State and Society in Eighteenth Century France: A Study of Political Revolution in Languedoc.
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 than social or economic division, which calls into question the whole project of "class analysis" as an explanation of social revolution." The same problem presents itself with the peasantry which was even more amorphous. Miller accepts and documents the weight of the feudal dues, which some scholars contest, and points to them as the cause of a prolonged anti-seigniorial revolt of 1788-1792.
While Miller successfully restores the social-economic flesh and blood to the Languedocian elites of the old regime, he omits analysis of religion, clergy, and ideas outside the salons. His is not a "total local history that examines all facets of a province.
There is new material here, but no new analysis of his abundant archival evidence and even more abundant citations of secondary sources. Finally Miller does not avail himself of the most important studies of the outcome of the Revolution, such as those published by Louis Bergeron and Chaussinand de Nogaret, Les Masses de grant (1979), which show the victors of the Revolution to be not the bourgeoisie per se but primarily nobles, who had recouped their properties together with bourgeois, who had bought clerical and noble lands during the Revolution. These formed the 'most heavily taxed in each department" and therefore its electors, constituting a composite class of landed proprietors or notables. This class, which ruled nineteenth-century France, is different from the elites of Miller's Languedocian eighteenth century. The old proprietary offices, privileges and titles had been replaced by landed wealth alone. The victor for Miller, as for Tocqueville, was not the bourgeoisie but the state. But whose state?
While weak in analysis, anyone seeking to know how the old regime elites accumulated privileges, office, and fortune in Languedoc and how it compares to other regions, will find this book very valuable and clearly written.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
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|Publication:||Journal of Church and State|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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