In conclusion: state and society
This is a book about 'modernization' as a social process in nineteenth-century France. In it I have sought to examine the impact of a complex of changes upon the living standards, day-to-day experience and social relationships of the various groups which made up French society. Much of what happened over the course of the century was for the better, resulting in greater material prosperity, the reduction of physiological misery, and of insecurity, higher levels of literacy, the disappearance of traditional forms of protest and the provision of institutionalized means for expressing grievances. Nevertheless, in the shorter term the transition from a predominantly agricultural and rural society towards an urban-industrial system was not without its problems. These included most obviously the threat or reality of technological unemployment, and urban poverty. Initially and before migration was able to relieve the strain, social tensions in the countryside were also intensified by the combination of population pressure on resources and the expansion of commercialization, at the same time as the potential for conflict grew in the overcrowded cities. The threat to social order was at its most intense precisely during the period of transition towards an urban-industrial society and liberal—democratic political system.
In this situation the capacity of the various social groups to exercise power within the wider society depended upon their possession of scarce material resources which, on the one hand, gave them access to the leisure and culture necessary for active participation in politics and administration, and, on the other, through control of access to land, to credit, and to employment allowed them to influence members of other social groups. Moreover, there can be no doubt, given its varied responsibilities, that the state was a key social institution. An analysis of the way in which it functioned is essential for an understanding of the nature of authority and the exercise of power in society — of power in its various forms, including the ability to inflict punishment, to offer rewards and to instil values or beliefs. This chapter therefore will seek to answer such questions as, who ruled? In whose interests? How? And with what effect? It involves an inquiry into the nature of the French state in the nineteenth century.
Historically the French state was the product of a long evolution, but it was during the period of revolution and empire that the institutions of the modern centralized state were largely created. In its beginnings the revolution had involved a reaction against excessive centralization, but the exigencies of war and internal disorder soon forced a reversal and the creation of new state