The French Revolution, though it seemed a failure in 1799 and
appeared nullified by 1815, had far-reaching results. In France the
bourgeois and landowning classes emerged as the dominant power.
Feudalism was dead; social order and contractual relations were
consolidated by the Code Napoleon.
The Revolution unified France and enhanced the power of the national
state. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars tore down the ancient
structure of Europe, hastened the advent of nationalism, and inaugurated
the era of modern, total warfare.
Although some historians view
the Reign of Terror as an ominous precursor of modern totalitarianism,
others argue that this ignores the vital role the Revolution played in
establishing the precedents of such democratic institutions as
elections, representative government, and constitutions. The failed
attempts of the urban lower middle classes to secure economic and
political gains foreshadowed the class conflicts of the 19th cent. While
major historical interpretations of the French Revolution differ
greatly, nearly all agree that it had an extraordinary influence on the
making of the modern world.