Here Timothy Tackett tests some of the diverse explanations of the origins of the French Revolution by examining the psychological itineraries of the individuals who launched it--the deputies of the Estates General and the National Assembly. Based on a wide variety of sources, notably the letters and diaries of over a hundred deputies, the book assesses their collective biographies and their cultural and political experience before and after 1789. In the face of the current "revisionist" orthodoxy, it argues that members of the Third Estate differed dramatically from the Nobility in wealth, status, and culture.
Virtually all deputies were familiar with some elements of the Enlightenment, yet little evidence can be found before the Revolution of a coherent oppositional "ideology" or "discourse." Far from the inexperienced ideologues depicted by the revisionists, the Third Estate deputies emerge as practical men, more attracted to law, history, and science than to abstract philosophy. Insofar as they received advance instruction in the possibility of extensive reform, it came less from reading books than from involvement in municipal and regional politics and from the actions and decrees of the monarchy itself. Before their arrival in Versailles, few deputies envisioned changes that could be construed as "Revolutionary." Such new ideas emerged primarily in the process of the Assembly itself and continued to develop, in many cases, throughout the first year of the Revolution.
Originally published in 1996.
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