Causes Of The 1848 Revolution Essay, Research Paper
France is a country that has been shaped by revolution. The 1848 revolution is very unique in that it was probably the least bloody of all the revolutions in French history. Like most, if not all, the regimes before it the July Monarchy was toppled in 1848 because it became illegitimate in the eyes of the public. In his book Recollections, Tocqueville writes that the major cause for the revolution of 1848 was the animosity the working class people felt for the ruling bourgeoisie. While there may have been many reasons for this animosity, he contends that it was this animosity that was the ultimate cause of the revolution which toppled the July Monarchy. He points out that events or accidents occurred, which created a situation where in a revolution could take place, he makes a distinction that these events were just accidents and not the causes of the revolution. Tocqueville is very ardent in his belief that it was the way in which the bourgeoisie ruled the nation that created so much animosity between the classes and eventually caused the revolution of 1848.
French history is littered with revolutions. The French revolution of 1789 began this way of life in France, where change is brought about through revolution. From 1789, until after WWII, revolutions were the norm, occurring almost with certain regularity every generation or so. The people didn t know how to create change any other way. Peaceful change was so foreign to them that they often never even considered it. These, often very violent, revolutions toppled one type of political system and replaced it with another kind, often very different from that which was just toppled. Each of these new systems were equally deficient at gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and thus they all fell victim to a revolution at one time or another. The people didn t understand what peaceful change was, and during this time revolution was seen as the only way of enacting change. Tocqueville believes to be true, and he writes: our history from 1789 to 1830 appears to be forty-one years of deadly struggle between the Ancien regime with its traditions, memories, hopes and men, and the new France led by the middle class. Tocqueville, upon first reflecting upon the events of the July revolution, the one that ushered in this monarchy about which he writes, felt that this revolution may have forever put an end to the eternal struggle he just mentioned. The July Revolution toppled the Restoration Monarchy, which had been in power for the last fifteen years. Tocqueville wrote that after this revolution all that remained of the Ancien Regime was destroyed forever. He believes that the major struggle, which has produced all these revolutions throughout French history, has been that between he Ancien royal regime, and the new democratic middle class one. Thus, he hoped that along with the demise of the Ancien regime, as he saw it, the conflict that brought about revolution would also stop.
Out of the ashes of the July Revolution rose a new government, and a new ruling class, the bourgeoisie. This new regime no longer had royalty or nobles in power, but rather the French middle class. This class of people constitutes the portion of the population that are wealthy enough so that they do not have to work with their hands, yet are not from a noble background. In fact the major difference between this class and the nobility is the nobility itself. The July revolution not only brought them into political power, but also into the forefront of French life itself. Tocqueville saw this ruling class as being so dominant in all aspects of French life, that the lower working class developed an animosity towards them. He believes this was the major cause of the 1848 revolution.
The triumph of the middle class was so decisive and so complete, that the narrow limits of the bourgeoisie encompassed all political powers, franchises, prerogatives, indeed the whole government, to the exclusion, in law, of all beneath it an, in fact of all that had once been above it. Thus the bourgeoisie became not only the sole director of society, but also one might say, its cultivator.
Tocqueville sees this animosity as a major obstacle to the July Monarchy ever gaining its legitimacy, and thus being able to hold onto power. The July Monarchy replaced a system, a royal monarchy, which by its very nature excluded people from participating in political life. Instead it ushered in a constitutional monarchy, and developed a constitution where hopefully a basis and a foundation would have been provided for a government that was more inclusive to the people. Tocqueville doesn t see the new constitution as acting this way. One was drawn up that did do what the main intention was, that is to defeat the aristocracy s hold on power. Yet in its stead it placed a class of people who had equally little regard for the French people as a whole, s the aristocracy had. It replaced one person at the top, with many, but both systems proved to lack the intention of looking out for the French citiznizry in Tocqueville s mind. A government cannot function well; neither keep its’ legitimacy long, if the people are not being heard. Tocqueville sees this as the case with the July Monarchy. He saw a parliament develop that was without political opposition within it. He calls this new way of political life, a lack of political life. He writes:
Such life could hardly emerge or survive within the sphere delineated for it by the constitution: the old aristocracy had been defeated and the people were excluded. As every matter was settled by the members of one class, in accordance with their interests and point of view, no battlefield could be found on which great parties might wage war.
No government operating in such a manner, where the views of some are included, while those of the masses are excluded, could ever truly function and function well. Tocqueville believes this was the case in France during the July Monarchy, and was one aspect that led to the animosity between the working artisans and the ruling bourgeoisie. Again, he sees this animosity as the major cause of the 1848 revolution.
