Social, Political and Economic Causes of the French Revolution
The French Revolution had many social, political and economic causes. One man responsible for some of the social aspects of the French Revolution was Jean Jacques Rosseau. We was a French philosopher who believed in the natural goodness of man. He believed men could be corrupted by the greed and competition in civilization. Rousseau believed there could be a utopia free of vices where men share a natural equality and goodwill towards each other. The ideas of French philosopher Rousseau and many others were instrumental in the events leading to the French Revolution. In the late 1700s 98% of France was considered part of the third estate. The third estate included many types of people but in general was universally considered the lowest order and included all peasants and serfs.
There are many political causes to the revolution as well. There were challenges to the established political doctrines of absolutism, where Kings had great power and were supported by the idea of the Divine right of Kings. Kings used religion to say that revolution was detested by God or that God did not want them to fight their power. There were also challenges to established religious doctrines. The church leaders had been telling their followers for years of the idea of geocentricity, where the earth is the center of the universe. New philosophers came out and told of a different system where the Sun was the center of the universe and the church worried that God was no longer in a specific place so they fought against this. Religious leaders urged people to not go against them because it was like going against God and if they did fight they were considered going against the church and were put in jail or beheaded. The church was very powerful and influenced all aspects of government policies and even ran its own court system. There was a strong feeling of resentment towards the church. The church hierarchy, like bishops and canons, grew rich from their offices while priests remained very poor.
An English landowner named Arthur Young traveled a great deal in France. In Young's work, Travels in France: Signs of Revolution, Young wrote about the incredible poverty he saw in the countryside of France. He was shocked and appalled by the level of poverty he encountered in a once rich and prosperous nation. Young noted that people were spending nearly all of their money just to buy bread and they couldn't possibly live like this much longer. He noted the deep dissatisfaction among the French in 1787 in his travels. Because the people were so dissatisfied in their government and with church leaders they called for changes. The French people wanted the church to reform by spreading more of the church's money around. Church leaders didn't like this of course and fought against any type of reformation. People that did organize to try to fight the church or the state were banned. New governments were formed because people moved from the country to the cities and more information was easier to get. The aristocracy lost power because inherited wealth became less important as people could earn their own living by becoming merchants. To this day people believe that you can earn a living and better yourself in Europe. These merchants had to fight the church and the aristocracy for power. There were many economic causes of the French Revolution as well. According to Glencoe World History one of the immediate causes of the revolution in France was the near collapse of the French budget. 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. People learned that you could change your leadership and change the way you do business. A new class of merchants started taking over. They took 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 own money instead of inheriting it they wanted to keep more and more of that and not give it away to Kings. We have learned from the slide “Causes of the French Revolution” there were financial problems including wars and extravagant spending that helped to bankrupt France. France lost material, men and territory to Britain during the war and peasants were burdened with taxation that was impossible to pay.
There were people, mostly in London and Paris, that believed they were smarter or more “enlightened” than everybody else and they had a goal to make everybody else smarter. These people believed that using your mind not your body could end stupidity, superstition, and tyranny to build a better world. They mostly went after the church, religion and the aristocrats who were born to dominate society by right of birth. In the 17th century there were religious wars and Protestants and Catholics imprisoned each other. There was a great deal of censorship in books. Slavery was widespread. People were thrown from church to church and soon lost their faith in everything. As merchants became more powerful individualism became a core value. There are many economic, social and political causes of the French Revolution. I believe the economic effects causing food prices to rise dramatically is the most important cause of the French Revolution. People can argue all day about politics, people can argue all day about religion but in the end if you don't eat, you become more than grumpy, you become angry and start a revolution. The peasants living in rural France were so poor they literally couldn't afford to eat. I believe that the French nobles and aristocracy lived so extravagantly and once news got back to the peasants that other people lived this way and they couldn't afford to eat it was just a matter of big numbers. There's a heck of a lot more peasants then there are nobles, 98% more to be exact. The nobles never had a chance. Paul Brian said in his paper The Enlightenment, ‘In many ways, the Enlightenment has never been more alive. The notions of human rights it developed are powerfully attractive to oppressed peoples everywhere, who appeal to the same notion of natural law that so inspired.” The French Revolution, like the American Revolution, all started with oppressed people who rose up and fought.