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 Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?) 
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
I'm talking about representation in the Estates General specifically and the fundamental problems the ancien régime confronted when faced with a modernizing society. By the end of the eighteenth century, the demographics of French society had drastically changed from the time when the orders were established and there was an increasingly powerful middle class that was feeling stifled by the class restrictions of the ancien régime. They could be flexible, but not for everyone and there was an increasing sense that you shouldn't have to buy a title to succeed in life. So basically you have a new group of people who have a growing amount of economic power, but extremely limited political power, and they are not going to be happy. This is part of the fundamental problem I was talking about with the ancien régime in conflict with the realities of late 18th century French society. But it went deeper than just a matter whether birthright or money was the source of power. This was the end of the century of Enlightenment and some of its ideas had trickled down to the lowest classes in society, not in their most erudite form, but at least in the basics. Particularly amongst urban artisans and workers, but even in the more conservative countryside, you had ideas about equality becoming a part of popular discourse. Protests against voting by order instead of head were heard from all levels of the Third Estate, so it wasn't as though it was only the wealthiest bourgeoisie that was looking to challenge the aristocracy. Have you read Sieyès's "What is the Third Estate?" That does the best job of summing up the mood of the time.

Voting by order instead of head went against the changing social and economic reality of the late 18th century, as well as the ideas of the Enlightenment that had been absorbed into the popular consciousness. That is the reason why it caused such a problem and brought the Estates General to a halt. This thread was specifically about the problems at the Estates General, which is what I was responding to. The reforms under Louis XVI were a step forward, but there needed to be a massive re-evaluation of the French political structure in order to bring it up to date with current social, economic, and ideological realities. A bankrupt state only made the situation worse. So what I'm saying is that if they had found a way bring about these reforms early on during the Estates General, the Revolution would not have turned out like it did. However, such change was certainly not in the interest of those who already held power, so like I said you can't have expected them to readily give it up. An extremely capable and forceful monarch with excellent foresight might have been capable of making this work. Even if he didn't like it, it was a matter of necessity lest something more drastic occur. Louis XVI was well-intentioned and cared for his people, but he was not up to the task of majorly reforming the ancien régime, particularly given the urgency of the situation due to the bankruptcy of the state.


Wed Oct 08, 2008 9:46 pm
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
dreamoutloud wrote:
I'm talking about representation in the Estates General specifically and the fundamental problems the ancien régime confronted when faced with a modernizing society. By the end of the eighteenth century, the demographics of French society had drastically changed from the time when the orders were established and there was an increasingly powerful middle class that was feeling stifled by the class restrictions of the ancien régime. They could be flexible, but not for everyone and there was an increasing sense that you shouldn't have to buy a title to succeed in life. So basically you have a new group of people who have a growing amount of economic power, but extremely limited political power, and they are not going to be happy. This is part of the fundamental problem I was talking about with the ancien régime in conflict with the realities of late 18th century French society. But it went deeper than just a matter whether birthright or money was the source of power. This was the end of the century of Enlightenment and some of its ideas had trickled down to the lowest classes in society, not in their most erudite form, but at least in the basics. Particularly amongst urban artisans and workers, but even in the more conservative countryside, you had ideas about equality becoming a part of popular discourse. Protests against voting by order instead of head were heard from all levels of the Third Estate, so it wasn't as though it was only the wealthiest bourgeoisie that was looking to challenge the aristocracy. Have you read Sieyès's "What is the Third Estate?" That does the best job of summing up the mood of the time.

Voting by order instead of head went against the changing social and economic reality of the late 18th century, as well as the ideas of the Enlightenment that had been absorbed into the popular consciousness. That is the reason why it caused such a problem and brought the Estates General to a halt. This thread was specifically about the problems at the Estates General, which is what I was responding to. The reforms under Louis XVI were a step forward, but there needed to be a massive re-evaluation of the French political structure in order to bring it up to date with current social, economic, and ideological realities. A bankrupt state only made the situation worse. So what I'm saying is that if they had found a way bring about these reforms early on during the Estates General, the Revolution would not have turned out like it did. However, such change was certainly not in the interest of those who already held power, so like I said you can't have expected them to readily give it up. An extremely capable and forceful monarch with excellent foresight might have been capable of making this work. Even if he didn't like it, it was a matter of necessity lest something more drastic occur. Louis XVI was well-intentioned and cared for his people, but he was not up to the task of majorly reforming the ancien régime, particularly given the urgency of the situation due to the bankruptcy of the state.


Dear Dreamsoutloud, thank you for this background as to why the Estates-General was called and the changes that were going on in French society that led to the Revolution. My point is that Louis was a reformer, well aware of the need for change, but hesitant to introduce it rapidly and drastically in a land where so many people were still illiterate. People who cannot read are more easily led by rabble rousers, and the pattern of violence in the Revolution, which led to the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, shows that this was certainly the case in France. It was Louis XVI who summoned the Estates-General in order to reform the antiquated tax system. He hoped the changes could come about gradually and without violence, but there were those who sought to use violence as a means of social change.

Simon Schama in "Citizens" explains how when Louis went to Paris on July 17, 1789 to reconcile himself with the people of Paris after the recent bloody events, it was seen by many as a capitulation. It was not that he refused to give in; he gave too much.

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Wed Oct 08, 2008 10:48 pm
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
Dreamoutloud, that was an excellent, again excellent summation of the circumstances surrounding the Estates General. I don't think I've ever read a more concise and informative review. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Therese, I agree that Louis was a reformer. He realized that his kingdom faced grave, systematic failings that needed addressed. This alone says a lot for him, considering how little his predecessors understood or cared about the state of their subjects. Louis XVI was a good, kind man who truly loved his people and who took his position seriously. He faced an impossible situation, one in which he himself did not fully understand until it was too late.

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Wed Oct 08, 2008 11:45 pm
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
Christophe wrote:
He faced an impossible situation, one in which he himself did not fully understand until it was too late.


And it was something that had never happened before. Louis' education had not prepared him for such a debacle. There were few who were prepared for what was about to happen, few leaders who would survive. Most of the players in the Revolution, including Orleans, who had instigated much of the violence, were destroyed in the course of events.

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Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:01 am
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
That is perhaps the only outcome of the Revolution that I admire: that most of the perpetraitors became the victims of their own crimes.

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Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:18 am
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
Christophe wrote:
That is perhaps the only outcome of the Revolution that I admire: that most of the perpetraitors became the victims of their own crimes.


D'accord.

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Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:38 am
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
Christophe wrote:
Dreamoutloud, that was an excellent, again excellent summation of the circumstances surrounding the Estates General. I don't think I've ever read a more concise and informative review. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Therese, I agree that Louis was a reformer. He realized that his kingdom faced grave, systematic failings that needed addressed. This alone says a lot for him, considering how little his predecessors understood or cared about the state of their subjects. Louis XVI was a good, kind man who truly loved his people and who took his position seriously. He faced an impossible situation, one in which he himself did not fully understand until it was too late.



Yes, Thank you Dreamoutloud! I understand now. Louis couldn't make changes in the mood that France was in. It is all really a shame that the Revolution happened.

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Thu Oct 09, 2008 10:25 pm
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Post Re: Louis and The General Estates (What went wrong?)
Thanks to all who responded--this has been an interesting thread to read! :)


Sat Oct 11, 2008 7:31 pm
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