Politics during the Ancien Régime and the Enlightenment
I. Foundations of the Ancien Régime
A. Society and economy of the world around 1750
—The world’s population is 700 million, of which 140 are in Europe, a little more than 430 in Asia and 20 in America. The rest is in Africa. This world has to deal with great climatic forces that are poorly controlled. We live from day to day. The major concern of the States is to guarantee the safety of the questions, but their action is limited. There is relatively little transport, as much in techniques as in ideas. From a geopolitical point of view, it is the domination of Europe. The world is not finished, as Paul Valéry said in 1919, but we know how to map the contours of the continents. The interior is more question that pinpoints the problem.
—South and North America is dominated by Spain (from California to Tierra del Fuego), Portugal (Brazil), France (Canada) and England (the 13 colonies). Oceania and Australia are just known, mainly inhabited by aborigines with little stable structures. In Africa, there were already states (Ethiopia, Morocco) with ambassadors and empires (the Ottoman Empire from Egypt to present-day Algeria). However, Africa lost its structures of the time because of the European expansion (slave system, trading posts), led by Portugal, Holland, UK, France. Asia, the most populated territory, is more protected from European domination (except India and Indonesia). The Ottoman Empire imposed itself on the Middle East (an organized and still solid empire; it declined for political and military reasons and became the sick man of Europe according to Tsar Nicolas 2). Persia (Iran) is not cut off from the world. It is well integrated (Persian letters) and it is a major plate. It is a crossroads for caravans between Asia and the Mediterranean. The Indian Empire was dominated by the Mogul Empire. The Indian Empire is declining because of its religious divisions. China considers itself as the center of the world with the Tsing dynasty (1644–1911, last dynasty) which functions well thanks to its administration. It is a developed and respected country. The country is globally open on an economic and cultural level. Japan is an old empire which closed itself to stop the influence of European countries from the middle of the 17th century. The emperor (the Tenno) has a symbolic power which relies on the shoguns (powerful families). Siam (now Thailand) was independent, but did not carry any political or economic weight.
—Europe at that time has not changed much. Some states already have the name that would be used until now (Iberian countries, France, the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia). In central Europe, there are very small territories inherited from the medieval period (St. Marin, Liechtenstein) while other small states are grouped together: the Swiss cantons, the Holy Roman Empire (360 small states) under the domination of the Habsburgs. Russia already extends to the Pacific Ocean and is well connected with Europe. Since Peter Legrand, founder of St. Petersburg, the Russian Empire is placed in the European orbit. But it remains more of a border, like Poland. The latter country has no natural borders, which poses a problem and which changes according to the treaties. As for the other hot spot, we find the Balkans, they belong to the Turks and the Habsburgs. These territories are not European in the political and cultural sense. Only Greece, which is a region, is close to Europe by its culture. With the retreat of the Ottoman Empire, new states will appear.
The world depends a lot on Europe.
According to Rostow, this period is a pre-take off. Agriculture is in the majority, food-producing and at the maximum of its production. It is the basis of everything and a simple variation turns everything upside down. The landowners are the most important people and still function in a feudal way. Only in a few regions, such as the UK, are there modern landowners. The society is thus divided between those who have the land and those who do not. The big landowner is the relay of power. Those who have nothing have any legal or political power. Agriculture is cereal-based and provides taxes, which are very unequal.
Industrial activities are small-scale and poorly developed. They are concentrated in the cities. Textiles, glass, arsenals and porcelain are the most integrated in this new system. War was not the only activity. Trade developed between continents (triangular trade, India, Asia). The benefit is always in favor of Europe and big cities like Bordeaux. Trade is still geographically limited, especially for small producers. Markets are local (fairs). There is a fear of selling to the big cities (fear of the lack of a gap between one harvest and another), which inflates the prices (in July 1789, the price of wheat is at its highest). Seventy-five percent of the population lived from agriculture. The rural area is fragmented and the cities are small (<ten miles on average). Paris, London, Amsterdam, Constantinople, Naples, Beijing, Tokyo has more than 500 thousand inhabitants. Societies generally operate with a society of order and only the clergy is truly organized. They are deeply unequal.
