Epilogue: Rousseau, Radicalism, Revolution
The French Revolution overtly challenged the three principal pillars of medieval and early modern society — monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church — going some way to overturning all three. Inevitably in the context, ideology — and linked to ideology, radical philosophy and political thought — were prime factors in the complex of pressures and impulses which shaped the Revolution. The revolutionaries assigned a ‘radically critical function to philosophy’, thereby constructing a conceptual if to some extent an unhistorical ‘continuity that was primarily a process of justification and a search for paternity’. In the perceptions of the revolutionaries themselves there was no need to look beyond France and little need to look further back than the middle of the 18th century. Furthermore, they showed a distinct propensity to lionize, and to some extent radicalize, certain key philosophical heroes, of whom Voltaire and Rousseau were much the most celebrated.
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