The old regime and the revolution

25 February 2014

“The old regime and the revolution” by Alexis De Tocqueville

This book is in the public domain, the English translation is available here in electronic form.

An extremely interesting book, Tocqueville makes the impression of having been an extremely good listener and observer, this books explains the events that caused the Revolution, it does so by means of examining the history of the Ancient regime, it is better understood in context with the preceding centuries.

The causes of the French Revolution are explained as follows:

  • Aristocracy was exempt from taxes, and the nobility were not burdened by the task of administering the country, such were the result of Richelieu’s reforms - the aristocracy ceded power to the centralized state and got tax exemptions in return. Privilege without responsibility caused resentment; The middle-classes (wealthy peasants that bought land) all abandoned the land and got to the cities, where they fought over government posts. Society was very fragmented, all this as a result of unequal taxation. French noblemen behaved like a closed caste; by marrying a bride of lower origin any offspring would have lost these precious privileges. Many noblemen lived far away in Paris by means of seigniorial rents - money that they could exert only because of their status; this was very much resented. As commoner grew wealthy, the aristocracy became less rich, so the third estate really was sick of its minders.
  • every aspect of live in each province was micromanaged directly by the Royal Council in Paris; Even the repair of a local church roof had to be approved by bureaucrats in Paris; therefore even the simplest matter took a long time (not less than a year)
  • the Royal council had both judiciary/executive/legislative functions; so the result was a mess of contradictory regulations, ad-hock exemptions were very common, state servants had immunity from prosecution, all this bred disrespect for the law.
  • the revolution was well prepared: Centralization created a class of commoners/administrators (nobility could not be bothered - jobs like this were held in low esteem); an independent and outspoken judiciary did exist, it nevertheless had nothing to say because the Royal Council would overrule them on any matter; Political Philosophers, who did not have any responsibility or experience in matters of government, turned into leaders of discontent; their criticism was quite radical, it was of a general nature and tended to question the basics of society (for whatever reasons books were allowed to question authority of general principles ; however criticism of current events was forbidden, newspapers were strictly censored). The regime was very tolerant when dealing with the educated classes, while it had no scruples with commoners.
  • The reign of Louis XVI was a liberal period that saw many reforms; the king had to take public opinion into account. Reforms of 1878: regional parliaments were established, the old and new systems were busy fighting each other. A lot of resentment was caused when newly introduced measure were taken back (like with abolition of statute labour for road construction - Corv?e ; also second term and dismissal of Jacques Necker )
  • “Nations that have endured patiently and almost unconsciously the most overwhelming repressions, often burst into rebellion against the yoke the moment it grows lighter … Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable, become intolerable when once the idea of escape from them has been suggested”
  • The Catholic Church was associated/entrenched in the old order. Few restraints remained once it has been swept away by the Revolution.

However, despite all this, the time that preceded the revolution was one of fast economic growth, the French public was very educated (at least at its center, in Paris), preceding reforms and stability were said to have resulted in a quick growth of industry - all that strengthened the third estate. I wonder what course history would have taken without the disruption of the French revolution, France would have dominated continental Europe and Britain might not have been able to turn into the dominating power of the nineteenth century; also a stronger France might have delayed or even prevented the unification of Germany.

However the book barely mentions the fact that a mountain of debt has been accrued as a result of foreign policy adventures: the seven year war and later involvement in the American Revolution were the causes (during American Revolution the monarchy spent about 1.3 billion livres - in today’s money that’s thirteen billion U.S. Dollars ! here ). The house of Habsburg went bankrupt as a result of the thirty year war; the house of Bourbon got broke as a result of its competition with Britain. In 1781 - by an unprecedented act of transparency the Crown published its expenses , now the books were cooked in order to conceal the true state of affairs. It gradually became impossible get new credit once the true scope of the problem surfaced later in the decade. The book also does not mention the failed harvests of 1783 and 1788 here ; probably as such this was not something out of the ordinary, however it occurred in combination with the bad fiscal crisis. As usual latent tensions mount once the economy suddenly tanks.

Also the author describes the continuity of French governance - after 1800 they had the same highly centralized state that was commanding everything down from Paris;

However the big achievement of the Revolution was equality of all citizens before the law, Egalite was the lasting result. Another lasting result was a popular appreciation of freedom and liberty.

