Western Enlightenment Term Paper

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Ideology in France 1848-1849: Reflections on Nationalism and Liberalism

The ideology adopted in France between 1848-1849 has been described in many different ways by historians and theorists. The predominant body of research available however suggests that a liberal and nationalistic ideology reigned supreme during this time, where the middle class became much more influential. The idealisms of the romantic era are also evident in France during this period of time, and may have influenced the nationalistic state of affairs in France at the time.

The liberal and nationalistic idealisms adopted by the middle class led many people to experience struggles and hardships, but a majority of these were in the process of discovering their own form of leadership and sense of pride. These ideas are explored in greater detail below.

Ideology in France

Karl Marx describes the France of 1848-1849 as filled with Class struggles. From primary accounts of the goings on in France, the author attempts to explain the history of France economically by viewing the class struggles occurring throughout France during this period of time. Specifically the author examines the period of time from June of 1848 to June of 1849. The dominating ideology of this time was of revolution; Marx suggested that revolution or the attempt to overthrow the bourgeois society was the main thrust of idealism and political fervor that dominated the country at the time (Marx, 1964:60).

The influence at this time of democratic republicans was worthy of note. According to Marx, "it was not royalism, but bourgeois republicanism which was realized in the life and deeds of the Constituent Assembly, which decayed" (Marx, 1964:62). Marx suggests that the influence of the bourgeois republicans was rapidly declining during this period, and that a revolution of sorts was taking place among individuals within France.

Dunham (1955) examines a large larger portion of Frances history, but particularly with regard to the time frame of 1948 and immediately thereafter suggests that the ideology that ruled France was again one of struggle. Dunham describes France as slow to adopt the industrial revolution, and suggests that the country was focusing on petty political matters, and that though France did adopt a considerable amount of industry due to the revolution, it did not do so "at the expense of agriculture" and the extent of commercial development within France during this time "was never so striking as to constitute what one might call a commercial revolution" (Dunham, 1955:421). There is also during this time a period of great appreciation of art and beauty according to the author.

This latter view, that France had adopted a tendency toward art and beauty is adopted and expressed through the work of David Own Evans (1951) who describes the ideology of France during this time frame as one of 'social romanticism.' Evans suggests that a majority of the people living n France during this time enjoyed a pleasant and happy era, where many achievements were made specifically with regard to the arts and sciences. The author points out the works of well noted individuals in the field including Delaroix, Musset, Victor Hugo and August Comte.

However, though Evans acknowledges that the period in France might be recognized as one of great achievement from a cultural perspective, he does also acknowledge that the country was dominated also by political uncertainty (Evans, 1951:2). He claims that the prevailing ideology that dominated France culturally was one of "social frustration" where individuals were motivated by fear and unrest (Evans, 1951:2). He talks of things including mans struggle against nature, of the struggle of mind against matter and the struggle of man for freedom and freedom against fate (Evans, 1951:2).

Despite the progress man had made with regard to art and the sciences, their still existed according to Evans the acknowledgement that man's accomplishments and achievements toward Freedom were limited in some capacity, by social realities which may include struggles among classes and other politically-based realisms (Evans, 1951). The notions of property, equality and liberty were proclaimed by also presented against the face of monarchs (Evans, 1951).

Evans also pointed out the discrepancy that existed within the social order at the time, where millions of people may live in "hovels on heaps of decayed matter" whereas others possessed incomes "of two millions" and questioned how a society might remain "stationary on such foundations" when so many achievements had been made with regard to ideas and discoveries (Evans, 1951:3).

Like others before him including Dunham Evans acknowledges this period of time also as one where the nature of France is transformed from a primarily agricultural country into one that is more industrial based. He intimately ties the concept of romanticism with the reality of the industrial revolution.

Hemmings (1987) taking a much more broad perspective of the state of France between 1848 and 1849 acknowledges all of the influences mentioned above on the ideology of the land, claiming that France was industrialized, facing class struggles, revolutionary and also on the verge of a flood of romanticism. He suggest that the nation at the time was in a dynamic and changing state, where culture was shifting to meet the needs of a changing society, where society was leaning more on artistic beauty and realities to find satisfaction in life and address basic human needs.

Hemming suggest that the leaders living in France after 1848 particularly in the aftermath of the 1848 revolution found themselves in control of their destiny depending on whether or not they had the backing of public opinion (Hemmings, 1987:2). This was certainly the case as the author points out for Napoleon, who lived in what Hemmings describes as a 'polite society' where it was critical that leaders acknowledged the strong influence cultural activity and idealisms had on the success of the country as a whole.

Napoleon is credited by Hemming as acknowledging painters, artists and other individual's representatives of the romantic period with great respect, but also with a critical eye as struggles still existed between varying factions of the citizenry (Hemmings, 1987).

Kranzberg (1959) suggest that the time between 1848 and 1859 in France was characterized as a turning point. He suggest that "1848 was the turning point at which modern history failed to turn" quoting Trevelyan, an English historian (p.ix). France however was not at a stagnant point in time during this period. But rather the revolutions that had occurred had enabled the establishment of a more liberal albeit not entirely democratic state of affairs (Kranzberg, 1959). Kranzberg suggests that the political oppression and aristocratic privilege that dominated many other countries in Europe during this period of time did not reflect the changes that were occurring in France. In fact he suggests that a sense of nationalism and liberalism spread throughout France, fueled in part by the Romantic Movement which had among other things, "aroused the interest of various ethnic groups in their common past" (Kranzberg, 1959: x).

The ideology that reigned in France during this time is perhaps best summed up by Kranzberg who suggest that autocratic regimes interested in achieving their own objectives in France were replaced by a growing sense of liberalism and nationalism fueled by Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution, which encouraged the middle class to achieve it's own objectives and reign supreme (Kranzberg, 1959:1). The "revolutionary tide" that occurred in 1848 in France had focused on many liberal changes and addressing of social problems that existed among the working class, in an effort to improve the state of affairs and living conditions for many citizens of France at the time (Kranzberg, 1959).


The period in France between 1848 and 1859 is recognized as a time when cultural rules regarding respect and honor dominated, where romanticism rocketed the landscape and where many classes struggled to assert their influence in a changing economy…[continue]

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