The Causes and Outcomes of the French Revolution

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Causes of the French Revolution
1. International: struggle for hegemony and Empire outstrips the fiscal resources of the state

2. Political conflict: conflict between the Monarchy and the nobility over the “reform” of the tax system led to paralysis and bankruptcy.

3. The Enlightenment: impulse for reform intensifies political conflicts; reinforces traditional aristocratic constitutionalism, one variant of which was laid out in Montequieu’s Spirit of the Laws; introduces new notions of good government, the most radical being popular sovereignty, as in Rousseau’s Social Contract [1762]; the attack on the regime and privileged class by the Literary Underground of “Grub Street;” the broadening influence of public opinion.

4. Social antagonisms between two rising groups: the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie

5. Ineffective ruler: Louis XVI

6. Economic hardship, especially the agrarian crisis of 1788-89 generates popular discontent and disorders caused by food shortages.

Revolutionary situation: when the government's monopoly of power is effectively challenged by some groups who no longer recognize its legitimate authority, no longer grant it loyalty, and no longer obey its commands. Dual or multiple sovereignty is the identifying feature of a revolutionary situation - the fragmentation of an existing polity into two or more blocs, each of which exercises control over some part of the government and lays claim to its exclusive control over the government. A revolutionary situation continues until a single, sovereign polity is reconstituted. The Third Estate’s Oath of the Tennis Court in June 1789 and its claim of representing the sovereignty of the nation creates a revolutionary situation in France.

Revolutionary Process or Stages:

· One interpretation from this definition is that a revolution will continue until a single sovereign order has been restored either by agreement or force. As the French Revolution demonstrated, the level of violence is likely to be greater after the first outbreak of revolution or revolutionary situation, as one group claiming sovereignty seeks to vanquish one or more other rival groups also claiming sovereignty.

o A good example in the French Revolution is the events leading up to the overthrow of the Constitutional Monarch on August 1792—often called the “Second Revolution”—and the establishment of the First French Republic.

o After the establishment of the Republic, the level of violence grew as the Republican regime sought to repress counter-revolutionary movements in France (Federalist revolts and the Vendée uprising) while struggling at the same time to prevent defeat in war by the combined forces of Austria, Prussia, and Britain. The so-called reign of Terror was instituted to quash both internal and foreign forces of counter revolution. But once these internal and foreign threats were under control in the spring of 1794, Terror continued at the direction of the Committee of Public Safety, the most famous member of which was Maximiliean Robespierre. This last period of Terror was aimed at eliminating political rivals of Robespierre and the Committee, which included Danton. The excesses that resulted led to the overthrow of Robespierre and the Committee on the 9th of Thermidor, Year II (July 27 1994).

o After the overthrow of Robespierre, the revolution continued still longer as the moderate leaders of the newly established government called the Directory (1795-1799) attempted to bring the revolution to a close in keeping with the principles of 1789 that would be under bourgeois control and freed from the intervention and pressures of the popular movement. This effort entailed the forceful repression of 1) the popular movement in Paris by Napoleon’s so-called “whiff of grapeshot.” the overturning of elections in 1797 (to oust neo-Jacobins seen as too radical) and again in 1798 (to oust ultra conservatives). The...
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