New Ideologies, Rationalism and Revolution

New Ideologies, Revolution and Rationalism


Europe’s domination of the world in the 19th century was based not only on its industrial and scientific revolutions but also on political revolution.

For the first time in Europe government was no longer thought of as something ordained and above the people, but was identified with the people.

The changes in the world economic system had a direct impact and was to a large degree responsible for the political revolution because it created new classes and new ideologies that rationalized the new class interests.

In Medieval Europe there were three social groups: the nobility, the clergy and the peasants who labored to support the two upper classes.

With the growth of commerce the profile of medieval society began to change with the appearance of a new social class, the bourgeoisie.

As the bourgeois class grew in numbers it became disenchanted with the special privileges of the upper classes and with the numerous restrictions that hampered the development of a free-market economy.

In the end the bourgeois class turned against the Kings in order to free itself from royal restrictions on commerce, and from restraints on religious freedoms.

These objectives were important causal variables in the English, American and French revolutions.

As these revolutions succeeded its also meant success of Classical Liberalism which was the ideology of the new bourgeois class.

The middle class was in turn challenged by the urban workers or proletariat. As the cities filled up with workers people increasingly became more class conscious and more and more they felt that they had different interests than their employers.

So the workers led by the new intellectuals developed a new ideology called socialism which directly challenged the liberalism of the bourgeoisie and demanded social and economic change as well as political reforms.

Socialism will be a major force in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Europe’s political revolutions were also powered by nationalism which was an ideology that cut across class lines and created social and national cohesion among great masses of the population of certain states.

The three ideologies, liberalism, socialism and nationalism were the principal components of Europe’s political revolutions.

The revolutions provided the social glue or cohesion that bonded together the peoples of Europe into modern nations and this national process gave Europe another advantage over the rest of the world were the people weren’t as unified.

European political and economic domination inevitably meant the diffusion of European political ideas throughout the world. Just as the rest of the world felt the impact of the locomotive, the steamship and the gatling gun, so to did the world feel the impact and was influenced by the Declaration of Independence, the Rights of Man and the Communist Manifesto.

The first phase of Europe’s political revolution was the English Revolution in the 17th century. The cause of this revolution lay in the conflict between Parliament and the Stuart Dynasty.

From the viewpoint of world history the ER is that it defined the principles of liberalism and put them to work. Also the ER was essentially a middle class affair. The merchants and the lesser gentry who supported parliament had two main objectives—religious toleration and security of person and property.

In terms of religion it became generally agreed that it was immoral to coerce people into a belief.

The question of the rights of a person and of property also aroused a ferocious debate. In the end parliament came to accept the sovereignty of the people.

The next stage in Europe’s political evolution came during the period of the Enlightenment, which occurred about 100 years before the French Revolution of 1789.

The leaders of this movement believed that they lived in an enlightened age and an age of progress. With the enlightenment it was generally assumed that the condition of humanity would steadily improve, so that each generation would be better off than the previous one.

Progress would be attained by using reason, faith in reason to explain all natural phenomena was the creed of the enlightenment.

The philosophes who expounded enlightenment were very much influenced by the laws of gravity that Newton had demonstrated and the philosophes believed in the existence of natural laws that regulated not only the universe,but also Human society.

Reason could be used to explain everything in existence, analysis, insightful criticism, these were parts of the enlightenment ideology.

The key slogan in economics was laissez faire—let the people do what they will—let nature take its course. They were directly opposed to government intervention in the economy and of course to mercantilism.

The spokesperson of this creed was Adam Smith who in his book The Wealth of Nations argued that individuals are motivated by self-interest as far as their economic activities are concerned and that the national welfare is simply the sum of the individual interests operating in a nation and that each man knows his own interest better than does the government.

In terms of religion the prevailing attitude was to stamp out religious fanaticism and the philosophes rejected the idea that controls the universe and determines the fate of humanity.

The universe functions according to a set of natural, explainable laws and that god does not perform miracles and does not intervene or is even aware of the lives of men.

In terms of government the philosophes had the idea of the social contract. The social contract idea was first formulated by John Locke in 1690 in which he defined government as a political contract between the rulers and the ruled.

