FOR many years it has been customary to regard the French Revolution as the decisive turning-point of modern European history, 'the cross-roads of the modern world', to use the expression of R. R. Palmer. Recently, however, there has been a tendency to deny it any such paramount significance. The argument that the Revolution was an essentially bourgeois movement and ipso facto an inconclusive one, is developed with much persuasive detail by D. Guerin in his Lutte des Classes sous la Premise Republique. More recently, Professor A. Cobban, in his inaugural lecture-significantly entitled The Myth of the French Revolution-arrived at somewhat similar conclusions from a very different starting-point. Rejecting the Marxist contention that the Revolution represented the revolt of a rising middle class against a predominantly aristocratic society, he stressed the extent to which 'feudalism' had already disappeared by 1789, the timidity of the anti-feudal policies of the Constituent Assembly and the fact that the initiative was taken not by merchants and capitalists but by lawyers and officeholders in the royal Government. For Cobban, the real motive force behind the movement was the frustration of these royal
office-holders, asserting their claim to the high positions from which they were debarred in France by reason of their humble birth.1 This emphasis on the limited aspirations and achievements of the revolutionaries, with its implication that the Revolution has been to some extent the creation of its historians, requires further examination.