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The Bourgeois Revolution in France (1789-1815)

The Bourgeois Revolution in France (1789-1815)

Henry Heller
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    The Bourgeois Revolution in France (1789-1815)
    Book Description:

    In the last generation the classic Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution has been challenged by the so-called revisionist school. The Marxist view that the Revolution was a bourgeois and capitalist revolution has been questioned by Anglo-Saxon revisionists like Alfred Cobban and William Doyle as well as a French school of criticism headed by Francois Furet. Today revisionism is the dominant interpretation of the Revolution both in the academic world and among the educated public.

    Against this conception, this book reasserts the view that the Revolution - the capital event of the modern age - was indeed a capitalist and bourgeois revolution. Based on an analysis of the latest historical scholarship as well as on knowledge of Marxist theories of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the work confutes the main arguments and contentions of the revisionist school while laying out a narrative of the causes and unfolding of the Revolution from the eighteenth century to the Napoleonic Age.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-569-7
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This work seeks to reclaim the idea that the French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution. It asserts that in 1789, a massive popular uprising allowed the middle class to assume power by overthrowing the political and social order of theancien régime. Profound changes in the economy, social structure, and culture of eighteenth-century France made such a revolution possible. That century saw a notable development of capitalist trade and manufacture, largely under the auspices of the middle class. The expansion of the capitalist economy during this period tended to upset the traditional life of millions of French peasants, setting the...

  6. Chapter 1 Questioning Revisionism
    (pp. 9-26)

    The notion of the French Revolution as a bourgeois revolution was fundamental to Karl Marx’s understanding of historical development. Marx did not invent this conception of the Revolution out of thin air. He derived it from the writings of liberal historians like François Guizot, Augustin Thierry, and François-Auguste Mignet who published their works in the first half of the nineteenth century. The concept of the gradual development of the power of the middle class which is found in the work of these historians was the basic theme of the liberal account of French history. According to these early nineteenth-century scholars,...

  7. Chapter 2 Capitalism and the Eighteenth Century French Economy
    (pp. 27-44)

    Eighteenth century France was still a feudal society. As such, agriculture was the major economic activity of most of the population. The ruling class, which controlled most of the land, consisted of the nobles and upper clergy. Owing to their hold on the land, this class of landlords dominated the rural population and even exercised sway over many of the smaller towns. The feudal seigneurie, which dated back to the Middle Ages, was still the predominant legal and political institution in the countryside. Accordingly, the network of feudal legal relationships that determined rural property links remained for the most part,...

  8. Chapter 3 Capitalism, Wage Labor, and the Bourgeoisie
    (pp. 45-64)

    Arguing against the existence of capitalism in eighteenth-century France, George Comninel has asserted that the absence of a real proletariat precluded the possibility of such an economy. According to him, no true proletariat existed because the wage-earning class, which Comninel acknowledges existed, was required to live off its own subsistence. An authentic proletariat must be dependent on the market for its means of subsistence as well as be wage based. As a-matter-of fact, Comninel’s concept of a wage-earning class living off its own subsistence appears to be a bit of a contradiction in terms. If wageworkers in eighteenth-century France could...

  9. Chapter 4 The Revolutionary Crisis
    (pp. 65-82)

    Despite signs of rising tension between the nobility—more and more on the defensive—and an increasingly confident middle class, there was little open conflict between them prior to the Revolution. The seigneurial reaction—to be sure a form of class conflict from above—was certainly an ongoing affront to the middle class. But economic prosperity and an unprecedented degree of bureaucratic control over society helped to contain the middle class and to maintain a reasonable degree of social peace for the most part, through the eighteenth century. The bourgeoisie became the primary beneficiaries of this internal stability. They put...

  10. Chapter 5 The Economy in Revolution (1789-1799)
    (pp. 83-108)

    Reviewing the overall economic performance of the new revolutionary regime from 1789 to 1799 one must at once acknowledge that it was marked by much disruption, turmoil, and hardship. It could hardly have been otherwise during a period of almost constant foreign and civil wars that were accompanied by enormous social and political changes. Property and social relations, the administration of government, educational institutions, and the systems of jurisprudence and banking were all dramatically transformed. It would appear that the Revolution of 1789, like most revolutions, was not conducive to short term economic growth. On the other hand, to judge...

  11. Chapter 6 The Directory (1795-1799)
    (pp. 109-124)

    A little more than a year after the fall of Robespierre, the National Convention was replaced by a new government which called itself the Directory. At first it was tightly controlled by Thermidorean members of the Convention, many of whom were able to retain their seats in the new government. The new regime survived for four years until the coup d’état of Napoleon Bonaparte on 9 November (18th Brumaire) 1799. The government of the National Convention had been a democratic republic which based its economic policies on centralized management of prices, wages and commerce. The Directory attempted to maintain the...

  12. Chapter 7 The Era of Napoleon (1799–1815)
    (pp. 125-146)

    The coup d’etat of 18th Brumaire helped to renew confidence, particularly in the hearts of a bourgeoisie frightened by the Jacobin threat and concerned by the possibility of a Bourbon restoration. If the price was a more or less unconcealed military dictatorship, so be it. Ended were the prevarications of the Directory with respect to popular participation in government. The populace was once and for all excluded from politics. Raising Napoleon to the imperial purple subsequently shut the door to the restoration of theancien régime. The regime of privilege based on the first and second estate was gone for...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 147-150)

    To conclude this discussion, let us return to Karl Marx’s conception of the French Revolution. According to him, the growing strength of the bourgeoisie was the result of the increasing influence of capitalism in eighteenth-century France. Recent historical research confirms that capitalism expanded dramatically during the eighteenth century. Capitalism made itself felt in virtually all sectors of economic life and came to control the productive process in both the most advanced sector of agriculture and in industry. Agriculture in the rich agricultural region of northern France was more and more marked by capitalist relations of production.

    Elsewhere in France, small...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 151-166)
  15. Index
    (pp. 167-172)