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About this book

This thoroughly revised, updated and expanded new edition of an established text surveys the cultural, social and political history of France from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune through to Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. Incorporating the newest interpretations of past events, Sowerwine seamlessly integrates culture, gender, and race into political and social history. This edition features extended coverage of the 2007-8 financial crisis, the rise of the political and cultural far right and the issues of colonialism and its contemporary repercussions.

This is an essential resource for undergraduate and taught postgraduate students of History, French Studies or European Studies taking courses on Modern French History or European History. This text will also appeal to scholars and readers with an interest in modern French history.

Table of Contents

The Rise of the Third Republic, 1870–85

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. France in the Nineteenth Century

The Third Republic was proclaimed on 4 September 1870. Two days earlier, Napoleon III, Emperor 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 Empire’s ‘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 in Marseille and Lyon. The First Republic had lasted 12 years (1792–1804), the Second barely four (1848–52). This Republic, the Third, began inauspiciously, facing a hopeless war, but it lasted nearly 70 years, longer than any regime France has known since 1789. Since the time of Louis XIV, if not before, Paris had been Europe’s greatest cultural centre. The Second Empire rebuilt Paris. The Third Republic completed the project, creating a city which became the pole of attraction for artists and intellectuals across Europe for the next century, the capital of the nineteenth century as the German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously called it.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 2. The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, 1870–71

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. Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Prussia under King Wilhelm I, led the unification of Germany. After successful wars against Denmark (1864) and Austria (1866), each of which ended with new territory for Prussia, he needed one more war, a war with France, to draw the south German states into a Prussian-based Empire. Bismarck got a war when, after a revolution, the new Spanish government offered the throne to a minor Prussian prince, Leopold Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a cousin of King Wilhelm. Napoleon III feared that Leopold, if King of Spain, would ally Spain with Prussia, thus encircling France
Charles Sowerwine

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

The defeat of the Commune put an end to a Parisian revolutionary tradition dating back to 1789. It dashed hopes 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 and established the Republic as France’s default regime, thus bringing to fulfilment the Revolution begun in 1789. The new Republic oversaw a period of great prosperity, infrastructure building (mainly rail) and investment in universal education. The social bases of republicanism firmed up during the 1870s. Workers’ and artisans’ republicanism remained strong. The removal of threats of Bonapartism, of war and of Parisian activism facilitated the revival of country-dwellers’ republican loyalties and enabled much of the bourgeoisie and even some constitutional monarchists to support the Republic.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 4. The Cultural Bases of Republicanism

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): that the visible is the real (‘what you see is what you get’) and that this material universe is the only one worth knowing. This cosmology broke with earlier cosmologies in which the world that mattered was the one behind or above the visible world, the invisible world in which God, the Devil and salvation were all more important than material reality. In the old cosmology the representation of reality was judged in terms of its connection to the divine. Now it was judged in terms of its connection to what people could actually see around them.
Charles Sowerwine

Testing Time for the Republic, 1885–1918

Frontmatter

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

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 favour the Republic. Between 1880 and 1914, both ‘right’ and ‘left’ took on new meanings, which carried over into the twentieth century. The Republic stood for the nationalism unleashed by the French Revolution, defending a nation created by sovereign citizens through Reason and citizenship defined by law. The monarchy stood for a nation created by organic growth through tradition and authority, and citizenship defined by ties of blood and links to the soil. Monarchists denied that Reason could improve the world; it was better to leave things to tradition and traditional authority, preferably a monarch.
Charles Sowerwine

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

During the late nineteenth century, a range of social movements emerged in response to industrialization and took their place alongside traditional republican political movements. The Dreyfus Affair channelled these movements into two streams that would be typical of twentieth-century politics, Socialists and Radical Republicans. The Revolutions of 1789 and 1848 had fostered a broad belief in the ‘democratic and social Republic’, which would bring not only democracy but also social justice. Repression of the June 1848 insurrection and of the Commune opened the way to a Republic that was political but not social, democratic but not committed to social justice, what Thiers called a ‘conservative’ Republic.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 7. The Cultural Revolution of the Belle Époque

