Gilbert (2005) defines French Revolution as the period of radical political and social upheaval in France between 1789 and 1799, which lead to the establishment of France as a republic. During this time the French society went through an epic transformation as religious, feudal and aristocratic privileges disappeared because of a sustained attack from radical left-wing masses on the streets, peasants in the rural areas and political groups. New enlightenment principles of inalienable rights, equality and citizenship abruptly overthrew old ideas concerning hierarchy and tradition. The French Revolution was an essential event in the Western historical context and a single most significant influence on British philosophical, political and intellectual life in the nineteenth century (Gilbert, 2005). This discussion will consider the causes and effects of the French Revolution.
Causes of French revolution
Old Regime is the first underlying cause of French Revolution (Gilbert, 2005). This resulted in the division of the people of France into three estates. The first estate, which held about 10 percent of the total land in France, represented the highest church officials. These officials did not pay direct taxes to the royal government. Another estate constituted of the nobles who occupied about 20 percent of the total land in France. However, the nobles were only two percent of the total population in France, and they paid no taxes. The third estate underwent further division into three groups, namely bourgeoisie, peasant farmers and the urban lower classes. According to Gilbert (2005), the third estate was about 98 percent of the population in France. This estate spent about 50 percent of their income in taxes. Individuals paid royal taxes, feudal dues and they owed corvee.
Another underlying cause of the French Revolution was the raising of taxes (Gilbert, 2005). However, the third estate was already paying enough tax, but the population in the second estate refused to pay taxes, which worsened the problem. The American Revolution was another underlying cause of the French Revolution (Gilbert, 2005). This occurred when the French experienced an enormous debt because of helping the Americans. The Americans also overthrew a supreme monarch and achieved freedom. The effect of the teachings and writings of various renowned philosophers in France is the fourth principal or underlying cause of the French Revolution. Many people borrowed ideas from philosophers like John Locke, who recommended freedom from oppression. This was the Age of Enlightenment, in which the famous thinkers included Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu. They attacked the French society and French government and they suggested that people should have equal rights. The thinkers wrote pamphlets and books, which played a significant role in altering the French social structure (Gilbert, 2005).
Apart from the underlying causes of the French Revolution were the immediate causes and a spark. The rising price of bread was an immediate cause of French Revolution (Gilbert, 2005). In the previous year people did not harvest enough grain, which led to the shortage of raw materials. The poor relied on bread as the only thing they could afford and making breads expensive would consequently starve the poor. Locking the third estate’s delegates out of their meeting room was another immediate cause of the French Revolution (Gilbert, 2005). Abby Sieyes, who was the deputy of the Third Estate, suggested that the estate becomes the National Assembly. Despite the effort of the king locking the Third Estate’s delegates out of their meeting room, they continued to meet. The delegates started holding their meetings in a nearby Tennis Court. A spark of the revolution is the event that triggered off the French Revolution when King Louis ordered the Swiss guards to Paris. King Louis hired the Swiss mercenaries because he could not rely on his own military. However, he called the Swiss mercenaries off when a mob attached the Bastille (Gilbert, 2005).
Effects of the French Revolution
In spite of the French Revolution taking place in France, many countries across the world felt its effects (Gilbert, 2005). Civil disorder was very common after the mob stormed the Bastille. In France, the landowning and bourgeois classes became the dominant power following the revolution. Feudalism ended and the Code Napoleon consolidated contractual relations and the social order. The French Revolution unified France, which promoted the power of the national state. The Napoleonic and Revolutionary wars dismantled Europe’s ancient structure, accelerated the coming of nationalism and introduced the era of modern, total welfare. Establishment of the ranks of men in the Revolutionary Army relied on caliber and not on class (Gilbert, 2005).
Some aftermaths of the French Revolution belong to the category of cultural effects. The French Revolutionary government embraced the use of the metric system, which spread across the world (Gilbert, 2005). Now only three countries, namely the United States, Liberia and Myanmar do not use the metric system. The Great French War resulted in the spread of the French culture. This war ensured that French fashion has spread throughout Europe, such that, during the French Revolution, citizens started dressing in a modest manner (Gilbert, 2005). Men and women started to cut hair closer to their scalps. The wealthy men started putting on beggar clothing and women put on fashions that resembled the ancient Pagan Greeks’ thin gowns (Gilbert, 2005).
The causes of the French Revolution included the underlying causes, immediate causes and a spark. Most of the causes took place in France where the French society went through an epic transformation. Various parts of the world experienced political, social and cultural effects of the French revolution. Therefore, the French Revolution is a significant period whose effects have influenced the way of life across the world (Gilbert, 2005).