Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Seminar Reading: Week 3

Origins: Class or State?


Along with the Marxist interpretation, Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution is one of the most influential accounts of the period. Whereas the Marxist tradition sees the French Revolution as marking the ascendency of the bourgeoisie over the feudal aristocracy, the Tocquevillian view stresses the dangers of state-centralisation and utopian ideology -- what de Tocqueville referred to as 'abstract literary politics'. We will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these two interpretations and consider whether they can be reconciled or not.


Core primary readings

* Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution (Cambridge, 2012), foreword (the one by Tocqueville), Book I, Book II (chps 1-3,9-10), Book III.


Core secondary readings:

* A. Soboul, Understanding the French Revolution (New York, 1988), ch. 2.

Suggested secondary readings:

On Class

W. Sewell, 'Connecting Capitalism to the French Revolution: The Parisian Promenade and the Origins of Civic Equality in Eighteenth-Century France', Critical Historical Studies 1: 1 (2014), 5-46.

L. Clay, 'The Bourgeoisie, Capitalism, and the Origins of the French Revolution' in Andress (ed.), Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution, 21-39.

See also the contrasting views put forward in the 1990s/2000s about the role of the bourgeoisie in C. Jones and S. Maza below:

S. Maza, 'Luxury, morality and social change: why there was no middle-class consciousness in Pre-revolutionary France', Journal of Modern History 69 (1997).

S. Maza, The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie : An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750-1850 (2003).

C. Jones, 'A Bourgeois Revolution Revivified: 1789 and Social Change', appears in many places, for example, C. Lucas (ed.), Rewriting the French Revolution (1991).

C. Jones, 'The Great Chain of Buying: Medical Advertisement, the Bourgeois Public Sphere, and the Origins of the French Revolution', American Historical Review 101: 1 (1996), 13-40.

H. Heller, The Bourgeois Revolution in France, 1789-1815 (2005)

On State

Peter R. Campbell, The Origins of the French Revolution (2006)

W. Doyle, Venality: The Sale of Offices in Eighteenth-Century France (1996)

Gary Kates, The French Revolution. Recent debates and new controversies (Routledge, 1998), especially Albert Soboul, ‘The French Revolution in the history of the contemporary world’ (pp. 17-33), Colin Lucas, ‘Nobles, bourgeois, and the origins of the French Revolution’ (pp. 33-50), Francois Furet, ‘The French Revolution revisited’ (pp. 53-67).

F. Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1982). Furet’s manifesto against the ‘marxist vulgate’.

L. Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution (1985), esp. 2nd half.

J. Goldstone, 'The Social Origins of the French Revolution Revisited' in Kaiser/Van Kley (eds.), From Deficit to Deluge: The Origins of the French Revolution (2011), ch. 2.

A. Cobban, The Social interpretation of the French Revolution (2nd edition, Cambridge, 1999).

T.C.W. Blanning, The French Revolution, Class War or Cultural Clash? (London, 1998).

G. Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London, 1993).


W. Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution (3rd edn 1999)

J. Egret, The French Pre-Revolution, 1787-8 (1977)

J.M. Hardman, Louis XVI (1994)

J.M. Hardman, French Politics, 1774-89 (1995)

M. Price, Preserving the Monarchy: The Comte de Vergennes, 1774-1787 (1995)

V. Gruder, ‘Paths to political consciousness: the Assembly of Notables of 1787 and the Pre-Revolution in France’, FHS, 13 (1984).

V.R. Gruder, ‘Political news as coded messages: the Parisian and provincial press in the Pre-Revolution, 1787-8’, FH, 12 (1998)

S. Schama, Citizens: A Chronology of the French Revolution (1989)

A. Goodwin, ‘Calonne, the Assembly of Notables of 1787 and the origins of the Révolte nobiliaire’, EHR, 61 (1946)

E. Eisenstein, ‘Who intervened in 1788?’, AHR, 71 (1965)

K. Margerison, Pamphlets and Public Opinion: the Campaign for a Union of Orders in the Early French Revolution (1998)

D. Van Kley, ‘The Estates General as ecumentical council: The constitutionalism of corporate consensus and the Parlement’s ruling of 25 September 1788’, JMH, 61 (1989)

D. Wick, A Conspiracy of Well-Intentioned Men. The Society of Thirty and the French Revolution (1987).

W.J. Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution. The Abbé Siéyès and ‘What is

the Third Estate?’ (1994)

M.G. Hutt, ‘The role of the curés in the Estates General’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 6 (1955)

M.G. Hutt, ‘The curés and the Third Estate: the ideas of reform in the pamphlets of the French lower clergy in the period, 1787-9’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 8 (1957).

J. Murphy & P. Higonnet, ‘Les Députés de la noblesse aux Etats-généraux de 1789’, RHMC, 20 (1973)

D.A. Bell, ‘The unbearable lightness of being French: law, republicanism and national identity at the end of the Old Régime’, AHR.,106 (2001)


Politics and Finance

K. Baker, Inventing the French Revolution (1984)

P.M. Jones, Reform and Revolution in France, 1774-91 (1995)

P. Hoffman et al., ‘Economie et politique: les marchés du crédit à Paris, 1750-1840’, AnnESC (1994)

J. Miller, ‘Economic ideologies 1750-1800: the creation of modern political economy?’, FHS, 23 (2000)

T. Luckett, ‘Les crises financières dans la France du XVIIIe siècle’, RHMC, 43 (1998)

K. Norberg, ‘The French fiscal crisis of 1788 and the financial origins of the Revolution of 1789’, in eadem & P. Hoffman (eds), Fiscal Crises, Liberty and Representative Government, 1450-1789 (1994)

J. Shovlin, The Political Economy of Virtue:Luxury, Patriotism and the Origins of the French Revolution (2006)


Economy, Society and Culture

D. Weir, ‘Les crises économiques et les origines de la Révolution française’, AnnESC, 46 (1991)

L. Cullen, ‘History, economic crises and revolution: understanding eighteenth-century France’, Economic History Review, 46 (1993)

C.A. Bouton, The Flour War: Gender, Class and Community in Late Ancvien Regime France (1993)

J. Miller, Mastering the Market: The State and the Grain Trade in France, 1700-1860 (1999)

T. Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris (1985)

M.D. Sheriff, An Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (1996)

A. McClellan, Inventing the Louvre: Art, Politics and the Origins of the Modern Museum in Eighteenth-Century Paris (1994)

R. Wrigley, The Origins of French Art Criticism: From the Ancien Régime to the Revolution (1993)

R. Darnton, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (1968)

T. Luckett, ‘Hunting for spies and whores: a Parisian riot on the eve of the French Revolution’, P&P, 156 (1997)

M. Fitzsimmons, ‘New light on the aristocratic reaction in France’, FH, 10 (1996)

D. Bell, The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800 (2001)

C. Jones, ‘The Great Chain of Buying: Medical Advertisement, the Bourgeois Public Sphere and the Origins of the French Revolution’, AHR, 101 (1996)

C. Jones, ‘Bourgeois Revolution revivified: 1789 and social change’, in C. Lucas (ed.), Rewriting the French Revolution (1991)

L. Brockliss & C. Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France (1997)

M. Fitzsimmons, The Parisian Order of Barristers and the French Revolution (1987)