There have been different periods in France’s history, all of which have made an impact on the country’s development. The most crucial changes have been social, economic, and political. Politics has always been considered the foundation of a state’s development or organization. This paper aims to compare the political situations in France at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Both of these periods had particular features that resulted to some extent in the country’s movement toward the present political system.
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Both after the revolution of 1789 and at the beginning of the 21st century, France’s political life was full of controversies and challenges. However, in each of the two periods, these challenges were different. The revolution served as a decisive point in the country’s history, marking the end of monarchy and the emergence of the republic. At that time, people were striving for independence and the abolition of aristocracy and the feudal system (Jennings 1).
Also, the revolution was the period when the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was announced (O’Neil et al. 120). Following the example of the American Revolution, the Declaration was “a powerful and influential statement” on liberty that proclaimed people’s natural rights as opposed to the monarchy’s tyranny (O’Neil et al. 120-121). Hence, the main achievement of the revolution was gaining equality for every person and demolishing monarchy.
Unlike the end of the 18th century, France entered the 21st century already as a republic, so its difficulties and controversies were not concerned with the form of government. From 2000-2019, the country’s two main problems have been concerned with the question of internal political balance and the issue of France’s identity in the world (Hanley 29). In comparison with past periods in the country’s politics, 21st-century politicians have more opportunities to organize the processes within the system in the right way.
In particular, political leaders have access to multidisciplinary training, which enables them to better understand all the processes in the political dimension (Hanley 29). Also, modern politicians exploit numerous backup services and obtain data about political reality from multiple sources (Hanley 29). Furthermore, currently, active political leaders can obtain valuable knowledge from history and learn from past mistakes.
Both after the revolution and in the 21st century, political life in France was associated with democratic trends. In the post-revolution period, democracy was attained after times of returning to absolutism and the reemergence of ideological divisions (O’Neil et al. 122). Surprisingly, France also contributed to the rise of democracy when Marx and Engels mentioned the idea of the proletariat for the first time (O’Neil et al. 123). The development of democracy was in turn promoted and suppressed during the next several important periods in the country’s history (O’Neil et al. 124). In the 21st century, France considers itself to be a social-democratic republic where each person has equal rights and opportunities.
The difference between the national and international interests of France in the two periods is considerable. In the post-revolution years, internal processes were of utmost importance, whereas at present, the country’s relationships with numerous partners play a significant role in its political life. Particularly, the country has expended “considerable powers of invention” in this area (Hanley 29).
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Due to its contributions to the European Union, France was finally able to resolve the Franco-German issues that arose after World War II. Several so-called “Franco-German couples” helped France to inaugurate a dual leadership within Europe that set the course of action for other countries (Hanley 29). Modern political trends have allowed France to alleviate historic hostilities and present itself as an important political actor.
However, the increasing integration of France in Europe puts the country’s identity under threat. Close cooperation is an advantage for the country, but at the same time, it presupposes the “erosion of real sovereignty” (Hanley 30). Although there is an opinion that the European and French identities do not differ much, many people disagree with this. Thus, the country’s politicians are affected by two equally strong issues. On the one hand, there is growing pressure for economic and political integration. On the other hand, there is the need to follow French prerogatives in the process of making decisions, especially due to their significance to identity (Hanley 30).
Referring to the two periods in question, a common feature is the abolition of class division and the independence of people’s position from their social status. After the revolution, the differences between the middle class and the nobility were obscured through marriage (Jennings 3). In the 21st century, the situation is similar: people are free to choose spouses from whatever circle they prefer, without having to consider social or political differences. Revolutionaries replaced the old regime, with its “hereditary and religious privileges,” with a more democratic approach (O’Neil et al. 121). Thus, a person’s faith or birth no longer determined their taxation or right to justice.
However, despite this common feature, the two periods under comparison were not entirely similar with respect to freedom of political choice. In post-revolutionary France, all men were entitled to the universal and natural rights of equality and freedom before the law (O’Neil et al. 121). Meanwhile, in the present-day political system, not only male but also female citizens have these rights. As a result of historical processes that took place between the two periods in question, women gained the right to vote and be elected to parliament, which was a considerable achievement on the way to equality.
In various historical periods, France underwent substantial political changes and participated in processes that shaped its future. The two periods under comparison are quite distant in time, but both of them are highly significant for the country’s development. The major thing in common between the post-revolution period and the 21st century was an improvement in political thought that made the country more democratic. However, the differences are more numerous, beginning with the type of government and ending with relations with other countries. After the revolution, the country has proclaimed a republic for the first time.
Such negative political and social phenomena as aristocracy and the feudal system were abolished, and all citizens began to be treated equally. Meanwhile, by the 21st century, France had been a republic for two centuries, and new challenges had arisen. The main problem for modern politicians is to maintain the country’s political system as a means of protecting people’s dignity and equality and promoting France’s identity in the world. Both of the periods compared here are significant in the country’s history and in the formation of its future.
Hanley, David. “French Politics in the Twenty-First Century: Invention or Muddling Through?” Reinventing France: State and Society in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Susann Milner and Nick Parsons, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 21-34.
Jennings, Jeremy. Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France Since the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, 2011.
O’Neil, Patrick H., et al. Cases in Comparative Politics. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.