This week's big question:What was the French Revolution's most enduring achievement?As ever, interpret how you will, that's part of the fun.
this podcast is quite good about some aspects of the French Revolution and abolition of slavery
It's a curious thing. I guess we can say that the spirit and, as much as they existed, the principles of the Revolution were being exported in the early years, if we accept that was the intention of setting up republics in the Netherlands and Northern Italy as well as in the adjacent Balkan lands. The fact that that these subsequently turned into kingdoms firmly annexed to the Bonaparte family certainly compromised that process. The extinction of the Republic of Venice also cast any alleged principles of emancipation in a dubious light. If the establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine and the Duchy of Poland had the merit of liberating those regions from the rule of autocratic monarchies, we might have an interesting discussion as to the fire that flared up around those particular frying pans. Ultimately, if we look at Europe today, we see a balance between monarchies and republics, some healthier than others. As mentioned, it took most of the 19th century for a République Francaise to be established irrevocably, if not with absolute stability- I think we're on the 5ème, are we not? French colonialism continued apace through out that period. The German and Austrian monarchies finally bit the dust in 1918. The subsequent thirty years were- difficult. Germany is now the most prosperous and one of the most stable states in Europe. I can't quite remember the train of events in Italy but it is a republic today. UKGB remains a monarchy having relinquished most of Ireland. Oh, and the Empire. The future of the kingdom, although not the monarchy (for now) is uncertain. Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway remain cosy and prosperous monarchies. Belgium is something of a special case. And then there's dear old Luxembourg. I don't think the European project is relevant here as it seems to me to be a legacy of the C20th wars and the collapse of the continental empires. Nor is the former Soviet bloc. The legacy of the Russian revolution is not within the remit of the OP or, I dare say, of this forum. In the context of former Cold War paranoia, extreme right wing groups represent more of a threat to the social and political stability of Europe (and farther afield) than far left subversion. Does that mean that soft left bourgeois democracy holds the field? Could we say that this is the ultimate legacy of Jean Jaques Rousseau and Tom Paine? I have not mentioned post-colonial racism and revanchist Islam. There be dragons. I have woken early, and my caffeine levels are dangerously low. In a sudden flash, it dawns on me. I realise that if you want to look at a lasting legacy of the French Revolution- Belgium. If it didn't exist it would have to be invented.
@Kevin F. Kiley With the hefty caveat that absolutely no offence is offered or intended, just a different perspective, my take is that this view is American propaganda that has passed into folklore. When you deify your ‘founding fathers’ and endow them with super-human prescience objective historical enquiry is almost impossible. These are national articles of faith within a creation myth. With the levels of patriotic and emotional investment, particularly on a historic day like today, that is perfectly understandable and even from a certain point of view laudable. However, for us on this side of the Atlantic it is the reverse. To be patriotic for the days of empire is positively frowned upon by many and considered toxic by some. There was a time when we produced patriotic hagiography masquerading as history, but no more. We have no Jean D’Arc or George Washington. We might have voted WSC ‘the greatest Briton’ a few times, but his failings and weaknesses are well understood and articulated. In our Parliamentary system almost all political careers end in defeat. The French Revolution was of a completely different specie. As you rightly pointed out, there was a much rockier road and false starts. I’m afraid I ‘m not across enough contemporary French literature to know if Revolutionaries are lauded in the same way the US’s founding fathers are. I suspect not, as the extreme violence of the terror casts a different light. The French Revolution is soaked in considerably more blood than the AWI. But we are looking at for legacy and achievement. I suppose one would be the ability to accommodate radicalism and protest without the worst of extremism. Compare and contrast Gillet Jaune with more recent events for example.
I agree, it was a War of Independence.
Other achievements, still lasting, the decimal system, metrical, and weight, kilos, this seems trivial to the human rights.
Can we actually focus on the REVOLUTION (ie what happened up to 1799), and not NAPOLEON (who ended it in the Brumaire coup). The point of the question wasn't to rehash discussions that we've had about Napoleon's legacy, but to actually focus on what the Revolution did. We all know that Napoleon embraced what he liked, and discarded what he didn't. So can we take the conversation in a more useful direction than recapping the what Napoleon did/did not do, which has been raised elsewhere.
