Revolution and After: Tragedies and Farce


Counter-Revolution in Europe


   From its beginning, the revolution was not universally accepted in France or in Europe in general. There were throughout France many who disagreed with the innovations of the Revolution—some were aristocrats whose privileges were threatened, but others were intellectuals and common people who supported the monarchy. A number of Europeans declared the revolution to be the future of Europe, and revolutionary talk became the rage among European intellectuals schooled in the thought of the philosophes . The bulk of Europeans, however, were repulsed by the revolution and sympathized with the plight of Louis XVI and his family. The most famous counter-revolutionary theoretical work was written by Edmund Burke in 1790: Reflections on the Revolution in France . In this work, he declared that human beings were not abstract entitites, but products of tradition and history. Therefore, one could not throw out centuries of history and remake government from the ground up based on abstract principles such as "rights." Failure to take account of history, in Burke's view, would end up tearing French society into pieces. Until 1792, however, this counter-revolutionary sentiment was just that—sentiment.

   It soon became clear, however, that the French Revolution posed a major threat to other European states. The revolution itself threatened to spill over into neighboring states and the French were actively encouraging this; the European powers also worried about having a republican state in their midst, one that was tremendously powerful and committed to the notion of exporting this new government into surrounding territories. In addition, some of the royal houses were related to the Bourbons or to Marie Antoinette. In particular, Leopold II of Austria was committed to restoring his sister, Marie Antoinette, and her husband to the throne.

   On August 27, 1791, Austria and Prussia issued the Declaration of Pillnitz. This Declaration committed the two countries to restoring the monarchy in France and declared war on the country. By 1792, Britain had joined the war. This counter-revolutionary alliance would light the fire beneath the Revolution and it would, as a result, enter a new, more radical terrifying, stage.

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The Radical Revolution


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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 2-2-97