The growth of the Enlightenment movement was a key long term cause of the French revolution as it questioned the current state of France and challenged unjust class systems. However, there were a number of other long term causes that led to the French revolution. The structure of the Royal government and French society had created restlessness amongst the third estate for quite some time leading to the French revolution. The taxation system was seen as highly unjust amongst the third estate as well and can be seen as an underlying long term cause for the French revolution.
The growth of the Enlightenment movement was a major long term cause for the French Revolution. The Enlightenment were a group of intellectual writers and thinkers from Europe in the 18th century whose aim was to apply rational analysis to all activities. This meant they put great emphasis on the unjust systems in place which meant the poorest group had to pay the most taxes, creating a voice for the unhappy third estate and giving them confidence to speak out. This in turn led to the third estate coming together in cascade of anger and uproar against the current system, leading to the French revolution.
In addition, the most famous thinkers, Volataire and Montesqieu, were not prepared to accept tradition and attacked the church and despotic government. Their ideologies attracted nearly all of the third estate creating a huge group of people believing in change. This in turn led to the majority of France being ready to challenge the government and monarchy and causing the revolution to start. The Enlightenment movement was very critical of the Ancien regime which influenced many radical thinkers at the time who were ready to lead France against the rich minority.
It’s this leadership which got the wheels of the revolution in motion; therefore, the Enlightenment movement played a key part in the occurrence of the French revolution. The structure of the Royal Government was a very important long term cause of the French revolution. King Louis XIV believed that God had given him the divine right to rule and therefore felt the French people should obey him without question. This idea infuriated the large majority of the third estate as there was no clear logical reason why they should obey the King, resulting in restlessness amongst 85% of the population.
This long term struggle with the idea of an absolute monarch developed into anger and ultimately led to mass uproar and the French revolution. Furthermore, King Louis XVI had complete power over all aspects of France, ultimately meaning he could do what he wanted. This meant that the third estate had no way of communicating or fashioning a way of improving their lives, leaving them trapped in a life of poverty. This therefore left them no choice but to use physical violence and action to try and get out of their dire circumstances, resulting in a revolution.
The taxation system was highly unjust in France during the 18th century and was a key long term cause for the revolution. Firstly, peasants who made up 85% of the population but lived in dire poverty had to pay the most taxes, including Taille, Capitation and Tithe tax. This left the third estate with only just enough to survive which created great anger amongst them as the rich paid nothing. This corrupt taxation system left the third estate trapped in a life of poverty leaving them no choice but to revolt if they wanted any chance of a better life.
In addition to this, the clergy and nobility, the two rich estates were exempt from taxes. This illogical system compounded with the Enlightenments highlighting of how unjust France was finally led the majority of France to rise up against their unfair position, in the only way they could through a mass revolution. The final long term cause that played a major in the outbreak of the French revolution was the structure of French society. Firstly, the clergy and nobility collectively took up only around 5% of the population yet they owned a vast amount of land compared to the 85% of the third estate who owned no land at all.
This meant they had huge amounts of money tied up in land and a constant food supply which the third estate did not. This structure of class left the third estate in poverty yet they saw the riches of the two upper estates when they worked their land daily. This in turn created mass anger which had built up over time leading to a collective plea for change, displayed by the outbreak of the revolution. Furthermore, the two upper estates had great power and could sway the king’s decisions to an extent. This was shown when Louis tried to reform tax with Turgo but nobility quickly disagreed and Louis then sacked Turgo.
The power the two upper estates possessed created great unrest amongst the third estate as they felt they deserved more power due to the fact that they paid the majority of taxes. The fact that they had no bargaining powers forced them to try and bring about change in the way of revolution, therefore, highlighting the fact that the structure of French society was key long term cause for the revolution. Overall, all the four causes had some bearing on the outbreak of the French Revolution, however, some more than others.
The growth of the enlightenment movement did influence many radical revolutionaries into taking action and created a collective group ready for change, but I feel that it was not the key underlying cause which made people revolt. I believe that the structure of French society was the main cause for the French revolution as it left the third estate trapped in poverty for a long period of time while the upper two estates prospered in a life of luxury. This ultimately left the third estate no option but to take radical action to try and bring about change and is therefore the main reason for the outbreak of the French revolution.
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