Friday, November 17, 2006

Why the French Revolution II

In May 2006 the Economist printed an article reflecting on the status of the European Union and the European Constitution. The article began as follows: “AS CHOU EN-LAI observed of the 1789 revolution in France, the full impact of events in that country can take centuries to discern. That may yet prove true of the French no to the European Union’s draft constitution, expressed in a referendum on May 29th last year.” I take this to be, in general, true. However, the impact is not simply one of the events. It is also how those events are a working out of basic principles and ideas that flow from those principles.

Someone else once said that one can see happening in ten years of the French Revolution what has happened in the last 200 years in American democracy. The ideology that drove the French Revolution has affected life of nations in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. The study of the French Revolution is not simply a study of the events themselves. Though, the events themselves are fascinating to behold.

It is also a study of how certain ideas make themselves felt in culture and society over time. The Revolutionaries set out to radically change certain aspects of French society in order to bring about their conception of a democratic culture. This included instituting a version of pure democracy as embodied in a national legislature, a materialistic conception of liberty, equality, and rights, de-emphasizing the traditional family as a political social structure, democratizing religious institutions, and further concentrating power in a centralized government.

The French Revolution is important for America in 2006 because we are starting to show many similarities to developments that took place during the Revolution. Power is concentrating in the national government, our notions of equality and liberty have become increasingly materialistic over the past 100 years, there are pressures in all major religious institutions to democratize them. We increasingly rely on rights as articulated in the French Human Rights documents. We have liberalized marriage and divorce laws in ways already achieved during the French Revolution. Our culture has adopted many characteristics of the culture promoted by the revolutionaries.


Blogger MonkeyPML said...

Given that 200+ years have passed since the French Revolution, I wonder if you might speak to any occurrances of "couter-revolution" in countries influenced by the French Revolution? If there are such examples, I wonder if you could further elaborate as to whether you see similar counter-revolutionary factors in the United States today and how we might exploit those factors to counteract the influence of people like Sade, whom you've mentioned?

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the questions posed above are excellent.
Also, one line in the first reading from today's Mass hit me as the Scripture for all this:
Anyone who is so "progressive" as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God (2 John 9a). I can't remember the last time a word in Sacred Scripture was translated with sarcastic quote marks...but "progressive" in that sense is the progeny of the FR.
Without this Blog, that reading would have gone in one ear and out the other...thanks.

1:36 PM  

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