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The French Revolution: Ideas and Ideologies

The philosophe may have laid the egg, but was the bird hatched of a different breed? Maurice Cranston discusses the intellectual origins and development of the French Revolution.

Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789

Edmund Burke was one of the first to suggest that the philosophers of the French Enlightenment were somehow responsible for the French Revolution, and his argument was taken up, and elaborated on, by many historians, including Tocqueville and Lord Acton. The philosophes undoubtedly provided the ideas. It may well be that the collapse of the old regime was the consequence of other factors – economic problems, social unrest, conflicting ambitions of groups and individuals – but in the unfolding of the Revolution, what was thought, what was said, and what was advocated, was expressed in terms and categories that came from political theorists of the Enlightenment.

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