The quarter-century before the outbreak of World War I came to be known as the Belle Époque, literally the beautiful era or good time. 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 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 Époque.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 8. The Great War, 1914–18

World War I – ‘the Great War’ as it was known – 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 in Africa, Asia and Australasia were pulled in immediately, as was Japan; Italy entered in 1915. When China and the United States joined, in 1917, the war became truly a world war.
Charles Sowerwine

The Decline of the Third Republic, 1919–40

Frontmatter

Chapter 9. France after the War, 1919–28

In the aftermath of the war, people spoke of reconstructing France. They meant the France of before the war, the France for which they had fought and suffered. But that France was gone. Which France, whose France, would be rebuilt? Hope and fear of change led to tensions on three fronts: between workers and employers – class struggle; between women and men – gender struggle; and between people of African or North African origins and people of European origins – race struggle.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 10. France in the Depression, 1929–35

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’, that is, 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. As defaults accumulated, 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’. It was the third of what Piketty called ‘the shocks that buffeted the economy in the period 1914–1945’.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 11. The Popular Front, 1936–37

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 people disillusioned and prepared to accept more authoritarian approaches.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 12. Culture between the Wars

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.’
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 13. The Fall of France, 1938–40

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

Vichy and Its Aftermath, 1940–46

Frontmatter

Chapter 14. The Vichy Government, 1940–42

As Parisians returned from the exodus, they found street and Metro signs in German, theatres and stores marked ‘Germans only’, Sarah Bernhardt’s name removed from her theatre (she was Jewish) and the statue of the Chevalier de la Barre gone from its spot beside the Sacré-Cœur. Similar changes occurred throughout the Occupied Zone. But in the disarray of defeat, almost everyone felt relief that Pétain had taken charge. Most people welcomed the new regime. Conservatives, including many who were not fascists and even some who would soon join de Gaulle, were blinded by their hatred of the Republic. The Catholic playwright Paul Claudel welcomed Vichy in terms that would have brought satisfaction to fascists:
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 15. Resistance and Liberation, 1942–44

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 diminished, support for Vichy had evaporated and support for the Resistance and de Gaulle had become 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. But is being a member of the Resistance the only form of resistance
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 16. Liberated France, 1944–46

Resistance began not from a shared political project but from opposition to the Occupation. By the Liberation, however, nearly everyone identified with the Resistance and shared, as recent historiography has suggested, its ‘commitment to humanity and the universal rights of man’. People across France thus saw the Liberation as ‘an opportunity to renegotiate the social contract’; they expected, in Megan Koreman’s words, that ‘the new, postwar society should be based on justice’. The Resistance aimed to build that new society from below. The Allies still aimed to occupy France and take charge of rebuilding France. De Gaulle, however, aimed to assert his authority against both the Resistance and the Allies. To do this, he initiated major reforms but he also sought to check high expectations.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 17. Existentialism: Culture of the Resistance?

World War I had coincided with and intensified the breakdown of realist culture; World War II would eventually complete that breakdown, but first 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 resistance.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fourth Republic, 1946–58

Frontmatter

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

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 after he took office, war broke out in Vietnam between Ho Chi Minh’s forces and the French occupying force. Just as with Spain, Blum did the contrary of what he ardently desired: he missed the opportunity to negotiate and unleashed eight tragic and fruitless years of war. France gained parts of the German Empire after World War I, increasing the French Empire to 12 million square kilometres (5 million square miles) of territory and 68 million subjects. The Colonial Exposition of 1931 had been an enormous success. At its centre was a huge fountain: a statue of Marianne (the Republic) holding out an apron into which four colonial subjects poured streams of gold coins. After the war, the colonies seemed more important than ever.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 19. The 1950s: Coke, Culture and the French Economic Miracle

While the war in Vietnam dominated French political life in the 1950s, it was far away and did not preoccupy people in their daily lives. 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. As Piketty argued, ‘capital’s share of income [was reduced] to historically low levels in the 1950s’ because of ‘the shocks that buffeted the economy in the period 1914–1945 … and the consequent advent of new regulatory and tax policies along with controls on capital’. This meant too that capital had less political leverage than ever before or since. The key fact for most people was that, during the 1950s, American aid, the economic plan and redistribution via high taxes, in a context of worldwide growth, brought an unprecedented economic boom. From 1949 to 1974, French GDP rose by an average of 5.4 per cent every year.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 20. The Algerian War Erupts, 1954–57

