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CI.lASSES AND CLASS STRUGGLES DURING THE FR.ENCH REVOLUTION ALBERT SOBOUL HE French Revolution and the English revolutions of the 17th century were the culmination of a long economic and social evolution that made the bourgeoisie the mistress of the world. This truth, which may pass for a commonplace today, had been proclaimed by the most conscious theoreticians of the bourgeoisie ever since the 19th century. Guizot proved that the characteristic feature of French, as of English, society, consisted essentially in the fact that between the people and the aristocracy there was a strong bourgeois class which had slowly defined the ideology and then created the leaders of a new society, of which 1789 was the consecra- tion.! Tocqueville spoke with "a sort of religious terror" "of this irresistible revolution which has been on the march for so many centuries over every obstacle, and that we still see today advancing' in the midst of the ruins it has made."2 Taine sketched the slow climb of the bourgeoisie in the social scale, at the end of which it could no longer endure inequality.3 But for all their assurance that the birth and progress of the bourgeoisie had for their ultimate cause the appearance and developnlent of personal wealth, first of com- Inercial and then industrial enterprises, these historians hardly un- dertook a precise study of the economic origins of the Revolution or of the social classes that had made it. 1 Cf. in the Histoire de la Revolution d'Angleterre, the chapter entitled: "How the Revolutions of 1648 and 1789 Completed the 'Work of the Past," See too the preface of 1855 to the Histoire de la civilisation en France. 2 De la democratie en Amerique (1836-1839). 3 cr. Ch. 3, Book IV, in Origines de la France contemporaine, Vol. I, VAnden Regime (1875)' CLASSES DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 239 Jaures was the first, in his Histoire socialiste) to restore to the history of the Revolution its economic and social base, in a vast fresco swept away by eloquence. It still rerrLains a valid nlonument. 4 It may be th.at Jaures' work sins by being schenlatic. In it the Revolution unfolds all in one piece; its cause was the econornic and intellectual pmver of the bourgeoisie come of age; its result was to enshrine this power in the law. Sagnac, and later lVIathiez, went further and brought out the aristocratic reaction which cul- minated in 1787-88 in what l\fathiez designates as "the revolt of the nobility"5: an expression for their fanatical opposition to any attempt at refonn, and for their obstinate refusal to share their pre-emi- nence with the upper bourgeoisie. Thus was explained the violent nature of the French Revolution, in which the rise of the bour- geoisie was the result, not of gradual evolution, but of a sudden qualitative change. But the Revolution was not the work of the bourgeoisie alone, even though it alone profited by it.
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This note was uploaded on 03/15/2010 for the course SOC 100 taught by Professor Chen during the Winter '08 term at University of Michigan.

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