The social causes also led to the outbreak of the revolution. The inequalities prevailing in the society created much discontentment among the masses and forced them to oppose the prevalent social structure.
The French society was mainly divided into two classes: (i) the privileged, and (ii) the unprivileged.
The nobles, feudal lords and the higher clergy formed the privileged classes while the unprivileged class constituted the peasants, tenants, labourers, artisans, small traders and shopkeepers.
No special privilege was granted to the unprivileged classes but they had to bear the burden of heavy taxes. Thus their life left much to be desired.
The Privileged Class
The privileged class was composed of the nobles, feudal lords, the landed aristocracy and the upper clergy. They made up hardly one percent of the total population of France; even so they enjoyed all the rights and privileges.
All the important posts in the country were occupied by them. They had established their private estates, bakeries, ovens, distilleries and flour mills. The common people living on their estates had to take things from these establishments.
They also used to realise various taxes from the commoners while they themselves were free from all taxation. Their domesticated animals were free to graze in any field of the peasants and they had no right to oust them.
Owing to their tortures and cruelties, the peasantry nursed hatred, dislike and rancour for these people of privileged class.
Apart from the high posts in the administration, the young sons of the nobles were appointed on lucrative posts in the church also. It mattered the least whether they possessed the requisite qualification or not.
The upper clergy utilised the wealth of the church according to their own wishes and led a life of pleasure, luxury and immorality.
They did not have any interest in the religious ceremonies and wasted their time in conspiracies at the court. Purity, chastity and religious contemplation had not touched them. C. D. Hazen remarks:
“These highly lucrative positions were monopolized by the younger sons of the nobility many of whom, indeed, resided at court and lived the gay and worldly life.”
The lower clergy were not satisfied with their position. They had very low income while they used to perform all the rituals. They had an intense hatred towards the higher clergy for their fabulous wealth and privileges.
They also had a soft corner for the masses who were groaning under the yoke of the nobility and the clergy.
Soon the lower clergy made common cause with the commoners and provided a helping hand to the onset of the revolution. Hazen observes:
“The triumph of the popular cause in the early days of the revolution was powerfully aided by the lower clergy.”
The Unprivileged Class
The unprivileged were divided into two categories. The first category was known as bourgeoisie and the second as commoners. The former, i.e., the bourgeoisie or the middle class was rich and consisted physicians, lawyers, philosophers and professors.
They had established their monopoly in trade and intellectual pursuits. Often they used to money to the nobles. The government also often took loans from middle-class people at the time of their need.
They also used to highest taxes to the government. But they were not given any privileges like those of the nobles. Neither they were freed from taxes nor appointment was made from this class on any lucrative post, on account of which, they were discontented.
The contemporary philosopher influenced them much due to their being educated and learned, revolution was really led by these people of the middle class for they made the commoners realise their miserable plight.
The position of commoners in the French society was m deplorable. They neither could make both ends meet nor do they possess clothes to cover their body. They failed to provide food to their child and felt extremely dissatisfied and dejected.
Their number in the French society was considerable. Major burden of taxation was borne by them. The revenue collectors tortured them severely. In case of non-payment of dues the revenue staff used to enter their houses and throw away anything they liked.
Thus the position of the commoners among unprivileged was extremely pitiable. They were greatly discontented the prevailing system of government and the social order of the day.