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About this book

Widely praised when it was first published, this new edition has been brought up to the present with new final chapters, and thoroughly revised to take into account the latest research. It now includes maps and more coverage of key topics such as: racial strife, colonial difficulties, the Vichy regime, and the nature of the French extreme right.

Table of Contents

The Birth of the Third Republic, 1870–85

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. France in 1870

Abstract
The Third Republic was proclaimed on 4 September 1870. Two days earlier, Napoleon III, Emperor of the French since 1852, had surrendered his army to the Prussians at Sedan. The Second Empire — the First was that of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte — lost all legitimacy. When news of the defeat reached Paris, crowds invaded the Palais Bourbon, seat of the ‘Legislative Body’. The legislators melted into the crowd. As in 1830 and 1848, the throng proceeded to the Town Hall, where the Republic was proclaimed, as it had already been proclaimed in Marseille and Lyon. The Third Republic faced a hopeless war, but it lasted nearly 70 years, longer than any other regime France has known since 1789.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 2. The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, 1870–1

Abstract
The fall of the Second Empire, the founding of the Third Republic, and the last echo of the French Revolution — the ‘Paris Commune’ — were all consequences of a brief but dramatic war between France and a German coalition led by Prussia, a war known as the Franco-Prussian War.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 3. The Triumph of the Republicans, 1871–85

Abstract
The defeat of the Commune put an end to a Parisian revolutionary tradition dating back to 1789. It dashed hope of the ‘democratic and social Republic’. It confirmed a conservative government responsible to a National Assembly, in which monarchists held a majority. Paradoxically, however, in less than ten years republicans gained power, established the first durable republican regime, and thus confirmed the Revolution begun in 1789.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 4. The Cultural Bases of Republicanism

Abstract
The French Revolution of 1789 marked the beginning of what can be called the republican project, the effort to build a nation of citizens on the basis of Reason, a nation in which human beings governed themselves instead of being governed by hereditary monarchs. That project depended on the Enlightenment assumption that human beings could use Reason to change their world. Otherwise people would have had no right to challenge the monarchy, which, in the old view, was ordained by God. To use Reason to change the world, the universe had to be knowable, and knowable by human beings. God could no longer be the source of knowledge. That the universe is knowable by human beings presumes a materialist cosmology (a view of the cosmos): the visible is the real (‘what you see is what you get’); there is no other universe worth knowing apart from the material world humans perceive with their senses.
Charles Sowerwine

Testing Time for the Republic, 1885–1918

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. Challenges to the Republic (1): Constructing the Modern Right

Abstract
For most of the nineteenth century, to be on the right of politics meant to support the monarchy while to be on the left meant to favor the Republic. Between 1880 and 1914, both ‘right’ and ‘left’ took on new meanings, which carried over into the twentieth century.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 6. Challenges to the Republic (2): Constructing the Modern Left

Abstract
During the late nineteenth century, a range of social movements emerged in response to industrialization. The Dreyfus Affair helped catalyze these movements into a left that would be typical of twentieth-century politics, a left dominated by two broadly based parties, the Socialists and the Radical Republicans.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 7. The Cultural Revolution of the Belle Epoque

Abstract
The quarter-century before the outbreak of World War I came to be known as the Belle Epoque. It was a good time only for the wealthy and only in retrospect after the war. It came to be remembered with nostalgia as the last period of certain faith in Reason and Progress, but sensitive observers at the time felt a seismic shift in the underpinnings of their culture, which we may call the cultural revolution of the Belle Epoque.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 8. The Great War, 1914–18

Abstract
World War I — ‘the Great War’ — provided vivid experience of the irrational, directly for a generation of young men who lived and died in the trenches, indirectly for everyone else. Every country in Europe except the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland joined the Allies (France, Britain and Russia) or the Central Powers (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire). European colonies were pulled in immediately, as was Japan; Italy entered in 1915. When China and the United States joined, in 1917, it became truly a world war. To fight this war, France conscripted 8 410 000 men, including some 600 000 colonials (half from North Africa). To maintain production, France brought uncounted women into the workforce or forced them to take on the farms and workshops of their husbands, and brought some 225 000 colonials (60 per cent from North Africa) to work in France, replacing men at the front.1 Their experience further undermined the culture of bourgeois rationality, which had already been challenged in culture and science.
Charles Sowerwine