The other big change was the invention of the nation state, a King of old did not have problem with legitimacy; he did not need the auxiliary concept of nationality as a means of legitimizing his rule (however the book does not mention this)

The book also has very interesting observation is about the nature of liberty, and the totalitarian nature of Socialism, he could see as much from the writings of Morelly written as early as 1755 ! Nothing new under the sun.

My notes as i read the book

Revolution: part I - destroys every remnants of the past, part II - regains portion of the past. “Non aristocratic societies without liberties may prosper … but will not produce great citizens.” “Despots acknowledge that liberty is an excellent thing; but they want it all for themselves, and maintain that the rest of the world is unworthy of it.”

At first the rulers of Europe thought the French Revolution to be a passing craze; later came the recognition that this is something out of the ordinary.

Anti-clericalism as a lasting trait of the Revolution; philosophers of the 18th century were hostile to the church as an institution; this was intensified by the worldly power/wealth of the church. He says the church came out stronger after being stripped of its worldly belongings.

Revolution did not merely aim at a change in an old government; it designed to abolish the old form of society - any old form of authority/institutions/tradition. “But also created .. an immense central power, which gathered together … particles of authority and influence formerly scattered among a host of secondary powers, orders, classes, professions, families.”

The modern state as the envy of princes … hired officials instead of aristocracy; uniform set of laws instead of local franchises; a single strong government instead of a system of diversified authorities … new order was fragile but this was because of its strength. Mirabeau wrote to the Louis-XVI (!) “.. Richelieu would have liked the idea of forming but one class o citizens; so level a surface assists the exercise of power.”

The ideas and cause of the French revolution united people across national boundaries; Similar to 30 year war; Schiller observed: one striking effect of Reformation was that it lead to a sudden alliance and warm friendship among nations which hardly knew each other; questions of territory gave way to questions of principle.

There are times when men differ so widely that the bare idea of a common law for all appears unintelligible. The great wonder of the Revolution … is that mankind has reached a point at which … these ideas were readily admitted.

“I have had occasion to study the political institutions which flourished in England, France and Germany during the Middle ages… I have been filled with amazement at the wonderful similarity of the laws established by races so far apart. Each of the three nations enabled me to understand the other two. In all three the government was carried on in accordance with the same principles;: the political assemblies were constituted from the same materials and armed with the same powers; society was divided into the same classes, on the same sliding scale. “

(by the 14th century order converged, by the 18th century the system was in decline - everywhere). Richelieu enforced strict centralization, so the old forms of local franchises/guilds became an inefficient shell. New modes of production were in opposition to the ossified rules. (Not so England - this was a modern state by the 17th century)

“I have seen (Land) registers of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries, which are masterpieces of method, perspicuity and intellect; the modern ones (19th century) grow more obscure, incomplete and confused. It would seem as though the civilization of society had involved the relapse of the political system into barbarism. All surviving medieval sources of authority had suffered from the same disease; all where decaying and languishing.”

Results of the Revolution: abolished the Feudal system .. “in order to substitute therefore a social and political organization marked by more uniformity and more simplicity, and resting on the basis of the equality of all ranks” (before the law) Profound change: the old system was justified by Religion and created a host of ideas and custom that justified it.

Why France? In fact the ancient regime was liberal - no serfdom ! land was divided and bought freely by peasants : compare that to Germany where by end of 18th century Serfdom still existed (in most places except for Rhine lands) In France the lands were subdivided into very small parcels, peasants still had to render feudal services, but they were free. Local government was the domain of officials appointed by the intendant (governor of a province); Nobleman had immunity and privileges but no power - in some limited cases the right of jurisdiction, could levy tolls on fairs and markets (rarely claimed); privilege of hunting; monopoly on mills and wine presses; a tax on land sales/purchases; levied ground rents. All this was less burdensome for the peasants than in the rest of Europe; however peasants in France were owning land of their own, so these tithes were universally resented; also it was annoying that noblemen got all this for free, as he did not have any authority / not burdened by any obligations !

