French Revolution made simple.
The French Revolution sprang from all the usual “historical” causes. The Enlightenment had undermined general acceptance of a society based on inherited social rank. Economic change had made the “bourgeoisie” much more numerous and much more self-confident than ever before. Bad harvests and population growth had pushed the peasants to the edge of starvation. Then economic change had led the nobility to squeeze more out of those peasants. The French government teetered on the edge of bankruptcy thanks to the American War for Independence, so they needed to end the nobility’s tax exemption. Everyone was pushing back against the absolute monarchy established by Louis XIV, but now being operated by his tension-ball heirs.
However, you can’t understand what happened unless you realize that France was a huge electrical storm of inter-personal hostility. The old nobility hated the rising bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie hated the old nobility. The peasantry hated the landowners, whether noble or bourgeois. The urban lower class, called the “sans-culottes,” hated the bourgeoisie—and most other people who came across their sights. Then there were lawyers everywhere you looked. Think “Divorce.”
The Revolution did a lot of good stuff in a big hurry. The Revolution abolished all noble privileges; abolished the monarchy and made France a republic; wrote a constitution based on the idea that authority came from the people; established the equality before the law of all Frenchmen; created a single system of law to apply to all Frenchmen; created a single system of weights and measures (the metric system); reorganized the country into uniform districts; and laid the basis for solving the country’s financial problems by making the nobility subject to taxation and seizing the vast property owned by the Church. All this had been done by the end of 1791. Good as anything the Americans did—and much faster. So why did the...