"Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability to ever reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation" – Simon Schama.
The French Revolution shook the foundations of French society to the core, leading to new waves of ideas and institutions. Two hundred and twenty years on, the origins of this unique event are inconclusive. There seems to be a widespread opinion that the outbreak of the French Revolution was on the 14th of July 1789, at the Storming of the Bastille. Even William Doyle highlights the storming of the Bastille as "the climax of the popular movement".1 However, the political institutions of Old France were already beyond reconstruction by then. The events of 14th July were in fact the result of a series of events which can be traced back to 20th August 1786, when Calonne (the General of the royal finances) informed Louis XVI that the state was on the brink of financial collapse.2 For this reason (as well as others which will henceforth be examined), although the French Revolution was caused by a mixture of economic, social, political, and intellectual factors, on balance, the financial crisis was arguably the most significant factor in leading to the outbreak of the French Revolution.
In actuality, the French Revolution has been the cause of many bitter debates between historians of the left such as Jean Jaures who believed that the Revolution was inevitable, and those of the right such as Bernard Fay who believed it could have been avoided.3 It seems unlikely that if after twenty two decades of historians failing to reach a conclusive decision, anyone else can. However, to even attempt this would be inconceivable unless we first examine and discuss the main interpretations presented by these historical thinkers. Marxist scholars perceive the ultimate cause of the French Revolution to be the rise of the bourgeoisie.