How did Rousseau inspire the French Revolution?
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.)