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The impact of the French Revolution (1789-1815) on social structure, legal system and political life and institutions during the nineteenth century in France

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IEP de Paris

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  1. Introduction
  2. Strong intensity of the changes triggered by the French Revolution
  3. The main achievements of the French Revolution
  4. The question of gender during the nineteenth century
  5. The legal system of the old regime
  6. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789: Its impact
  7. French revolution's involvement in politics
  8. Conclusion
  9. Bibliography

Some events stamp on the history of mankind forever : the French Revolution is definitely one of these. Indeed, really few upheavals such as this one triggered so many thoughts, comments and passionate reactions all over the world. Although lot of scholars tried to understand and qualify this period, many interpretations actually remain. This stands for the difficulty to understand the real impact of such an astonishing event.
In reality, these difficulties are deeply rooted in two specific characteristics of the French Revolution : the question of its own intensity, and therefore the question of its real legacy.
to what extent had the French Revolution (1789-1815) a strong and global influence over the nineteenth century in France ?

[...] Apart from the social and legal legacy of the French Revolution, one of the main influences of this event concerns the French political institutions and political life in the nineteenth century. Paradoxically enough, this influence is utterly striking and deeply complex at the same time. As a matter of fact, the political legacy of the French Revolution over the nineteenth century is far too complicated to be totally explained in this work; nevertheless, two main features appear as most important legacies: the irruption of the mass population as a source of political power, together with an institutionalization of violence as a major part of French political life. [...]


[...] Indeed, the law itself soon acquires a new place in the nineteenth century in France, inherited from the revolutionary concept of ?légicentrisme?, which comes with a rationalization process of the legal system. In addition, the French Revolution stresses the beginning of a new role for the law: the protection of new human rights. The legal system of the Old Regime was mostly based on non-written customs. Indeed, the law was completely subordinated to the State power, being a great symbol of the reign of the arbitrary. On the contrary, the Revolution proclaims the people and the Nation as the only source of legal legitimacy. [...]


[...] The second main feature of the French Revolution over the nineteenth century in France lies in the close link established between violence and politics. This origin of this new evolution is to be found in the initial ambiguity of the French Revolution itself: on the one hand, it was supposed to affirm the autonomy of the individual opposed to the arbitrary power of the State; but on the other hand, the Terror showed how much State violence was deeply rooted in the utopian ideal of the Revolutionary process. [...]

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