Introduction The French Revolution is the oneof many revolutionary events in the history that are often discussed. Thedebate over this incident has continued for two hundred years.
It has animportant impact on the modern world. In the twentieth century, it is full ofsectarian opinions on the controversy of origins of the revolution. The mostinfluential one is Marxism. However, until the mid of 1950s that it was criticized by British andAmerican historians.The essay will demonstratethe French Revolution based on the content of the video and illustrate how theycomplement each other in support of their position with the scholarly journalarticles. Background of the French Revolution According to the video clip, during the upheaval of theFrench Revolution, there are a couple of questions challenged the entire nationsuch as what rights people have and where they come from, who gets to makedecisions for others and on what authority, and how we can organize society tomeet people’s needs. By the end of 18th century, Europe hadundergone a profound intellectual and cultural changes, known as theEnlightenment.
Philosophers and artists have traditionally and religiouslypromoted reason and human freedom. At that time, France was one of the largestand richest countries in Europe and still governed by an ancient regime ofthree rigid social classes called Estates. Estates were divided into the First(the Catholic clergies), Second (the nobles) and Third (middle class merchantsand craftsmen) Estates. The monarch King Louis XVI granted special privileges to theFirst and Second Estates with his divine right. However, over 20 millionpeasants, had less power and they were the only ones who paid taxes, not justto the king, but to the other Estates as well.
In poor harvest years, taxationcould leave peasants with almost nothing while the king and aristocrats livedlavishly on their extracted wealth. Moreover, as France sank into debt due toits support of the American Revolution and its long-term war with UnitedKingdom, the king thought that change was needed. King Louis appointed financeminister, who promoted tax reforms and won public support by openly publishingthe government’s finances, but the king’s advisors strongly oppose theseinitiatives. Consequently, the first time in 175 years the king convened an assemblyof three representatives. Although the Third Estate represented 98% of theFrench population, it is unfair that it votes was equal to each of the otherEstates. Unsurprisingly, the upper classes favored keeping their privileges. TheThird Estate realized that they couldn’t get fair representation, so that theybroke off and declared itself as the National Assembly. Moreover, they drafteda new constitution with or without the other Estates.
Then, King Louis dismissedhis popular minister. In response, thousands of outraged Parisians joined withsympathetic soldiers to storm the Bastille prison that was a symbol of royalpower and a large storehouse of weapons. The French Revolution had begun and rebellionspread throughout the country, the feudal system was ultimately abolished. Allin all, the Revolution saw three constitutions and five governments within tenyears, followed by decades alternating between monarchy and revolt before thenext Republic formed in 1871. The orthodox theory of the French Revolution According to Feudalism and the French Revolution, the French Revolution has long been regarded as abourgeois revolution against the feudal system. The French historian GeorgesLefebvre proposed a typical Marxist framework to explain the nature and originof the French Revolution.
This interpretation is concise and convincing in theliterature of the French revolution. Besides, it had supreme and profoundinfluence on post-war British and American scholars on the history of theFrench Revolution. Lefebvre’s basic thesis is that theFrench Revolution was essentially a bourgeois revolution which origins were infact the result of the rise of the bourgeoisie. French society is a feudalsociety which the aristocracy monopolized its social and political status byowning the wealth of the land, even formed a closed class. With the growth ofindustry and commerce, a new type of wealth has emerged in European societythat was the bourgeoisie. The class was getting stronger and stronger than thefeudal class.
Nevertheless, the political structure of the old society has notbeen adjusted to reflect the new economic reality. Although the aristocracy hasgradually fallen through the ranks, the emerging bourgeoisie has economicstrength but no social and political status. The bourgeoisie cannot endure suchsocial repression and unfair policies for a long time. The bourgeois-orientedsociety, especially of industrial development and personal interests, hasreplaced the one that has not changed its basic anatomy since the Middle Ages.The old regime was characterized by limited commercial and industrialexpansion, commercial inertia, exclusive aristocracy, exploited peasants, andan increasingly active but socially excluded middle class.
This old society wasconsidered “feudal” and allowed the continuation of traditional genetic lawsand social inequalities while preserving the integrity of the land ownershipsystem and preventing major changes in the pattern of farming and land tenure. According to the orthodox position, theFrench Revolution constituted an explosion resulting from the sudden release ofdeep-seated middle-class resentment against the restrictive feudal regime ofeconomy and society. Additionally, they thinkthat the propose of the French Revolution is that breaking the old social distinctionand striving for its social status. In short, Lefebvre believed that the FrenchRevolution was a “class struggle” between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, andthe bourgeoisie won and rose to the midst of the new order. Lefebvre’sinterpretation of Marxism was widely accepted by scholars, it seemed to be theorthodoxy of the French Revolution. Revisionismof the French Revolution However, the orthodox thesis of the origins of the French Revolution waschallenged, According to The French Revolution and “Revisionism”, theattack on this venerable position is most closely associated with the name of Alfred Cobban. He after having taught modern French history for severalyears in the University of London, he inaugurated his chair in modern Frenchhistory with a public lecture on the provocative title of “The Myth of theFrench Revolution.