Sorry, @Kevin F. Kiley we seem to have an enduring disagreement on the difference between fact and interpretation. History is an interpretive discipline, and you are choosing to view them as positive (which is a value judgement) and attributing them to the influence of one man (which is your belief). No matter how many others you quote as sharing those interpretations, they still remain judgements. No amount of repetition elevates the list to a fact though. This thread is asking us to share opinion, so it’s fair comment. I am prepared to concede one fact about the list though. It’s a fact people post-Napoleon have misguidedly come to believe it without question. It’s achieved the status of catechism amongst some. Please forgive me for respectfully not swallowing the propaganda whole though. Thankfully, I’m not required to, and that’s the beauty of historical enquiry. I’m fully prepared to give Napoleon due credit, where evidence exists of his direct input. However, I’m far too familiar with the politician’s propensity to dodge accountability and claim unwarranted credit to sign up to such sweeping generalisations. The list does have one useful function. It indicates the discussion has parted company with rational debate, so I’m content to take the role of bystander from here on in.
The listing I posted is some of the social and political reforms that Napoleon accomplished as head of state. They are not opinion but accomplished facts.
See The Napoleonic Revolution by Robert Holtman, Baron Fain's Memoirs, Marchand's Memoirs, and France Under Napoleon by Louis Bergeron for starters.
Other helpful references are Lavalette's Memoirs, de Thiard's Souvenirs Diplomatiques et Militaires de 1804 a 1806. Roederer's Journal is helpful for the Consulate.
@Kevin F. Kiley You really require proof that Napoleon was Emperor of the French? That Joseph was King of Naples and later King of Spain? That Jerome was King of Westphalia? That Louis was King of Holland? That he tried to abdicate in favour of his infant son (twice)? These are facts that are surely without contention? Would any supporting evidence make these facts any more compatible with revolutionary mottos like “Death to tyrants”? As to the list, it is not contemporaneous so therefore requires no primary evidence to refute. It is a modern confection, constructed by those calling themselves historians (I prefer the term hagiographers, but people can call themselves what they like). What one person can create, another can break asunder. The list is purely opinion. Historiography isn’t history. I find attributing all of these to one man difficult to swallow, and of course using what little brain providence gave me, I’m not obliged to. The burden of “proof” lies with those whom make the assertion. Perhaps best expressed by Monty Python “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”
In point of fact, after Napoleon became First Consul Louis attempted to persuade him to bring him back as king. Napoleon politely refused but offered financial assistance.
Councillor Mollien was confided in by Napoleon: 'I am not afraid to look for examples and rules in the past; I intend to keep the Revolution's useful innovations, but not to abandon the good institutions it mistakenly destroyed.'
Napoleon had discovered before the coup that Barras, one of the Directors, had plans to bring back the Bourbons and Napoleon would not agree to that.
And if Napoleon had been assassinated during the Consulate, the 'candidates' to take over were the Bourbons, the Jacobins, or a military dictatorship, none of which were satisfactory by any means.
Reforms made by Napoleon-they went further than either merely 'change' or 'transition.' The restored Bourbons kept in place those reforms as it would be unpopular to change of abolish them. And some are still in existence today. Some are as follows:
-Restoring the Church and granting religious freedom.
-Established the Bank of France.
-New tax system.
-Established the auditors of the Council of State.
-Created the prefecture in the departments.
-New Criminal Code.
-Governed as a civilian head of state-not a military dictator.
-Overhauled the French education system.
-Established the Legion of Honor.
-Established the Bourse.
-Established the Administration des Eaux et Forets.
-Established the first Paris permanent fire brigade.
-Ordered the streets of Paris to be paved.
-Established the first Bureau of Statistics.
-Increased food production such as butter, cheese, and vegetable oils.
-Improved horse breeding with six national studs and thirty depots d'etalons.
-Increased and improved French industry.
-Improved the balance of trade.
-Brought about law and order.
-Patronized the arts.
I consider Napoleon's governmental and social reforms to be much more important than his military achievements.
I’m surprised no one has mentioned that the National Convention in Feb. 1794 abolished slavery in France’s colonies and declared freed slaves to have equal rights with white citizens.
It took two more revolutions, 1830 and 1848, to finally rid the French of monarchies.
Napoleon as head of state was a period of social and political reform, most of which survived the retrograde to Bourbon rule.
It is moot point as to exactly how long the French rid themselves of monarchy: Ten years? Twenty? On the face of it, the republican experiment took a good ninety years to mature, after which it has managed to weather some serious threats, although not from recusant monarchists as such.