The long term causes of the French Revolution were the country’s vast income inequality, high taxes on the poor, a weak monarchy unable to control its own officials, and pressure from other revolutions in America and France’s neighboring nations, including enlightenment thinking as well as anti-French sentiment caused by France’s declining power on the European stage.
Explanation of Long Term Causes of French Revolution in 6 Points
Most historians agree that several long-term causes contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. The long-term causes of the French Revolution varied, including economic, social, political, and intellectual factors. Among the most important were:
1. Rising cost of living and attendant economic inequality:
In the late 18th century, France was still largely an agricultural society. However, bad harvests – combined with the monarchy spending too much money – drove food prices significantly. This placed a heavy burden on those who lived on fixed incomes, such as peasants and the urban poor.
Meanwhile, the wealthy classes enjoyed exceptional levels of luxury and riches, further worsening tensions between rich and poor. The gap between the wealthy and the poor increased, as did resentment of the privileges enjoyed by the nobility and clergy. These factors created an environment ripe for revolution.
2. A diminishing sense of social hierarchy and privilege:
In previous centuries, French society had been highly separated. There was a clear sense of who was higher in the hierarchy and who had more privilege based on their birth and ancestry as well as lot of ignorance and superstition.
However, this began to change in the late 17th century due to the philosophes’ emphasis on reason and equality, as well as increased social mobility due to the growing middle class.
Lawyers, thinkers, and other members of the bourgeoisie were increasingly able to challenge traditional ideas about society, further eroding the sense of hierarchy and privilege.
3. Country’s vast income inequality:
France was one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, but this wealth was so unevenly distributed. Most of the population lived in poverty, while a small minority enjoyed immense riches. This inequality was a major source of discontent among those struggling to make ends meet.
The French monarchy relied heavily on taxes to fund its lavish lifestyle and expensive wars. However, the tax burden fell disproportionately on the poor, who were often forced to sell their house and lands in order to pay their taxes.
This led to growing resentment among the lower classes towards the government and the wealthy classes who benefited from it.
4. The growing power of French economy
The Bourbon monarchy, which came to power in the late 16th century, worked to centralize power and authority within the royal government. However, this led to increased corruption and nepotism, as well as a decline in the monarch’s ability to effectively govern the country.
5. The influence of the American revolution:
The success of the American colonists in their war in 1776 for independence from Britain served as an inspiration for the French revolutionaries. The Americans had shown that it was possible to overthrow an unjust government and create a new, more democratic one.
This gave the French people hope that they could do the same against their own government.
6. Enlightenment thinking:
The philosophes of the Enlightenment – including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, and Montesquieu – were a major force in shaping the thoughts and beliefs in the 1750s and 1760s French society. The philosophes supported social reform and criticized the Church and aristocracy, both of which they saw as corrupt and oppressive.
They also called for more toleration of different religions and philosophies and greater freedom of speech and thought. Their emphasis on reason, equality, and liberty helped to challenge traditional ideas about politics and government, which laid the groundwork for the French Revolution.
These long-term causes culminated in the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, which would have far-reaching consequences not only for France but for the entire world.
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