Western Civilization^2 lesson 70

How does Friedrich Gentz distinguish between the American and French Revolutions? Do you see the influence of Edmund Burke in his thinking?

Sometime in the 19th century, Friedrich Gentz wrote two fairly important and opinionated works that distinguished between the American and French Revolutions, aptly titled the Origin and Principles of the American Revolution and the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution. According to Gentz, the American Revolution was based on a desire for liberty and tradition while the French Revolution was based on a desire to create an entirely new (and bloodthirsty) France based on Enlightenment thinking (see lesson 50 essay #4). In the American Revolution, the British were oppressing the colonists and unwilling to recognize the colonist’s basic traditional rights as British citizens and taxed them to the breaking point. The colonists had no choice but to rise up and fight for their independence. The French Revolution on the other hand was brutal and unorganized. The French citizens, who rose up against the nobles and clergy in search of a new world, were not afraid to execute anyone who got in their way. Throughout Friedrich’s works, we find influence from his fellow statesman Edmund Burke. For example, the two took the exact same views on the differences between the two revolutions. Although both Revolutions overthrew governments, took place in the late 18th century, and created perfect environments for extreme patriotism, there will always be more differences between the two than similarities and Friedrich Gentz was not afraid to state his interpretation of the facts.

What points is Mary Wollstonecraft making in the excerpts you read from the beginning of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman? What would she like to see changed in European society?

In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft penned A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to educate the people of her time in what she thought was the way women should be treated. Her points on her desire for the education of women are obvious and well-reasoned. For example, when writing about women’s appearance in society as nothing but delicate and weak decorations, she says, “The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity.” She also states that women are essentially trained from birth to desire the acceptance and love of men and consequently let themselves be treated as if they can’t think, when “they ought to cherish a nobler ambition.” In the middle of her paper, Mary insists that although beginning riots is not her intention, her opinions on the rights of women must be introduced to the world for all to read and learn from. Even though today, it might be “sexist” to state that men are physically stronger than women, Mary had no such qualms and loudly proclaimed the truth. However, Mary also added that men desire to sink women even further down the food chain by lording it over them in every aspect of their lives. In her time, men controlled finances, land, voting, and politics among many other things. Without a man in her life, a woman would have an exceedingly hard time doing anything. Mary concludes the particular issue by declaring that women should take the initiative and become as strong as they can, both physically and mentally. Towards the end of her paper, she talks about how women’s subjugation breeds cunning because in order to not be suffocated, women have to be smart enough to manipulate their way into positions of power within their lives. Mary concludes that topic by saying, “Some women govern their husbands without degrading themselves, because intellect will always govern.” To this day, Mary Wollstonecraft is still considered one of the modern world’s first feminists and defenders of women’s right to education.

 

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