To What Extent Was the Enlightenment the Cause of the French Revolution Essay

To what extent were Enlightenment ideas responsible for the outbreak of the French Revolution and the reforms of 1789? Included sources attached: John Locke, “Two Treatises on Government”, 1690; The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens, 1789; Arthur Young “Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789” The ancien régime, the time before the outbreak of the revolution, was divided into three estates. The first estate, for the people of the highest position in France belonged to the clergy; this group contained the members of the religious rules such as Bishops, Monks and Nuns.

However, the people of this estate were not popular among many people of especially the third estate. This was mainly because of the power they had over the people. France was a very religious country with Catholicism as the official state religion. The Church had much influence on the people of France. The Second Estate was the state of the nobility this was the most powerful estate of France. It contained all the noble people with most status and wealth. This state was the most privileged Estate in France.

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On top of having the best jobs available in France, the Second Estate had privileges such as being tried in special courts, they were completely exempted from military services and along with the gabelle (the very unpopular taxation on salt), the corvée (the forced labour on roads), they received a variety of feudal dues (workers), they had exclusive rights for hunting and fishing and a final privilege was that they had in many areas the monopoly right meaning that they had the exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service.

The third estate was the group of people who weren’t part of the nobility or the clergy group. This was the group with the most people in it, about 85 per cent and also the group with the most variation in wealth and status. It consisted of the bourgeoisie who were the middle class, the peasantry and the urban workers who were craftsmen or skilled workers. And the so called Sans-cullottes also belonged to the third estate; these people were the people with lack in regarding social class, the workers.

In the following excerpt, written by Author Young in ‘Travels in France during the years 1787, 1788 and 1789’ we can perceive what influence the Enlightenment had on the society of France before and after the ancien régime; Pass Payrac [town in the South of France] and meet many beggars, which we had not done before. All the country, girls and women, are without shoes or stockings; and the ploughmen at their work have neither sabots nor feet to their stockings.

This is a poverty, that strikes at the root of national prosperity; a large consumption among the poor being of more consequence than among the rich: the wealth of a nation lies in its circulation and consumption; and the case of poor people abstaining from the use of manufactures of leather and wool ought to be considered as an evil of the first magnitude. It reminded me of the misery of Ireland. We now observe that there definitely were not equal rights between the three Estates. It is obvious that a Movement like the Enlightment caused dramatical change in the thoughts of the French people.

The thought of equality among the French people gave the Third Estate hope for a better country and the revolutionaries were born. There were of course many issues that affected the French society because of the estates. The first estate had vast differences in wealth between the upper clergy and the ordinary priests. There was also resentment against the church regarding tithes, a charge paid to the church each year by landowners, and the don gratuit, a so called ‘free gift’ given to the crown.

For the Second Estate the issues affecting the French society lay in the resentment against the nobility for the non-payment of direct taxes and the feudal rights were resented by the tenants. The Third Estate had little privileges and their issues contained that the bourgeoisie had no political role under the absolutism and the burden of the taxation was upon them which was largely borne by the Third Estate. John Locke, an English philosopher, also known as the father of Classical Liberalism, said in 1690 from “Two Treatises on Government”; [On the state of nature]

To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man (… ) We derive from this that men are all equal and we should not expect political power to be understood right if we do not realize that men are equal in all Estates.

With Estates, the laws of nature won’t be heard and it is not naturally human to build up Estates in a country. This excerpt also has a lot to do with the rights of men and especially the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen. This will be discussed later on in the Essay. The birth of the Enlightenment happened during the 18th Century and it emerged from Europe as an intellectual movement of writers and thinkers questioning and challenging the ideas and views that at the time was widely accepted.

Especially the Catholic Church was challenged for its traditional and determined values. Their analysis of society was based on reason and rational thoughts rather than superstition and traditional ways. The movement travelled to France and the writers of the movement in France were called Philosophes. The aims of the Philosophes were to apply a rational analysis to all activities of especially the Church but also political and royal activities in France. They did not accept tradition or revelation since this was part of the old, ancien régime.

They were in favour of Liberty, press, freedom of speech, trade, and freedom from arbitrary arrest. They rejected anything that could not be explained with reasoning. Therefore the Church was under much pressure. They condemned the Church for its corruptness, wealth and intolerance. Even though the philosophes were very critical of many of the aspects of the ancien régime, they were not revolutionists because they were not essentially opposed to the ancien régime. Even so, they did still have much of an impact on the outbreak of the Revolution.

Their ideals and ideas attacked the factors of which the ancien régime was based and therefor the main stand of the old order, the Church and the position of it along with the position of the Kind as God’s servant. So even though their writings were not revolutionary, they did have a massive impact on the people who would become revolutionaries. The four reforms of 1789 were part of the revolutionary outbreak. They abolished several taxation systems and they formed rights for all men. However, before the times of the reforms bagan, the Great Fear spread.

