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Was the Enlightenment the main cause of the French Revolution?

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mick bennetto

on 23 November 2011

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Transcript of Was the Enlightenment the main cause of the French Revolution?

Was the Enlightenment the main cause of the French Revolution? The Second Estate - the nobility The First Estate - the clergy The Third Estate - the bourgeoisie and the peasantry Pre-revolutionary France: A background What was the Enlightenment? Marxist interpretations Revisionist interpretations Cultural factors Political factors Economic factors Conclusions Reflections The Enlightenment was a cultural movement in 18th century Europe.

Concepts of individual rights, equality and science were introduced to the masses.

Its ideas are enshrined in the modern American and French Republics. The French Revolution was an inevitable event in human history.

Fedualism was being replaced by Capitalism; caused by the emerging bourgeoisie's class struggle against the nobility.

Reflects theories of base and superstructure.



Focused upon the Enlightenment movement as a cause of the Revolution.

Doyle blamed structures of society rather than the Enlightenment.





The Question of historical causation Can the Revolution be attributed to the intellectual ideas of the Enlightenment?

Or was the Revolution caused by changes in the structures of society? Marxism- The Enlightenment movement was the intellectual product of the rising bourgeoisie.

Doyle explains that sales figures for Diderot’s Encyclopedie show that it “sold well among both military nobles and professional bourgeois, precisely the most active and radical groups of 1789”.

However, measuring the influence of culture on past societies is extremely difficult.

The calling of the Estates-General antagonised the bourgeoisie.

The Second Estate’s Cahiers (grievance lists to the King) were extremely liberal.
Frederick the Great (right), advocated the use of 'Enlightened Absolutism'.

France did not have an 'enlightened monarch' leading to the opression of civil liberties such as free speech and habeas corpus.

This oppression of civil liberties could have led the population of France to revolution.

Successive bad harvests in 1780s.

Agrarian and industrial economy ground to a halt.

Support for American Revolution which left no money for the financing of reforms. The peasantry experienced extreme poverty.

'Politics of the belly'.


The main reasons for the Revolution were political (exacerbated by economic factors).

The Enlightenment did not cause the French Revolution, but the cultural transition from superstition to reason facilitated the revolution.

There are multiple interdependent causes. No single interpretation e.g Marxism is sufficient. Lack of individual motives as a cause of the Revolution.


The French Revolution emphasises the importance of culture for dissipating ideas amongst the population.
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