At the time of the 1789 French Revolution, Louis XVI was the King and ruler of the absolute monarchy in France. Throughout Louis’ reign of 1774 to 1792, it was the age of Enlightenment. Europe was drastically changing – culturally, politically and socially. The French were not taking part in the enlightened change and became outdated to the point that the bourgeoisie built a volcano, and were so anxious for change that a revolution erupted.
The ‘ancien rï¿½gime’ refers to the pre-revolutionary social and governmental system.i The government system was an absolute monarchy and due to its supreme power over France, it was essential that the monarch be firm and secure. Louis XVI was impertinent to the ‘ancien rï¿½gime’ as he was unstable, indecisive and a heavy drinker which may have contributed to his poor love life and obesity. Louis XVI’s performance as a king created an unstable monarchy.ii “The deficit was a record of bad government”.iii
Political and Social Inequalities were still very common in France as they still practiced the feudal system in the eighteenth century. There were three social classes known as estates. The nobles and the clergy made up the first two estates and were the richest in France; however they were exempt from taxes and were they only people that could enjoy positions of importance. This caused a great degree of discontentment within the bourgeoisie as they worked very hard and had to pay taxes. The bourgeoisie was the third estate in France, everyone other than the nobility was in this class. From the perspective of the bourgeoisie, this system was a problem.iv
The Influence of the Enlightenment was also a contributing factor to the revolution. The ideas and writings of the enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau became widespread. The French people were inspired for change even if they had to go against their king.v
The biggest factor contributing to the revolution was economically related. “The direct cause of the Revolution was the chaotic state of government finance.”vi The government was chaotic as a result of an outdated monarchy. The economic inefficiencies were a result from the tax system, bad crops, and extravagant spending by Louis XIV and Louis XV in the years prior.vii The basic complication was that the nobility, with all the money, did not want to pay tax, while the bourgeoisie, with no money had to pay a lot of tax which was not enough to feed the government budget. This had great implications for Louis XVI and his government which became bankrupt.viii
Louis XVI’s France was desperate for financial help so he summoned the Estates-General in May 1789, its first meeting since 1614. Louis XVI called the meeting mainly to address the financial crisis in France and was not planning on losing power to anyone. The bourgeoisie controlled the Third Estate and quickly recognized that they would always be controlled by the nobility, who were two of the three estates, both the nobility and the clergy.ix
“If the government, cutting short the debates that arose between the orders, had come to the aid of the commoners before they had learned their own strength; if, from the first days, its influence had obliged the orders to deliberate in common, it is probable that…the work of the Assembly would never have been influenced during its whole course by the inflammatory atmosphere of a people in a state of revolution;…the result of the labor would have been some kind of compromise among the various parties, a new arrangement of what existed rather that a complete reshaping.”x
Once the bourgeoisie saw a piece of how Louis XVI was running their country and how the class in which the bourgeoisie lived was treated, they immediately sought after change. In response, the Third Estate walked out of the assemblage and established the National Assembly, claiming to legitimately represent the people of France, and thus beginning the French Revolution.xi During this time, the bourgeoisie were treated with total disregard from the government other than their service as tax payers. “Louis XIV governed without recourse to the collaboration of a single bourgeois.”xii
All factors related to the cause of the 1789 French Revolution can be attributed to the fact that the French government was ignorant, greedy, and only did things to their own benefit. This way of thinking was very outdated during the Enlightenment and led to the social, economic and political problems. Thus it can be concluded that the extension of the outdated monarchy as a cause of the revolution was not a simple cause on its own, it was the single entity that provided a source for the numerous causes of the French Revolution.
“It is evident that in France before the revolution nothing was regulated in any precise manner, neither the rights of the crown nor those of the people, nor those of the courts; that the aristocracy had too much influence on the government; that personal liberty was frequently exposed to infringement by various arbitrary authorities; that political liberty was almost completely lacking; that the legitimate power of the king, of the sort necessary to the public welfare, was not firmly enough established; that the remonstrances of the parlements, however useful, being full of dangerous maxims and often written in a menacing tone, were by degrees accustoming the subject to lose all respect for the throne…”xiii
Europe was changing while in France it was almost as if the monarchy fell so much in love with itself that it didn’t think or look before acting and got itself pregnant, giving birth to a French Revolution.. The empowered in France were not interested in a better country for their people; they wanted more money and more power which contributed to an opposite result. The masses were tired of feeding the monarchy their hard earned money and time; they wanted freedom during a time focusing on just that: the freedom of speech.