ABOUT THIS BOOK
Political and administrative institutions cannot be understood unless one knows who is operating them and for whose benefit they function. In the first volume of this history, Mousnier analyzes such institutions in light of the prevailing social, economic, and ideological structures and shows how they shaped life in 17th- and 18th-century France. He traces the changing role of monarchical government, showing how it emerged over two centuries and why it failed.
In a society divided by hierarchical social groups, conflicts among lineages, communities, and districts became inevitable. Aristocratic disdain, ancestral attachment to privileges, and autonomous powers looked upon as rights, made civil unrest, dislocation, and anarchy endemic. Mousnier examines this contention between classes as they faced each other across the institutional barriers of education, religion, economic resources, technology, means of defense and communication, and territorial and family ties. He shows why a monarchical state was necessary to preserve order within this fragmented society.
Though it was intent on ensuring the survival of French society and the public good, the Absolute Monarchy was unable to maintain security, equilibrium, and cooperation among rival social groups. Discussing the feeble technology at its disposal and its weak means of governing, Mousnier points to the causes that brought the state to the limits of its resources. His comprehensive analysis will greatly interest students of the ancien régime and comparativists in political science and sociology as well.