From Deficit to Deluge: The Origins of the French Revolution

By Thomas E. Kaiser; Dale K. Van Kley | Go to book overview

Introduction

Thomas E. Kaiser and Dale K. Van Kley


I. Theses and Themes

That the French Revolution was the immediate result of the insolvency of the Bourbon state at the end of the 1780s is one of the few certainties shared by all historians of this great event. Less clear is why the Old Regime monarchy, which had encountered and surmounted many other fiscal crises by “normal” political means over its long history, not only failed to resolve this one, but also allowed it to escalate into a full-blown revolution by 1789. Was it something in the nature of the fiscal crisis itself that made it so explosive? Or had the Old Regime as a whole changed so radically by this time that it could no longer cope with the kinds of problems it had mastered more or less routinely in the past? Or was it some combination of both?

In lieu of the once dominant socio-economic explanation for the coming of the French Revolution, the various branches of post-Marxist “revisionist” historiography have sought answers in the various political dysfunctions that eventually crippled the Old Regime. Beginning with a concept of the “political” as the self-interested quest for power and position within the Old Regime’s institutional apparatus, one such branch has attributed the fiscal crisis largely to the increasing incoherence of the royal decision-making process and the monarchy’s loss of control over

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