What the French Revolution contributed to our idea of "modernity"

History
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Describe a specific idea from the French Revolution that has contributed to our idea of "modernity". How did the Revolution specifically develop this idea and what role did it have in disseminating this idea to broader world audiences?

Sep 14th, 2015

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Today no one can seriously doubt that the concept of revolution is a central organizing assumption of political life. There are various reasons to explain the importance of this term and others associated with it. In the first place, the phenomenon of revolution is thought to embody processes of change, development, and growth. So deeply have these notions become embedded, not just in popular discourse but in the more sophisticated languages of the natural and social sciences, that it is difficult to imagine how we could even begin to think without them. Second, most of the contemporary world powers—America, France, Russia, China, not to mention a host of lesser nationalities—have all established themselves by announcing a revolutionary break with their prerevolutionary pasts. Whether one is for or against these revolutionary movements, they appear to be a feature of the modern political landscape which is not likely to go away.

For most social and political theorists, it was the French Revolution (and only later the Russian) that became the model by which to measure revolutionary change.[1] Two perspectives were typically adopted to explain this event. The first, proposed by Edmund Burke and later taken over by the "historical school," saw the Revolution as an attempt, motivated by misguided theory, to remake the world and human nature itself in accordance with its own vision of a just and humane society. In their efforts to establish a new republican order, the revolutionaries were led to rename months, abolish historical provinces, and establish new religious cults to worship abstract reason, none of which had any ties to previous French experience.


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Sep 14th, 2015

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