If you look up the word “legacy” in the dictionary the meaning of the word will be something like this: “The legacy of an event or period of history is something which is a direct result of it and which continues to exist after it is over.”. So the legacy of the French Revolution is how the result of it affected the whole world and the fact that it is still a living issue.
Before the French Revolution, the idea of revolution simply meant political change. Change of monarch, a change of policy, the fall of a minister, and all these were called revolution by eighteenth-century men. However the incident of 1789 change all that. Because what it showed was that states could be overthrown by mass action, and a whole new patterns of authority and society set up under a new order. This was completely new. There had of course been mass revolutions before, but they had scarcely succeeded unless they were backed by more organised forces. Because most states at this time had armies of professional soldier who always triumphed at the end. But the events of the French Revolution showed that they did not need to. The biggest army in Europe failed to prevent the fall the Bastille.
After the Revolution, it became an inspiration, a guideline for all revolutionaries and communists, from Marx to Lenin, as they plotted their own plan to overthrow the bad world in order to inaugurate a better way of running human affairs. However, it wasn’t just an inspiration, but a warning for all governments. The world realized that states are vulnerable, and in the right circumstances they can be overthrown. Governments began to employ informers and eavesdroppers as a standard practise everywhere to keep an eye on revolutionaries and rebels. After the incident of 1789 all states had a secret police such as the FBI and the KGB. However a secret police isn’t capable to control mass movements as the Revolution showed. Therefore a army for more internal use than external had to be designed, or create conditions where the population of a state are not deeply discontented. The Revolution forced the governments to justify themselves, to defend the way they were structured and the way they did things.
The new state was attempting to stamp out religious practise throughout its territory. Secularism was born and religion become the sworn enemy of revolution. Before 1789 all states had state religions, however most modern ones do not. In France today the non-religious tradition still lives; Muslim girls aren’t allowed to wear their hidjab at school, and a short-term of violent riots found place in the streets of France, this year, were thousand of immigrants were demonstrating against the difficult to integrate (unemployment, etc.). The non-religious ideology in a revolution affected in different ways; most states declared themselves religiously neutral, tolerating all systems of beliefs and discriminating against none, however the communist states declared themselves hostile to all religions.
At first appearance the French Revolution had to weaken the Catholic church, however it made the church stronger rather than weaker. In the 1780s a lot of people that the Pope was finished, and his power a thing from the past. The quarrel with the revolution showed that it still was a reality. Because when Napoleon sought to solve the quarrel, he went straight to Rome, recognizing the papacy as the only authority to solve it. Therefore the French Revolution made the church stronger rather than weaker.
The revolutionaries saw themselves overthrowing what they called despotism, or absolute monarchy. The ideology of the French Revolution said that only representative government is legitimate, anywhere. And that is because sovereignty, the ultimate, final power in any system, always lies with the people or the nation. No individual can be sovereign. Those who saw themselves as the Revolution’s heirs always had to speak in the name of the people, and to be acting in their best interests. That’s why communist regimes call themselves people’s democracies, and even military coups are carried out apparently to save the nation. From that time France became a republic and still is, because in the revolutionary legacy there was no place for kings, or indeed emperors.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man says that all men are born and remain, free and equal in rights. That means that nobody should have any automatic prerogative, precedence or advantage recognised by the law. Everybody should have access to every available opportunity according to their talents. Monarchy is a complete negation of this. The ideology of the Revolution was equality, and monarchy is not. Equality means no aristocracy, no hereditary, superiority or privilege. The social equality has also been an important element for the communists.
Socialism and communism are just a few things that can be traced back to the French Revolution, and it is impossible to imagine the world without it taken place.