Modern History Sourcebook:
Abbé Sieyes: What is the Third Estate?
Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes: "What is the Third Estate?
What is necessary that a nation should subsist and prosper?
Individual effort and public functions.
All individual efforts may be included in for classes:
1. Since the earth and the waters furnish crude products
for the needs of man, the first class, in logical sequence, will
be that of all families which devote themselves to agricultural
2. Between the first sale of products and their consumption
or use, a new manipulation, more or less repeated, adds to these
products a second value more or less composite. In this manner
human industry succeeds in perfecting the gifts of nature, and
the crude product increases two-fold, ten-fold, one hundred-fold
in value. Such are the efforts of the second class.
3. Between production and consumption, as well as between
the various stages of production, a group of intermediary agents
establish themselves, useful both to producers and consumer; these
are the merchants and brokers: the brokers who, comparing incessantly
the demands of time and place, speculate upon the profit of retention
and transportation; merchants who are charged with distribution,
in the last analysis, either at wholesale or at retail. This
species of utility characterizes the third class.
4. Outside of these three classes of productive and useful
citizens, who are occupied with real objects of consumption and
use, there is also need in a society of a series of efforts and
pains, whose objects are directly useful or agreeable to the individual.
This fourth class embraces all those who stand between the most
distinguished and liberal professions and the less esteemed services
Such are the efforts which sustain society. Who puts them forth?
The Third Estate.
Public functions may be classified equally well, in the present
state of affairs, under four recognized heads; the sword, the
robe, the church and the administration. It would be superfluous
to take them up one by one, for the purpose of showing that everywhere
the Third Estate attends to nineteen-twentieths of them, with
this distinction; that it is laden with all that which is really
painful, with all the burdens which the privileged classes refuse
to carry. Do we give the Third Estate credit for this? That
this might come about, it would be necessary that the Third Estate
should refuse to fill these places, or that it should be less
ready to exercise their functions. The facts are well known.
Meanwhile they have dared to impose a prohibition upon the order
of the Third Estate. They have said to it: "Whatever may
be your services, whatever may be your abilities, you shall go
thus far; you may not pass beyond!" Certain rare exceptions,
properly regarded, are but a mockery, and the terms which are
indulged in on such occasions, one insult the more.
If this exclusion is a social crime against the Third Estate;
if it is a veritable act of hostility, could it perhaps be said
that it is useful to the public weal? Alas! who is ignorant of
the effects of monopoly? If it discourages those whom it rejects,
is it not well known that it tends to render less able those whom
it favors? Is it not understood that every employment from which
free competition is removed, becomes dear and less effective?
In setting aside any function whatsoever to serve as an appanage
for a distinct class among citizens, is it not to be observed
that it is no longer the man alone who does the work that it is
necessary to reward, but all the unemployed members of that same
caste, and also the entire families of those whoa re employed
as well as those who are not? Its it not to be remarked that
since the government has become the patrimony of a particular
class, it has been distended beyond all measure; places have been
created not on account of the necessities of the governed, but
in the interests of the governing, etc., etc.? Has not attention
been called to the fact that this order of things, which is basely
and--I even presume to say--beastly respectable with us, when
we find it in reading the History of Ancient Egypt or the accounts
of Voyages to the Indies, is despicable, monstrous, destructive
of all industry, the enemy of social progress; above all degrading
to the human race in general, and particularly intolerable to
Europeans, etc., etc? But I must leave these considerations,
which, if they increase the importance of the subject and throw
light upon it, perhaps, along with the new light, slacken our
It suffices here to have made it clear that the pretended utility
of a privileged order for the public service is nothing more than
a chimera; that with it all that which is burdensome in this service
is performed by the Third Estate; that without it the superior
places would be infinitely better filled; that they naturally
ought to be the lot and the recompense of ability and recognized
services, and that if privileged persons have come to usurp all
the lucrative and honorable posts, it is a hateful injustice to
the rank and file of citizens and at the same a treason to the
Who then shall dare to say that the Third Estate has not within
itself all that is necessary for the formation of a complete nation?
It is the strong and robust man who has one arm still shackled.
If the privileged order should be abolished, the nation would
be nothing less, but something more. Therefore, what is the Third
Estate? Everything; but an everything shackled and oppressed.
What would it be without the privileged order? Everything, but
an everything free and flourishing. Nothing can succeed without
it, everything would be infinitely better without the others.
It is not sufficient to show that privileged persons, far from
being useful to the nation, cannot but enfeeble and injure it;
it is necessary to prove further that the noble order does not
enter at all into the social organization; that it may indeed
be a burden upon the nation, but that it cannot of itself constitute
In the first place, it is not possible in the number of all the
elementary parts of a nation to find a place for the caste of
nobles. I know that there are individuals in great number whom
infirmities, incapacity, incurable laziness, or the weight of
bad habits render strangers tot eh labors of society. The exception
and the abuse are everywhere found beside the rule. But it will
be admitted that he less there are of these abuses, the better
it will be for the State. The worst possible arrangement of all
would be where not alone isolated individuals, but a whole class
of citizens should take pride in remaining motionless in the midst
of the general movement, and should consume the best part of the
product without bearing any part in its production. Such a class
is surely estranged to the nation by its indolence.
The noble order is not less estranged from the generality of us
by its civil and political prerogatives.
What is a nation? A body of associates, living under a common
law, and represented by the same legislature, etc.
Is it not evident that the noble order has privileges and expenditures
which it dares to call its rights, but which are apart from the
rights of the great body of citizens? It departs there from the
common law. So its civil rights make of it an isolated people
in the midst of the great nation. This is truly imperium in
In regard to its political rights, these also it exercises apart.
It has its special representatives, which are not charged with
securing the interests of the people. The body of its deputies
sit apart; and when it is assembled in the same hall with the
deputies of simple citizens, it is none the less true that its
representation is essentially distinct and separate: it is a stranger
to the nation, in the first place, by its origin, since its commission
is not derived from the people; then by its object, which consists
of defending not the general, but the particular interest.
The Third Estate embraces then all that which belongs to the nation;
and all that which is not the Third Estate, cannot be regarded
as being of the nation.
What is the Third Estate?
It is the whole.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997