Knowledge Elites and Modernization: Evidence from Revolutionary France

32 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2016 Last revised: 29 Mar 2021

See all articles by Mara Squicciarini

Mara Squicciarini

Northwestern University - Department of Economics

Nico Voigtländer

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: October 2016

Abstract

This paper examines the role of knowledge elites in modernization. At the eve of the French Revolution, in the spring of 1789, King Louis XVI solicited lists of grievances (Cahiers de Doléances), in which the public could express complaints and suggestions for reforms of the Ancien Regime. We show that the demand for mass education and democratization was particularly high in regions that had a thick knowledge elite, measured by subscribers to the famous Encyclopédie in the 1770s. Historical evidence suggests that this pattern is driven by the spirit of enlightenment of French knowledge elites. Pre-revolution literacy, in contrast, is not correlated with demand for mass education or with the density of knowledge elites. After the French Revolution, knowledge elites played a key role in implementing schooling reforms at the local level. We show that by the mid-19th century, schooling rates were significantly higher in regions with thicker knowledge elites. The same is true of other proxies for modernization, such as association membership, Republican votes, and the share of French-speaking pupils. Our results highlight an important interaction between local culture (the spirit of enlightenment) and nation-wide institutions in economic development: the French Revolution opened a window of opportunity for local elites to pursue their agenda of modernization.

Suggested Citation

Squicciarini, Mara and Voigtländer, Nico, Knowledge Elites and Modernization: Evidence from Revolutionary France (October 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22779, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2861711

Mara Squicciarini (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

2001 Sheridan Rd
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Nico Voigtländer

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management ( email )

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Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States
+1-310-794 6382 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/nico.v/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

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United Kingdom

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