Short Note on the French Revolution

Short Note on the French Revolution:

The French Revolution proved a landmark in the history of Europe and the World. It gave a serious jolt to the “ancient regime” a system based on the privilege of monarchy, nobility, and the church. In one sense it was the French Revolution that completed the transition from the medieval to the modern age. The year of 1789 proved a landmark in World History. In fact, it was in 1789 that the American Constitution came into force. Likewise in this year a great event as French Revolution occurred, it means whereas the New World (America) was returning to peace and order the Old World (Europe) was to undergo a phase of conflict and disorder for the coming quarter century. During this period France underwent different phases such as the phase of revolution, the phase of democracy, the phase of war, and the phase of dictatorship.

Like war, even the revolution did not take place for the fact that some people invited it but some people wanted the things which naturally led them towards revolution. When we observe deeply we find that in 1789 no one invited revolution in France but still, it occurred. It is said that French Revolution appeared to solve the questions, which were present before Europe till 1789. These questions were such as:

(1) The question of the relationship between monarchy and nobility.

(2) The question of the relationship between monarchy and the middle class.

(3) The question of the relationship between the nobility and the middle class.

(4) The question of the relationship among the nobility, the middle class, and the lower class.

It is believed that the French Revolution solved some of the questions but some remain unanswered that were to be solved by the Russian Revolution later.

Whenever we explain the cause of the French Revolution we find that one strong reason behind the French Revolution was the existing social division in France. French society was divided into privileged and non-privileged sections. The first Estate and the second Estate belonged to the privileged section. The first Estate consisted of clergy and the second Estate comprised the nobility. When we observe minutely we find that even the clergy was divided into two sections- the higher clergy and the lower clergy. The higher clergy like the aristocracy led a very luxurious life and most of the higher priests went far away from the real spirit of Christianity that’s why the responsibility of spiritual and religious upliftment of the people fell on the shoulders of the lower clergy. But the position of the lower clergy was like the common people. This was the reason, why they came to sympathize with the common people.

Like clergy, even the aristocracy belonged to the privileged section. Both were saved from the burden of taxation. Furthermore, they were enjoying various rights. However, it is said that the aristocratic class was having certain grievances against the French monarchy. In fact, during the period of Louis XIV, there was an attack on certain privileges of the nobility. But through the continuous demands and pressure, the nobility regained some of its privileges. For example, in 1715 Parlement was banned but later it was restored in 1774. This was the reason why the nobility class became too conscious about its rights and privileges. So in the 1770s and 1780s, a feudal reaction already set in and the aristocratic class preferred to compete with monarchy for its power and privilege.

The Third Estate consisted of the lower class and the middle class. So even the third Estate was not a monolithic group. Both the middle class and the lower class belonged to the non-privileged section. The middle class consisted of merchants, capitalists, intellectuals, and different professional groups. Likewise, the lower class comprised peasants, artisans, etc Now one question arises on contemporary European standards, the middle class in France was enjoying a better position so why did they move towards revolution? In fact, here we can give two explanations. Firstly in France, there was a sharp contradiction between the economically effective class and the socially effective class. Secondly. we can say that due to the better economic position middle class in France became much class-conscious.

Earlier Marx tried to prove that it was the economic decline and stagnation, which resulted in a revolution in France. However, scholars like D. Tocvilley rejected this view. According to him when the revolution occurred in France at that time the economic condition of France was improving. Developing this thesis further on another scholar C. J . Davis has tried to establish that the most appropriate situation for a revolution is when a long period of economic prosperity is followed by a short spell of economic decline and depression, something we manifest in France at that time.

In the 18th century, the French Economy vastly expanded for example between 1741-46, the internal and external trade of France increased by three times and five times respectively. It brought prosperity in the industrial field. So it led to fresh employment generation. The prosperity of the industrial field reached also to the agricultural sector. The tenant peasants got benefitted from the price rise so there was a boom in the agriculture sector. But this condition could not be maintained. In 1780, a period of economic prosperity was followed by a short spell of depression. Then the depression from the industrial field reached the agrarian field as well. After that, the worst situation followed. In 1785, there was a crop failure due to drought. Likewise, once again in 1788 crops failed due to excessive rain. So this was the situation, which created economic tension in France.

Then, economic tension influenced the class equation as well. Due to the economic tension, the interests of the aristocracy and that of the middle class started to collide with each other. Furthermore, both these classes were going to be more and more dissatisfied with the monarchy. Above all, in spite of the divergence in their interest, they formed a temporary and unnatural alliance against the monarchy.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?