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. Rosseau 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 shared 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 percent 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. In France during this time period if you were born into the third estate there was almost nothing you could do to better yourself and move up in the world.
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 and God had a specific place. 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 literally existing 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. 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 could not 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 did not 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 factions were formed because people moved from the country to the cities and more information was easier to get. These factions 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. Extravagant spending by Kings caused many of the financial problems in France. People learned that you could change your leadership and change the way you do business. A new class of merchants started taking over. The aristocracy lost power because inherited wealth became less important as people could earn their own living by becoming merchants. These merchants had to fight the church and the aristocracy for power and became powerful. 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. Peasants were fed up by being overburdened 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 you could end stupidity, superstition, and tyranny to build a better world. The Enlightenment philosophers told people of their ideas about liberty and equality and influenced the thinking of the people in France. The philosophers utopian world was very different than the one the majority of French people lived in. The Enlightenment educated people about a different way to live . That was completely different than the system of absolute monarchies that had controlled their lives in the past. The people of France were hungry and desperate for change and decided to change the way they were governed..
There were many causes of the French Revolution. I believe the economic effect of food prices rising dramatically was 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 do not 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 were a heck of a lot more peasants then there were nobles, 98 percent more to be exact. The nobles never had a chance. Paul Brians 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.
Notes on the changes I made
There were some grammar mistakes that I changed and I added some words to make it easier to read. On page 3. I changed the entire Enlightenment paragraph because it sounded more like a list than an essay and I chose a couple of examples instead of having so many. I got rid of a couple of sentences on the end of the third page that didn't really make sense in the relationship to Enlightenment and I fixed the grammatical errors in the last paragraph.