In his epic political treatise The Social Contract Jean Jacques Rosseau viewed government as simply a commission by which he justified revolution as a restoration to the sovereign people its rightful power.

In much of Europe in the 17th century these ideas were seen as dangerous and subversive. And the philosophes sought to discover the natural and social laws that had universal application like Newton’s laws of the physical world.

American Revolution Notes:

The French Revolution is a much more important event in terms of World History than either the English or American Revolution for it brought more social and economic change and influenced a larger percentage of the globe than did the earlier upheavals.

The French Revolution marked the triumph of the bourgeoisie as well as the awakening and political mobilization of the masses of French people.

France before the revolution was a country of gross inequality in terms of wealth and had a very inefficient political system that excluded key sectors of the French population.

The old regime in France was aristocratic and all French people belonged to an estate, or order of society that determined their legal rights as well as their social privileges.

The First Estate comprised the clergy who numbered about 100,000 out of a population of 24.5 million. The Second Estate was the nobility made up of 400,000 persons. The Third Estate was the commoners over 20 million peasants and 4 million urban merchants.

In other word 2 percent of the population ruled the other 98%. This 2% owned over 35% of all the land in France and they were exempt from taxation.

Consequently, the burden of taxation fell on the Third Estate and especially on the peasantry. The peasants accounted for over 80% of the population but owned only 30% of the land and were taxed by the church, the nobles and the state.

There was also inflation in old France for between 1720 and 1789 the price of goods had risen 65% while the price of farm production was depressed.

The bourgeoisie also resented the crown because they had blocked life opportunities and they wanted political power and social prestige that was equal to their growing economic importance.

The revolution really first began as an aristocratic rebellion in 1787 so that the aristocrats could regain the power they had lost to the crown in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The power of the monarch was reflected in the fact that they had not bothered to call the Estates General, or national parliament since 1614.

At the same time Louis XVI found himself in dire financial straits after the heavy expense incurred in supporting the American Revolution.

To make up for the financial problems of France Louis attempted to levy a property tax on all landholdings in France regardless of the social status of the landholder.

In 1787 the privileged sectors of French society labeled the new tax illegal and argued that only the nation as a whole sitting in the Estates General could institute such a tax bill.

The king finally gave in and called for a Estates-General meeting in the Spring of 1789. The nobility assumed that they could control this body and thereby regain a dominant position in the government, but they were proved completely wrong for the meeting of the Estates-General led to the unleashing of a revolutionary wave that was to change the face of European as well as much of world politics forever.

The Estates-General met in Versaille on May 5 1789 and did not represent the people of France. Rather it represented the three estates. From the beginning the Third Estate was the most dynamic and decisive. It also had the advantage of numbers for there were 600 representatives in the 3rd estate and 300 each in the other two estates.

In reality the 3rd estate outnumbered the other two because a certain number of the clergy clearly supported the 3rd estate and the middle class elements of the 3rd estate had some reformist ideas.

The commoners won their first victory by having King Louis transform the Estates-General into a National Assembly this was crucial for the power fo the lower elements in French political culture.

In a National Assembly, the 3rd estate with their allies would have a majority in voting numbers. King Louis then vacillated over the issue of the national assembly, but the commoners defied him by proclaiming themselves the National Assembly and Louis finally gave in to the inevitable and sanctioned the meeting.

The King continued to be a reactionary and be anti-reform and continued to heed the so-called Queens party who were the advisors of Marie Antoinette.

In July when Louis dismissed the reformist Jacques Necker from his post rumor began to spread that the King was ready to dissolve the National Assembly as he also had brought loyal troops to Versailles.

At this critical juncture the National Assembly and the ideas of commoners were saved by a mass popular uprising in Paris.

Subversive groups of bourgeoisie in Paris began to circulate revolutionary literature and mobs roamed the streets demanding cheaper bread prices. When Parisian women in the markets heard a rumor where Louis would allow more sawdust as filler in bread a riot broke out on July 14 and the Bastille fell to the mob.

