Front Page Titles (by Subject) 124.: The Political Situation in France Before the Revolution - Judgments on History and Historians
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
124.: The Political Situation in France Before the Revolution - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
The Political Situation in France Before the Revolution
The pressure on the lowliest was the greatest; it made life barely livable. The manorial and clerical pressures hardly counted compared to the pressure exerted by the state. The peasants were in secret ferment.
The budget was greatly overloaded. In addition to the expenses of bureaucracy, of debt and interest, of the tax rents and what they involved, of the army with its enormous officers’ budget, and of foreign affairs, the court and all that went with it was an especially great expense, notably the enormously endowed aristocratic court society and the pensions involved; this waste was still on the increase. It was as though the kings wanted to keep not only their relatives but every one of their retinue tremendously wealthy and had to compensate them quite disproportionately for every loss—and all this in the face of an increasing deficit. And yet this high nobility was utterly powerless politically and unaccustomed to any real contact with the people. It gave itself up to salon life and its amenities and isolating effect.
The Third Estate had already gained so many privileges that it wanted the moon and was getting impatient. It was not satisfied with easy elevation to the nobility and the many offices open to it. Since 1614 it had been without any political contact with the nobility; in its municipal offices it was frequently abused; it was devoid of any old municipal spirit. A bourgeois was received by the nobility socially if he had talent or fame (the gens de lettres, men of letters), or if he helped to amuse people or to play host to them if he was wealthy. In business the Third Estate pushed ahead and it was acquiring wealth as well as being already greatly affected by the leveling culture.
All classes were still strictly separated from one another, to be sure, even the city dwellers from the peasants, but there was more integration in culture and customs than elsewhere, and the theory, supported by the reading of the time, was essentially leveling.
In this, the influence and absorptive power of Paris was of basic significance.
All this confronted the government which was still completely caught up in the spirit of arbitrariness, even though it now had moderated its use of the lettres de cachet [warrants of arrest] and in general was modéré et faible [moderate and weak] and exerted a will to action and progress. Through its absolutely centralistic behavior it prepared the Revolution (cf. Tocqueville’s statements).