Historiography of French Revolution

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  • Historiography of French Revolution + other facts
    • Edmund Burke
      • Irishman who represented constituents of Bristol as their Westminster MP
      • Also polemical writer who was a traditionalist in his views and a leading political thinker of his time
      • Regarded as one of the founding fathers of the modern Conservative Party
      • In his Reflections on the Revolution in France (published 1790)
        • he warned that forces French had let loose in 1789 would eventually produce tyranny
      • Burke viewed society as an organism that grew slowly
        • and which allowed productive parts of organism to thrive whilst nonproductive parts would eventually decay and disappear
      • Previously supported  American revolutionaries of 1770s because he argued British government had broken with its traditional approach to governing that colony
        • he said that the Americans were actually fighting for a return to former days
        • seemingly radical because of his support for American revolutionaries, Burke's position was ideologically conservative
      • as far as Burke was concerned, a disruptive, radical revolution such as French Revolution was disastrous break with kind of fruitful slow growth he espoused
      • His opinion was that imposition of revolution as happened in France in 1789 (and this was before trial and execution of king) was extreme curable illness
    • Anglo-Saxon interpretations
      • An interpretation put forward in 1955 by R.R. Palmer and Jacques Godechot
        • Palmer argued chief characteristic of age of revolutions was not rise of capitalist bourgeoisie but idea of democracy
        • So French Revolution, like the American Revolution, was essentially about liberal democracy
      • Alfred Cobban
        • 1955
        • Argued that if by French Revolution we mean a bourgeois capitalist revolution, then French Revolution was myth
        • Provocative conclusion highlighted two key points
          • The revolutionary bourgeoisie, far from being capitalist, was actually mainly composed of lawyers and officeholders
          • This class of officeholders was in decline, not expansion
        • Used evidence of Marxists' own studies to show eighteenth-century capitalism was not so very dynamic
          • bourgeoisie as well as nobility was heavily involved in landownership and seigneurialism
            • deliberate and hugely successful attempt to invite research on too-easy categories of analysis used by historians
      • Robert Forster
        • work on nobility of Toulouse also showed nobility behaving in investment and estate management very like 'bourgeois capitalists'
      • French work on early industrial production
        • showed higher noble investment was a crucial factor in heavy industry
          • easy categories were becoming very blurred as bourgeois looked like nobles and vice versa, and it was later suggested they perhaps formed more or less single elite
      • George Taylor
        • Dealt deathblow in Anglo-Saxon world to usefulness of Marxist categories of analysis for French revolution
        • Research on types of capitalism in C18th France highlighted four types of capitalism, none of which was 'modern'
        • Argued revolution was caused by rise of group of modern capitalists
        • Argued revolution was essentially political event
          • Such views had enormous impact on teaching and research in English-speaking academic world and virtually none at all in France
        • Few French historians then read English and no-one was prepared to challenge orthodox views of entrenched Marxist establishment of top professors in French universities
    • Karl Marx
      • Redefined role of bourgeoisie that was hero of tale
      • His all-encompassing vision was of middle-class that was economically progressive, a vehicle for new ideologies of progress and equality, based on requirements of growing capitalism in early modern Europe
      • Views evolved into orthodox view of revolution
        • in hands of historians such as Albert Mathiez, George Lefebvre and Albert Soboul in C20th
          • In their eyes, revolution was product of economic and social change in C18th as modern capitlaism developed
            • led to more dynamic and ambitious middle class (bourgeoisie) that was frustrated by limited opportunities in a country still controlled by reactionary nobility whose wealth was still rooted in seigneurialsim and landownership and whose powr was supposed to have been limited by Louis XIV and state apparatus
              • During ancien regime nobility hoped to regain its former role in state
                • In 1787-88 noble resistance to reform amounted to 'noble reaction' as nobility took advantage of monarchy's weakness to retain its privileges and demand more power
                  • economic downturn and fiscal shortcomings of 1780s created motivation and opportunity for Third Estate to defeat reaction in 1789, and in a progressive and capitalist revolution
                    • Overall view only comprehensively challenged in mid-1950s

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