Assess the View That the Enlightenment Had Been the Main Cause of the French Revolution.

1984 Words Feb 8th, 2011 8 Pages
Assess the view that the Enlightenment had been the main cause of the French Revolution.
The French Revolution of 1789 was inarguably a significant turning point in the history of Europe. However, there have been historical debates over the major contributing factor that had caused the French Revolution. Many historians have argued that the French Revolution was sparked by the emerging new age ideas of Enlightenment in the 18th century, which encouraged people to think logically and critically about their society. Many notable writers such as Diderot and Voltaire began to publicly criticise the social structure and the governance of France. (Darlington et al., 2004, p.25) But other historians argue that ideas affected the way people saw
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24) Diderot had famously said that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” in which he directly challenged the vital foundations of the ancien régime - the King and the Church. (James, n.d., )

The view that the Enlightenment had directly caused the French Revolution is considered as one of the oldest interpretations. When considering the reliability of this view, one must take into account the possibility that it has been outdated by other historians’ interpretations that have emerged afterwards. Revisionist historians such as William Doyle argue that the Philosophes themselves did not have revolutionary intentions. Doyle questioned the notion that the Enlightenment was the sole cause of the French Revolution by considering that even if the Philosophes had not inputted, the French Revolution might have still happened. (Adcock, 2004, p.27) But before the Enlightenment, inequality had existed under the ancien régime for hundreds of years-the culture of deference was imbedded within law and tradition.
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