“… but (the feudal system’s) curtailment was the source of its unpopularity; … the destruction of part of the system rendered the remainder a hundred-fold more odious then the whole”

Centralization was a feature of the Ancient Regime:

Royal council - had judicial powers (can overturn court decisions); legislative powers (near to the King); and administrative powers. Its statute is that of advisory body, it was not made up of noblemen. Comptroller general managed home affairs, intendantes represented the state in the provinces. Real power was held by bureaucrats of ‘lower extraction’. However social live was focused on the Aristocracy - they were the stars of the show; and administrative positions were held in low esteem by Noblemen.

Taxation: were levied by subcontractors; the Royal Council determined amount of taxes and norms for each province.

Conscription: Royal council determined number of conscripts per draft; lottery determined who would serve for six years. Road construction: again centralized, the Department of Bridges and Roads directed and supervised public works. Policing/Charity/Jurisdiction - all in the hands of the Royal Council; also exerted administrative control over the economy; Council prohibited cultivation of crops in lands that it deemed unsuitable; ordered manufacture of this or that article.

Municipal rights: Cities were governed in two chambers: * general assembly was elected (once by popular vote, by 18th century only by notables or guild representatives) * city corporation: executive elected by general assembly however people took no interest in these bodies - they had nothing to say; the intendant was the real power. Cities did not have taxes of their own, did not supervise public works or do contracts. Cities did have elected municipal governments/magistrates until 1692 (abolished by Louis XVI) ! After the city offices were sold to citizens. Bad for cities: Judges were no longer impartial/independent. Cities sometimes bought back the right to elect magistrates, but that always taken away from them.

Rural parishes: parish meetings retained more democratic semblance: everyone too part, but they still had nothing to say; intendant had to approve meetings ! Each repair of a church roof would have to be approved via the sub-delegate, back through the Royal Council.

Judiciary: Courts in France were very independent so they had to be minded; Most Royal edicts stipulated that resulting conflicts would have to be referred to the intendant/council. In most matters (like taxes, administration) the courts did not have a say, one could not sue the state, and official had immunity ! for all other matters the Council could revoke court decisions. these interventions fermented discontent.

Post revolutionary system of government became very centralized after 1800; meet the new boss, same as the old boss. State incrementally took up all powers and concentrated it at the center. Conflicts of Parlements and crown were around political issues, not administrative questions, this created a vacuum that was grabbed by the government.

“Day after day, the central government conquers new fields of action into which these bodies cannot follow it. Novelties arise, pregnant with cases for which no precedents can be found in parliamentary routine.. Novelties arise, Society, in a fever of activity creates new demands, which the government alone can satisfy, and each of which swells its authority”

Centralization was a preliminary and precursor of the revolution;

The government was increasingly governing every detail, every movement that was made in the country; enormous amounts of paper turned, as a result every moves takes a year.

“Official writers, then as now, affected a colorless, smooth, vague, diffuse style; each writer merged his identity in the general mediocrity of the body to which he belonged; Read a perfect, and you have read an intendant”. “Government officials, none of whom were of noble descent, already formed a class apart, with feelings, traditions, virtues and notions of honor and dignity all their own. They constituted the aristocracy of the new society, ready to take their rank as soon as the Revolution has cleared the way”. “When a nation abolishes aristocracy, centralization follows as a matter of course … Every thing tends towards unity of power, and it requires no small contrivance to maintain division of authority”

the regime was suspicious of independent actors/meddling in public affairs; “It was disturbed by formation of any free society. It could brook no association but such as it had arbitrarily formed … Even manufacturing companies displeased it. in a word it objected to people looking after their own concerns, and preferred general inertia to rivalry. Still the French could not exist without some form of liberty, they were permitted to discuss as freely as they choose all sorts of general and abstract theories on religion, philosophy, morals and even politics. Provided its agents were not meddled with, the government had no objections to attacks on the fundamental principles of society … Careless about books, it was very strict with regards to journals, and being unable to suppress them, it undertook to make them a government monopoly”

Micromanagement created a flood of regulations, nobody could have been aware of all instructions, so in practice everything was enacted as an exceptions/exemptions; “… the whole principle of the old regime. Strict rules, loosely enforced - such was its characteristics”. This practice lead to wide disrespect for the law,

