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Knowledge Elites and Modernization: Evidence from Revolutionary France

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  • Mara P. Squicciarini
  • Nico Voigtländer

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

  • Mara P. Squicciarini & Nico Voigtländer, 2016. "Knowledge Elites and Modernization: Evidence from Revolutionary France," NBER Working Papers 22779, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22779
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    Cited by:

    1. Becker, Sascha O. & Hornung, Erik, 2019. "The Political Economy of the Prussian Three-class Franchise," CEPR Discussion Papers 13930, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Lars Boerner & Jared Rubin & Battista Severgnini, 2019. "A Time to Print, a Time to Reform," Working Papers 19-07, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    3. Peter Sandholt Jensen & Markus Lampe & Paul Sharp & Christian Volmar Skovsgaard, 2018. "‘Getting to Denmark’: the Role of Elites for Development," Working Papers 0125, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    4. Guillaume Blanc & Romain Wacziarg, 2019. "Change and Persistence in the Age of Modernization: Saint-Germain-d'Anxure 1730-1895," NBER Working Papers 25490, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology

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