Causes of the French Revolution
There emerged a group generally in London and Paris who wanted to teach the world a new way to think they believe they were smarter than a everybody else and they wanted to teach them how to be “enlightened” like they were. This group of enlightened people believed that you could use the power of your brain and not war, superstition, or the church to build a better world. They spent a great deal of their time going after the church and the aristocracy. Paul Ryan in his article, The Enlightenment, said “the chief obstacles to the reshaping of Europe by the merchant class were the same as those faced by the rationalist philosophers: absolutist kings and dogmatic churches.” The church and the aristocracy ruled all aspects of society. Kings ruled by absolutism and had great power. They were supported by the idea of the “Divine right of Kings”. Church leaders used religion to say that revolution was detested by God or that God did not want them to fight against their God-given power. The church was teaching geocentricity, or that the earth was the center of the universe, and that God had a physical place in it. The church fought hard against reformation. The church did not want to change their ways, the hierarchy enjoyed being at the top of the economics in France. People that did fight were considered going against the church and were put in jail or killed. People that did organize to try to fight the church or the state were banned by the aristocracy by right of birth and the church because God said so. The French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau said in his book, The Social Contract, that “a doctrine which party has a long history in the struggle against the older view of the Divine right of king's, namely, that government gets its authority over us by a willing consent on our part, not by the authorization of God.
Merchants became more powerful individualism became a core value. Individuality began to replace religion and authority in the daily lives of the people of Europe. The monarchy became smaller and smaller and their power base began to dwindle to almost nothing. The church lost a great deal of their power. In the late Middle Ages people began to move from the country to the cities. This not only changed the way people receive their information but their economy went from a mostly farm-based rural economy to a merchant base city economy. Trade and communication got better during the Renaissance and people started to realize that it didn't have to be this way forever that new laws could be passed and new governments could be formed. This makes sense because as you meet new people who live a different way of life you would compare the way you lived to the way they lived and realize it can be different and still be successful. As the country people started to talk to it to other new patterns showed them that they could do business a different way.
A new class of merchants started taking over in taking away the power from old aristocracy that used to own the land. These new merchants became powerful and changed the culture. As people began to earn their money instead of inherited they wanted to keep more and more of that and not give it away to Kings or to taxes. There emerged a middle-class called the bourgeoisie who resented paying taxes to support the crazy expensive lifestyle of the aristocracy. The church also lost power because people did not want to pay the church for promises they couldn't see in their pocketbook. The French peasants were incredibly poor. A man named Arthur Young talked of the plight of the French peasants in his travels thru France. His trip was discussed in a diary where he highlighted the incredible poverty. He talked about taxes being so high people literally couldn't afford bread. The aristocracy and the church had done little to help the common man. As communication got better people realized that non-Christians built entire societies without a church. These merchants had to fight the church and the aristocracy for power. People after realizing that the aristocracy was using money to live a lavish lifestyle they stopped wanting to give taxes to them to further this lavish life when they did all the work.
France in the late 1700s had many social, political and economic inequalities. As information became easier to get the “have-nots” started looking more closely at the “haves” and they didn't like what they saw. The very rich Kings and aristocrats lived a lavish and extravagant lifestyle that seemed unimaginable to the French peasants who couldn't even afford to buy bread. There were very few ways to change your lot in life in France during this time and that seemed terribly unfair to people. I believe the French Revolutions main cause was the accessibility of information. If the French peasants, who couldn't afford bread, never learned that there were Kings throwing lavish parties every night they wouldn't feel so desperate to change things and make them more equal. There was information in the form of books, pamphlets, speakers and through word-of-mouth showed people the massive inequalities and quality of life differences between the rich and poor. It also showed the poor how very few rich people there were. Just by sheer numbers the poor had a very good chance of overthrowing their government. As well armed as you are 1000 people will always beat one. Of course the numbers in France were even worse. 98% of the population lived in incredible poverty while 2% of the population was wealthy. People moving to cities also aided them in receiving information about what was going on with the Kings and aristocracy. The Revolution was just a matter of time once information became clear how unfairly peasants were being treated. In his book Future Progress of the Human Mind philosopher Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Condorcet predicted a future with the removal of inequalities among nations and social classes. He went on to predict the improvement of people intellectually, morally and physically.