American Revolution
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Philosophy and Philosophers
French Revolution

How did Rousseau inspire the French Revolution?

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2009-12-07 03:50:00

In brief, Rosseau believed in the natural goodness of man; that

humans were corrupted by the greed and competition of civilization.

He believed in a social utopia, of humans returning to natural

harmony, being made free of vices and sharing a natural equality

and a general will.

These ideas appealed to many people, including some of the

people instrumental in the events leading to the French Revolution,

such as the oath at the Tennis Court. In a country where a wealthy

minority indulged themselves while hundreds of thousands suffered

from severe poverty and inflation, people yearned for a basic

equality, natural or government ordained. Many felt that if the

general will (or the will of the people) was for change, that the

current government was expected to make compromises. The First

Estate of the French government was against these changes, the

Second Estate was to some extent and later cast its lot in with the

Third Estate. Later the idea of a utopian government changed to

'the will of the people' (although how successful this was carried

out can be debated, in both France and the U.S.) Maximillien

Robespierre, who played an important part in the middle to later

events in the Revolution and was one of the architects of the

Terror, was deeply influenced in his youth by Rousseau's


(You can easily research the oath of the Tennis Court, The three

Estates, and Rousseau online.)

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