The nations debt and the birth of the modern republic: The French fiscal deficit and the politics of the revolution of 1789 (part I)
The aim of this essay is not to propose an alternative to recent explanations of 1789 (the political history of eighteenth-century France is still almost entirely terra incognita and it would be folly not to advance from the few significant bridgeheads that have been established), but simply to place these explanations in a more precisely delineated context. Its argument, quite simply, has been that a public debt places the public in a rather awkward relationship to itself, raising an even more awkward question about the relationship between the entity to which the debt belongs (the state) and the entity responsible for its day-to-day management (the government). Solving that conundrum, in 1789, entailed a great deal of hard thought, and quite a lot more vigorous action, to define and untangle the two entities, the state and the government, responsible for the debt. In the short term, this combination of hard thought and vigorous action was not a formula designed to guarantee civil peace. Some of the ideas were incomprehensible, others unacceptable, and there was a great deal of scope, on either score, for further action.