The Decline of the Third Republic, 1919–40

Frontmatter

Chapter 9. France after the War, 1919–28

Abstract
In the aftermath of the war, people spoke of reconstructing France. They meant the France of before the war, the France for which they believed they had fought and suffered. But that France was gone. Which France, whose France, would be rebuilt? Hope and fear of change aroused struggle between workers and employers — class struggle — and between women and men — gender struggle.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 10. France in the Depression, 1929–35

Abstract
On 28 October 1929, the US stock market crashed. Investors lost US$26 billion in one day, which soon came to be known as ‘Black Friday’. The immediate cause was buying stocks (or shares) ‘on margin’, paying only a small percentage and reselling quickly to pay the rest out of the proceeds. This worked only if prices rose. When prices didn’t rise, purchasers couldn’t resell at a high enough price to pay; they defaulted and stock prices collapsed. A ‘correction’ was inevitable because production had outstripped purchasing power, which was restricted by low wages, but what soon became known as ‘the Depression’ was far more than a ‘correction’.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 11. The Popular Front, 1936–7

Abstract
The Popular Front was first a coalition against fascism and then a government. The hopes it aroused led to a wave of sit-in strikes, the largest uprising since the Paris Commune. The government elected was not, however, a government of revolutionaries, but a coalition of anti-fascists. Fascism did not take power in France and to that extent the Popular Front succeeded. But the hopes of its supporters were finally dashed and to that extent the Popular Front left many ordinary people disillusioned.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 12. Culture between the Wars

Abstract
Paul Valéry (1871–1945), a disciple of Mallarmé, born in the year of the Commune and writing in 1919, said that the war had destroyed the ‘illusion of a European culture’, perhaps because of ‘the orderliness of [Enlightenment] thought, … the conscientious work, the solid education … So many horrors would not have been possible without so many virtues’; the reign of the irrational was made possible only by the triumph of the rational. ‘We civilizations’, he concluded, ‘know now that we are mortal.’1
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 13. The Fall of France, 1938–40

Abstract
The fall of France was not only the military defeat of France, but also the political defeat of the Republic. The shock of defeat resembled that of 1870, but this time defeat brought not a Republic but an authoritarian regime which included significant fascist elements. To understand this upheaval, we need to examine not only the foreign and military policy that led to the defeat of French armies, but also the widespread disaffection in society.
Charles Sowerwine

The Vichy Interlude and its Aftermath, 1940–6

Frontmatter

Chapter 14. Vichy in Power, 1940–2

Abstract
In the disarray of defeat and exodus, almost everyone felt relief that Pétain had taken charge. Most people, dazzled by his prestige, welcomed the new regime. Conservatives, including many who were not fascists and even some who would soon join de Gaulle, were also blinded by their hatred of the Republic. The Catholic playwright Paul Claudel welcomed Vichy in terms that would have brought satisfaction to most fascists:
After sixty years, France has been delivered from the yoke of the radical and anti-Catholic party (professors, lawyers, Jews and Freemasons). The new government is invoking God and restoring liberty to the religious orders. There is hope that we may be delivered from universal suffrage and parliamentarianism; and also from the evil and imbecile domination of the schoolteachers who covered themselves with shame in the last war. [Not a reference to their conduct of soldiers; simply part of the right’s hatred of teachers.] Authority is restored.1
By late 1941, however, revulsion at deportations led Claudel to the Resistance; his ‘Ode to Pétain’ written in 1940 became an embarrassment; he wrote another to de Gaulle in 1944.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 15. Resistance and Liberation, 1942–4