The social crisis deepened in France because of increases in the price of bread. In June, King Louis XVI began massing troops near Paris, and it was feared that the king would move against the National Assembly. The people of Paris responded by forming a National Guard and attacking the Bastille. In the meantime, the Great Fear spread through the countryside, as peasants began attacking the homes of their noble landlords and burning the registers. The first reform happened on the night of 4th August 1789. It was The August Decrees and it had the purpose to calm the people down after the Great Fear.

The August Decrees was the reform that abolished the feudal system along with personal services for the upper Estates with no compensation including serfdom and the corvée. Rights such as champart and lods et ventes were seen as a form of property right and even though they was proposed to be abolished, they were just to be redeemed by the peasants. Therefore there was not much satisfaction with the reform in the country side because of the limited nature of the reforms. Between the 5th and the 11th August, the proposed changes were given legal.

In the end, the main changes that were abolished were the tithes payable to the Church, venality, financial and tax privileges relating to land and persons, taxation variety between citizens, special privileges, all citizens without distinction of birth were eligible for all offices (whether ecclesiastical, civil or military) The Enlightenment did have an influence on the August Decrees. It had influenced in the sense that it started prompting the people of France to protest and ask for the reform. There is no doubt that the reform was to happen, however, without the Enlightenment it had not happened with this pace.

The second reform was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens. This reform was the enforcement of the Declaration and it condemned the practices of the ancien régime and outlined the rights of citizens. This was demanded in the cahiers of all three orders. The main points from the Declaration were that all men were born equal and free in their rights; liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression were rights of man; Power rested with the people; freedom of worship; freedom of expression; taxation to be borne by all proportion to their means and freedom for owning of property.

The Declaration would outlast the constitution to which it was later attached and was to be an important inspiration to liberals throughout Europe in the nineteenth century. John Locke, an English philosopher, also known as the father of Classical Liberalism, said in 1690 from “Two Treatises on Government”; [Concerning Legislative Power] Whenever the Legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of war with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence… [Power then] devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty, and, by the establishment of a new Legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own Safety and Security, which is the end for which they are in Society.

In the ancien régime, this way of thinking was not an often occurrence, the people of France were ruled by the Church, a traditional and yet corrupt rule with many laws stating how to do and how not to do. When the Declaration was enforced the significance of it was said by the historian George Rudé to be that ‘… it sounded the death knell of the ancien régime, while preparing the public for the constructive legislation which was a follow’. This says it all; The Enlightenment was in fact a major influence in processing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

All the Enlightment ideals are seen in the Declaration and therefore we know that the Enlightment had a special influence on this reform. The Declaration in exact detail is presented in the following paragraph it states the exact rights which can teach us about how the rule changed and how we can understand the way the Enlightenment had an influence on this way of thinking. From: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens, 1789 The National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and the citizen: 1.

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility. 2. The purpose of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. 3. The principle of all sovereignty rests essentially in the nation. No body and no individual may exercise authority which does not emanate expressly from the nation. 4.

Liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no other limits than those which assure to other members of society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law. 5. The law only has the right to prohibit those actions which are injurious to society. No hindrance should be put in the way of anything not prohibited by the law, nor may anyone be forced to do what the law does not require. 6. The law is the expression of the general will.

All citizens have the right to take part, in person or by their representatives, in its formation. It must be the same for everyone whether it protects or penalizes. All citizens being equal in its eyes are equally admissible to all public dignities, offices, and employments, according to their ability, and with no other distinction than that of their virtues and talents. The whole Enlightenment work in the 18th century offered above all a radical criticism of the inequalities, fanaticisms, injustices, and contributed intellectually to the revolutionary aspirations.

One can point out specific rights which show exactly that the Enlightenment had a major influence. E. g. number 4; ‘Liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no other limits than those which assure to other members of society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law. ’ This is a major Ideal of the Enlightenment and we derive many ideas and ideological terms of the Enlightenment movement in this point. The third reform was the nationalisation of Church land.

This reform had its purpose to solve the debt of the state. After prolonged debates during late October and early November, the assembly agreed on 2nd November 1789 that all the property of the Church should be placed at the disposal of the Nation. This meant that all Church land was nationalised and the State for its part would assume responsibility for looking after the Clergy and carry out their work for helping the poor. Church land was sold and this went a long way for towards meeting the needs for the financial needs.

This reform is also seen to have been influenced by the Enlightenment. The Ideal of the Enlightenment that Religion is not to rule a country and that one cannot base rule on something which is not empowered by logic, facts and knowledge. When the ideas of the Enlightenment came to France, it was not a very large issue to sell the Church land for the revolutionaries were not in favour of the Church and therefore it was an easy was to solve the debt problem We can assume however, that the Enlightenment did not cause this reform, only made it easier to fulfil by the State.

