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
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
class which had slowly defined the ideology and then
created the leaders of a new society, of which 1789 was the consecra-
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.
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.
De la democratie en Amerique
3, Book IV,
CLASSES DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Jaures was the first, in his
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.
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;
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
But the Revolution was not the work of the bourgeoisie alone,
it alone profited by it.