As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The Tipping Point, “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Symbolised by the Tennis Court Oath and the Storming of the Bastille, the outbreak of the French Revolution was caused by a buildup of many factors, finally causing the anger and frustration manifested in the French people to reach the tipping point as they took to the streets. This led to social and political upheaval, especially in Paris. Through examining Louis XVI’s inability to rule, the spread of Enlightenment ideas and the social structure of the Kingdom of France, this essay argues that the Enlightenment Ideas were the main cause for the outbreak of the French Revolution, the cause of the tipping point.
King Louis XVI’s intelligence was never doubted by his people. He had been raised as the Dauphin of France since 1765 and was determined to be a good king. However, he did not have the qualities of a leader. Lacking in self-confidence and firmness, he was easily influenced. After France’s involvement in the American Revolution, she was in a major economic and financial crisis. Jacques Necker was called back to the office of Director-General of Finance. During his second term as Finance Director-General, Necker pushed many policies which helped the people of the Third-Estate, such as protectionist measures on the grain market. Necker also played a big role in the reconvention the Estates-General of 1789, the first since 1614. He advocated doubling the representation of the Third-Estate, which was had little say in state matters considering that they made out 98% of the population. He was thus seen as a hero by the peasants, a minister who would stand up for their rights and livelihood. Having been sympathetic towards the Third-Estate and reconstructed the ministry, conservative nobles of King Louis XVI’s privy council did not favour Necker, and influenced the King to dismiss him on 11 July 1789. In another case, when the Third Estate failed to reconcile the three Estates to settle the powers of the three orders, the Communes declared themselves renamed as the National Assembly, and intended to conduct the nation’s affairs with or without the other estates. Under influence from his privy council, King Louis XVI decided to annul the National Assembly’s decrees, command the separation, and restore the Estates-General. He then closed the hall, Salle des États, where the National Assembly met. These decisions made by the King under the influence of his privy council were not intended by Louis XVI to be violent nor a symbol of Monarchal oppression. However, Parisians presumed that Necker’s dismissal marked the start of a conservative coup by the King and feared that the sudden concentration of Royal Troops at Versailles would be used to shut down the National Constituent Assembly. These events were amidst the period of the Great Fear. The Parisians decided to take action before the Monarch and thus Stormed the Bastille, signifying the start of the French Revolution. Thus, the King’s inability to lead had caused him to make decisions influenced by his privy council, fueling the French people’s fear and enabling them to take action against the Monarch.
However, King Louis XVI’s tendency of being controlled by the nobles or his ministers has been well-known among the French even many years before the revolution. In the 1770s, King Louis tried to shift the burden of taxation to the upper class by engaging economic reformers such as Anne Robert Jacques Turgot and Malesherbes. This greatly angered the nobles and resulted in the parlements insisting that the King did not have any rights to levy new taxes, also resulting in the dismissal of the two reformers. Even after the Seven Years War, King Louis XVI once again advocated a tax to be paid both by the nobility and the peasants. However, the parlements was again able to defend the nobility’s...
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