The French Revolution of 1789 is perhaps one of the most well-known and significant revolutions in modern history. The Revolution was not only influential in its establishment of a new regime in France, but, to quote Scott W. Haine, Not only did the French Revolution produce modern politics, it also led to the rise of modern nationalism, an idea that has far from run its course. The French Revolution is often referred to as the first modern revolution, in which the members of the lower class banded together and rose up to overthrow the oppression of the bourgeoisie, or upper-middle class.
However, the views of the nature and influence of the French Revolution have not always been stable. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Europe as well as the rest of the world has seen a great shift in political, economic, social, and philosophical ideas. Movements such as Marxism, Progressivism, Existentialism, and Idealism have shaped the way that historians think. Thus, the influence of these schools of thought has translated into the ways that historians analyze, interpret, and write about the French Revolution. In this paper, I plan to focus on how the philosophies of the late nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth centuries have shaped these views, with particular focus on how the rise of Communism has influenced French Revolution historiography.
Underneath this study is the notion that the primary causes of the French Revolution were economical. The rising national debt, abundance of taxation, and vast economic inequality among the classes led to the uprising of the working class and the overthrow of the monarchy.
[...] It is very likely that these current events will influence a new school of French Revolutionary thought. Thus, the twenty-first century interpretation of the French Revolution will be born. Scott W. Haine, History of France (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000): 71, eBrary, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/mcla/docDetail.action?docID=10018005&adv.x=1&p00= Frenc%20h+Revolution+causes&f00=all (accessed March 2011). Jocelyn Hunt, French Revolution (London: Routledge, 1998): eBrary, http://libproxy.mcla.edu:2239/lib/mcla/docDetail.action?docID=2003550 (accessed March 2011). Scott W. Haine, History of France Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution: 1789-1793, translated by N.F. Dryhurst (New York: Schocken Books, 1971): 8. [...]
[...] Everyone was in one way or another involved with the land: the individual, rich or poor, who aspired to become a man of property; the stateman who knew that population increase depended upon more food and hence meant more taxpayers and prospective public servants. Lefebvre also takes direct cues from Marxism in his analysis of the distinct classes of eighteenth-century France. He begins by describing the three estates: the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the “third estate.” He breaks these classes down further, differentiating the aristocratic nobles from the clergy, as well as the bourgeoisie from the rest of the third estate. [...]
[...] However, in the analysis of these views and forces, it became clear that these matters essentially lead to the economic aspect of the revolution. The social disorder which turned the classes against each other was based primarily on economic inequality; a struggle between the and the “have-nots.” Political disorder and collapse also relates back to the economic conditions faced at the time. People lost faith in their government because of poor economic decision making. The national debt due to outstanding loans given to the United States, combined with the government's poor response to the bad harvest and resulting famine were the triggers for the political aspect of the revolution; essentially though, these were economically rooted. But how has the view of these causes changed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century? [...]
[...] Campbell took a similar approach in his analysis of early to mid eighteenth century events that triggered the economic downfall of the latter part of the century. In a book entitled Power and Politics in Old Regime France, Campbell focuses more on the failed economic policy of the old regime as opposed to the famine examined by Bouton. Focusing on the political crisis of 1730-1732, Campbell asserts that a weak and disorganized central government was responsible for poor economic policy that would eventually cause the entire French economy to collapse in the later part of the century. François Gendron presented a unique perspective of the French Revolution in his work, Gilded Youth of Thermidor, which focused on the role that the French youth played in the Revolution. [...]
[...] For example, the authors note that nations such as Britain and Milan not only produced far more grain than France, but also prospered greatly as a result. Non-French economists often viewed the economic causes of the French Revolution in a broader perspective, not focusing solely on the agrarian crisis. Eugene Nelson White, author of French Revolution and the Politics of Government Finance”, focused more on budgetary issues. He directly addressed this difference of perspective in this work, stating the following: There is general agreement that the Crown's fiscal crisis ignited the Revolution, enabling bourgeois, townspeople, and peasants to seek redress for their grievances. [...]
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