The various causes for the outbreak of French Revolution of 1789 are as follows.
Social Causes: Social inequality was one of the main causes for French revolution. The first two Estates monopolized all the highest offices in the Army, Church and the Government. They were also exempted from paying taxes and free from the authority of the court. They were the owners of enormous wealth and exploited the peasants and workers. On the other hand, the conditions of the commoners were deplorable. They had to pay all taxes and were not eligible for any higher government services. “The Nobles fight, the Clergy pray and the Commons pay”, was a popular statement in France. Thus the majority of the French people were disgusted owing to their social inferiority and discrimination, which paved the way for the outbreak of this revolution.
Economic Causes: The policy of taxation in France was defective and unfair. The burden of tax mostly fell on the Commoners, because the Clergy and Nobles were exempted from all kind of taxes. Commoners had to pay ‘Taille’ (Property Tax), ‘Gable’ (Salt Tax), ‘Tithe’ (Religious Tax) and other cesses to the Government. This kind of economic exploitation and discontent among the common people made them to revolt against the discriminative taxation policy of the French Government.
Intellectual Causes: Many great Philosophers during.18th century in France, criticized about the political tyranny, social inequality and economic exploitation in France and also insisted for reforms. France was prepared mentally and morally for a revolt against the old regime because of the writings and speeches of these brilliant thinkers of that age. They strongly criticized the Church and social inequality and provided the intellectual justification for the revolution.
Montesquieu advocated the ‘Theory of Separation of Powers’ as per which, Legislative, Executive and Judiciary should function independently to safeguard the liberty of the people. Voltaire asked people to apply ‘Reason’ in every field. Rousseau gave the watch word of the revolution ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’. Diderot condemned the privileged classes.
Political causes: The ‘Bourbon Dynasty’ which ruled France for many centuries neglected the interests of the people and ruled according to their whims and fancies. During Louis XV’s reign, France fought many wars viz., the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War and others. In these wars it was defeated and it was a great financial burden. The administrative system of France was highly flawed and the Rulers neglected their responsibilities and welfare of the people and were addicted to women, wine and wealth. The officials were highly corrupt and there was no uniform legal system. This type of political anarchy, absolutism and misrule increased the dissatisfaction of the people and led to the revolution.
Immediate cause: The financial condition of France was deplorable by about 1789. National debt increased owing to the costly wars and lavish life style of the King and his family. Unprivileged class was paying all the taxes. The Finance Ministers of France suggested the reduction in unnecessary expenditures and to impose some taxes on the privileged classes to solve the financial crisis which was not acceptable to the privileged classes and the deterioration continued.
The results of the French Revolution are:
1. This revolution abolished absolute monarchy and ended the political anarchy and misrule of the French Kings. It paved way for the establishment of a Republican Government in France based on the democratic principles, as propounded by Montesquieu, J.J. Rousseau and others.
2. The French Revolution ended Feudalism and hereditary aristocracy. It proved that suppressed ones can revolt against the oppressive government.
3. It put an end to the special privileges of the Clergy and Nobility and their properties were confiscated. Thus social inequality also ended.
4. The new constitution declared the rights of man, which upheld the ‘Doctrine of popular sovereignty’.
5. This revolution popularized the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in other countries of the world.
6. It spread the feeling of unity and taught the principles of Nationalism among the French people. Hence, it became a source of inspiration to the Unification of Italy and Germany and finally freedom movements in other parts of the world including India. H.A.L Fisher says “If cold attacks France, the entire Europe sneezes”.
7. This revolution caused heavy bloodshed. During ‘The Reign of Terror’, nearly 17000 people were killed. Even King Louis XVI, his Queen Marie Antoinette and others were Guillotined.
8. The Directory Government, which came.to power after the revolution, failed to rule properly, Again there was chaos and confusion in France. This gave an opportunity for the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte as the military Dictator of France. He called himself as the ‘Child of Revolution’.
Thus the French Revolution was indeed a’great event in the history of France. The political developments after this revolution greatly changed the course of the History of Europe and also the world.