Written for a broad, general audience—without footnotes, a bibliography, or other formalities—The Coming of the French Revolution still holds a persuasive power over the reader. Georges Lefebvre wrote The Coming of the French Revolution in 1939, carefully dividing the story into six parts. The first four are organized around four acts, each associated with the four major groups in France—the “Aristocratic Revolution,” the “Bourgeois Revolution,” the “Popular Revolution,” and the “Peasant Revolution.” Part V examines the acts of the National Assembly to abolish feudalism and write Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and Part VI presents the “October Days” (xv-xvii).
Hidden under the book’s seemingly-simple construction are many facts and events tainted by Lefebvre’s own view of the Revolution. Lefebvre is careful to weave his own ideas and beliefs into the sea of facts, but where do these biases come from? The timing of the release itself and the effect Lefebvre hoped the book would have on the public are one example of his bias. A few important omissions also alter the perspective of the book. Most of the biases however, lay in the influences of Lefebvre’s youth, especially Marxism.
As a Marxist, Lefebvre shows particular attention to the material conditions of the peoples’ lives and how these conditions affect the social relations among people. This idea of social relations is what Lefebvre sees as the crucial cause of the Revolution: the conflict between the long-standing aristocracy—with their exclusion from political power but still-existing seat at the top of the social hierarchy due merely to birth—and the newly-forming bourgeoisie—who held economic power through supplying money to the monarchy but were continuously excluded from the legal structure (1-2). “Such a discrepancy never lasts forever” (2) and the Revolution would bring about the transformation to restore “harmony between fact and law” (2). The battle between the economic and...
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