A History of Modern France: Volume 1: Old Regime and Revolution 1715-1799 (Penguin History)

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9780140138252: A History of Modern France: Volume 1: Old Regime and Revolution 1715-1799 (Penguin History)

In about 250 pages, Alfred Cobban gives us his vision of the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI and the French Revolution. His accents are sometimes very pronounced (e.g. 'the sinister shade of atheism'). His general position is that 'theory plays little part in the determining policies. The actions of the revolutionaries were prescribed by the need to find practical solutions to immediate problems.' The central theme of his book is 'bread' (famine) for the Third Estate and 'financial crisis' for the powerful in the Old Regime. The financial crises were provoked by war (e.g. the American War) and the refusal by the wealthy (aristocracy, Church) to pay taxes. Other factors were the weakness of the kings and the functioning of the Old Regime with its bureaucratic control of industry and trade. Louis XVI had to summon the States-General, which permitted the Third Estate to take power (normally it was always in a minority position of 2 against 1). But immediately, there were internecine fights between the different factions in it. The Committee of Public Safety eliminated the right (Danton) and the left, but the members of the Committee then fought among themselves: Robespierre was guillotined. In fact, 85 % of the guillotined belonged to the Third Estate. When the new revolutionary army became sufficiently professionalized, the political role of the people was finished. The well-to-do within the Third Estate, who had used the discontent of the peasants and the craftsmen, could lean on the army to take power, until one of the generals rose above everybody and became France's new autocrat. Of course, this small book cannot give detailed explanations of all events or insightful portraits of all important characters, but it is told with dash, insight and vision.

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