Causes and consequences of the French Revolution. Analysis of the revolution that literally devoured its children

In the collective imagination of Western populations (and not only) that great “historical caesura” known as the French Revolution still enjoys great admiration and consideration. Even if most people ignore the true causes of it as well as its consequences (which are not in line with the ideals that are normally associated with this historical event), there is no doubt that people see the great revolution of 1789 as the triumph and redemption of the people towards the ruling class of the time (the nobility). This vision of the French Revolution is more idealistic than realistic and only partially reflects the true nature of the events that matured and arose in the years of the revolutionary period (1789-1795). And which “flowed”, shortly thereafter, into the Napoleonic empire. It is therefore appropriate to focus not only on the nature and circumstances of the revolutionary events but also on the causes that allowed them and the consequences that they caused. We therefore try to highlight these aspects that are still unclear and little known today.


The French Revolution represented the end of the so-called “Ancien Regime”. It therefore represents a very important historical passage in the political context of the French nation but also of the whole of Europe. With it, the undermining of the medieval economic-social system was completed, which had its essential pillar in the dominant role of the first (the clergy) and second (the nobility). Through the French Revolution the third estate (the bourgeoisie) replaced the old ruling class. This represented a very important step towards the political and social evolution of the French geographical context and broadened the front of the nations led by the class holding movable wealth (capital deriving from commercial activity) and not plus the old political class of noble extraction who lived on income and produced little or nothing. The bourgeoisie also involved the people (corresponding to the enormous mass of peasants who, formally belonging to the third estate, were distinguished from the bourgeois class by activity and level of wealth) in the revolutionary process and laid the foundations for important changes in the French social context ( think of the mass enlistment that characterized the post-revolutionary period and which allowed the formation of an army capable of repelling any attempt at external invasion by the reactionary forces coming from Austria, Prussia and Russia). Its historical importance is therefore not only linked to the dismantling of the old medieval economic-social system but also to the geopolitics of the old continent given that as a consequence of the French Revolution a series of wars broke out which dragged on until the advent of Napoleon and even beyond (if we consider the Napoleonic phase as an appendix of the revolutionary phase). The revolutionary ideals served as an ideological imprint for Napoleon’s war campaigns which were justified with the intention of exporting the revolution beyond the borders of France. In reality, Bonaparte proposed a hegemonic attempt with the intention of avenging the geopolitical defeats suffered by England during the 18th century and which had had dramatic economic repercussions after the Seven Years’ War (which had cost France the loss of “New France” – that is, the immense territories occupied in North America – as well as of the French settlements in India). It is in this historical phase and in this geopolitical framework (the struggle for dominion over the seas and for world power between France and England) that the true causes and motivations of the French Revolution must be sought. Without understanding which it is impossible to fully understand the meaning of this historical event.


Defining the true causes and motivations of the French Revolution is fundamental to fully understand the true nature of this particular historical event. These causes are to be found in the geopolitical dynamics of 18th century France and in the wars that took shape starting from the reign of Louis proportion against an inept political class and a political and socioeconomic system which was a true legacy of the Middle Ages (and, as such, no longer adhered to the real balance of power within the French social and political dynamics) and now appeared completely anachronistic. The financial collapse that followed the Seven Years’ War (fought in the period 1756-1763) and the Anglo-French War (fought between 1778 and 1783) further aggravated the situation left by the countless military campaigns of the Sun King and led to French state on the verge of bankruptcy. This was a consequence of the loss of the North American and Indian colonies after the Seven Years’ War (with all the related resources that came under the control of England) and the huge expenses incurred in direct involvement in the conflict between England and its thirteen colonies in North America (an involvement that produced no real geopolitical advantage other than weakening London following the independence of the English overseas possessions with the consequent birth of the United States of America). Participation in the latter conflict represented only a sort of revenge by Paris for the damage done by London to the commercial and geopolitical interests of Paris after the Seven Years’ War. But the financial collapse that followed created the conditions for the social revolt that resulted in the revolution and which shattered, totally and definitively, the political, social and economic model that had existed until then (and known as “ ancien regime”). There was therefore a historic change in power. And the bourgeoisie replaced the clergy and the nobility at the helm of the nation. And in doing so it soon became a reactionary force. Opposing the participation of the people in the exercise of power and fighting the more or less communist inclinations that were maturing within the French political debate (embodied, already in the midst of the revolutionary phase, by the Jacobin and sans-culottes factions) . This is why the French Revolution was, de facto, a bourgeois revolution with precise historical aims (those, precisely, of subverting the political, social and economic order of the ancien regime and replacing it with a liberal one to which the leader was the class that held the country’s movable wealth (i.e. the capital, the liquid money deriving mostly from commercial activity), thus imposing a political-economic model that was essentially plutocratic and insensitive to the needs of the less well-off classes ( who were also involved in the revolutionary process and who were decisive for the success of the revolution.) The fact then that the abolition of the monarchy, decided by the revolutionary government in favor of the republic, “arrived”, a few years later, at the empire Napoleonic and therefore to a substantially autocratic form of government (even if spokesperson, at least in official declarations, of revolutionary ideals) says a lot about how badly this historical phenomenon has been “interpreted” by a large part of European public opinion as well as by historiography traditional. Because if, indisputably, the historical significance of the event was certainly exceptional, its genesis appears equally exceptional (attributable to the geopolitical dynamics of the French nation of the 18th century and the economic-financial collapse that followed) as well as the its consequences identifiable with the overcoming of the pre-existing socio-economic reality, the affirmation of the Napoleonic autocracy (which, while welcoming the revolutionary ideals, in substance differed little from the monarchy that the revolution had removed) and the revival of a hegemonic attempt (this too justified with the need to “export” revolutionary ideals) which renewed, once again, the comparison with London for world power. In this context it is therefore evident how the image of the French Revolution differs from its true nature.Its origins have roots in the geopolitical disaster that the French nation suffered in its bitter confrontation with London for the control of world trade and the wealth that came from it during the 18th century. Its geopolitical consequences were the revival of this confrontation under the leadership of an autocrat who in deeds (if not in words) denied revolutionary ideals more than many counter-revolutionaries. The real changes occurred at a socio-economic level with the conquest of political power by the bourgeoisie. These changes gave a great contribution to the subsequent development of the French economy and to its economic structure (no longer based mainly on land rent but on ‘business). Which, however, excluded the majority of the people from the exercise of power. Which remained the exclusive prerogative of the wealthiest. Even from this point of view, the revolution produced something very different from what most people believe. Which highlights the markedly bourgeois nature of this historical phenomenon. And its fundamentally elitist nature. Allowing the replacement of the power of the old ruling class (the nobility, holders of real estate wealth or large land ownership and related income) with a new one (the bourgeoisie, holders of movable wealth or capital deriving mostly from business). The people, although actively involved in the revolutionary phase, were soon “put back in their place” by the new hegemonic class. Who, once in power, quickly shed her revolutionary clothes to wear those typical of great conservatives. We could therefore say that the French Revolution not only literally devoured its children. But he also deceived them. With a collage of false expectations that were, one after the other, promptly disillusioned.

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