French Rev


French Rev Essay, Research Paper

The year 1989 marks the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. To

celebrate, the French government is throwing its biggest party in at least

100 years, to last all year. In the United States, an American Committee

on the French Revolution has been set up to coordinate programs on this

side of the Atlantic, emphasizing the theme, “France and America: Partners

in Liberty.”

But were the French and American Revolutions really similar? On the

surface, there were parallels. Yet over the past two centuries, many

observers have likened the American Revolution to the bloodless Glorious

Revolution of 1688, while the French Revolution has been considered the

forerunner of the many, modern violent revolutions that have ended in

totalitarianism. As the Russian naturalist, author, and soldier Prince Petr

Kropotkin put it, “What we learn from the study of the Great [French]

Revolution is that it was the source of all the present communist, anarchist,

and socialist conceptions.” 1

It is because the French Revolution ended so violently that many

Frenchmen are troubled about celebrating its 200th anniversary. French

author Leon Daudet has written: “Commemorate the French Revolution?

That’s like celebrating the day you got scarlet fever.” An Anti-89

Movement has even begun to sell momentos reminding today’s Frenchmen

of the excesses of the Revolution, including Royalist black arm bands and

calendars that mock the sacred dates of the French Revolution.

The French should indeed be uneasy about their Revolution, for whereas

the American Revolution brought forth a relatively free economy and

limited government, the French Revolution brought forth first anarchy, then


Eighteenth-century France was the largest and most populous country in

western Europe. Blessed with rich soil, natural resources, and a long and

varied coastline, France was Europe’s greatest power and the dominant

culture on the continent. Unfortunately, like all the other countries of

18th-century Europe, France was saddled with the economic philosophy

of mercantilism. By discouraging free trade with other countries,

mercantilism kept the economies of the European nation-states in the

doldrums, and their people in poverty.

Nevertheless, in 1774, King Louis XVI made a decision that could have

prevented the French Revolution by breathing new life into the French

economy: he appointed Physiocrat Robert Turgot as Controller General of

Finance. The Physiocrats were a small band of followers of the French

physician Francois Quesnay, whose economic prescriptions included

reduced taxes, less regulation, the elimination of government-granted

monopolies and internal tolls and tariffs — ideas that found their rallying cry

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