The state was all powerful, everyone knew that. Prior to the Revolution all sorts of reforms were proposed. “All the schemers wanted to use the central power for the destruction of the existing system, and the substitution of their new plan in its stead: that power alone seemed to them capable of accomplishing so great a task. They all assumed that the power of the state ought to be to be unlimited, and that the only thing needed was to persuade it to use them aright” .. Nobody expected to succeed in any enterprise unless the state helped him”

“Let no one again express surprise at the wonderful ease with which centralization was re-established in France at the beginning of this century; It has been overthrown by the men of 1789; but its foundations were deep in the mind of its very destroyers, and upon these it was rebuild anew stronger than ever.”

Excessive centralization lead to a weakening of the provinces; everyone of note was in Paris, all publishing was done in Paris. “Paris swallowed up the provinces”; All manufacturing was concentrated around in Paris; this was encourage by lower taxes and it was easier to establish trade-companies in Paris.

Absolutism created a host of regulations that were applicable to the whole of France; this was a great unifying force when considering the many many subdivisions of medieval society. The idea of a Universal law for all - absolutism (central rule) prepared the basis for this idea.

Nobility became poorer with every generation; they sold their land and lived from various seigniorial rents. Some commoners became richer - a leveling of society took place, all grew more similar in education and ideas; therefore the privileges of nobility became untenable.

the author observes that England had no castes - unlike the rest of Europe (???) so that a nobleman could marry a woman of ordinary descent - not so in France. Also the English word ‘Gentleman’ became more inclusive with time. A commoner in France could buy himself into Aristocracy; however this did not decrease social barriers at all!

In France of the 14th century - the third estate did matter; it was well represented estates-general , government and defense. This seized when they stopped the estates-gerneral; The Taille tax - aristocrats were exempt from it; this became a big nuisance, once taxes grew due to stronger centralization; Also social status of aristocrats was very high. All these privileges created invisible caste barriers and hatred. Distinctions between commoners and nobility were marked by the fact that one could become a nobleman ;

Exemption of Nobility from taxes: this feature became very valuable, once taxation started to be a significant burden. In Germany the nobility was not exempt from taxes - they paid less than commoners. “Now of all methods that have been devised for the division of nations into classes, unequal taxes are the most pernicious and effective. They tend to isolate each class irremediably; for when the tax is unequal, the line is drawn afresh every year between the taxable and the exempts; the distinction is never allowed to fade. Every member of the privileged class feels a pressing and immediate interest in keeping it up, and maintaining his isolation from the taxable community. All, or nearly all public measures begin or end with a tax. Hence, when two classes of citizen do not feel the taxes alike, they cease to have common interests and feelings in common; they do not require to meet for consultation; they have no opportunity and no desire to act in concert”

Rich commoners who lived in the city could evade the Taille tax - by leasing their estates to others. this resulted into a flight of the richer peasants from the land, and France had a lot of small towns The new townsmen desired to gain positions in the bureaucracy - and the bureaucracy did grow tremendously around interest groups (also one had to buy official positions !) Society was divided into an very large number of interest groups.

History of taxation:

14th century: Monarch lived of the produce of their domains; taxes were raised only in extraordinary times - everybody had to pay them - and new taxes had to be approved by a vote by Estate-General ! Richelieu’s New deal was that the Aristocracy lost political power to the crown, but gained exemption from taxes. Economically this was not very efficient, as the rich ones got away without paying anything!

”..shows to what straits and dishonest shifts the want of money will reduce a government, however mild it may be, as long as it is unchecked, and fears neither publicity on the one hand, nor revolution - the safeguard of popular liberty - on the other. This history teems with instances of royal property sole, then resumed as inalienable; of violated contracts; vested rights trampled ; public creditors sacrificed at every crisis; the public faith constantly broken”. A frequent trick was to cancel previously granted status of nobility - so the commoners had to pay for the same privileges again !

Trade corporations: one had to be part of a guild and buy the license to trade in his profession from all-powerful state. Also they were selling public offices for money; and a vast bureaucracy was exclusively busy with selling them.

All this could happen because the state was not accountable to the public, and there was no public discussions / lack of feedback.

