Contemporary Heritage

This tile considers the impact, both immediate and long-term, of the French Revolution both at home and abroad

The early 19th century in France

The early 19th century in France was a period of great change and upheaval. The Revolution had brought about the end of the monarchy, but it also left behind a legacy that would shape French society for generations to come. Social upheaval in France was by no means ended by Napoleon. The period 1804 – 1852 saw no less than five regime changes, including a return to monarchy.


This extended period of political chaos was an extremely difficult time for France, and its economy. Some would argue that it didn’t end until the mid-20th century, where the modern French consitution was adopted in 1958. This constitution has now lasted for over fifty years — the longest period of political stability France has known since before the Revolution.

Was the Revolution a success?

The French Revolution was a complex and multifaceted event, and it is difficult to definitively answer the question of whether or not it was a success. On one hand, the Revolution brought about sweeping changes in France that had far-reaching consequences for both its citizens and other countries around the world. The Napoleonic Code – the system of civil rights enshrined by Napoleon – provided greater legal protection than ever before, while social reforms such as universal education helped create an egalitarian society.


On the other hand, there were also some negative aspects to the Revolution. It caused immense suffering for many people who were caught up in its violence and upheaval, while others found themselves worse off after its conclusion due to economic hardship or political repression. Furthermore, some of its ideals – such as liberty and equality – have yet to be fully realized even today.

The constitution of the Fifth Republic

The French Revolution had a lasting impact on the political landscape of France, and this was most evident in the constitution of the Fifth Republic. This document, which was adopted in 1958, established a semi-presidential system that is still used today. It also enshrined many of the ideals from the Revolution such as freedom of speech and religion, as well as equality before the law.

The Fifth Republic also introduced several new features to French politics such as decentralization and regional autonomy. These reforms allowed for greater local control over decision making while still maintaining national unity. Furthermore, it provided citizens with more direct access to their government through referendums and other forms of popular participation. In this way, it ensured that some aspects of democracy were maintained even after centuries had passed since its inception during the Revolution.

Opinions on the Revolution in France today


Today, opinions on the French Revolution remain divided. On one hand, many people view it as a necessary step in France’s development and an important part of its history. They point to the reforms that were introduced during this period such as universal education and freedom of religion which have had a lasting impact on society. Others argue that the Revolution was ultimately unsuccessful due to its violent nature and failure to achieve some of its goals such as economic equality.


Despite these differing views, there is no denying that the legacy of the French Revolution continues to shape modern France today. All major French political parties align themselves with the ideals of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’, and some on the hard left of French politics, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, even express sympathy for figures such as Robespierre.

In the popular French imagination, the Revolution has left behind a strong sense of national identity which is still evident today through symbols like Marianne – an iconic figure who represents liberty and revolution for many French citizens.

Opinions on the Revolution around the world

The French Revolution provoked huge debate around the world. In Europe, many nations were afraid of the radical upheaval and unrest that the Revolution brought to France.

There was huge controversy over the issue in Great Britain, where it became **the** defining political issue of the era. While a small number of radicals, such as the poets Byron and Shelley, voiced support for the ideals of the Revolution, there was overwhelming criticism of it from the political establishment.


Political thinker Edmund Burke’s anti-Revolution pamphlet ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ was published in 1790, and was hugley popular. It was so influential that it has been described as one of the foundational texts of modern conservatism, and Burke as ‘the father of conservatism’. Opposition to the Revolution gave birth to the modern conservative movement around the world.

In other parts of the world, reactions to the Revolution were more mixed. In North America many praised the Revolution as a triumph of the very same Republican values that had inspired their own revolution against Britain fifteen years earlier. In South America, many revolutionaries such as Simon Bolivar would cite the French Revolution as a great source of inspiration.

Literary and cinematic depictions of the French Revolution

The French Revolution has been a popular subject for literature and cinema since its inception. In the 19th century, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables depicted the struggles of Jean Valjean as he navigated his way through revolutionary France. More recently, films such as La Révolution Française (1989) and Marie Antoinette (2006) have explored different aspects of this tumultuous period in history. These works often focus on themes such as freedom, justice, and equality that were central to the Revolution itself.

In addition to these more serious depictions of the Revolution, there are also comedic takes on it such as Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). This film features a musical number set during the storming of the Bastille which satirizes both sides of this conflict with its humorous lyrics and choreography. Such lighthearted portrayals can help us gain a better understanding of how people viewed this event at different times throughout history.

The historiography of the French Revolution: how different schools of thought have approached the period

The historiography of the French Revolution has been a subject of debate since its inception. Different schools of thought have approached the period in different ways, with some emphasizing the political and social aspects while others focus on economic or cultural factors.


For example, Marxist historians such as Georges Lefebvre argued that class struggle was at the heart of the Revolution, while liberal historians like François Furet saw it as an expression of Enlightenment ideals. In recent years, postmodernist scholars have sought to challenge traditional interpretations by exploring how gender and race shaped people’s experiences during this time.

In addition to these various approaches, there is also a growing interest in microhistory which seeks to uncover stories from everyday life during this period. This approach often relies on sources such as diaries and letters which can provide insight into how individuals experienced events like the storming of the Bastille or Napoleon’s rise to power. By looking at these smaller-scale accounts we can gain a better understanding not only about what happened but why it happened and who was affected by it.

The global influence of Revolutionary politics

The French Revolution had a profound impact on the world beyond France, inspiring political movements and revolutions in other countries. In Latin America, for example, independence struggles were heavily influenced by Revolutionary ideals such as liberty and equality.


Simón Bolívar’s campaign to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule was inspired by the French Revolution, while José de San Martín used it as a model for his fight against Spanish colonial rule in Argentina.

In Europe too, revolutionary ideas spread quickly across borders. The 1848 Revolutions saw uprisings throughout the continent with people demanding greater freedoms and rights similar to those enshrined in the Napoleonic Code.

This wave of unrest eventually led to constitutional reforms in many European countries including Germany and Italy which adopted elements of the French system such as universal suffrage and freedom of religion. Even today we can see echoes of these revolutionary principles at work around the world with governments striving towards greater democracy and social justice for their citizens.

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