Pacte de famine

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The Pacte de famine was a French ancien régime predecessor to the more recent useless eaters conspiracy theory. The theory was popular from about 1715 until 1789 and a major contributing factor in the French Revolution. This period was one of severe droughts and food shortages; instead of blaming poor farming practices or bad weather, it was easier just to claim that, for inscrutable reasons of their own, the omnipresent, malevolent "They" were intentionally withholding food from the masses. This resulted in bread riots and what became known as the Guerre des farines or "flour war".


The basis for the conspiracy theory was a contract signed in 1765 between Louis XV and the head of the guild responsible for the grain trade. In 1767, Jean Charles Le Prévost de Beaumont published a number of pamphlets claiming that this contract was an explicit attempt to cause a famine.[1] The situation only got worse from there.

Why the king would want to starve the portion of the populace most responsible for producing everything was never really explained. Historical scholarship suggests that far from an attempt to restrict access to food, the contract was an attempt to stabilize food supply and prices.[2]

Attempts to alleviate the issue[edit]

Attempts to lessen the food shortage by means of tax reform[3] and the introduction of free trade[note 1] largely proved counterproductive, as corrupt officials took advantage of increased deregulation to line their own pockets.


The hysteria over the rising cost and scarcity of food fueled resentment towards the aristocracy and helped to spark the French Revolution. Additionally, much like other conspiracy theories the idea of a conspiracy to starve the French populace became the subject of much popular fiction,[note 2] and, to a lesser extent, the Russian Revolution.


  1. This was headed by then minister of finance Turgot - see here
  2. For example, this 1847 novel


  1. From Larousse (in French)
  2. Cahen (1926) Le Pacte de famine. In Revue historique. JSTOR link
  3. Younkins (2006). Turgot on political economy