The causes of the French Revolution are complex; nothing of what I wrote in my last post on them is uncontroversial. Take the influence of Rousseau for example. Here is Belloc’s view of Rousseau’s influence on the Revolution:
Such is the general theory of the Revolution to which the command of Jean Jacques Rousseau over the French tongue gave imperishable expression in that book whose style and logical connection may be compared to some exact and strong piece of engineering. He entitled it the Contrat Social, and it became the formula of the Revolutionary Creed […] no man, perhaps, has put the prime truth of political morals so well [… he] stamped and issued the gold of democracy as it had never till then been minted. No one man makes a people or their creed, but Rousseau more than any other man made vocal the creed of a people, and it is advisable or necessary for the reader of the Revolution to consider at the outset of his reading of what nature was Rousseau’s abundant influence upon the men who remodelled the society of Europe between 1789 and 1794.
Eric Voegelin in his History of Political Ideas dismisses this “high” view of Rousseau’s influence, and points to what he sees as far more important factors:
The causes of the Great Revolution are an intricate problem, but it seems that a saner view is coming to the fore after the era of monistic theories. Neither the writings of intellectuals nor the misery of peasants can be credited any longer with being the decisive factors, although they had contributory importance. The lot of peasants, admittedly miserable, was no worse than in other countries, but rather better. And the revolutionary literature, as for instance the political writings of Rousseau, was not so well known, and much too complicated, to exert a broad influence. Rousseau’s Contrat Social was little read up to the eve of the Revolution; it became better known then because the revolutionary movement had gotten underway and some of its formulas proved useful. The claim of the Parlement to represent the volonté publique probably had greater practical influence than the implications of Rousseau’s volunté générale, which are accessible only to persons very well trained in theory. The revolutionary atmosphere had its center in the friction over the financial state of the realm developing between the crown and the privileged estates on the one hand and the Tiers Etat as represented by Parlement on the other. The Fronde of the seventeenth century already shows the main outlines of this situation… (pp. 115-116)
Thus for Voegelin the Revolution was above all a rematch of the Fronde, whereas for Belloc it was a rematch of the Völkerwanderung. The advantage of the butter/olive oil account is that it shows how it could actually have been both.