The Fall of the Bastille marked the appearance of the m,asses on the historical stage for the intervention of the masses saved the bourgeoisie and the middle class was forced to rely on the street mobs to supply a source of revolution at critical moments in the revolutionary struggle.

Mass revolution occurred in the countryside as well as in Paris. The Great Fear swept the countryside.

The peasants took up arms and incited by their long standing grievance and the stirring news of the storming of the Bastille attacked the nobility and the clergy, estates were sacked, people murdered and tax roles burned.

Faced with this alarming revolutionary situation in the countryside the nobles and clergy in the National Assembly voted with the commoners to abolish feudalism. In August the National Assembly voted to confiscate church lands and reorganize the judicial and administrative system of France, and adopt the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

The declaration set forth certain fundamental principles concerning liberty property and security for all men, it also underscored the idea that the National Assembly was the will of the people and the source of sovereignty in all the land.

King Louis refused to recognize these reformist measures and it was once again a Parisian mob of women who rioted in Paris, raided bread stores so their starving children could eat and then marched to the palace of Versailles, where they forced Louis to return to Paris and become a virtual prisoner.

These October days as they were called assured the ratification of the August decrees, but they also increased the influence of the Paris mob tremendously and now both the Royal Family and the National Assembly were both vulnerable to the mass mobilizations of the Parisian mobs.

By now the king in Paris was powerless, but many of the clergy and nobles were determined to retain their power and prestige.

Some of them fled abroad were they enlisted the aid of foreign powers in a war against the revolutionary regime in France.

On the other side of the class and political spectrum the Girondists who were a radical group in the National Assembly favored revolutionary war for they believed that a republic could then be established and revolutionary doctrines spread throughout Europe.

War began in 1792 with Austria and Prussia against France and at first the war went poorly for the unprepared French but then better as patriotism surged when the Paris mob swung into action against the unpopular King and much hated Marie Antoinette and the King was formally suspended. The National Assembly was converted into the National Convention.

The Convention was elected by universal male suffrage and was brilliantly successful in prosecuting the war against Austria and Prussia and they were driven out of France.

In 1793 Britain, Holland and Spain joined the coalition against France.

This spurred even more revolutionary fervor and patriotism in France as 14 armies were quickly formed and put into the field under the command of young officers.

inspired by the slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity the French armies routed every foe placed before them.

At the same time the National Convention was shifting more and more to the left of the political spectrum, due to universal voting and the revolutionary fervor of the times.

By June of 1793 the Girondists had be displaced by the more radical Jacobins and the main organ of government was the Committee of Public Safety under the leadership of Robspierre. This was also the start of the Reign of Terror were all class and political opposition was crushed under the blade of the guillotine or as it was called at the time "the national razor".

But the terror quickly got out of control and the revolution began to devour its own children tens of thousands of innocent people lost their lives at the guillotine.

Equally upsetting was the growing radicalism of the revolution for a group called the sans-culottes were pressing hard for an egalitarian state similar to a communist state. The church had been abolished and replaced by the church of the divine being. The calendar had been changed, the month renamed and the year 0 was 1789. There was talk of a socialist land redistributions and a redistribution of the wealth of not only the nobility but also of the bourgeoisie.

In 1795 Robspierre is executed and a Directory of five run France as the Committee of Public Safety is dissolved. Finally in what is known as the Thermidor period Napolean Bonaparte assumes control of France through military force.

Napolean had won fame as a brilliant general in Italy and used his reputation and popularity to overthrow the directorate and destroy the unpopular Jacobins.

He governed France as First Consul from 1799 to 1804 and as Emperor from 1804 to 1814.

His domestic reforms were important in consolidating the revolution. But his military campaigns bent on restoring french colonies brought down his government

Napolean was clearly an enlightened despot, and though he was a military dictator he ruled the country efficiently. Napolean codified the laws of France, centralized the bureaucracy, organized national education and established the Bank of France.

But Napolean squandered these good achievements by waging war unceasingly and he was fabulously successful in conducting military campaigns. By 1810 Britain alone remained independent for France had reduced the rest of Europe to satellites or protectorates.

