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The Enlightenment, the financial crises, and the growing role of public opinion: an oppression of the mind By: Maeve BarrettThe French Revolution takes place in France during the 18th century when the government was taking control of the people’s lives and only benefiting themselves. It began with the shift into new power when Louis XVI came in as king in 1774, he was an absolute monarch which meant that he held all power over France. In the aftermath of the Enlightenment during the 17th and 18th centuries when the people had found a new way of thinking using logic and reason there were many competing ideas and political interests which made France very hard to rule because people started questioning the authority of the king. The French Revolution consisted of a myriad of important events that all affected the outcome of the revolution but the hardest part of studying it is deciding, what are the three most important events that lead up to the French people revolting in 1789? Many historians have argued that the influence of the American Revolution was the cause of the French people revolting in 1789. However, closer examination has shown that the three most important causes are actually the Enlightenment, the Financial crises, and the growing role of public opinion because each of them erupted in diversifying and individualizing the way the people thought politically, socially and economically about the corruption in the higher power positions.THE ENLIGHTENMENTThe ideologies produced by the Enlightenment philosophes directly opened up the minds of the French people and gave them new ways of solving problems using logic and reason. In the beginning of the French Revolution the Roman Catholic Church was very wealthy and had immense political power among the French people. It is said that “The Catholic Church played an important role in the lives of ordinary people.” it is also said that the church also handles many social issues such as keeping records of births, deaths, and marriages, provided aid and charity to the poor, and is responsible for the education system However great the church seemed they also put out their own ideologies out into the public that for the most part everyone believed and went along with because it was believed that the church could do no wrong. This was until Nicolaus Copernicus discovered by contrary belief that world was heliocentric (planets revolve around the sun) rather than all the planets revolving around earth. To the church this new found discovery could ruin their reputation so they banned his ideas during the 17th century. However a man by the name of Galileo Galilei who was a physicist and astronomer that used mathematics and technical skills to create a telescope from something once known as a spyglass wasn’t stopped so easily. In doing this he used his telescope to look at the moon and the other planets and ultimately “Galileo’s observations strengthened his belief in copernican’ theory that the earth and all other planets revolve around the sun.” After this Galileo began publishing his findings and when the church found out they tried him for being opposed to teaching but all charges were cleared and he was left with a warning not to speak publicly about his ideas again. Although he was told not to, Galileo continued his studies, in order to get his findings out to the people he published a book that proved the ideologies of Copernicus and after was retried and convicted. Galileo was old and had poor health so rather than life in jail he was punished with house arrest until his death on January 8th, 1642. During the time of Copernicus people were not ready for these new found ideas so they blindly allowed the church to silence them so they could continue to believe what they are being  told is true. However during Galileo’s time it is said that “it was not until after Galileo’s death and the acceptance of a unified material cosmology, utilizing the presuppositions about matter and motion that were published in the Discourses on the Two New Sciences, that people were ready for such proofs. But this could occur only after Galileo had changed the acceptable parameters for gaining knowledge and theorizing about the world.” Galileo was able to prove Copernicus’ theory and also open the minds of the people so that they could see what is truly missing from their perception of the earth. The aftermath of the findings of the heliocentric theory of the universe are astonishing, they directly lead to many more people questioning the authority of the church which lead the people to have individual ideas and share their own perspectives. These people were known as philosophers and one of the most influential was Montesquieu who is said to have claimed “that a liberal constitutional monarchy was the best system of government for people who prized freedom, on the grounds that by dividing the sovereignty of the nation between several centres of power, it provided a permanent check on any one of them becoming despotic” it is clear that Montesquieu believes in the people’s rights to things like freedom and to not allow the government to abuse their power and control the lives of the people. Montesquieu’s ‘masterpiece’ L’Esprit des lois,  that was first published in 1753, the publication included many of his beliefs and findings including the separation of the sovereignty in which he gave his own social class, the aristocracy a ‘conspicuous share’ The Aristocracy had a huge role in this part of the revolution due to the fact that many of the dominant ideas were coming from that class. Montesquieu adopted some of the ideologies of a man named John Locke who like Montesquieu was a philosophe. Many argue that Montesquieu is and remains the most important political philosopher of the French Revolution and it is also said that “even those orators and journalists who invoked the name of John Locke as the great theorist of modern freedom did not move far from Montesquieu’s conception of things, since Montesquieu saw himself as Locke’s successor in the liberal tradition, and modestly claimed only to wish to adapt Locke’s general principles to the particular conditions of France” This claims that Locke’s ideas pertained to the entire world whereas Montesquieu is different because he took the ideas of Locke and conformed them so that they met with the conditions of France. Although he did not agree with Locke’s theory of the natural rights of man being life, liberty, and property. John Locke was obviously influential because many of his theories were adapted by other brilliant minds that chose to agree or disagree witch promoted individuality. THE FINANCIAL CRISESThe Flour War, with war being a relative term because it wasn’t actually a war just a series of riots and protest that took place in France over the high price of bread, allowed the people to stand up against the mistreatment they were burdened with and to get a new perspective on the government. King Louis XVI had hired a finance minister to take care of the economic issues of France and one of his decisions were to stop setting the price of grain at an affordable rate which caused the peasants to not be able to afford their most basic necessity; food. Apparently the reason for this was that the finance minister “believed that low prices discouraged production and caused scarcity and, in turn, hunger” the goal of this was to make the free market principles more efficient but what he didn’t realize is that he took away the one thing that was affordable enough for even the poorest person so that they wouldn’t go hungry. Despite his “best efforts” the finance minister was met with much resistance to his motion such as the people seizing the grain for themselves and selling it at fair prices. Although this appeal would seem to benefit the upper class by enriching their wealth,  they were actually very unhappy with it and made sure that it was repealed because the financial minister was disgracing society and interrupting social hierarchy with his controversial reform. As