The Coming Of The French Revolution by George Lefebvre: A Scholarly Review Of The Book
Lefebvre emphasized the class struggles and the analyzed the roles they played in the upcoming Revolution. From a first glance, one can tell that Lefebvre’s classic is a book on or about history, rather than a textbook of history. Lefebvre’s book is at most a very accurate depiction of the first phases of the French Revolution, and at the same time provides a sturdy background to a “beginner”, who has little factual knowledge about the Revolution and its ongoings.
The Coming of the French Revolution is broken up into six separate parts. Lefebvre chronologically describes the four separate revolutions that start off the French Revolution: from the Aristocratic Revolution in 1788 to the Peasant Revolution in 1789. Lefebvre also separately includes a discussion on “The Rights of Man and Citizen” and “The October Days.” Lefebvre talks of an ironic “vicious circle” which was, in essence, the start of the French Revolution.
The king could not maintain his power due to the fact that he could not reform the governmental system. He couldn’t reform the governmental system because the nobility held onto their privileges and rights, and had no desire for reform. And in turn, the bourgeoisie were able to overthrow the nobility, or remove them from positions of power, because the authority of the king had failed. However, the root and origin of the French Revolution, according to Lefebvre, to put it simply, was the rise of the bourgeoisie. The interesting aspect of Lefebvre’s book is that he explains not one revolutionary movement, but four, for each of the major social groups that contested for power at the onset of the French Revolution.
Tying back into the rise of the bourgeoisie, they happened to prevail among these four social groups – the nobility, peasantry, bourgeoisie, and popular movement – when they took power as the bourgeoisie-dominated National Assembly in 1789. Lefebvre was one of the first historians to truly define a certain group as the cause or origin of the French Revolution, but in later years this was contested by historians, to be mentioned later by Doyle’s Origins of the French Revolution.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen - 1789 - (Image Source)
In conclusion, Lefebvre accomplished his goal of describing and illustrating the origins, ongoings, and long-term consequences of the French Revolution, whilst detailing the events of its very first year. Bearing in mind that Lefebvre’s book is translated from French, it exhibits an extraordinary clearness and consistency about it – and maybe this is to what it owes its popularity and timelessness. Although historians have gathered up new research and re-interpreted the Revolution and Lefebvre’s conclusions, such as Doyle in Origins of the French Revolution, The Coming of the French Revolution should still be considered essential by anyone interested in the formation of the modern world.
The Rise of the Third Estate - The Tennis Court Oath (Image Source)
© 2010 Gregory Markov
Lefebvre, Georges. The Coming of the French Revolution. 1st ed. Princeton: Princeton, 2005.