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French Revolution Essay

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The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire.
The causes of the French revolution can be attributed to several intertwining ways:
* Cultural: The Enlightenment philosophy desacralized the authority of the King and the Church, and promoted a new society based on "reason" instead of traditions.
* Social: The emergence of an influential Bourgeoisie which was formally part of the Third Estate (commoners) but had evolved into a caste with its own agenda and aspired to political equality with aristocracy.
* Financial: France's debt, aggravated by French involvement in the American Independence War, led Louis XVI to implement new ...view middle of the document...

This economic crisis was due to the rapidly increasing costs of government and to the overwhelming costs incurred by fighting two major wars: the Seven Years' War and the American Revolutionary War. These costs could not be met from the usual sources of state revenue. Since the 1770s, several attempts by different ministers to introduce financial stability had failed.[1] The taxation system was burdensome upon the middle class and the more prosperous peasants, given that the nobles were largely able to exempt themselves from it. As a result, there was "an insistent demand" for reform of these abuses of privilege, for an equitable means of taxation and for improved government processes.[2] David Thomson argued that the bourgeoisie and peasantry had "something to lose, not merely something to gain" in their demands for a fairer society and this fear too was a major factor in the revolutionary situation.[3]
§Social inequality[edit]
The population of France in the 1780s was about 26 million, of whom 21 million lived in agriculture. Few of these owned enough land to support a family and most were forced to take on extra work as poorly paid labourers on larger farms. There were regional differences but, by and large, French peasants were generally better off than those in countries like Russia or Poland. Even so, hunger was a daily problem which became critical in years of poor harvest and the condition of most French peasants was poor.[4]
The fundamental issue of poverty was aggravated by social inequality as all peasants were liable to pay taxes, from which the nobility could claim immunity, and feudal dues payable to a local seigneur or lord. Similarly, the destination of tithes which the peasants were obliged to pay to their local churches was a cause of grievance as it was known that the majority of parish priests were poor and the contribution was being paid to an aristocratic, and usually absentee, abbot.[5] The clergy numbered about 100,000 and yet they owned ten percent of the land. It maintained a rigid hierarchy as abbots and bishops were all members of the nobility and canons were all members of wealthy bourgeois families. As an institution, the Church was both rich and powerful. As with the nobility, it paid no taxes and merely contributed a grant to the state every five years, the amount of which was self-determined. The upper echelons of the clergy had considerable influence over government policy.[5]
Dislike of the nobility was especially intense. Successive French kings and their ministers had tried with limited success to suppress the power of the nobles but, in the last quarter of the 18th century, "the aristocracy were beginning once again to tighten their hold on the machinery of government".[6]
§Enlightenment ideas[edit]
A growing number of the French citizenry had absorbed the ideas of "equality" and "freedom of the individual" as presented by Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot and other philosophers and social...

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