a whole “The Flour War illustrates the tightly tangled web that France was. Reform was needed, but changing the intricate and interconnected customs of the social, economic, and political spheres was no easy task” There is no way to make all of these groups happy at the same time so in order to steer away from conflict the Government decides to back off  but the people are already seeing what is happening and they are not happy. After it is also said that “France remained under a nominal absolute monarchy encumbered by a tax system still in need of reform.” The taxation system was geared towards making it harder for the lower class who already had a very tough time feeding their families but they needed to do something about in order to prevent revolts for as long as possible. This was the first of many financial crises that occurred during the French Revolution which led to the desire break free from the corruption of the government and start getting the equality that they deserved. The financial crises were a series of economic battles in which the government tried to solve by taking money from its people which backfired when the people became aware of what was going on and revolted. After the Enlightenment France was very powerful in Europe and at the same time were also involved in a series of wars with Great Britain. These wars were costly and were one of the most prominent causes for France’s financial crises, they needed to have a good army and navy which needed to be paid for by the government. In 1756 another war began that was known as the Seven Years War which was one of the most detrimental battles for France because they took serious losses in territory. This battle costed France so much that they were forced to raise taxes and they also had to take loans from other countries when they knew that they couldn’t pay them back. During the old regime they declared to all of the countries that they would only pay back some of what they owed which was called “writing off” debt. It is said that “This diminished confidence in the government” this was a crucial moment because this is when the people started to lose faith in the government and start to see the corruption. Taxes were never popular but they were especially harsh due to the fact that the richest social class, the nobility and church were exempt from such taxes. A social class that is now considered the middle class was called the bourgeoisie and they had to pay taxes but very few, The most hardship fell on the lowest class, the peasants who had to pay the immense taxes on top of most of them being in severe poverty leaving them hungry and broke. This was the turning point of the people because they saw how the government was weakened and now they had the opportunity to think for themselves and change the unfair treatment they were faced with. THE GROWING ROLE OF PUBLIC OPINIONFrance’s declining economic state was not something hidden from public view it was actually in the spotlight with multiple people expressing their opinions and ideas about them in public and private gave a huge opportunity for protest. For the longest time it has been said that “Under the monarchy, individual citizens without money or power were unable to participate in politics for many years. Most kings did not need the approval of his subjects to implement policies that suited him; thus, the people remained voiceless and oppressed” the people normally weren’t allowed to take part in any political issues but now people started to not be afraid of government cruelty, they wanted to share how they felt about the corruption and the inequality that is very prominent in their lives. They started to have gatherings and meetings where they shared these ideas in the form of writing or a public speech and this caught the attention of the government who were just starting to realize that the people points of view might hold some validity in bettering the country. At this point in time the King had hired another Minister of Finance named Jacques Necker published the account of the budget of France in 1781. At first he was popular for this but that shortly ended when it came out that the account was actually inaccurate, this put the king and the government were now highly distrusted. This directly lead to more public scrutiny of the government because the people saw how unfamiliar the king was with his own country and now the people wanted change more than ever. Now that the people of France had realized that they can speak out for what they want, more and more people started to get violent in order to get their point across. After the owner of a wallpaper factory was heard to of said that if they lowered bread prices it would make it possible to lower wages it quickly lead to protests and violence all around Paris. People of all different groups of the lower class banded together to fight against the unfair treatment that was forced on them by the government and the upper class. It was not only the French people of Paris the peasants all around France were joining together against this oppression. One example of this are the peasants on the countryside of France who used their new political “freedom” to start a huge revolt against the government that included the Parisians. It is stated that “These provincial rebels proclaimed revolutionary commissions in over one hundred communes; they seized control of an entire department as well as a dozen arrondissement capitals; and they clashed violently with troops or gendarmes in thirty different localities” These people have been treated so poorly for so long that now they are finally getting what they want with no hesitation. This was the start to getting rid of the new regime but they still had a hell of a fight to find the equality and justice they deserve. This was all done by breaking free from the chains of the government and thinking differently about the way their society was unfairly oppressed. Some historians may say that the influential ideas of the American Revolution were one of the main causes for the French Revolution because they helped inspire the people to want similar ideals. It is said that after the belligerent defeat of the Seven Years War France’s pride was greatly wounded and at that time Great Britain’s North American colonies were seeking independence so King Louis XVI stepped in just despite Great Britain to “strike a blow at their power”France was now in an alliance with the thirteen colonies and contributed an immense amount of financial aid and military troops. The American Revolution had many ideas that were carried over into the French Revolution such as readings like Thomas Paine’s common sense and The Declaration of Independence were widely read and provoked new ideas of what a better regime could look like. It has been said that ” The experience of the American Revolution provided the French with an example and a new interpretation of the idea of liberty, equality, and private property which they believed might be applied to the differing circumstances existing in France” The American Revolution gave the people of France a very good idea of what it means to be free which inspired them to have their own revolution in search for their independence. In conclusion, although some historians could argue that the influences of the American Revolution caused the people to get inspired to make change happen in their own society, it is far more important for the people of France to be enriched in the benefits of thinking logically and using reason to finally see the corruption in their government. The knowledge and problem solving of the Enlightenment taught us how to break free from others opinions and to form our own using advanced thinking. The economic mess of the financial crises, the outcry, and the scrutiny of the growing role of public opinion all had the people of France finally pushing through the obliviation forced on them by the higher power to fight for their rights and freedom from the oppression that they beared for so long.

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