“it was in fear lest the nation, whose money the King wanted, should insist upon the restoration of its liberties, that class divisions were kept up; for by this means organized resistance or a common understanding was rendered impossible, and the government was certain of having to deal with each small clique separately”

Remaining liberties:

“It is striking to see, in the correspondence of ministers and intendants of the eighteenth century, how quickly this government which was so overbearing and despotic when all was submission, lost its presence of mind at the first show of resistance, was alarmed by the mildest criticism, and terrified at the least noise. On these occasions it stopped short, hesitated, tried to compromise matters, and often withdrew from the contest at the sacrifice of a portion of its legitimate authority”

  • the nature of the privileges bred dissent

  • on the eve of the Revolution the clergy was for liberty !

  • the middle classes were busy chasing posts and bound by corporate interest, they could not be bothered by liberty

  • judiciary was never servile; a judge had no problem to speak out freely within their stripped jurisdiction (however decisions were overturned by the Royal Council) “It was from the courts that we learned the only portion of the education of a free people … the principle that all decisions should be preceded by discussion, and subject to appear; the use of publicity, the love of the forums … The king felt bound to assign reason to his edicts; the Councils orders were preceded by long preambles… All the old administrative bodies such as the Treasury board, and the select-man, transacted business publicly, and heard rival petitioners and applicants by counsel. All their habits and forms were so many barriers against the arbitrary power of the sovereign. But the people proper, especially in the rural district, had no means of resisting oppression except by violence”

  • … “there was much more liberty than there is now, but it was an irregular and intermittent kind of liberty, bound up with the class system and notions of privileges and exemptions - a sort of liberty which encouraged rebellion against the law as well as against oppression … “
  • “but if the disorderly and unwholesome sort of liberty prepared the French to overthrow despotism, it unfitted them … perhaps, for replacing it by the peaceful and free government of law”


  • Aristocracy and land owning commoners (middle class) - they all fled the cities; peasants were left in ignorance

  • as a result of the ignorance of peasants, agriculture was held back; did not progress.

  • Taille tax: each year the amount of money were assigned per parish; one peasant was assigned as the collector - he had to set the norm per household, and was held accountable for the results.

  • peasants ‘assumed the garb of poverty’ in order to escape taxation, so the collector had to spy out and denounce his neighbor.

  • some provinces reserved to tax themselves, here the tax was fixed years ahead and the amount registered - sum determined according to size of estate.

  • Peasants were kept poor and needy on purpose; either as a way to keep them docile, later rulers thought that only by need would peasants be spurred to work.

  • Militia service:

  • Repair of roads: peasants had to pay and were forced to do the repairs repairs (Corvee - forced labor tax)
  • “the government of the old regime, which was so mild and so timid, so fond of formalities and delays in dealing with the upper classes, was often rough and always prompt in dealing with the lower, especially with the peasantry” burghers were judged by independent tribunal, peasants just arrested by of an intendant.”


  • tax regulations created gap between nobility and rest of the country; also landed commoners were detached from peasants.

  • society was divided into a huge number of interest groups with narrow interest, with no cohesion among the groups.

  • “There was no organization that could resist the government, but there was none that could assist it. So it was that, the moment the groundwork moved, the whole edifice of the French monarchy gave way and fell with a crash”
  • the people after the revolution failed “.. to succeed in eradicating the false notions, the vicious habits, the bad propensities these masters had either imparted or allowed them to acquire.” so that self government was not effective:

  • men of letters/political writers and philosophers did not hold office; “.. all concurred that in one central point … they all started with the principle that it was necessary to substitute simple and elementary rules, based on reason and natural law, for the complicated and traditional customs which regulated society in their time” … “they had constantly in view a host of absurd and ridiculous privileges, whose burden increased daily, while their origin was growing more and more indistinct; hence they were driven towards notions of natural equality.”

  • due to lack to experience they did not have clear understanding of the problems of government, so they were busy with abstract/general theories of government; therefore there was no inhibition against notion of razing the old order to the ground.

  • General public did not take part in public affairs, so these general theories would not be questioned and became popular. Abstract theorizing was not censored, so ideas became very popular (everybody who had grievances with the existing order were eager listeners)

  • Political writers became the leaders of the Revolution.

