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The Impact of the French Revolution on Europe


As France convulsed, the rest of Europe was faced with a massive ideological challenge. But although Jacobin agitators were present in cities across Europe, very few regions experienced an immediate challenge to their governments from their populace, and even in regions which did experience pressure, those had long standing causes which ran alongside events in France.


That the ideology of French revolution was not spontaneously taken up by the rest of Europe did not reduce its effect, because France began to export the revolution at the points of its bayonets. Indeed, Europe experienced a war which would last until the final flurries of Napoleon in1815 and which would see the map of the continent, and the types of governments ruling it, reformatted multiples times. Millions died and everyone was affected to some degree. It was this revolutionary warfare which would pose the stiffest challenge to the status quo in Europe, and the Holy Roman Empire – notionally a thousand years old in 1800 – would be the most famous casualty, ceasing to exist in 1806 and never being resurrected. From this, over the long term, came the chance to unify Germany into a new empire. However, the French forces were defeated, and kings and emperors secured in power for longer, although their states had been altered. Venice and Genoa never became independent again and Belgium changed hands.

In order to fight the war, nations had to marshal their resources like never before, leading to governments which were more centralized and – in an attempt to battle back against the revolution and keep the status quo – actually more authoritarian than before. In addition, national identities began to coalesce like never before, with more people believing in their country rather than their monarch, and the nationalist ideology emerged.

The Modern Order

The boots of the French army didn’t have to make a lasting impression to change Europe deeply, as the ideological impact, which may have failed to cause immediate revolutions elsewhere, was great over the long term. With the French as an example, attempted and sometimes successful revolutions would take place after 1815 across Europe, especially in key years like 1830 and 1848.

The modern mindset, which includes concepts articulated in the revolution - even if they were never really practiced between by it - was heavily informed by the events of that era. The French Revolution re-introduced republicanism as a realistic model of government, and showed that a European state didn’t have to be officially Christian; indeed, it could be completely anti-religious. Equality before the law, freedom of speech, and a sovereignty of the people rather than the monarch all took fertile hold. Modern liberalism, often based on a glorified myth of the revolution, and conservatism, often defined in opposition to the revolution, emerged. As mentioned above, Europe also experienced nationalism on a major scale.

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