Abstract
What were ordinary French people doing while their leaders collaborated? A few resisted from the start, but admiration for Pétain seemed universal in 1940, as did support for or at least acquiescence in Vichy. By the time of the Allied landing in June 1944, support for Pétain had fallen away and support for Vichy had evaporated, while support for the Resistance and de Gaulle was universal. On that everyone agrees. There is less agreement about the depth and extent of collaboration and resistance. Robert Paxton argued that all those who shared in ‘the tide of acquiescence’ were ‘“collaborators” in a functional sense’. Resistance, he suggested, was confined to 2 per cent of the population: 130 000 deportees and 170 000 volunteers who were officially recognized as veterans of the Resistance after the war and another 100 000 who were killed in Resistance activities.1
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 16. Liberated France, 1944–6

Abstract
De Gaulle’s first priority was to assert his authority: this pitted him both against the Resistance, who planned renewal from below, if not revolution, and against the Allies, who still planned to occupy France.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 17. Existentialism: Culture of the Resistance?

Abstract
World War I had coincided with and intensified the breakdown of realist culture; World War II would complete that breakdown, but it introduced a short-lived moral renewal. Life under the shadow of Nazism brought political and moral choices to the fore. Out of this climate emerged existentialism, which one might well call the culture of the Resistance because of its emphasis on the individual’s moral obligation to become human, ‘to realize’ her- or himself by acting and choosing in daily life. It was possible, to be sure, to choose the other side, but most existentialists were associated with the Resistance.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fourth Republic, 1946–58

Frontmatter

Chapter 18. Vietnam War, Cold War, 1946–54

Abstract
On 16 December 1946, Léon Blum took office as the fourth and last President of the Provisional Government of the Republic. Just as at the time of the Anschluss, he walked into a major catastrophe: three days later, war broke out in Vietnam between Ho Chi Minh’s forces and the French occupying force. Just as with Spain, Blum did exactly the reverse of what he ardently desired: he missed the opportunity to negotiate and unleashed eight tragic and fruitless years of war.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 19. The 1950s — Of Coke and Culture

Abstract
While the war in Vietnam dominated French political life in the 1950s, it was far away and did not preoccupy most people in their daily lives. The key fact for most people was that, during the 1950s, the economic plan, worldwide prosperity and American aid brought an economic boom that transformed French life at every level. The highly visible political instability of the Fourth Republic did not affect its comparatively invisible administrative continuity, in which a new generation of technocrats used economic planning to achieve growth and prosperity.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 20. The Algerian War Erupts, 1954–7

Abstract
The Algerian uprising of 1 November 1954 began a bitter war that would not only make Algeria independent but also bring down the government, put de Gaulle in power, and stain the Republic irredeemably. Independence for Algeria came after, bringing to power a group of hardened revolutionaries; the moderates had been eliminated by the war.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 21. The Fall of the Fourth Republic, 1958

Abstract
On 8 February 1958, French B26 bombers destroyed the Tunisian village of Sakhiet, just across the border from Algeria: French army leaders were convinced the town was an FLN base. It was a Saturday and the town market was crowded: 80 people were killed, including many women and children. The bombs destroyed a school and a hospital as well as the alleged FLN base. This incident lit the fuse to the bomb that blew up the Fourth Republic.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fifth Republic I, 1958–81

Frontmatter

Chapter 22. The Fifth Republic under De Gaulle, 1958–68

Abstract
The Fifth Republic was so closely identified with de Gaulle that many expected it would fall when he stepped down. But he was successful in creating new institutions: the Fifth Republic would continue after his departure, though he cast a long shadow, at least until François Mitterrand came to power in 1981. In Algeria, however, he was not successful. Indeed, before he could take effective control of the situation, the Republic was seriously threatened several times, and, after he took control, he was unable to realize his dream of a renewed Algeria still linked to France.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 23. Cultural Explosion: New Theory, New Cinema, New Novel

Abstract
In A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959), Jean-Luc Godard presented the car as the vehicle of love and escape. Eight years later, in Weekend (1967) he presented the car as the symbol of a society decomposing. Weekend begins with a devastating portrait of the Parisian bourgeoisie, nastier, more selfish and carrying on more affairs than one could imagine even today, but turning really vile in their cars. A weekend holiday turns to nightmare as the protagonists encounter a monumental traffic jam and switch into the opposite lane to overtake an endless stretch of stalled cars. Soon smashed cars and bloodied corpses are strewn along a highway leading to Hell. Weekend symbolized French society’s difficult confrontation with modernity. That confrontation produced a triple wave of innovation, unparalleled in recent times, in philosophy, literature and cinema, which has profoundly affected Western thought.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 24. Social Explosion: May ’68

