What Is a Nation

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The Third-Estate: The Nation
The French Revolution was a crucial battle that dealt with achieving equality and removing oppression of the common citizens. The unfair class system placed the clergy and nobility above the majority of French citizens. This majority was known as the Third Estate and varied greatly in socioeconomic status, consisting of members with lavish lifestyles as well as common peasants and laborers. Such status differences made it difficult for the Third Estate to gain any power; there were constant disagreements between the rich members and poor members in the Third Estate. As a result, Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, a liberal clergy member, wrote a famous pamphlet, “What is the Third Estate?,” to address this problem.

According to Sieyès and his pamphlet, the Third Estate is the complete nation. In order for a nation to exist and prosper, it requires individual effort and public functions. He categorizes individual effort into four classes. The first class represents families who were engaged with agricultural labor. The second class represents manufacturers, or people who transformed the agricultural gifts of nature, such as milk and wheat, into consumer products, such as cheese and bread. The third class represents the merchants and traders, who facilitated the consumption of products. The fourth class represents everyone else from the most liberal professions to the domestic services. Sieyès explains that the above efforts are put forth in society through the Third Estate.

In parallel to the individual efforts, Sieyès categorizes public functions into four classes: the Sword (army), the Robe (head of state), the Church, and the Administration. Although such honorary positions are held only by the privileged orders, Sieyès argues that all hard efforts in these services are fulfilled by the Third Estate. Sieyès looks back in history to Ancient Egypt’s system of ruling, which was similar to the nobility having all power, and...
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