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RSG Performance Group

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Ancien Regime

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ANCIEN RÉGIME. The term ancien régime (Old Regime) came into use in the late summer of 1789 as participants in the French Revolution realized how great a rupture they had made from the recent past. "Ancien régime" therefore came into existence only after the ancien régime was finished. No one was ever very specific about when it began. Sometimes revolutionaries implied that the term referred to the entire past of France at least from medieval times onward. At other times, it meant simply the recent pre-revolutionary past.

The term itself evolved during the Revolution. According to the preamble to the Constitution of 1791, the Revolution had abolished hereditary and feudal nobility, venality of office, the guilds, monastic vows, and all privileges. The text says nothing about the monarchy, the abolition of the tithe, and the ending of the church's corporate existence, and it mentions seigneurialism only by allusion. Undoubtedly, the reason was that when the Constitution was promulgated, these issues were not entirely settled. When the monarchy was abolished and the Republic founded (September 1792), the term took on a much more aggressive meaning; republican politicians portrayed the ancien régime as uniformly oppressive and claimed that the Revolution had liberated the countryside from noble domination, clerical superstition, and a cruel monarchy. Early revolutionaries believed that they had reestablished liberty and equality before the law. For the Jacobins, escaping the ancien régime was a physical and spiritual emancipation.

Historians like Alexis de Tocqueville in the nineteenth century questioned this assumption that the Revolution was a violent break in national history. Instead, said Tocqueville, it witnessed the culmination of the construction of the centralized state. For modern historians, ancien régime is a convenient shorthand. It generally means the period in French history from about 1650 to 1789. It defines a France ruled by divine-right absolute monarchy, accompanied by a society based upon privileges for individuals, groups, corporations, provinces, towns, and so on; and capped by a monopoly of public worship reserved for the Catholic Church. The new regime, by contrast, was a constitutional monarchy based upon the rule of law, religious toleration, and equality of rights.

AbstractIn this paper we exploit the invasion of Europe, particularly Germany, by French Revolutionary armies as a natural experiment to investigate the causal effect of the institutions of the ancien régime on economic development. A central hypothesis which can account for comparative development within Europe is that economic growth emerged first in places which earliest escaped ancien régime and feudal institutions. However, though there is a correlation between these two events, this does not demonstrate that it was the collapse of the ancien régime that caused the rise of capitalism. This is because there may be problems of reverse causation and omitted variable bias. We show how the institutional reforms (essentially the abolition of the ancien régime) brought by the French in Germany can be exploited to resolve these problems. These reforms were akin to an exogenous change in institutions unrelated to the underlying economic potential of the areas reformed. We can therefore compare the economic performance of the areas reformed to those not reformed before and after the Revolutionary period to examine the impact of the reforms. The evidence we present is consistent with the hypothesis that the institutions of the ancien régime did indeed impede capitalism.

Francis I's ties with the Ottoman Empire marked the birth of court-sponsored Orientalism in France. Under Louis XIV, French society was transformed by cross-cultural contacts with the Ottomans, India, Persia, China, Siam and the Americas. The consumption of silk, cotton cloth, spices, coffee, tea, china, gems, flowers and other luxury goods transformed daily life and gave ris


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