In This Sense. . . .
Posted by Ken on June 09, 1998 at 07:45:42:
In response to Second Sons, written by John W on June 08, 1998 at 16:38:12
] The key points were the fact that, unlike France, only the eldest son of a noble was noble, and only when he succeeded, thought they might have courtesy titles; they did not therefore form a privileged class, one of the precipitants of the French Revolution; and the rule of primogeniture combined with the fanatic desire to preserve family estates undivided. Second and subsequent sons were therefore free to find careers in the Army, Navy and learned professions. There were few inhibitions about what they did.
Few inhibitions on which of these careers they chose, but definite inhibitions on doing anything else with their lives. And the choice often wasn't up to the son; his father would be pulling strings to get him a place in life, and he'd jolly well better like it! An aristocratic family with five or six sons presented the father with considerable difficulties in seeing them all settled gentilely, unless the family had enormous resources.
I'm not sure what is meant by "privileged class" above. Certainly, this class had many, extensive privileges, both by law and custom. The French Revolution itself had many causes beside the existence of a privileged class, although they can be said to have started it, directly. It is more complete to think of it as the result of the complete bankruptcy of the existing social, political, and economic system. By contrast, the English state seems to have had more resources at its disposal in all of these areas, and although pressed periodically from the 1780s on, proved capable of evolution rather than revolution.
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