This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
among the ruling elites? The French revolution was to a large extent a failure of the ruling classes to respond to the oncoming changes. The ruling classes didn t have the capability to to respond to the crisis that was approaching them. The systemic challenge to their authority could in theory have been averted. To avert this revolution th e leaders would have needed extraordinary foresight. The ruling elites had to accept drastic reforms, reforms that were heralded by enlightenment, the discovery of the new World, the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the rise of global trade. The enlightenment was a systemic attack on the medieval system. It questioned the church, the monarchy and the place of the common people in the government of their states. But the response of the ruling elites was incompetent. They were against reform when it lead to them losing money. They were too brittle to respond in a meaningful way to the revolution. The particular problems of France, besides the systematic chances that were occurring, had a part to play in the revolution. The country was in enormous debt due to imprudent spending by the King. The King was spending excessively on Palaces while the commoners laboured under taxes that seemed excessive and arbitrary. This demonstrated that the King was out of touch with his people and didn t understand their difficulties. The Great Fear, caused by the failure of the grain crop, increased the feeling that that the situation was doing out of hand. The Great Fear added to the momentum of the revolution. Changes in industry saw large numbers of people entering the cities creating slums. In the cities people exchanged new ideas creating a new common culture. The enlightenment represented a systemic challenge to the Ancien regime. Printing had made the spreading of ideals much easier. A large amount of people could read. Pamphlets, books and newspapers were easy to find. Popular grievances were addressed and a solution would be offered. Ideas that rejected monarchy were spread. The American Revolution showed that democratic ideals could become a reality. Many in the bourgeoisie, seeing that opportunities for advancement were closing, wanted society to be organised according to meritocratic lines. Inherited privileges were becoming intolerable. Traditionally it was believed that the king was the only public person. He was the head of the nation who would listen to opinions of his people and then make a decision. The enlightenment spread the idea that everyone was a public person. The people should decide the course of the nation. The symbol of enlightenment progress was the demand that the estates general meet as one house. Each member would have one vote. The Third estate together with radical clergy would be able to control the house. But the King and the nobles insisted in the estates meeting as three different houses. The medieval order was preserved but the intransigence of the elites insured that the third estate would turn to more radical measures in an effort to bring about reform. If the King overburdening his people with taxes how could he claim present the will of the people. Enlightenment ideas decided the course that the revolution would take. These ideas had systematically undermined the rational of the Ancien regime. The regime could not defend itself against these ideas. But it could have listened to the grievances of the people and tried to alleviate them.
The Enlightenment wasn t the main driving force of the revolution. Short term also difficulties helped to start the revolution. The economic situation of France exacerbated revolutionary feelings.1.Taxes and tariffs that appeared arbitrary were greatly resented. The salt tax was hated. Excessive manor taxes angered the peasants, particularly as the Lords no longer provided essential services to their subjects. Feudalism didn t exist in most of France anymore but the people still had to pay dues that were traditional from the Middle Ages. These taxes had not been adjusted in the recent past so people were paying excessively. Tariffs between different provinces impeded trade. The tax system was in need of reform. The nobility were to be included in the tax net but steadfastly refused reform. In the sense that the nobility were part of the Ancien regime their refusal to reform represents a systemic failure of the Ancien regime. The failure of Ancien regime to reform the tax system was it s greatest mistake. Tax reform may have reconciled the third estate to the traditional system. But many of the taxes were needed to provide for a modern centralized state. The state was centralised under both the Ancien regime and the post revolution governments.2 The revolution was driven partly by economic problems. There was bumper wine harvest that lead to the price of wine dropping. The peasants, reliant on grapes as cash crop, found it difficult to pay taxes and dues. The grain harvest failed in 1783. The French population used grain as their sole source of food. They refused to use potatoes from the new world. Bread prices doubled. Nobel and monastic grain stores were full. While peasants had no bread, merchants from the cities were anxious to buy up the grain. Chaos ensued as people could not buy bread. Bands of the unemployed wandered around the countryside looking for food. They stole grain freely. The Great Fear as it is known, increased the radicalism of the revolution. The country was desending into anarchy. This feeling of lawlessness greatly contributed to the radicalism of the revolution. The Ancien Regime seemed to be at last tottering. The revolutionaries had to take their chance. The deputies of the national assembly lead by the Breton club passed laws banning feudalism. The Ancien Regime was not in control of the direct cause of the Great Fear but its failure to respond in adequate manner illustrates that the leadership was not fit for purpose. France found itself in terrible debt. France was running a twenty percent budget deficit per year. The debt was caused by the need to finance wars, lavish building projects and an ineffective bureaucracy. Versialles was magnificent model city that had cost the state dearly. France had just fought the seven years war with Britain. Louis XVI had supported the American Revolution in an effort to strike back at Britain for the losing the seven years war. This crippling debt weakened the Crown forcing it to go call the estates general. The crown was forced to ask for reform. In asking for reform it was exposed to the grievances of the lower classes in France.
The period before the French revolution saw the advent of the industrialisation. The creation of empires opened the way the businessman to make huge profits. But the level of taxes and tariffs prohibited commerce. The Ancien Regime tax system was not suited for the era of modern capitalism. They couldn t compete with revolution that was happening in Britain. This class of bourgeois capitalist formed a substantial part of the third estate. But peasant grievances helped to drive the revolution also. There were immigrations of peasants into urban areas. They were forced out by famine and unemployment. They were attracted by the prospect of industrial jobs. These immigrates created slums that were a hotbed of the revolution. The example of Britain illustrates that with a bit of suppleness the medieval system could adapt to modern capitalism but a different ideology was prominent in Britain that was not enlightenment rationalism. The leadership of the French Ancien Regime failed to respond adequately innovations. The systemic crisis faced by the Ancien Regime was a definite end of the Ancien Regime in its medieval form. It is possible to imagine the Ancien Regime reforming it self if it had had competent leadership. The crisis facing the Ancien Regime was systemic. The leadership to face this crisis would have needed to be extraordinary. The need to face down the nobles appears vital only with hindsight. It therefore seems implausible that it is only failure of leadership is responsible for the failure of the Ancien Regime. The need for reform was urgent and when it began It s momentum swept away the Ancien regime. The aspiring bourgeoisie wanted to take partake in the meritocratic and egalitarian revolution that occurred in America. The old medieval system could not fit the new world of the enlightenment and industrial revolution. The revolution was ultimatel y the result of a systemic crisis of the ancien regime.
Bibliography Paul R Hanson, Contesting the French Revolution (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001) George Lefebvre, the French Revolution: From its origins to 1793 (London: Routledge, 2001) Jocelyn Hunt, The French Revolution ( London: Routledge 1998) Simon schema, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (London: Penguin Books 1989) Michel Vovelle, Timothy Tackett, Elisabeth Tuttle, Reflections on the Revisionist interpretations of the French Revolution, French Historical Studies 16 (1990) : 749 Sarah Maza, Politics, Culture and the origins of the French Revolution, The Journal Of Modern History 61 (1989): 704 Timothy Tackett, Nobles and the third Estate in the Revolutionary Dynamic of the National Assembly, 1789-1790 The American Historical Review 94(1989) 271
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.