- The clergy (the best organized) benefits from advantages (tax exemptions, collection of taxes such as tithes) thanks to its links with the nobility (8% of the land for example) since the kings are sacred. The clergy was divided into high and low clergy; secular and regular. The high clergy is rich, noble and criticized. They live close to the court. The lower and regular clergy has a real prestige with the people. This is especially true with Orthodoxy. In almost all countries, one religion prevails. In France and Spain, it is Catholicism. Then there is Orthodoxy (Russia, Greece).
- The nobility is granted by birth. It is hereditary and possesses land, cultural, administrative and military prestige. The ennoblement is rare, but possible. However, this makes it difficult to count the exact number of nobles. It is the Chin in Russia that recognizes a talent (cultural or intellectual). Lenin’s father came from the administrative Chin. In France, there are between 100 and 500 thousand nobles (1.5% of the population). One distinguishes the nobility of dress and swords, but it does not have almost more interest because they don’t really make war anymore. The noble power is crumbling in front of the rise of the bourgeois who are getting richer and taking more space. The nobles will have to protect their advantages (rights of justice, tax collection, landowners, …). The high nobility lives at the court. The middle nobility manages the estates in the provinces and organizes shows. The small one is more miserable, more local and shares the world of the Third Estate.
- The Third Estate is composed of the commoners of the cities (the bourgeoisie that has been developed by dreaming of imitating the nobility: snobbery), these have the culture of efficiency and those are they who pay taxes, wishing to move from an economic role to a more political role; in these commoners, there are also the people of the cities, the factories, the plebs (day laborers, servants, marginalized, a violent world with difficult living conditions); the commoners of the countryside with a world not free (serfs in Central and Eastern Europe, serfdom can be a gift between the nobility, not to mention slaves, especially in Asia) and free. These are agricultural workers (brewers), farmers, few peasant owner sharecroppers. The inequalities are therefore deep. Ninety-nine percent of rural people are peasants. In a country like Russia, the tsar used serfdom as a gift to administrators who had done their work well.
B. Cultural life and religions
Culture is obviously based on religion. These religions have implications for society.
—Judaism is based on the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Old Testament, …), the return of the Messiah and is completed by the Talmud (10 commandments). The Jews are dispersed (diaspora). They are 5 to 6 million. The Sephardim are mainly around the Mediterranean and the Ashkenazim are elsewhere. The Jews were grouped in ghettos, first in Venice. They were tolerated, but many were already victims of anti-Semitism. Pogroms were organized, especially in Russia (massacres of Jewish families). Most of the time, they were locked up in the neighborhood (the first ghetto in Venice, but also in Vienna).
—Christianity accepts the Old and New Testaments. Jesus is the Messiah. There are three branches:
the Orthodox (1204: sack of Constantinople) are in the Balkans and in Russia (Moscow: third Rome, identity symbol: Holy Russia) and are about 80 million. They think they have the right opinion;
Catholicism (catholicos : universal in Latin) recognizes the pope as heir of St. Peter, the Council of Trent (1545–1563, renewal of the Christian dogma until 1962 for the Vatican Council 2), it is open to the world and to Europe, it is missionary and active (Latin America, Asia), the Jesuits have a very strong influence, they are about 250 thousand in France. The clergy is very well organized and we find the white/black and secular/regular clergy;
Protestantism (16th century: reform of Luther and Calvin) which preserves faith, predestination, close contact with the Bible, weak power of the clergy (the pastor simply gives advice), they are present in Germany, Switzerland (Calvinism), Holland (Calvinism), Scandinavia, little in France (Edict of Nantes tolerated, then revoked by Louis XIV forcing them to hide), in England;
—Islam assumes the Old Testament, Medina, Mecca, Allah, Mohammed, it is a conquering and very strict religion, this religion occupies in 1750 the Near and Middle East, as well as southern Europe (Albania, Bosnia), Persia, India (Pakistan, Bangladesh) and Indonesia. It is divided between the Sunnis (90%) who respect the commander of the believers and Shiism (10%) who respect the shah (king), the mullahs and the ayatollahs. The latter are more in Persia (Iran).
—The other religions are
Hinduism (it is necessary to progress, the soul migrates from men to animals, caste system like the Brahmans for the priests)
Buddhism thanks to an enlightened person called Buddha who reached nirvana (south-east of China, Tibet, in the Far East). Each one manages to perfect himself. It is divided between the Tibetan Buddhism of the Dalai Lama and another one outside impregnated with Zen and Japanese martial arts.