Tocqueville believes that toward the end of the regime the public started to feel that parliament wasn t really functioning, as a parliament should. The public didn t see them enacting change which benefited the people, but rather policies to further the wealth and status of the ruling class only. Since all the members of parliament were from the ruling class, and all had the same greedy intention, this was an easy task, as they only argued over how much one should get over another instead of over politics. Tocqueville saw this parliament arguing just over their own interests and not the interests of the people. He points to this as a major reason why the working class developed this animosity towards the rulers. This peculiar homogeneity of position, interest, and point of view deprived parliamentary debates of all originality, all reality, and so of all true passion.
The members of parliament weren t able to argue with each other in the political sense of argument. They weren t arguing reform change, or even political change, but rather just their minds, often going back and forth on the same meaningless topic just to try to outwit the other. Parliament became a forum to showcase ones mind and not a political arena, and in doing so became illegitimate to the normal French citizen. The public began not to take parliamentary discussions seriously; Tocqueville even calls them Quarrels between the children of one family over the distribution of their inheritance. This fact in and of itself leads to the notion that the regime lacks legitimacy, and this becomes a cause for the animosity between the classes that Tocqueville believes is the major cause of the revolution.
Tocqueville also believes that because everyone in parliament was after similar things, based on similar ideals and beliefs, a forum for corruption was created. This corruption is seen as Tocqueville as just another kindling to fuel the growing animosity felt by the workers toward the bourgeoisie. Some of the corruption was discovered, and the people began to feel that the entire government was corrupt. The nation conceived a quit contempt for that class (the ruling class), which was generally interpreted as a trusting and sophisticated submission. Tocqueville believes that this passivity is really just the calm before the storm, and warns against it being ignored. Tensions are ready to ignite if given the proper circumstances, which Tocqueville calls accidents. He wrote about this developing powder keg and its potential for explosion: More and more the idea took root that we were marching towards a new revolution. This marked a great change in my thought.
Tocqueville believes that the working class is keeping this animosity it feels towards the bourgeoisie rulers quiet. He warns against the perception that they cause no danger just because they are not actively engaging in political practices.
It is said that there is no danger because there is no riot, and that because there is no visible disorder on the surface of society, we are far from revolution.
Gentlemen, allow me to say that I think you are mistaken. True there is no actual disorder, but disorder has penetrated far into men s minds.
Tocqueville, a full month before the revolution, is predicting that the animosity harbored by the working class towards the bourgeoisie rulers will eventually ignite. No longer do they call for political change, like they once did, but rather for a social one now. He feels that a revolution of grand proportions is on the horizon, and that it will happen because of the workers animosity towards the rulers.
But do you not see that their passions have changed from political to social? Do you not see that opinions and ideas are gradually spreading among them that tend not simply the overthrow of such-and-such laws, such-and-such a minister, or even such-and-such a government, but rather to the overthrow of society, breaking down the basis on which it now rests.
Tocqueville sees the public as believing the rulers are incapable and unworthy to rule them. He says all of this, as a prediction of what will actually occur a full year later. These statements he makes, are his way of warning parliament, warning them that society must be included in the government. He plainly sees that another revolution is beginning to take shape, and warns against these signs not being paid attention to. He points to previous fallen monarchies in French history, all of which have fallen because the rulers have become incapable of ruling.
It (the Old Monarchy) was stronger than you, and yet it has fallen in the dust. And why did it fall? Do you think it was because of some particular accident? Do you think it was due to one particular man, the deficit, the Tennis Court Oath, La Fayette or Mirabeau? No, gentlemen, there is another cause: the class that was ruling then had, through its indifference, selfishness and vices, become incapable and unworthy of ruling.
That is the real reason.
Tocqueville feels that the bourgeoisie come into power under the belief that they will help the common man. When their greed and corruption consume their actions, the working class begins to feel great animosity towards them. Tocqueville sees this animosity not being acted upon by the workers for some time, but yet the potential for action is there because of it. Accidents, such as the banquets, enrage the workers and give birth to a revolution. However if the animosity had not been harboring for some time before these accidents, then the revolution of 1848 may never have occurred. With this formula for revolution, as Tocqueville sees it, the accidents were the catlylist for, and not the causes of the revolution. Tocqueville clearly sees the animosity the workers feel for the bourgeoisie as the major cause of the revolution of 1848.