Causes of the French Revolution
There are many social, political and economic reasons the Third Estate rose up against the leaders of France in the late 1700s bringing about the French Revolution. Being in the lowest caste of French society, the Third Estate was a life sentence. There is no way to better yourself and rise above the poverty you were born into. As hard as you worked you would always be in the lowest social group, you had to be born into the top two tiers of French society. There emerged a group, generally in London and Paris, who wanted to teach the world a new way to think. They believed 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 Brians 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”.
There were many political causes of the French Revolution. 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 God detested revolution 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 economic pyramid in France. People that did fight were considered going against the church and were put in jail or killed. People that organized to try to fight the church or the state were banned or punished. The aristocracy ruled by right of birth and the church ruled because God said so, and in the end the common man had very little say in what happened in his life. 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”. Philosophers like Rousseau ignited people's passions to try to change their lot in life. People began to wonder if there was a better way to live.
Merchants became more powerful and 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. 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 there 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. 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
A new class of merchants started taking over. They began 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 inheriting it they wanted to keep more and more and not give it away to Kings or to taxes. Slowly a middle-class emerged ,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 about the plight of the French peasants in Travels in France: Signs of Revolution. He highlighted the incredible poverty that existed in rural France. He talked about taxes being so high people literally could not 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. After realizing that the aristocracy was using money to live a lavish lifestyle common people in the third estate stopped wanting to give taxes to them to further this lavish life when they could not afford to eat.
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 did not like what they saw. The very rich King's 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 could not 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. There was so much information available that 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 percent of the population lived in incredible poverty while 2 percent 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 French Revolution was just a matter of time once information became clear how unfairly the third estate was being treated.
Note on Changes made
I did not capitalize a few words. I typed in the wrong name for the author of an article. I wrote out the contractions. I wrote out the word percent.