place.
In conclusion Enlightenment showed civilization as an artificial product of human rationality , sociability,and brought about the emancipation from superstition beliefs, also its principle of nationalism ,citizenship and Inalienable rights brought about the French revolution,which was about equality and freedom of individual represented by Voltaire, Denis, Diderot, Tugot e.t.c Thus even thou enlightenment was not only the factors that caused French Revolution ,it contributed immensely to the outbreak and the philosophers provided the basis with an enlightened public opinion which tended to influence the radiating public.
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