Confucianism and Taoism thanks to Master Kong (the accent is put on the Ying and the Yang, philosophy, harmony)
Shintoism (official religion of Japan) which is based on nature and ancestor worship (the emperor is the descendant of the sun goddess). 1868: Meiji era (until 1945): official relationship
Animism: sacralization of natural forces. In Africa, shamans explain religions based on nature, communicate and heal.
—Three cultural levels (whose crossing is not insurmountable, because books circulate, rites are common, theater is for all, …):
Popular culture, of mass, oral, vestige of the history (collective memory), traditions, tales. The effect of the Enlightenment will turn it towards the future. It is welded, each one finds its place there. This culture is based on carnivals, novels, images (prints, images of Épinal), dances, the frequentation of cafés, games of chance, theaters. One supposes rites of passage, social and religious, with caricatures (women at home and men hunting).
The culture of the elite with the reading of classical authors, the writing. It is found with the honest men (the bourgeoisie of the cities) in search of social prestige. It was acquired in the colleges and universities of Germany, the UK or France (the Jesuits of Louis Le Grand), with the aristocrats. Around 1860, there were 300 boys’ colleges.
Scholarly culture in the salons where the Enlightenment movement, men of letters, philosophers were born. The most important is Voltaire. In the 18th century, books made ideas circulate better. Who are these people of letters? Not only philosophers. They are personalities who have talents in all fields (sciences, music, …), all fields of knowledge. France and the UK are particularly well endowed. The magazine of literary France lists in 1784, 2,819 men of letters. Most of them are in France. What are the places? The salons animated by Madame Geoffrin (the most famous), Madame Necker, … One finds the academies, the living rooms of painting, the operas, the royal palates.
C. Political life
—The concept of nations and borders is very rare. It evolves according to marriages, conquests, treaties, … They are only abstract symbols which do not reflect the extent of the power. However, they are moving around a common language, a common heritage and a common religion. That is why a Swiss nation, a Norwegian nation, emerged. As for the British nation, it is easy because it is an island.
The concept of state (set of institutions) exists because of the religious heritage, the sovereign. The sovereign has the authority and the executive and legislative functions. He is the guarantor of the currency and of the security. The State is personified by its functions (power, guarantor of the internal and external order, coinage, a dynasty like the bourbons, the Habsburgs, the Romanovs). One observes a personification, even a confusion between the State and the king (“The State is me”, Louis XIV to the parliamentarian, 1655). As for the political regimes, we have monarchies and some republics (Venice) which are in reality oligarchies. The others are monarchies.
These states will face the passage to modernity. The vestigial states in the 18th century are above all the Germanic Roman Empire, which survives until Napoleon thanks to internal security, and the Ottoman Empire, which will collapse (system of conquest at half-mast since the 15th century, no stable structure to receive the tributes of the conquered territories, army in retreat). Faced with these vestiges, there are modern states.
—France is modern, but economically archaic. It is chopped up by internal borders (taxes between regions). There is even a difference of currencies between regions. (16-day long from one side to the other). The barrier is also made on the language in spite of the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539 which imposes the French of the renaissance (impact on the cultural divisions). There were also different taxes and different infrastructure. However, France was united around a king who surrounded himself with numerous advisors, institutions (heritage of Louis XIV), ministries, advisors in justice, police and finance. The number of advisors is not fixed, but they are all appointed by the king. In addition to this entourage, the king relied on regional administrations (the intendants). There was a desire to unify the territory through 13 parliaments (without power). However, the tax administration was weak (taxes were very poorly collected). The collector (farmer general) had to move around and not all peasants were cooperative. In the countryside, the peasants and nobles were the first to refuse.
—Great Britain is very well developed. It has already made its revolution (Cromwell in 1642–1660 and the glorious revolution of 1688–1691) and the feudal vestiges have disappeared. Charles I was the first to lose his head. The military government is even subject to the civil. James II succeeded his brother Charles II. James II wanted a return to absolutism (glorious revolution). Not wanting his son, the parliament called William III. The latter was obliged to adopt the Bill of Rights in 1689 (power of Parliament, respect for the monarchy). For J. Locke, the power must be based on the support of the people, represented by the parliament. This makes power legitimate. On the administrative level, the king surrounded himself with cabinets. The ministers, headed by the prime minister, are responsible to the king. He must agree with parliament to pass a law, which means he must find a majority. Parliament is divided between the Tories (for a strong, conservative government and executive) and the Whigs (for reform for parliament, the Liberals and the majority at the time). This parliament dates back to 1215 with the Magna Carta. It works on the bicameralism between the House of Lords (spiritual fathers) and the House of Commons (elections every 7 years, census suffrage, 200 thousand voters). The House of Commons makes the law, agrees on taxes, which means that it is very little contested. The principle of judicial independence and security of tenure for judges is respected (sometimes with local responsibility in the counties). Juries work very well. Self-government maintains the separation and decentralization of powers.
