The Emergence of Public Opinion in European Politics
The 18th century saw significant agitation for political reform in both England and France. While riots and violence were used to draw public attention to the issue of rising bread prices in Paris, England experienced periodic eruptions of violence directed towards government policies, national or religious minorities. The agitation in England contributed to lasting achievements in judicial decisions, free press reporting, and calls for political reform. Coffee houses, reading clubs, and voluntary associations emerged as important centres of recreation and political discussion. Meanwhile, in France, the emergence of lodges created a new source of legitimacy through public opinion. Public opinion was recognized as a rule of government across Europe, and regimes had to trim their sails to retain their legitimacy.
Table of Contents
- The Emergence of Riots and Agitation for Political Reform in France and England
- The Contribution of Coffee Houses, Reading Clubs, and Voluntary Associations to Political Discussion
- The Emergence of Lodges and the Creation of a New Source of Legitimacy Through Public Opinion
- The Multidirectional Emergence of “The People” as a Force in European Politics
- The Populist Implications of Johann Gottfried Herder’s Identification of the Volk as the Fundamental Unit of Human Existence and the Community Bound by Ethnic and Cultural Ties
Q1. Why did Paris experience riots over the price of bread in the 18th century, while London did not?
In Paris, bread was a staple food that was consumed in large quantities by the lower classes. An increase in its price, therefore, had a significant impact on their standard of living. As bread was produced by bakers who were organized into a guild and had the power to control the price of flour, the public directed their anger towards them. In contrast, London did not experience bread riots in the 18th century, but instead, saw periodic eruptions of violence directed towards government policies, national or religious minorities.
Q2. How did public spaces like coffee houses contribute to political discussion in the 18th century?
In the 18th century, coffee houses emerged as important centres of recreation and political discussion in England. They were places where everyone could participate in political debates, and as the number of public spaces increased, it gave rise to opportunities for the exchange of information, ideas, and opinions. The success of coffee houses can also be seen in their spread across Europe, with Vienna, Paris, and Berlin, among others, adopting them as social spaces where discussions of current affairs became the norm.
Q3. How did the emergence of lodges create a new source of legitimacy through public opinion in France?
By 1789, there were over 700 lodges in France, including 70 in Paris, with a total membership of at least 50,000. Lodges created a new source of legitimacy through public opinion, which was a recognition of the approval of the public. Public opinion was seen as a rule of government, and regimes had to trim their sails to retain their legitimacy. The emergence of lodges as centers of political discussion and the creation of a new source of legitimacy through public opinion had a significant impact on French politics.
Q4. Why did the emergence of “the people” as a force in European politics pose a challenge for regimes?
The emergence of “the people” as a force in European politics posed a challenge for regimes because regimes had to trim their sails to retain their legitimacy. Public opinion was recognized as a rule of government across Europe, and regimes had to adjust their policies and decision-making to align with the will of the people. The emergence of “the people” was multidirectional, and their opinions often varied. It was, therefore, challenging to determine what was legitimate public opinion.
Q5. Can you explain the populist implications of Johann Gottfried Herder’s identification of the Volk?
Johann Gottfried Herder identified the Volk as the fundamental unit of human existence, which was a community bound by ethnic and cultural ties. The identification of the Volk had a populist implication, as it highlighted the importance of the people and their connection to their cultural heritage. It suggested that the people should govern themselves and that their cultural identity should be preserved. This idea became influential in the development of modern nationalism, which emphasized the importance of the nation-state and its people.
The emergence of public opinion in European politics was a significant development in the 18th century. It led to significant agitation for political reform in both England and France and contributed to lasting achievements in judicial decisions, free press reporting, and calls for political reform. Public spaces like coffee houses, reading clubs, and voluntary associations played an important role in shaping public opinion. Lodges emerged in France in the late 18th century, created a new source of legitimation, and further expanded the scope of public opinion. Meanwhile, the emergence of “the people” as a force in politics posed a challenge for regimes as they had to adjust their policies to align with public opinion. The populist implications of Johann Gottfried Herder’s identification of the Volk highlighted the importance of cultural heritage and the people’s connection to it, further emphasizing the importance of the people in the development of modern nationalism.