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

2001 Words Feb 12th, 2011 9 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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The Enlightenment gave people a sense of realization, that their suffering was not necessary and orthodox. Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters (1734) was described by historian Gustave Lanson as “the first bomb thrown at the Old Regime.”(Adcock, 2004, p.24) The Letters were written by Voltaire from England, as if explaining English society to a friend back in England. Through these letters, Voltaire and implicitly highlighted criticized the ancien régime. In Letter Five, Voltaire had written about the Church of England, beginning his letter with "This is the country of sects. An Englishman, as a freeman, goes to Heaven by whatever road he pleases." This particular statement had significant allusions to France, a society that was strictly Catholic and very religious intolerant. When these letters were printed in France in 1734, it created much backlash from the monarchy, but it had enlightened the minds of many people, including future revolutionary leaders such as Lafayette, who claimed to have become a republican at age nine, according to contemporary philosopher Will Durant. Voltaire’s letters had weakened the government’s ability to impose common and traditional laws upon society. His logical arguments and criticisms in the letters had encouraged people to question their society, and the practices imposed upon them under the ancien régime. (McElroy, 1998,

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