—As far as international relations are concerned, the art of diplomacy has developed considerably. States recognize each other through ambassadors and credentials. A certain hierarchy is established between states. Some have a responsibility. This is the case of the great military powers such as France, England, Austria, Prussia and Russia. To maintain the balance, they create alliances. Not all of these alliances worked, since the 18th century was the century of wars. Consequently, the territorial divisions evolved (annexation). For example, France acquired Lorraine and Corsica. The wars were also maritime, especially in the West Indies (sugar and tobacco islands). The will of balance is always in the background of the international scene.
II. The Enlightenment
Enlightenment, Aufklärung, Enlightenment, Illustration > European and then worldwide phenomenon. Reason will give us a better future.
“The Enlightenment is what takes man out of the minority that he must attribute to himself. The minority consists in the incapacity or he is to use his intelligence without being directed by others. He must impute this minority to himself when its cause is not the lack of intelligence, but the absence of the resolution and courage necessary to use his mind without being guided by another. Have the courage to use your own intelligence! This is the motto of the Enlightenment: Sapere Aude – Immanuel Kant.
A. A philosophy and a practice
—It is the emergence of reason to reach earthly happiness by rejecting religious prejudices and obscure traditions. This is not new: Baruch Spinoza, René Descartes, … The rational system must prevail (Cartesian system). Philosophy wants to reject the things that other men do not doubt. Philosophy therefore relies on the tools of the renaissance:
Mathematics (Newton, Leibniz, …)
The experiment and the reproduction of an experiment (physics and chemistry)
There must be a concrete application of knowledge to serve society and progress. Franklin will create the lightning rod, Watt develops the steam engine, … Philosophy must have a role in the progress of the development of civilization. This word appears at this time (civil = citizen). The philosopher thinks that man is good and that he is perfectible. He has the right to happiness. He can make mistakes and must be guided by the light and the critical sense. “Criticism is a skillful pilot who leads to the truth.” Marmontel. “Our century is particularly the century of the criticism to which it is necessary that all submits itself” Immanuel Kant. The great difference of the renaissance is that all domains must be put to criticism, including the greatness of faith and the majesty of the king. The ideal of the Enlightenment is also a dynamic of the discovery of other worlds (histoire des voyages de l’abbé Prévost, 1759). One uses the glance of the foreigner (the Persian, the Egyptian. The tool most used by the Enlightenment is the dictionary and the encyclopedia, always to accumulate knowledge.
—Religion is really linked to obscurantism and it is necessary to see what is true. The inquisition will be dismantled (Voltaire, Montesquieu, …). The representatives of religion are more criticized than religion itself. The Calas affair is an example. Jean Calas is wrongly accused of the death of his son. Voltaire obtained his rehabilitation in 1765. But asking questions about religion does not mean rejecting religion. The divine principle is admitted. They are all more or less deists. “The great watchmaker” (cf Voltaire). The Enlightenment is for the principle of tolerance.
Freemasonry gains ground, especially among intellectuals (Mozart).
B. Manifestations of the spirit of the Enlightenment
—The Enlightenment is based on modern science. The emphasis is put on the science of matter to make the world intelligible (water, earth, air, fire). Reflections on the human sciences (classification of plants) are developed. History is a real passion for philosophers. The reflection on the human future is in the honor, as on the human societies. Voltaire reflects on morals, because societies are improving (civilization of morals). Archival documents are rediscovered to increase the work on history and heritage. That increases the success of the excavations (Pompeii, the Benedictine monks) Progress is an engine. Then, philosophers looked at the economy in the physiocratic school (Turgot, Quesnay) where land was the main wealth (it was necessary to support cultivation and discoveries) and the school of Adam Smith (1776) where wealth came from industry and trade. These are the liberals. For them, each individual is a driving force of the society that progresses. The general interest is the sum of the particular interests (freedom of the entrepreneur). Then comes the State. Philosophers do not miss it. They are programmatic. For Montesquieu (The Spirit of Laws in 1748), there must be action. It is the same for Blackstone (commentary on the laws of England, 1765). They reflect on the perfection of regimes and the best seems to be the British one: a parliamentary monarchy. Separation is the basis of everything.
