The age of revolution
Europe in the 1770’s was according to Lewis (2008) was in turmoil with intermittent wars between rival monarchies in France and Britain were in each other throat for dominance in Europe. The Seven Years’ War (1756-63) for example showed the might of Great Britain against its rival France.
Such was the background for revolution charting a course of history, which swept out monarchic/monastic supremacy in the political affairs of Europe. Lewis pointed out that France then was a Catholic state and the church was granted privileges such as full civic rights to its parishioners. the king enjoyed full backing of the church. In 1789, the French Revolution overthrew King Louis XVI and established a representative democracy. Earlier in 1776 the United States of America was born when it declared independence from Great Britain during the time of King George III (Lewis, 2008).
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There were several factors, which may have contributed to the fall of the ancien regime – a label to describe the monarchic and monastic mix of political rule. From conspiracy buffs with Browne’s Da Vinci Code which extended the conflict of power back to the Rennaisance period (15th century) to fundamental shifting in economic conditions, to the birth of the enlightened and progressive middle class which diluted the power base in Europe to natural death of a political system rooted in medieval practices rendered obsolete by new knowledge and discoveries (Lewis, 2008).
The shifting of culture in Europe coincided with movement of the intelligentsia as could be seen for example on premium being given to knowledge and learning. According to Markey (1868), their efforts extended to the study or collection of literature on church, state, politics, religion, arts and this movement is influential in fomenting the spirit and hope of enlightenment for Europe. Their work represents a period influential in human knowledge development. The thinkers that time were articulating ideas which gave birth to the catch phrase – liberty, fraternity and equality. Collectively it carried the promise of progress. This the changing political climate when the Bastille fell – an icon of a revolutionary era.
Sixty years later in 1848 when Europe was at the verge of transformation into the “modern” world that Marx was writing the Communist Manifesto condemning “progress” as a manifestation of capitalist greed and which had alienated human beings by treating them as part of production no different from cogs and gears of machines churning products and goods in such a scale that historians appeared to agree to call such development “industrial revolution.” Marx (1848) argued that from the capitalism stage it would leap into the next level which is socialism, that is when workers opposing capitalists take over political power the same way the capitalists took over from kings and priests the helms of governance through representative democracy. To Marx, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” The works of Marx were considered as one of the most influential in the period extending up to the post -World War II period as it was embraced in China in 1949 and adapted by a number of revolutionary struggles in South America notably Cuba. The influence of communism is such that it still considered by the free world as an ideological threat (North, 2005.)
There appeared to be two revolutionary periods, one is cerca 1780s symbolized by the French Revolution and cerca 1840s the birth of communist movement. As to the question which period is more revolutionary we have to see what happened.
The promise of communism took root in not in the industrializing Western Europe but in Eastern Europe with the establishment of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar Nicolas of Russia in 1917 and established the first communist state in the world, almost 80 years after the Communist Manifesto was declared to the world in 1848. That western democracies had survived and stabilized suggest that these democracies in Europe and North America might have achieved some of its promises of a better life. The product of the 18th century revolutionary period had successfully appropriated the enlightenment movement and the industrial revolution and possibly even adapted some concepts of socialism such as labor rights and welfare state. It is therefore more revolutionary in this regard than the communist movement in Europe with the collapse of the USSR in the mid-1980’s.
Lewis, Gwynne. The French Revolution accessed at http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=x3U9AAAAIAAJ&dq=french+revolution+1789&printsec=frontcover&source=in&hl=en&ei=5HL-Sa-VCMGJkQWQmvnqBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=18#PPA5,M1
Markey, Morris (1868). The Encyclopedists, The Atlantic Archive, accessed at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/186802/encyclopedists
Marx, Karl (1848), Communist Manifesto, accessed at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm
North, David (2005). Marxism versus revisionism on the eve of the twentieth century, 2 accessed at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/sep2005/le2-all.shtml