The intellectual ferment of the eighteenth century gave rise to a popular discontent with the status quo which culminated in two major revolutionary upheavals near the end of that century. We may fully understand the distinctive features of contemporary Western society only as we consider the transformations wrought by the American and French Revolutions. Discontent deep enough to produce widespread resistance to constituted authority is not an infrequent social phenomenon, but rarely has it resulted in movements which so profoundly rent the fabric of society as in the years between 1776 and 1815. A logical fulfillment of the intellectual unrest of the Enlightenment, these two great disruptive movements ushered in a new set of basic ideals in the Western World. Henceforth political democracy, economic liberalism, and social egalitarianism were acceptable, and although reactionary elements returned temporarily to power in subsequent years, their rule was tempered by the new social and political creeds. [excerpt]
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Bloom, Robert L. et al. "Pt. XI: The Revolutionary Years, 1776-1815." Ideas and Institutions of Western Man (Gettysburg College, 1958), 1-2.