The Spread of Republics
The inherent attractiveness of the French Revolution’s Enlightenment ideals, particularly the espousal of freedom and equality, played a great role in the spread and dissemination of such ideals throughout Europe. However, French Revolutionary armies played an even greater role in spreading and disseminating the Revolution’s ideals throughout Europe.
The most visible manifestation of that came in the form of “Sister Republics”, which proliferated throughout Europe in the 1790s. Most such republics were established directly by French Revolutionary armies in neighboring countries, after beating back foreign attacks and going on the counteroffensive. Others were created by local revolutionaries, and assisted by the French revolutionary government.
Popular sovereignty, representative government, and the rule of law were the expressed ideals of the French revolutionary government. Spreading those republican principles across Europe was seen as a desirable end in of itself, and also as a prophylactic means of protecting the French Revolution at home. Accordingly, dozens of “Sister Republics”, of various sizes, were created in the 1790s, and eventually consolidated into a few larger republics around France’s borders. The logic was similar to that of the USSR seeking to safeguard itself by spreading communism around the world, or that of the US seeking to do the same by spreading free market capitalism and Western democracy.
Many “Sister Republics” did not survive fall of the First French Republic, and many of them were turned into constitutional monarchies by Napoleon, who parceled them off to his relatives. After Napoleon’s final defeat, the victors rearranged the map of Europe, parceling and altering the revolutionary republics beyond all recognition. Nonetheless, there was no returning the republican genie to bottle after it had been freed by the French Revolution.
In the century after Waterloo, nearly all of Europe was governed by restored monarchies, of varying levels of absolutism. It was clear, however, to enlightened thinkers, that they were anachronisms living on borrowed time. That time came to an end with World War I, whose conclusion saw the disappearance of Europe’s biggest absolutist monarchies – the German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian. The remaining monarchies survived as constitutional figureheads, whose monarchs reigned ceremoniously, but did not rule.