Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution

Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution:

In the French Revolution, the philosophers are supposed to have played a significant role. Philosophers gave phrases and proverbs to the revolution so in one sense they gave legitimacy to the revolution. French philosophers made an attack over the “ancien regime”. For example, Voltaire, who was a great exponent of individual freedom made a severe attack on the autocratic nature of the French monarchy, stupidity of nobility, and superstition of church. Likewise, Diderot composed an encyclopedia to which even the scholars like Rousseau made contributions. Diderot advocated for individual freedom. He criticized French Society. Furthermore, a great scholar Montesquieu, tried to establish that in order to ensure individual freedom the separation of power among the executive, legislative body and judiciary is essential. He expressed his view in his famous magnum opus “Spirit of Laws”. Above all, Rousseau (Social Contract) became a great inspiration behind the revolution. Rousseau differed from other thinkers in that other enlightened thinkers advocated for individual freedom but Rousseau talked in terms of freedom of community as a whole. He declared that the general will is the sovereign will. In this way, it was Rousseau who prepared the way for popular sovereignty. It is said that when the philosophers expressed their new ideas they got spread quickly through clubs, coffee houses, saloons, etc.

But while evaluating the role of philosophers we should be a bit cautious. In fact these philosophers did not give birth to revolution but rather they simply reflected the discontentment of the common people. In other words, we can say that they did not think in terms of revolution. They were middle-class intellectuals so they believed in peaceful transformation. On observation, we find that they could’ve been ready to cooperate with a monarch if he had given the patronage to them and if he would become ready to carry some reforms according to their will. So it was the revolutionary themselves who quoted these thinkers in order to justify their position. For example, the Parlement of Paris declared that in order to protect individual freedom, the separation of power is essential. Here we can underline the influence of the idea of Montesquieu, likewise, the Parlement of Tennis declared that “Man is born free”. Here we can register the idea of Rousseau. So it was not these philosophers, who gave birth to the revolution but rather it was the people’s discontentment that popularized the view of the philosophers. That’s why the role of philosophers should be evaluated in the context of objective material factors in France.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Importance of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799