State and Society in Eighteenth-Century France: A Study of Political Revolution in Languedoc.

Author:Kennedy, Emmet
Position::Book review
 
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State and Society in Eighteenth Century France: A Study of Political Revolution in Languedoc. By Stephen Miller. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008. xi + 322pp. 39.95.

The relations among social classes of the old regime have been defined and redefined since Tocqueville. Miller's title and sub-title resemble a large number of recent "state and society" studies which attempt to explain the social backdrop of 1789. He views the state Louis XIV bequeathed to the Enlightenment not as naked bureaucratic power, but rather power supported by the nobility which benefited honorifically and financially from its association with it. The state, Marx argued, is the instrument of the dominant class, not the neutral arbitrator among several classes as monarchists argued. The mutual dependence of the Bourbon monarchy and "social elites" would seem to bear this out. For Miller, Montesquieu's dictum "no monarch, no nobility; no nobility, no monarch" (p. 3) is quite apt. The monarchy invested the nobility with the bulk of local powers, particularly the parlements, the main law courts in the provinces, which were also lucrative noble offices. But the nobility's power extended into the municipal and village level also through the seigneuries. The nobility did not do this alone. They were joined by the bourgeoisie of office, particularly the fiscal agents who also depended upon the crown for appointments, high salaries and status. The combination composed the elites. The monarchy benefited from their support until the second half of the eighteenth century when the elites obstructed tax levies for more and more harmful wars.

Miller accepts the evidence that the economic and social components of noble and bourgeois economic holdings did not differ substantially, which makes class definition, let alone analysis, difficult. Class analysis _presupposes class coherency and such coherency did not exist in the Old Regime. Miller does not cite Colin Lucas's perceptive 1973 observation that it was the Revolution, in separating the nobility and the third estate at the Estates General, which made the bourgeoisie not the other way around, as "classic" Marxists argue. In other words the "classes" in question were the product of a legal and political, rather...

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