History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2012: Q.5 (c)

Q. 5 (c) The connection between the philosophers ideas and the outbreak of the french revolution is somewhat remote and indirect. Comment.


The connection between the ideas of the French philosophers and the outbreak of revolution in 1789 is somewhat remote and indirect.

Revolution was never intended

(1) Philosophers did not preach revolution, and were usually ready enough to lend support to any absolute monarch who was prepared to patronize them and adopt their teachings. Philosophers like Rousseau had never imagined or encouraged for Revolution.

(2) Most of their readers did not inspire to want, or to work for revolution; they were mostly themselves aristocrats, lawyers, business people and local dignitaries, who were far from unhappy in the existing order. Even many absolute monarchs were the follower of philosopjers. For example: Freidrick of Prussia patronized and followed Voltaire.

Indirect and remote connection  with Revolution

(1) The doctrines of the philosophers came to be used later on, during the course of the revolution in France often to justify measures that the philosophers themselves would have opposed. For example: Robesque manipulated the concept of ‘General Will’ of Rousseau to spread Reign of Terror to purge anti-revolutionaries as well as moderates.

(2) Philosopher’s teachings became more important later; if they had any influence at all on the outbreak and the initial stages of the great revolution, it was only to the extent that they had fostered a critical and irreverent attitude towards all existing institutions including church. Philosophers made men more ready, when the need arose, to question the whole foundation of the old order.

For example: Voltaire criticized many institutions like church and nobility. This criticism helped in eroding the prestige of those institutions and helped the Revolutionaries to destroy the old social and political structure.

(3) What mattered in 1789, when French Revolution started—and what made men revolutionary—was the whole ‘revolutionary situation’ produced by bad economy, Third Estate’s grievances etc. In producing these situations, the work of the philosophers played limited and indirect role.

There were rare instances where few philosophers did teach anarchist ideology and violent revolution, though these were very rare.


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