“Bastille Day,” which falls on July 4, is the biggest national holiday in France. Back in 1789, French demonstrators raided Bastille Prison to rescue people who were imprisoned as political prisoners there or seize weapons stored in fortresses. In reality, prisons had no political prisoners and only had seven ordinary prisoners, but violence and brutal bloodshed erupted nonetheless. This incident sparked the French Revolution.
A country can fight a war not just with other countries. No matter how great and revolutionary it is, a civil war is much more atrocious and leaves more devastating after-effect. It was known for a long time that the French Revolution was caused by ancien regime (old system) and merciless oppression and exploitation of farmers. However, French politician and sociologist Alexis Tocqueville (1805-1859) gave a completely different interpretation. Tocqueville claimed that he also admitted irrationality and inconsistency of the old French system, but the incompatibility of the ancien regime was being gradually resolved. In this light, France was more advanced than any other countries in Europe. Noblemen, who had been the privileged class of the feudalism, almost completely lost power, and were on the demise. Bureaucrats who replaced them were corrupt and were often buying and selling official positions for money, but this situation was not as evil as devil. Then what made the public so angry?
Tocqueville rather pointed fingers at economic growth and distortion of wealth. France got better off in the 18th century, but the country was still highly dependent on agriculture. Wealth that had nowhere to be invested failed to shift to industry and commerce, but remained concentrated on land according to tradition. As farmers were also obsessed with land, wealth was excessively divided and inherited. Land was divided repeatedly on one hand, and was concentrated on the other hand. This made farmers more impoverished and caused anger, which exploded in the form of a revolution.
Not all agree to Tocqueville’s argument. If ancien regime was a social and political factor, Tocqueville’s claim is more of argument in the aspect of economy. No one can evaluate such a great incidence as the French Revolution by adopting just one factor. Some scholars have said the French Revolution actually entailed five different revolutions. Anger against the old system was a phenomenon. It is easy to instigate and persuade people by pointing figures at phenomena. However, if a doctor is obsessed too much with symptoms, he or she is susceptible to failure in treatment. Now is the time for Korean society to find a genuine doctor, rather than to find someone who only pursues stopgap measures.