Ideology: Freedom vs. Equality in the French Revolution


Freedom vs. Equality:


Make sure that you are clear on the difference between liberal government and socialist government. Liberals emphasize freedom. They believe that a just society protects the individualís rights. Socialists emphasize equality. They believe that eliminating poverty is more important than protecting individual rights.


The Liberal Revolution:


The liberals adopted a constitutional monarchy. A Legislative Assembly, elected by property-owners, possessed sovereignty: the powers to legislate and tax. The Kingís job was to execute the laws of the assembly. The judiciaryís responsibility was to protect the laws. This liberal government formally ended feudalism and dedicated itself to protecting the individualís natural rights: the rights to life, liberty and property, equality before the law, and civil liberties like free speech and freedom of religion.


Rousseauís model of government looked back to the ancient Greek city-state, an example in his mind of a functioning direct democracy in which all citizens gathered and made decisions for the good of the community. But in practice, Rousseauís government turns into a convention dominated by a charismatic leader.


Why did the liberal government collapse? What needs to happen in situations like that to prevent the disintegration of liberal government? Why did Rousseauís ideas fail (even though the Radical phase had some amazing accomplishments)? What is the best solution?


The Radical Revolution:


During this time of national crisis, the radical leaders of the Convention mobilized the general will of the people to save the Revolution from civil war and invasion. In doing so, the radicals successfully mobilized the power of all classes, including the workers and the peasants. They effectively established the sovereignty of the government in a way that neither Louis XVI nor the liberals had been able to accomplish. They stabilized the economy and turned its power to the creation of a massive army. This army was inspired by the belief that they possessed the force of social justice, and this motivation made them an effective fighting force. Unfortunately, to accomplish this goal, the radicals used terror indiscriminately. They wound up lopping off the heads of thousands.


The government passed a new constitution which gave the vote to all men regardless of background. However, they never did hold any elections, AND they chopped the heads off peasants who suggested that it might be a good idea to get rid of private property and let the poor folk help themselves to the wealth of the country.


After the Terror, would the philosophers have concluded that an authoritarian form of government was necessary to prevent chaos, or would they have blamed the unlimited powers taken by the central government for the abuses?




Napoleon took control of this army and established its independence from the government in wars of conquest. Eventually, Napoleon was invited to lead an authoritarian government which concentrated all power in the hands of the military. To placate the liberals, Napoleon implemented the Napoleonic Code that overhauled the judiciary and made everyone equal in the eyes of the law. Also, promotions within his government were made according to the merit of the worker, not because of his class or bloodline.Napoleon exported these liberal ideas to the rest of Europe in his wars of conquest. However, he soon declared himself Emperor in an effort to make this concentration of power hereditary. He used his power to enrich his family and to create a dynasty.


What is the problem with a government which concentrates too much power in one personís hands?