French Revoltion What caused the French Revolution to start as and when it did and Could its outbreak have been advoided, or possibly postponed? Was the revolution inevitable?

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enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The counter example to the French Revolution was the Glorious Revolution in England a century earlier.  England, having moved away from absolute monarchy, had evolved to be governed by the Rule of Law -- that every Englishman (and woman) had certain Rights, and that no one, even the monarch, was above the law.  The factors that brought this situation to fruition are a bit involved, but nothing like that kind of evolution occurred in France. Having remained Catholic (with its institutional hierarchy) and absolutist, there came a time when Revolution was unavoidable.  Certainly if more "English" influences in government had been realized in France, then the French Revolution might have been avoided, but by the late 1780's it was too late.  "Those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I agree with other editors. One of the principal factors that led to the Revolution was the massive inequality that existed in France and the way that so much wealth and power was controlled by a group that in reality made up a very small percentage of the population. Whenever there is such blatant inequality in this way, revolution is a natural response. I don't think it could have been avoided altogether.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Whenever there is inequality, there are seeds of revolution. There was a great deal of it in France. Centuries of it, left over from feudal days. Eventually people will get tired of being downtrodden. If there is an inspirational resistance group, seeds of the revolution will be sown.
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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Historians hate the idea that anything is inevitable. There are always opportunities for contingency, and despite the massive famine of 1788-89 and the economic crisis, there were ways that it could have been avoided, or could have taken a far different course. The old Marxian interpretation of bourgeoisie vs. nobility, the basis for most arguments that emphasize inevitability, has pretty much been overturned as historians have discovered how fluid the social situation was in France. The actions of Louis XVI, in particular, helped nudge what conceiveably could have been a gradual process of change toward a revolutionary break, both before and after the Estates-General convened. The decision to fire Jacques Necker, the minister who urged precisely this type of gradual reform, was a particularly egregious mistake. Revolution appears to have been likely in the late 1780s, but not, I think, inevitable.

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I, too, suspect that revolution was inevitable at some point. Democratic and republican ideas were increasingly "in the air," and the example of the American Revolution set a strong precedent. The growing power of the middle class also probably helped contribute to a situation in which the aristocracy would have to sacrifice some of its power, one way or another.

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I would also agree that the revolution was inevitable. When the "powers in charge" are not willing to make the changes asked for by a group, the group will take action to insure that changes are made and that their concerns are responded to. It simply takes a small group to get a message out. When people around that group begin to see similarities between themselves and the group they will come together to see that things are accomplished.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Third Estate was composed of merchants and lawyers, many of whom were not of the French race.  Therefore, as mentioned above, the powers of France were less inclined to give power to these people.  Also, the peasantry. long oppressed, were of no consequence to the aristocracy who felt that they could be subjugated indefinitely.  The aristocrats really did not perceive the peasants as a threat to their way of life.  There continued oppression did, indeed, contribute to the rebellion of many.

The revolution began when the people united in their sense of oppression.  Starving, with nothing to lose, they revolted.  After all, often those who are desperate are the most dangerous.  Some scientists hold that what little bread was produced in 1789 was moldy; they theorize that when many of the people ate enough, the injested mold caused the peasants to hallucinate. They, then, became irrational and the mob psychology took over.  Whether all this is true, it makes for an interesting theory.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would argue that the revolution was inevitable as long as those who held power in France were not willing to give it up to any significant degree.  Of course, it could have been avoided if they had given more power to the Third Estate willingly.  However, this does not seem likely to have happened given the prevailing political and social attitudes in France at that time.

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