  • interesting that rulers never anticipated a revolution - that was not in their domain of experience !

  • American Revolution turned into a catalysts of events in France
  • the author says that a tendency towards grand schemes not based upon experience has remained a trait of French public discourse - long after the end of the Revolution.

The church/attitudes toward Religion

  • claims that the Catholic church in France was more tolerant, open, less corrupt and not very oppressive than their foreign peers (?) however it came into conflict with the political writers. the Church “… recognized a higher authority than individual reason; they allowed of no appeal from reason. It clung to the notion of hierarchy; they insisted on leveling all ranks. The two could never come to an understanding, unless both admitted that political and religious societies, being essentially different, can not be governed by like principles … it seemed to the reformers of the time absolutely necessary to destroy the religious institutions of the time in order to reach the civil institutions”

  • church became a target because …” it had become a political body in defiance of its vocation; it shielded vice in high places, while it censured it among the people; it threw its sacred mantle over existing institutions, and seemed to demand for them the immortality it expected for itself”

  • In America…“Respect for Religion … the best safeguard for political stability and private security”

  • characteristic: “they were imbued with one admirable faith which we lack: they believed in themselves…they had a proud reliance in their own selves themselves, and strength;and though this often leads to errors, a people without it is not fit for freedom… these sentiments and passions had become a sort of new religion, which, like many religions…stifled selfishness, stimulated heroism and disinterestedness, and rendered men insensitive to many petty considerations which have weight on us”
  • “When the French Revolution overthrew civil and religious laws together, the human mind lost its balance. Men knew not where to stop and what measure to observe. There arose a new order of revolutionists, whose boldness was madness, who shrank from no novelty, knew no scruples, listened to no arguments or objections”

  • mid 18th century: political writers that do deal with administrative questions - economists (better known as Physiocrats )

  • were not fond/did not aspire towards political liberties; they thought that reforms would have to be lead by the Monarchy (reforms from above) they were fans of the centralized state + Royal bureaucracy and planned to convert it “the state must govern according to the laws of natural order, says Mercier de la Riviere: ‘on these conditions it should be absolute’”

  • “‘The state’ says Bodeau ‘molds men into whatever shape it pleases’” - interesting idea of totalitarian state; they saw Chinese society as a model for Europe

  • “It is generally believed that the destructive theories known as Socialism are of modern origin. This is an error. These theories are coeval with the earliest economists. … Read the Code de la Nature by Morelly ; you will find there, together with the economic doctrines regarding the omnipotence and boundless rights of the state … community of property, rights of labor, absolute equality, universal uniformity, mechanical regularity of individual movements, tyrannical regulations on all subjects, and total absorption of the individual in the body politic. ‘Nothing,’ says the first article of this code, ‘belongs wholly to any one. Property is detestable, and any one who attempts to re-establish it shall be imprisoned for live, as a dangerous madman and enemy of humanity”.

  • “the only safeguard against despotism which they proposed was public education; for as Quesnay said ‘Despotism is impossible in an enlightened nation’”

  • around 1750 the public did not care for political liberties; by 1770 things were different: ‘the provinces began to desire once more to administer their own government. Mans minds became imbued with the notion that the people at large were entitled to a share in their own government”; that’s the moment where revolution became inevitable.
  • the idea of equality without liberty appeared later, so that “Hence we resemble the economists of the 1750 more closer than our fathers of 1789”

  • what is the origin of the desire for liberty? what are the sources that sustain liberty? * “when a people is badly governed it desires self-government … is never durable; it passes away with the accident which gave it birth” * sight of material advantage is not enough; “there are times when it disturbs these blessings for a while, and there are times when their immediate enjoyment can only be secured by despotism” * “It is the intrinsic attraction of freedom, its own peculiar charm - quite independently of its accidental benefits - which have seized so strong a hold on the great champions of liberty throughout history ; they loved it because they loved the pleasure of being able to speak, to act, to breathe unrestrained, under the sole government of God and the laws. He who seeks freedom for any thing but freedom’s self is made to be a slave.”


