The French Revolution of 1789 is often thought of as “The Revolution That Went Wrong” — an event that began with high hopes and high ideals, but degenerated into an orgy of violence and tyranny, symbolized by its most famous invention: the guillotine. But the reality is both more complicated and more interesting. During the Revolution, France functioned as the great experimental laboratory of modern politics. From 1789-1799, the country cycled through a dizzying variety of regimes, from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, to democratic republic, to ideological dictatorship, to unstable, illiberal republic, and finally, to the dictatorship of a popular general, Napoleon Bonaparte. French revolutionaries not only proclaimed the “rights of man”—some of them went further than any revolutionaries ever before in daring to extend these rights to all people, including Jews, women, free people of color, and even the enslaved. They devised radical new plans for public education and welfare and sought to overturn the Catholic Church in France. The French Revolution was marked by extraordinary personalities and extraordinary events. In this course, Professor Bell will both tell the story of the French Revolution and examine its profound and long-lasting consequences.
The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Making of Warfare as We Know It, by David A. Bell
Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life, by Peter McPhee
Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution, by R.R. Palmer
A Short History of the French Revolution, 7th edition, by Jeremy Popkin
- What was the role of ordinary people in the French Revolution?
- Why did the French Revolution radicalize so quickly between 1789 and 1794?
- Was the violence of the French Revolution due more to its own radical ideas, or to the opposition it encountered from the old European order?
- What are some of the consequences of the French Revolution for modern political life?