Abstract
May ’68 was not only a student revolt. It was, in the words of Kristin Ross, ‘the largest mass movement in French history, the biggest strike …, and the only “general” insurrection the overdeveloped world has known since World War II.’1 De Gaulle dominated the mid-1960s, not only in France but also in world affairs. His regime’s very success, however, created tensions which a complacent government failed to address. Since the war, France had known unprecedented economic growth and minimal unemployment. Young people expected prosperity to mean not only employment at a higher status than their parents but also in a more just society. Workers expected prosperity to mean improvements in their lives as much as in those of the elites and the bourgeoisie. Failing to meet these high expectations cost de Gaulle dearly. The May uprising did not directly overturn his government, but it led to de Gaulle’s departure and, in a broader context, it provided a new vocabulary and iconography of revolution. Some suggest that it shifted the very idea of revolution and ushered in the post-modern epoch.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 25. The Fifth Republic under Pompidou and Giscard, 1969–81

Abstract
During the 1970s conservatives dominated politics, but they could not stop change. The aftershocks of May ’68 continued. Worker militancy continued, cut short only by the 1973 oil crisis, which brought an end to post-war prosperity. Student protest continued, especially in secondary schools. May also led to second-wave feminism, which in turn influenced social theory. And May was also the starting point both for gay rights and for a French new right, the ‘new philosophers’.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fifth Republic II, 1981–2007

Frontmatter

Chapter 26. ‘Socialist France’? 1981–8

Abstract
‘The Bastille falls again’, ran Le Monde’s headline after Mitterrand’s win. At the Place de la Bastille on 10 May 1981, a huge crowd celebrated. ‘One hundred thousand? two hundred thousand? more?’ asked a reporter. All over Paris, people shouted the slogans of May. ‘It’s the 14th July’, said a Turkish immigrant.1
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 27. Mitterrand in Decline, 1988–95

Abstract
Mitterrand’s second term set a record. No French leader since Napoleon III had remained 14 years in office. But France now seemed bereft of direction. The heroic Mitterrand of the Common Program gave way to the cynical tactician, leaving France adrift as the icebergs came into view.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 28. From Juppé to Jospin, 1995–2002

Abstract
Jacques Chirac came to office on a platform of ‘solidarity’. Like Mitterrand, he quickly announced a ‘great project’: the construction of an immense museum for art from developing countries, the Musée du Quai Branly. By the end of the century, only the museum looked certain. Chirac confronted the Vichy past, but failed to stem the rise of racism and the FN. His proposals to cut pensions unleashed the greatest strike wave since 1968, in what was widely construed as a rejection of neo-liberalism. This reduced the government’s margin of maneuver in the face of the emerging liberal, globalized world economy.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 29. Toward Sarkozy’s Republic, 2002–2007

Abstract
The issues raised by Le Pen’s electoral success caused a continuing malaise. The Iraq War and the riots in October 2005 kept the Muslim specter on the front pages and led to a resurgence of racism, while France’s isolation from its traditional allies wounded national pride. The resulting crisis of confidence in France and French values — what the political scientist Vincent Tiberj calls France’s crispation (tensing up) — culminated in the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as President in 2007.
Charles Sowerwine

Conclusion

The End of ‘The French Exception’?
Abstract
In 2008, the population of France reached 64 million (including nearly 2 million in the DOM-TOM), making it the largest nation of western Europe after Germany (82.5 million), followed by the UK (60 million), Italy (59 million), and Spain (40 million). But France’s historic and cultural significance is far greater than its population might suggest. France has long been viewed as The French Exception,1 the country in which the English-speaking world found its significant ‘other’. France was the mirror in which that world looked to examine its own polities, societies and cultures. France offered a counter-model for a republican polity, a just society, and a universal culture.
Charles Sowerwine
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