  • first half of 18th century was static/lethargic, nothing changed; “no private enterprise of any magnitude was undertaken”; 1750-1789 were very dynamic years !

  • Officials of the state changed: “in 1780 their heads were full of schemes for enriching the public, Road, canals, manufactures, commerce and agriculture above all, absorbed their attention”

  • “a general concern for the ills of the poor, a new sentiment. The state rarely employed violence with the poor, but often remitted their taxes or granted them alms”

  • “public prosperity began to develop with unexampled strides … individuals grew more industrious, more incentive, richer than ever”

  • “of late years maritime trade has made more progress in France than in England; the whole trade of France has doubled in the last twenty years”

  • “Considering the vices of the government and the burdens which weighted upon industry, the spectacle of this great and increasing prosperity is astonishing” Reasons for this “a government, strong without being despotic, which maintained order everywhere; the other a nation whose upper class were the most enlightened and the freest people on the continent, and in which individuals were at liberty to make money if they could, and keep it when made”

  • Louis XVI had to take public opinion into account, and was quite liberal, if compared to his predecessors !

  • “Measurably with the increase of prosperity in France, mans minds grew more restless and uneasy”; In neighborhood of Paris the taille tax was moderate and well ordered; and Corvee disappear long before 1789,

  • Revolution was strongly opposed in provinces where the old order was backward and suppressive !

  • “Nations that have endured patiently and almost unconsciously the most overwhelming repressions, often burst into rebellion against the yoke the moment it grows lighter … Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable, become intolerable when once the idea of escape from them has been suggested”
  • expenses due to huge public works rose, and government took up large debts; and it would not always pay the interest on the loans ! this drove capitalists and merchants into opposition and strengthened their desire for reforms

  • The King had sympathy with the poor, tried to remedy inequalities, and was ready to acknowledge inequalities and problems! This raised discontent to new levels, half measures (like abolition and later re institution of corvee service) had even worse effect;

  • “all this was addressed to the educated classes, in order to prove the merits of measures which certain private interests opposed. As for the people, it was taken for granted that they heard all, but understood nothing”

  • “it must be acknowledged that .. benevolence concealed a large share of contempt for them (the poor)”
  • 16th century: nobility took sides with reformation because of selfish interests, the poor embraced it from conviction; French Revolution was different “it was disinterested principle and generous sympathy which roused the upper classes to revolution, while the people where agitated by bitter feeling of their grievances, and a rage to change their conditions. The enthusiasm of the former fanned the flame of popular wrath …”

  • Some of the reforms of Louis XVI changed … ‘old and respected customs … they paved the way for the Revolution less by striking down obstacles which stood in its way than by showing the people how it might be brought about”

  • ”.. the government took pains to teach the people … that private property was to be regarded with contempt. “ huge amount of public works resulted in many requisitions of smaller tenants “properties thus injured or destroyed were always arbitrarily or tardily paid for, sometimes they were not paid for at all”

  • “here were a large number of persons whose own experience taught them that private rights were not for a moment to be balanced against the public interest “.
  • Price setting (Maximum) and Compulsory sale during bad harvest; arbitrariness when dealing with unrest (administrative tribunal with no right of appeal) - these were the measures of the old regime, equal measures were than used by the Revolution - the King as the teacher of revolutionaries.

  • destruction of trade companies and their later partial restoration: disturbed industrial relations.

  • judicial reform of 1788: a large portion of the middle class was involved with bloated courts; this affected the livelihood of many.

  • provincial assemblies of 1787 - became the real governors of the country (superseded the intendant !) -: conflict of institutions, this results in administrative chaos and paralysis “… how large an influence habit exercised over the working of political institutions, and how much more easily it is to manage their affairs with obscure and complicated laws to which they are used than with a far simpler system which is new to them”

  • Indendants and sub-delegates were stripped of their power, but the office remained - they were supposed to help/supervise the assemblies. instead this lead to entrenched war between institutions and administrative paralysis.

  • the idea of separating administration/legislative and executive branch did not occur - this is said to be an idea of the 19th century (?)
  • Administrative reform of rural districts: the worst problem was unequal taxation; this problem should have been solved before the reforms, as a result existing village authorities were stripped of their powers