The fourth reform of 1789 was The October days, also known as The Women’s March to Versailles It was the second major attack after the storming of the Bastille. It was a demonstration from the women’s side because of the rising tension that arose because of the Kings refusal to approve the Assembly’s decrees. On 5th October, Women came storming to the Hôtel de Ville, the headquarters of the commune, demanding bread. The women were determined to march to Versailles to put their complaints to the King and the Assembly. 6 to 7 thousands of women set foot to march a five hour march with 20,000 National Guards following them.

The women invaded the Assembly when they got there and sent a deputation to the king who immediately agreed to provide Paris with grain. He also agreed to approve the August Decrees and the Declaration of Rights. This was the major revolutionary attack of 1789. It was definitely the Enlightenment ideals that activated this happening. The French women were not happy about the bread prises and one can imagine that after hearing about human rights and knowing that one’s rights did not live up to the morals then obviously triggered a reaction.

This reaction could have been prevented by the King if he had agreed sooner but this reaction was a combinational reaction of the Enlightenment ideas, the economic situation and the corrupt Church. The major causes of the French Revolution were a combination of the international struggle for leadership and Empire which outperformed the economic resources of the state; The Political conflict between the Monarchy and the nobility over the reform of the taxation system which led to bankruptcy; The Enlightenment which was an impulse for improvement of political conflicts.

It reinforced traditional aristocratic constitutionalism; Social antagonisms between two rising groups: the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie; the ineffective ruler King Louis XVI; the economic hardship, especially the agrarian crisis of 1788-89 generates popular discontent and disorders caused by food shortages. So to what extent was the Enlightenment responsible for the outbreak of the French Revolution and the reforms of 1789? The extent of the Enlightenment was large enough to be able to say that the movement triggered the revolutionaries enough to start at the time they did.

Being able to say if the Revolution had happened without the Enlightenment is debateable because of many factors playing a role in that argument. However, it can be said that the Enlightenment definitely triggered the social awareness in France and it all would not have happened in the span of 2 months if the Enlightenment had not influenced at all. So therefore it can calmly be said that the Enlightenment had a large influence of the peoples ideals of how a State should be and what morals and rights do the people deserve. BIBLIOGRAPHY: School Workbook:

France in Revolution; FOURTH EDITION; Hodder Education by Dylan Rees. Given Sources: SOURCE A From: John Locke, “Two Treatises on Government”, 1690 [On the state of nature] To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man (… ) [Of the beginning of political societies]

MEN being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent, which is done by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living, one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any that are not of it. …. When any numbers of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest (… [Concerning Legislative Power] …Whenever the Legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of war with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence… [Power then] devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty, and, by the establishment of a new Legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own Safety and Security, which is the end for which they are in Society.

SOURCE B: From: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens, 1789 The National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and the citizen: 1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility. 2. The purpose of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. 3. The principle of all sovereignty rests essentially in the nation.

No body and no individual may exercise authority which does not emanate expressly from the nation. 4. Liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no other limits than those which assure to other members of society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law. 5. The law only has the right to prohibit those actions which are injurious to society. No hindrance should be put in the way of anything not prohibited by the law, nor may anyone be forced to do what the law does not require. . The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part, in person or by their representatives, in its formation.

It must be the same for everyone whether it protects or penalizes. All citizens being equal in its eyes are equally admissible to all public dignities, offices, and employments, according to their ability, and with no other distinction than that of their virtues and talents. SOURCE C Two excerpts from: Arthur Young “Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789”. (1) The abuses attending the levy of taxes were heavy and universal.

The kingdom was parcelled into generalities [administrative districts], with an intendant at the head of each, into whose hands the whole power of the crown was delegated for everything except the military authority; but particularly for all affairs of finance. (…) The rolls of the taille, capitation, vingtiemes, and other taxes, were distributed among districts, parishes, and individuals, at the pleasure of the intendant, who could exempt, change, add, or diminish at pleasure. Such an enormous power, constantly acting, and from which no man was free, must, in the nature of things, degenerate in many cases into absolute tyranny.

It must be obvious that the friends, acquaintances, and dependents of the intendant, and of all his sub-delegues, and the friends of these friends, to a long chain of dependence, might be favoured in taxation at the expense of their miserable neighbours (…) But, without recurring to such cases, what must have been the state of the poor people paying heavy taxes, from which the nobility and clergy were exempted? A cruel aggravation of their misery, to see those who could best afford to pay, exempted because able! (2) Pass Payrac [town in the South of France] and meet many beggars, which we had not done before.

All the country, girls and women, are without shoes or stockings; and the ploughmen at their work have neither sabots nor feet to their stockings. This is a poverty, that strikes at the root of national prosperity; a large consumption among the poor being of more consequence than among the rich: the wealth of a nation lies in its circulation and consumption; and the case of poor people abstaining from the use of manufactures of leather and wool ought to be considered as an evil of the first magnitude. It reminded me of the misery of Ireland.

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