—Three political currents in the Enlightenment:
Gradual change, reforms: enlightened despotism. The executive must remain strong. It is up to the monarch to direct individuals, with the help of philosophers. Example: Voltaire and Frederick 2 of Prussia, Diderot and Catherine 2. This is the most important current.
The radicals, it is necessary to go further, for the people. The exam question must become a citizen. It is the case of Paine in England. They are in the minority.
Social thought, politics is only one element of the collective organization. The economy and the social are the most important. All human activities are linked. Let us reflect on the notion of possession. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thinks about it in a social contract.
—Finally, the period is rich in art. Countries were discovered or rediscovered (taste for exoticism). This is the case of Egypt, Polynesia, Tahiti. Gardens were redesigned in England and Japan (in France this was the case for a longer period). This nature is put into art and paintings (still life). One tries to find the purity of nature, of feelings (romanticism), of origins (virtues). But it is the rediscovery of Greece that gives all its power to classicism with Jacques-Louis David and the Oath of the Horatii, 1785. This painting tells the story of the war between Rome and Alba. Each city had been designated a champion: the Horatii and the Curiatii, two families united by marriage. The painting represents the moment when the Horatii swear to their father. We also see Camille, one of the sisters, married to one of the enemies. The medieval past also attracts some curious people, but more in the 19th century with the romanticism. It is the national feeling that this allows.
Beware, the enlightenment did not affect the whole population. The ideas spread slowly and often remained on the side of the elites (little education). But the book circulates (the encyclopedia – dictionary reasoned of sciences of arts and trades of Diderot and D’Alembert).
C. Consequences and effects of the Enlightenment
We can count three immediate effects:
—The beginning of the economic revolution that started in agriculture (development of seeds, improvement of tools, development of agronomy, end of fallow land). The fields will be enclosed to delimit the property (beginning of the land rent). This came from Great Britain: enclosure. Then, since capital was needed, it was economic development. The arrival of banks to finance agriculture and transport production. The merchant bourgeoisie will therefore have its role to play as well.
—The Enlightenment will rehabilitate feelings and modify the relationships with three social actors: women (they will hold literary salons, they will be educated. Examples of Mme. Roland, Mme. Necker and Condorcet will publish the admission of women to the right of citizenship); children (they are less considered as labor, they must be educated according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the Emile, 1762 or Condorcet who publishes 5 memoirs on public education, 1791); colonized peoples (they are not necessarily primitive, they have their culture according to Abbé Raynal in the history of the two Indies, 1770, a real encyclopedia against colonialism).
—Consequences on the political level with the notion of national identity. The return to the past and the origins is in honor to define the nations and to find the identities of the people. These are identity movements. Certain peoples had to be brought together in a single community (German nation). In the Austrian empire, some peoples wanted to emancipate themselves. The Polish nation will survive thanks to certain books. The concept of state becomes more rational. It transcends the sovereign. “I am the first servant of the State” (cf Frederic II). If one separates the sovereign from the State, can a State without king function. The legal codes and the institutions must be simplified (of the offenses and the punishments by Cesare Beccaria, between 1764 and 1766, who even looks at torture, Doctor Guillotin and his reflection on the proportionate justice and the administration of the punishments). The law must be less arbitrary. The exam questions have the right to be protected and can intervene in politics. The happiness of the people (public service) and good governance are the new fashionable projects. “I want to make philosophy the legislator of my empire” (cf Frederick II who will launch a land tax, a religious reform to tolerate minorities and limit their power of influence, abolition of judicial torture and serfdom on the crown’s domains, reform for the tolerance of religious minorities). The sovereign still retained a monopoly on reform. All this with the aim of unifying the state.
In France, the reforms were also carried out (around 1790) under the initiative of Louis XV and Necker (Minister of Economy), even if he encountered many obstacles. The French State did not have enough means to enforce these reforms. The survival of absolutism depended on it.