The French Revolution and the Attack on the Privilege

Essay by kathrynpar2000 June 2006

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It is significant that it was Sieyes who at the beginning of the revolution gave the concept of the nation its modern meaning. In his essay, What Is the Third Estate? he raised and answered three questions of paramount importance: "What is the third estate? Everything. What has it been up to now in the political order of things?Nothing. What will it become? Something." But in order that the third estate might become something entirely new, suitable political conditions had first to be created in France. The bourgeoisie could become dominant only if the socalled "Estates General" was replaced by a national assembly based on a constitution. Hence the political unification of the nation was the first demand of the beginning revolution looking toward the dissolution of the Estates. The third estate felt itself ready, and Laclos declared in the Deliberations, to which the Duke of Orleans had only lent his name: "The Third Estate; that is the nation!"

The third estate was the most influential pamphlet of the 1789.

It did much to set the French Revolution on a radically democratic course. It also launched its author, the Abbe Sieyes, on a remarkable political career that spanned the entire revolutionary decade. Sieyes both opened the revolution by authoring the national Assembly's declaring of sovereignty in June of 1789 and closing it in 1799 by engineering Napoleon Bonaparte's coup detat. It was by all accounts, the most influential pamphlet of the French Revolution. Appearing in January 1789, What is the third estate? was longer than most at 127 pages, and it contained some difficult philosophical arguments as well.

Its scintillating style, its exceptionally clear posting of the issues, and its radical conclusions won it immediate acclaim. It probably did more than any other work to chart out the radically...