Major societal and political events, along with the conceptual developments that precede, accompany or develop as a result of them, help to shape the direction of humanity. One such event was the French Revolution, which captured the imagination of the Western world during the late 18th century, into the 19th century. While each such event has its specific details tied to the culture, time and circumstances within which it occurs, there is also a broader message for all of humanity. To the extent that the event speaks to the deeper aspiration and striving of humanity, it may radiate an impact far into the future and far beyond the geographical scope of the event itself.
Sri Aurobindo describes the impact of the French Revolution and its implications for the future growth of a larger human societal grouping: “The dominant idea of the French Revolution was the formula of the free and sovereign people and, in spite of the cosmopolitan element introduced into the revolutionary formula by the ideal of fraternity, this idea became in fact the assertion of the free, independent, democratically self-governed nation.”
“Whatever modifications may arrive, whatever new tendencies intervene, whatever reactions oppose, it could hardly then be doubted that the principal gifts of the French Revolution must remain and be universalised as permanent acquisitions, indispensable elements in the future order of the world,– national self-consciousness and self-government, freedom and enlightenment for the people and so much social equality and justice at least as is indispensable to political liberty; for with any form of fixed and rigid inequality democratic self-governance is incompatible.”
None of the ideas or principles have been worked out in their entirety, nor without any retrogressive movements or oppositions, but we can nevertheless see the power of these ideas as they have been taken up and promulgated through every corner of the world and represent a moving force challenging traditional views of societal governance and the role of the individual within the state or nation.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 10, The United States of Europe, pp. 74-75