Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (May 3, 1748 – June 20, 1836) (or [sijɛs]) was a French Roman Catholic abbé and statesman, one of the chief theorists of the French Revolution, French Consulate, and First French Empire. His 1789 pamphlet What is the Third Estate? became the manifesto of the Revolution that helped transform the Estates-General into the National Assembly in June 1789. In 1799, he was the instigator of the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, which brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power. He was also the first to coin the term "sociologie" (French for "sociology") in an unpublished manuscript. Sieyès and his party spoke the language of democracy, unlike Jean Joseph Mounier and his party the Monarchiens.
This phrase, which was to remain famous, is said to have been inspired by Nicolas Chamfort. The pamphlet was very successful, and its author, despite his clerical vocation (which made him part of the First Estate), was elected as the last (the twentieth) of the deputies the Third Estate of Paris to the Estates-General. He played his main role in the opening years of the Revolution, drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, expanding on the theory of national sovereignty, popular sovereignty, and representation implied in his pamphlet, with a distinction between active and passive citizens that justified suffrage limited to male owners of property.
The contributions of Sieyès’s pamphlet were indispensable to the revolutionary thought that projected France towards the French Revolution. In his pamphlet he outlined the desires and frustrations of the alienated class of people that made up the third estate. In many senses of the expression, he was the force that ripped the band-aid off the Ancien Régime in France, there by revealing the fraudulent nobility and more importantly the overburdened and despondent working class on which they preyed. The pamphlet was essentially the rallying cry that united a voiceless class, whose subjugation by an elitist and self-serving French political culture gave way to an unheard-of political force, nonetheless, a force with outlined and clearly stated grievances that for the first time were not to be overlooked in the convocation of the Estates General.
The pamphlet redefined the meaning of “public service,” against the conventional wisdom. The aristocracy defined themselves as an elite ruling class charged with the “arduous” task of maintaining the social order in France. On the contrary, Sieyès saw public service as a function performed not by the first or second but rather the third estate. Expression of radical thought at its best, the pamphlet placed sovereignty not in the hands of the uninformed, self-serving aristocrats, but instead defined the nation of France by its working class, whose daily trials and tribulations “are the activities which support society.” The French Revolution could not have been what it was without this patriotic and “radical” message, more importantly one so eagerly dispersed by the rising revolutionary politics within the third estate.
Furthermore, by defining the third estate as the primary mechanism of public service, he deliberately called into question the role of the aristocracy, alternatively portraying their role as foreign to the nation of France. The aristocratic arrogance and their ability to act absolutely and without query were precisely the grounds upon which Sieyès justified noble privilege as “treason to the commonwealth.” This being perhaps the most daunting of his rhetorical repertoire, Sieyès essentially used the nobility’s own arrogance and self-imposed privileges to establish the aristocracy as an alien body acting outside of the general will and the nation of France. Ironically, it was for these exact self-serving means that the Parlement of Paris pressured the king to call the Estates general. As a consequence, the resulting conflict between the orders inspired the proper political sphere from which the revolution grew.
Perhaps most significant was the influence of Sieyès’s pamphlet on the structural concerns that arose surrounding the convocation of the Estates general. Specifically, the third estate demanded their representation be made up of members from the third estate, that the number of deputies for their order be equal that of the two privileged orders combined, and most controversially “that the States General Vote, Not by Orders, but by Heads.” The pamphlet took these issues to the masses and their partial appeasement was met with revolutionary reaction. By addressing the issues of unjust representation directly, Sieyès inspired resentment and agitation that united the third estate against the feudalistic traditions of the Ancien Régime.
Like all other members of the Constituent Assembly, he was excluded from the Legislative Assembly by the ordinance, initially proposed by Maximilien Robespierre, that decreed that none of its members should be eligible for the next legislature. He reappeared in the third national Assembly, known as the National Convention of the French Republic (September 1792 - September 1795). He voted for the death of Louis XVI, but not in the contemptuous terms sometimes ascribed to him. Menaced by the Reign of Terror, and offended by its character, Sieyès even abjured his faith at the time of the installation of the Cult of Reason, and afterwards he characterized his conduct during the period in the ironic phrase, J'ai vécu ("I survived").
Nevertheless, Sieyès was considering ways to overthrow the Directory, and is said to have taken in view the replacement of the government with unlikely rulers such as Archduke Charles of Austria and Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand of Brunswick (a major enemy of the Revolution). He attempted to undermine the constitution, and thus caused the revived Jacobin Club to be closed while making offers to General Joubert for a coup d'état.
Sieyès soon retired from the post of provisional Consul, which he had accepted after Brumaire, and became one of the first members of the Sénat conservateur (acting as its president in 1799); pasquinades at the time linked this concession to the large estate at Crosne that he received from Napoleon. After the plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise in late December 1800, Sieyès the senator defended the arbitrary and illegal proceedings whereby Bonaparte rid himself of the leading Jacobins.
During the Empire (1804-1814) Sieyès rarely emerged from his retirement. When Napoleon briefly returned to power in 1815 he was named to the Chamber of Peers. After the Second Restoration Sieyès was expelled from the Academy in 1816 by Louis XVIII. He then moved to Brussels, but returned to France after the July Revolution of 1830. He died in Paris in 1836.
The recent publication of his unpublished works shows that he was the first to use the term 'sociologie' in 1780, although the term was some fifty years later again introduced as a neologism by Auguste Comte who helped to popularize the concept to refer to the science of society.
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