Individualism: Immanuel Kant And The French Revolution

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German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in one of his Enlightenment Era essays that “the greatest problem for the human species, to which nature compels him, is the achievement of a civil society universally administering right” (Kant 112). Kant acknowledges in this essay that this society, one which is just and right to everyone, is incredibly difficult to create and is a problem that he is never truly able to solve throughout his writings. He imagines that it will be the last problem that we as humans will solve, and while he is able to lay the ground work for what this society will look like, Kant has not seen it translate into real life. There have been many attempts at creating this perfect society, and the French Revolution was just one …show more content…
There is a constant struggle in every human to be a part of a society while also maintaining their own individualism and personal freedom, and it is a characteristic of a great society when both can exist uncompromised. However, in France, the aristocrats and the nobility were the only groups that had both a sense of individualism and their own freedom, while the rest of the commoners were completely dependent on the monarchy and had no say in anything that happened. The moderate phase of the French Revolution was mainly focused on eliminating this inequality. Despite France’s incredible economic growth, where they were quadrupling their product produced, the third estate was not seeing any of the income. There were also a series of bad harvests that caused country-wide starvation, and free market reforms had dramatically increased the price of bread, which the third estate relied on to live. The poor were getting poorer and hungrier, while the higher social classes continued to get richer and live life even more lavishly. These all led to Abbé Sieyes’ scathing pamphlet that attacked the aristocratic privilege of the higher social classes. The most famous part of this pamphlet was his opening, where he asked “What is the Third Estate? …show more content…
Kant wrote that enlightenment “is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another” (Kant 17). In order to become enlightened, they needed to begin thinking for themselves and forming their own opinions and beliefs instead of basing their thoughts and actions on what others wanted us to do. Kant called authority figures our guardians, and writes that guardians keep us unaware and make sure that we believe what they want us to believe. In this way, humans are easy to control and are really just mindless extensions of the guardian figure. Kant acknowledges that it is “difficult for any single individual to extricate himself from the minority that has become almost nature to him” (Kant 17), and that it is much easier to continue blindly following authorities. It is possible for individuals to become enlightened, but “there are only a few who have succeeded, by their own cultivation of their spirit, in extricating themselves from minority and yet walking confidently” (Kant 17). What is possible is for the public to become enlightened, “indeed this is almost inevitable, if only it is left its freedom” (Kant 17). The freedom has to come first, and Kant would have seen the calling of the Estates General in 1789, and the subsequent Tennis Court Oath as the third estate

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