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The French Revolution and the Idea of a Nation

Before the French Revolution, the idea of revolution simply meant political change. Change of monarch, a change of policy, the fall of a minister, all these were called revolution by eighteenth-century men.

After the French Revolution people realized that ...

  • states could be overthrown by mass action.
  • whole new patterns of authority and society could be set up under a new order.

There had of course been mass revolutions before 1789, but they had scarcely succeeded unless they were backed by more organised forces. Most states at this time had armies of professional soldier who always triumphed at the end. The events of the French Revolution showed that this need not be so. The biggest army in Europe failed to prevent the fall of the Bastille.

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