An economic history of the French Revolution
April 18, 2016 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to see an article or book on the economic history of the French Revolution. While the poor crops and unusually harsh winters seem relatively self-explanatory, I'm interested in the personalities and the constraints that seem to lurk along the edges.

I've seen it said that it was bankers who forced Louis to finally call the Estates General; well who were those bankers? What else where they up to? And how on earth was France able to repudiate its debt around 1794 and then go & take over Europe right afterward?

Book or article length, scholarly or not, all welcome.
posted by ibmcginty to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's been a while since I've read it, but I vaguely recall the book Seven Ages of Paris having decent explanations of both those things.
posted by Tamanna at 7:17 PM on April 18, 2016


I don't have a whole lot to contribute, but you might want to start by searching for Jacques Necker. He was a reformist finance minister under Louis XVI whose sacking was controversial.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:20 PM on April 18, 2016


The Discovery of France is a great recent book on this topic.
posted by bleep at 7:54 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Great question! I don't have any definitive answers or references, so I'm interested in seeing what answers you get. A couple of things I'm aware of were 1) the great increase in efficiency and reliability of tax collection that Napoleon introduced (no more blanket exemptions for aristocrats, for example) and 2) the raising of money by land sales (the Louisiana Purchase, the seizure and sale of church and exiled aristocratic land, and, later, the seizure and sale of communal lands).

He distrusted debt and paper money, so when the Americans gave him bonds for the Louisiana Purchase that they had raised from an English banker, Napoleon promptly sold the bonds to the Russians. (From "Empires Apart: A History of American and Russian Imperialism".)
posted by clawsoon at 8:40 PM on April 18, 2016


Check out the Revolutions Podcast, MIke Duncan has weekly podcasts about several revolutions.
The first (of 55+!!!) about the French Revolution is here.

He talks quite a bit about the social and political situation that leads up to the revolution including lots of discussion about who was taxed and who wasn't and this led to unrest. Many key players are discussed in detail.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:57 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you're more of a Libertarian/anti-deficit bent, then Andrew Dickson White's "Fiat Money Inflation in France" might be worth a look.

At the very least, it has the advantage of being relatively short, if not wholly credible.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 8:34 AM on April 19, 2016


The classic economically minded analysis is Lefebvre's Coming of the French Revolution. It's been probably 10 years since I read it so I don't remember how much it got into the personal, social history part of it.

If you read French, and want to wade through a massive work, Lefebvre's Les paysans du Nord is probably pretty much exactly what you're looking for, although it will be hard to find outside of a university library.

I think the Marxist analysis has lost favor in academic circles, but not necessarily because it is wrong.
posted by dis_integration at 8:53 AM on April 19, 2016


My father, a sociological historian, spent 30+ years studying the Estates General. He wrote a 700-page book about it in the late 90s published by a major academic press. It's out of print, but MeMail me.
posted by ljshapiro at 1:49 PM on April 20, 2016


ljshapiro, please post it!
posted by clawsoon at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2016


clawsoon rightly points out that I could post a link so the book can be found at the library. It's called Revolutionary Demands : A Content Analysis of the Cahiers de Doléances of 1789. The Cahiers de Doléances were the reports issued out of the Estates General. The first part of the book is about the method of qualitative content analysis and the Cahiers; the final chapters are the results of that analysis, and address the op's question.
posted by ljshapiro at 6:50 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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