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French Revolution

  1. Oct 13, 2009 #1
    To what extent was the French Revolution preventable ?
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  3. Oct 13, 2009 #2


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  4. Oct 14, 2009 #3


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    It is a meaningless question, because historians do not have access to sufficient data to perform experimentations that could answer questions of preventability/inevitability.

    It is difficult enough for historians to live up to Ranke's ideal, i.e, to find out what actually happened at any particular moment and place.
  5. Oct 14, 2009 #4


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    At the moment I cannot think of anything that occurred in history that was not preventable.
    From basic principles I tend to believe that no historical event was inevitable.

    What Arildno says about historians having a difficult job and not being able to make experiments that would allow prediction is certainly correct. But he draws an improper conclusion. His conclusion that the question is meaningless is too strong to be supported by his excellent argument.

    I imagine that the question of what could have headed off or side-tracked the events of .... is meaningful to ask and might be a useful speculative exercise to try and answer.

    What comes immediately to mind is the Black Plague. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death
    If some rat-born plague had suddenly reduced the Euro population by 30% in the mid-18th Century, then there would have been a scarcity of labor and the laborers would have been able to demand better pay and treatment. Nobles might have been more willing to compromise and grant some concessions, reducing pressure for an all-out Revolution.

    Indeed this happened after the 1348-1350 Plague, as I recall. Some definite moves towards greater economic and social equality were made in England after the 14th Century Black Plague episode. That doesn't mean there weren't some riots and demonstrations and hangings of the instigators. There was a Peasant's Revolt in 1381. But society adjusted without going to the extreme of a wholesale slaughter of the Aristo class.

    There must be other ways you can think of. My main point is not to look at things as inevitable.

    But the alternatives could always be worse. :wink:
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2009
  6. Oct 17, 2009 #5


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  7. Oct 18, 2009 #6
    "preventable" implies that somehow the people or leaders of the time knew of it before hand and did nothing to stop it, which is simply not true. now, if some of the conditions that helped caused and feed the revolution were different, then yes, it may have not happened, but prevention is not really the right term.

    What you would really want to look at are the causes (such as the lack of food due to harvest failures in the parisian region, the huge public discontent at the queen for being austrian, the radically changing ideas concerning the role of the common man in governance, the increased tax burden on the poor to fundpast and current foreign wars, the perks given to the nobility that increased the burden on the vast majority of people, the intense regional division, the breakdown of the systeme d'etapes, etc) and how many of those would need to be changed in order for the french revolution to have not occured. however, since we can't go back and pull apart history like we can a cell, all we can do is speculate as to what would have happened if some of these facts had been different.

    you must also remember that this was the first major revolution in western europe that came from the people against thier own royalty (yes, you can argue what occured in england, but that was driven by the nobility and mostly resulted in shifting the power of the king to the lords, and america was a colony). to be frank, there has always been discontent amoungst the poor, and there have always been food riots and other such things. but they had never seen nor could they expect the extent of change and revolutionary fervor that would come about from what appeared to be normal grumblings of the peasants and working man. even if there had been signs of discontent, they would be seen in leiu of past experiences, and thier importance would not be understood as something more until much too late to "prevent".
  8. Nov 30, 2009 #7
    hmmm... a teacher at my college when i was a freshman asked me the same question.
    In fact he asked this on homework and i told him his question was too vague for me to answer properly and if he could elaborate. He did, i would go take this question back to your teacher and do what i did.
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