Sieyès’ Pamphlet on the Third Estate


The question of social and legal equality has always belonged to the most important debates. In 18th-century France, this question was raised rather acutely since the divergence between freedoms entitled to people belonging to different social layers was striking. A prominent clergyman and writer, Sieyès, wrote a pamphlet in which he defined his vision of the third estate – the common people – and explained what freedoms that estate should be given in order to gain equality and prosperity in the country.

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In his analysis of the different kinds of estates, the author argues that the division of people into classes is a wrongful and unjust practice. Out of the three estates – the common people, the aristocracy, and the clergy – the common people, according to Sieyès, plays the most important role but its significance is constantly undermined (65), while the clergy is “everything” but it has been “nothing” in the political order for a long time (65).

Thus, the situation should change, and the main aspect that needs to be altered is the division of people into classes. Moreover, the author thinks that classes as such should be banished since the common people perform all the necessary work that forms the basis on which the country survives and prospers. Sieyès compares the third estate to “a strong and robust man with one arm still in chains” (66). To make this “man” free, Sieyès argues, it is necessary to remove the privileged order (66). Sieyès finds the privileged order unnecessary because all the various work that is crucial for sustaining society is performed exclusively by the third estate (65).

The author goes on to argue that to prosper, a nation requires “private employment and public offices” (65). Four classes of work make up the private employment sector: work in the countryside, human industry, merchants and wholesale traders, and various private occupations. Sieyès points out that all of these tasks are carried out by the third estate (65). Furthermore, the author argues that the common people make up the majority of each of the public office classes: the army, the courts, the church, and the administration (65). Only about 1/20 of these classes are composed of the privileged order.

However, nearly 19/20 are made up by the third estate who do not refuse to do “the really hard work” (Sieyès 65). Therefore, the first and second estates are like parasites on the body of a “strong and robust man” that is represented by the third estate (Sieyès 66). However, due to the unfair division of freedoms and advantages, the privileged people occupy the most “lucrative and most honored places”, whereas the common people perform all the strenuous tasks (Sieyès 65).

The obvious understatement of the third estate’s abilities infuriates Sieyès, who declares that telling these individuals that they can only go “so far and no further” is a “social crime” (66). One of the major reasons for such a situation is the impact of monopoly. Sieyès notes that this process leads to discouraging the people it “pushes aside” and portraying the ones it favors as “less competent” (66).

As a result, Sieyès notes, the work is done less well and more expensively (66). The problem with the existing order is that while the hardest work is done by the third estate, everyone in the country receives a salary, even those who do not do anything. Sieyès notes that while the French ingloriously respects such a state of affairs, it used to be treated with shame and contempt in the history of ancient civilizations (66). Hence, he views the “supposed usefulness” of the privileged order as a “mirage” (Sieyès 66).

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Without the privileged order, it would become possible to fill the best places with the most suitable workers. Moreover, giving the best places would serve as a means of rewarding recognized services and talents (Sieyès 66). Instead, by taking over the honored posts, the privileged estate has created the state of “odious iniquity” against most of the citizens and committed an act of disloyalty against “the public good” (Sieyès 66).

Sieyès argues that the third estate has all the necessary qualities to form “a complete Nation” (66). After removing the privileged order, the country will not lose anything but will become “free and flourishing” (Sieyès 66). While nothing can be gained without the common people, the aristocracy and the noblemen do not perform any important functions. Thus, canceling them would make life in the country “infinitely better” (Sieyès 66).

Further, the author notes that it is not sufficient to show that the privileged cause harm to the nation. He considers it necessary to prove that the noble order “is not even part of society itself” and can only be classified as a “burden” (Sieyès 67).

Sieyès remarks that it is not even conceivable to designate a place for nobles among the variety of elements forming the nation (67). Due to a number of negative features, such as weakness, incapability, low morals, or “incurable laziness,” many people are “foreigners to the work of society” (Sieyès 67). The rule is inevitably accompanied by abuses and exceptions, particularly in a large empire. Sieyès argues that the “worst-off” state is the one in which a whole class of people could remain idle while consuming the majority of products created by others (67). Hence, the noble order, according to the author, is not a part of society because of its public and civil prerogatives (Sieyès 67).

A nation is characterized by common law and legislature. Thus, having rights and privileges not pertaining to the majority of citizens makes the nobles “a people apart inside the great Nation” (Sieyès 67). In contrast, the third estate does not own any specific advantages, so it has the right to be viewed as a righteous constituent of the nation. Sieyès emphasizes that people’s freedoms or rights should not be limited (68). The privileges given to some classes of the population disable the restraint from such limitations, so it is crucial to leave only one estate – the third one – in France.


Therefore, by comparing the third estate to a “strong and robust man with one arm still in chains,” Sieyès asserts that this part of society is the most useful (66). However, the common people’s right to equality is being strangled by the privileged estate’s tendency to distribute positions unfairly and pay unjust salaries. Hence, to improve the situation, Sieyès finds it necessary to create a system of impartiality and remove the notion of entitlement of anyone to high honors. Other authors might not have agreed with Sieyès because his ideas contradicted the state of affairs that had been dominant in society for a long time. Indeed, Sieyès’ views could have been considered radical but, on reflection, they appear rather reasonable.

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