Extracts from What is the Third Estate? (1789)


Extracts from What is the Third Estate?, a political pamphlet published by Abbe Sieyes in January 1789 in which he argues that commoners constitute the true body of the nation:


“What is necessary that a nation should subsist and prosper?…

The pretended utility [usefulness] of a privileged order for the public service is nothing more than a chimera… All that which is burdensome in this service is performed by the Third Estate…

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 [the nobility] 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…

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 imperia [one state within another]…

The Third Estate embraces 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.”