As social and other historians undermined that theory, intellectual historians moved in new directions, particularly toward the social history of ideas.
Although scholarly debate continues about the exact causes of the Revolution, the following reasons are commonly adduced: (1) the bourgeoisie resented its exclusion from political power and positions of honour; (2) the peasants were acutely aware of their situation and were less and less willing to support the anachronistic and burdensome feudal system; (3) the philosophes had been read more widely in France than anywhere else; (4) French participation in the American Revolution had driven the government to the brink of bankruptcy; (5) France was the most populous country in Europe, and crop failures in much of the country in 1788, coming on top of a long period of economic difficulties, compounded existing restlessness; and (6) the French monarchy, no longer seen as divinely ordained, was unable to adapt to the political and societal pressures that were being exerted on it.
From the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, historians, politicians, and even the interested public believed radical ideas to be at the bottom of this upheaval.
The feudal regime had been weakened step-by-step and had already disappeared in parts of Europe.
The increasingly numerous and prosperous elite of wealthy commoners—merchants, manufacturers, and professionals, often called the bourgeoisie—aspired to political power in those countries where it did not already possess it.
From this fatal flaw eventually followed the Committee of Public Safety and the Terror.
Furet’s theory was novel: by reducing the Revolution to the Terror, and blaming all of it on the logic of popular sovereignty derived from Rousseau, he tied the philosophe directly to the Revolution.
Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!
French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789, revolutionary movement that shook France between 17 and reached its first climax there in 1789—hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” denoting the end of the ancien régime in France and serving also to distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 18.
The first half of the book lambasted the Marxist explanation for the Revolution, which Furet labeled a “catechism” with class struggle at its absolute, immutable center.
The twentieth-century Marxists who advocated this view saw themselves as the obvious heirs to the founding of the French republic, but Furet dismissed the Marxist interpretation as sheer fabrication.