In all the conquered territories Napolean abolished feudalism, instituted law and recognized the equality of all citizens.

These innovations disturbed and alienated vested interests everywhere due to their revolutionary connotations, and it was imposed by force of arms.

Napolean taxed the conquered peoples, he conscripted them into his armies, but Europeans grew weary of French rule despite its efficiency.

In other words the European peoples had become nationalistic, and their nationalism had developed as a consequence and resistance to rule by the French.

Napolean’s rule will lead to unrest in Italy, armed resistance in Spain which will eventually allow the Latin American colonies to assert their own independence movement, and it also led to the growing national unity of Germany.

The Congress of Vienna which met from 1814 to 1815 sought to redraw the map of Europe after the fall of Napolean and it was guided by three principles.

The first was legitimacy, whereby the monarches of Spain, France, Holland and the Italian states were restored to their thrones.

The principle of containment was to make the states bordering France as strong as possible. For this reason Holland was given Belgium, Austria received Lombardy and Venetia and Prussia received lands along the Rhine and parts of Saxony.

Germany and Italy remained ununited. Germany consisted of a confederation of 39 states or principalities and Italy was simply a geographic expression of nine states that were dominated by Austria.

A great contribution of all these three revolutions was the feeling of nationalism among peoples of the world.

Nationalism is a phenomenon of modern European history and it did not exist in the Middle Ages. Most people considered themselves to be Christians and then residents of a particular province.

Nationalism did not assume its modern form until the 18th century when the western bourgeoisie came to share or obtain full power. And they assumed power in the name of a nation, not a particular class.

The nation was no longer the king and his subjects and his property. Rather the nation was comprised of citizens who inhabited a common territory and had a voice in their common government.

Modern nationalism as we have suggested received its strongest boost during the French Revolution.

To survive the reaction of the ancient regimes the revolutionary leaders were forced to mobilize national armies, armies of politically aware citizens.

Nationalism during the French Revolution also stimulated the publication of nationalist propaganda and by 1871 nationalism had triumphed throughout western Europe.

Nationalism also swept the Balkans in the 1870’s.

Liberalism was the second great doctrine to sweep the globe. Liberal doctrines were first annunciated during the English Revolution and were doctrines of religious toleration and of the security of person and property against arbitrary authority.

In economic terms liberalism represented the right of the individual in the market place, a free market place without government restrictions or interference.

This would lead to parliamentary government and the formation of opposition parties and the enfranchisement of the propertied classes.

Liberalism was further developed during the American Revolution and came to included the concepts of constitutional government, the separation of powers, and the guaranteeing of certain inalienable human rights.

In newly forming Germany democratic Liberalism developed that recognized the responsibility of the state for the welfare of its citizens.

The western European countries led by Germany adopted social reform programs; old-age pensions, minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance and these reforms were the precursors to our modern welfare state,

But since the 19th century Liberalism has steadily lost ground as it failed to attract the support of the working classes who in the 20th century turned to socialism either the Christian or Marxist variety.

Socialism is the complete opposite of classical liberalism. Where liberalism emphasize the rights of the individual. Socialism emphasized the rights of the community and it collective welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number.

Liberalism thought that the world was created due to the natural laws of the universe and believed that the human condition was unalterable by government policy.

Socialism, though believed that people, by rational thought and action can determine their own social system and social relationships. Also socialism posited the idea that human nature is the product of the persons environment.

Socialism stressed the collective society and planned social change rather than the individual and laissez faire.

Socialism borrows much from the classical political theorists such as Plato’s Republic where he called for aristocratic communism for a perfect society.

Karl Marx was the father of modern socialism and after studying the history of capitalism became convinced that capitalism would eventually be overthrown by class struggle and would be replaced by a new socialist society.

He argued that the wages of the workers would be insufficient to buy what they produced and this insufficient purchasing power would eventually lead to depressions, plant closings, and growing world poverty.

Also Marx argued that these depressions would become increasingly frequent and severe until the masses would be finally driven in desperation to revolution.

In this way capitalism would be replaced by socialism, as feudalism had been replaced by mercantilism and mercantilism replaced by capitalism.