” In this lecture, he presented the “Revolution of 1789” as afiction and put into question the “bourgeois” and “anti-feudal” character ofthe event.1 Alfred Cobbanquestioned the argument of Lefebvre, the so-called French Revolution was thevalidity of “the replacement of the feudal system by the capitalist order.” Hethinks that this view is not consistent with the historical facts and is merelya “myth.” In his point, “feudal system” refers to a set of aristocratic socialand political systems based on land ownership. Cobban convinces that thismeaning of the feudal system has long disappeared before the period of therevolutionary France. On the one hand, the French feudal aristocrats had notmonopolized the land because a long period of sale and resale, about a third ofthe aristocratic land had already flowed into civilians; on the other hand,they virtually no longer ruled France because French aristocrats have beenforced to leave politics since King Louis XIV ruled France. Therefore, it isnot true that the so-called French revolution overthrew the “feudal system.
“Cobban pointed out that during the French Revolution, the abolition of the”feudal system” by the National Assembly actually meant “seigniorial rights” suchas sovereignty, hunting rights, mills, wineries and ovens and so on. Theabolition of these rights does not mean the abolition of the feudal system. Alfred Cobban furtherreviewed the Lefebvre’s theory of bourgeois revolution. Lefebvre argues thatthe French Revolution originated in the rise of the bourgeoisie, while theso-called “rising bourgeoisie” refers to the great merchants, industrialists,financiers and specialized professionals and so on, who the characters of thedevelopment of business. However, Cobban’s statistical analysis of thebackground of the representatives of the French National Assembly has foundthat the French Revolution did not actually dominate the wealthy bourgeoisiebut a group of middle-lower bourgeoisie mainly composed of bureaucrats, lawyersand professionals.Therefore, Alfred Cobban revisedLefebvre’s view that the middle and lower bourgeoisie what the main force ofthe French Revolution. Here, although Cobban remanded Lefebvre’s point of view,he failed to deny its basic explanation structure: the French Revolutionoriginated from the “class struggle” between the aristocracy and thebourgeoisie.
He just simply replacedLefebvre’s “rising bourgeoisie” with what he called the “declining bourgeoisie.”However, after the mid of 1960s, a new generation of British and Americanhistorians continued to examine Lefebvre’s views from different angles withrigorous research. Their efforts gradually shake the explanation structure ofthe “class struggle” of the Marxism.
For example, George Taylor points out thatscholars are used to separating the French society under the old order into twoopposing classes, the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie, and hold that the formerupholds the inherent feudal order while the latter represents emergingcapitalism. In his opinion, this dichotomy is too simple and does not reflectthe reality of French social classes. He also found that French aristocratswere not completely conservative and were in fact very entrepreneurial andactively involved in investment activities.
In other words, the phenomenon ofcapitalism or bourgeoisification arose in the French aristocracy. By contrast,after becoming wealthy, the bourgeoisie likes to invest its wealth in”non-capitalist wealth” such as land, government bonds and publicdebt, and imitates the aristocratic way of life. It hopes to one day rank amongthe ranks of the aristocracy. In other words, the French bourgeoisie is alsoaristocratic or feudalized.
Therefore, the actual situation is that the Frenchcapitalism and the feudal order are intertwined, it is not in keeping with thehistorical facts that they should be absolutely painted and put on the oppositeside. Taylor mainly prove that the French bourgeoisie and the aristocrat classin the eighteenth century tended to converge rather than move toward opposites.This standpoint disrupts the Marxism of “class struggle” interpretation of thestructure because there is no class antagonism, naturally there is no classstruggle. Furthermore, George Taylor tried to come up with a newexplanation that the French Revolution was caused by political factors. Hethinks that the reasons that the revolution took place in France and thebourgeoisie opposed the aristocrats during the revolution are the financialproblems in the latter part of the old regime and the political crisis causedby this problem. Therefore, by its very nature, the French Revolution is”a political revolution with some social consequences; it is not thepolitical consequence of a social revolution.” Conclusion In the latenineteenth century, the study of the French Revolution was almost monopolizedby the orthodox theory. Until the late twentieth century, the term “revisionism”of speaking of the Revolution appeared, but it failed to deny Marxism of basic explanation structure.
It is probably that there will be more new interpretationsfor the French Revolution in the future. References CrashCourse. (2012, August 10 ). The French Revolution: Crash Course World History #29 Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTTvKwCylFY Kaiser, T.
(1979). Feudalismand the French Revolution. The History Teacher, 12(2),203-216. Langlois, C., & Tackett,T. (1990).
The French Revolution and “Revisionism”. TheHistory Teacher, 23(4),395-404. 1Langlois, C.
, & Tackett, T. (1990). TheFrench Revolution and “Revisionism”. The History Teacher, 23(4), 396