The year 1989 marks the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. To celebrate, the French government is throwing its biggest party in at least 100 years, to last all year. In the United States, an American Committee on the French Revolution has been set up to coordinate programs on this side of the Atlantic, emphasizing the theme, “France and America: Partners in Liberty”. But were the French and American Revolutions really similar On the surface, there were parallels. Yet over the past two centuries, many observers have likened the American Revolution to the bloodless Glorious Revolution of 1688, while the French Revolution has been considered the forerunner of the many, modern violent revolutions that have ended in totalitarianism. As the Russian naturalist, author, and soldier Prince Petr Kropotkin put it, “What we learn from the study of the Great [French] Revolution is that it was the source of all the present communist, anarchist, and socialist conceptions”.

1 It is because the French Revolution ended so violently that many Frenchmen are troubled about celebrating its 200th anniversary. French author Leon Daudet has written: “Commemorate the French Revolution That’s like celebrating the day you got scarlet fever”. An Anti-89 Movement has even begun to sell moments reminding today’s Frenchmen of the excesses of the Revolution, including Royalist black arm bands and calendars that mock the sacred dates of the French Revolution. The French should indeed be uneasy about their Revolution, for whereas the American Revolution brought forth a relatively free economy and limited government, the French Revolution brought forth first anarchy, then dictatorship.

Eighteenth-century France was the largest and most populous country in wester Europe. Blessed with rich soil, natural resources, and a long and varied coastline, France was Europe’s greatest power and the dominant culture on the continent. Unfortunately, like all the other countries of 18th-century Europe, France was saddled with the economic philosophy of mercantilism. By discouraging free trade with other countries, mercantilism kept the economies of the European nation-states in the doldrums, and their people in poverty. Nevertheless, in 1774, King Louis XVI made a decision that could have prevented the French Revolution by breathing new life into the French economy: he appointed Physiocrats Robert Turgot as Controller General of Finance. The Physiocrats were a small band of followers of the French physician Francois Quesnay, whose economic prescriptions included reduced taxes, less regulation, the elimination of government-granted monopolies and internal tolls and tariffs – ideas that found their rallying cry.