The Algerian uprising of 1 November 1954 began a bitter war that would make Algeria independent, irredeemably stain the French Fourth Republic and set in train the events that would lead to its downfall. For over 2000 years, North Africans had fought other peoples around the Mediterranean for domination. Algeria was part of the Phoenician and then the Carthaginian Empire (Carthage was near today’s Tunis) before Rome conquered Carthage in 146 BCE. Conquered by the French in the 1830s, Algeria was made into three departments of France, with its own governor-general and bureaucrats who, although responsible to Paris, often lived and died in Algeria. Algeria, or at least the Algeria of the French settlers, was far more closely integrated into France than any other colony. It was only an overnight ferry trip from Marseille to Algiers and many made the trip often, for a holiday, like André Gide, or for career, like police, bureaucrats and teachers.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 21. The Fall of the Fourth Republic, 1958

On 8 February 1958, French B26 bombers destroyed the Tunisian village of Sakhiet Sidi Youssef, 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. Tunisia was now an independent and sovereign state, so this was a serious violation of international law. Tunisia’s President, Habib Bourguiba, had been considering building a North African confederation with some face-saving link to France; now, furious, he went to the UN Security Council, accusing France of aggression. The United States and Britain offered their ‘good offices’ to restore Franco-Tunisian relations, making little secret of their hope to extend these ‘good offices’ to negotiations for Algerian independence.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fifth Republic I, 1958–81

Frontmatter

Chapter 22. De Gaulle’s Presidency, 1958–68: Algeria vs ‘Grandeur’

As President, de Gaulle bestrode French and indeed Western politics like a colossus. He was now the embodiment of the Resistance, thanks not only to his real accomplishments but also to his Mémoires de guerre, the last volume of which appeared less than three months before his inauguration as President. His probity was legendary: he not only put his own stamps on his personal letters, but also paid the costs of dinners for his personal guests, dinners which Mme de Gaulle personally supervised. And despite his readiness to put himself forward, he always seemed to subordinate himself to the service of the people of France. The Fifth Republic was so closely identified with de Gaulle that many expected it would fall when he stepped down. He left, however, strong institutions and he reconciled many conservatives to the Republic. The Fifth Republic still survives and may well outlive the Third Republic. In Algeria, however, de Gaulle was not successful. Before he could take effective control, threats to the Republic prevented him from implementing reforms; after he took control, greater threats prevented him from realizing his dream of a renewed Algeria linked to France.
Charles Sowerwine

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

The French confrontation with modern consumer society produced a triple wave of innovation, in philosophy, literature and cinema, which profoundly affected Western thought.In A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959), Jean-Luc Godard (1930– ) 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 decomposing society. Weekend begins with a devastating portrait of the Parisian bourgeoisie, nasty, selfish and unfaithful, but especially 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 during the trente glorieuses.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 24. Social Explosion: May ’68

May ’68 was not just a student uprising. It involved, in Julian Jackson’s words, ‘almost every category of French society: factory workers, farmers, immigrants, artists, theatre directors, doctors, architects, even footballers’. Nor was it just a Parisian uprising. Parallel events occurred in provincial cities and in country towns across France. May was, as Kristin Ross suggests, ‘the largest mass movement in French history, the biggest strike …, and the only “general” insurrection the overdeveloped world has known since World War II’. May was both the culmination of many emancipatory trends and the initiator of many new ones. Historians now refer to the ‘May 1968 years’. The very success of de Gaulle’s regime created tensions, which a complacent government failed to address. From the perspective of today’s world of uncertain employment and growing inequality, France in the 1960s appears a prosperous and relatively just society. But expectations were higher in the 1960s. Prosperity appeared durable. Hopes for social justice, raised at the Liberation just two decades earlier, had shaped a generation now coming of age. The struggle over the Algerian War had awakened consciences and politicized young people on a moral basis of justice to Third World peoples. When the opportunity arose, people of all sorts, across all of France, took advantage of the opening to demand justice, individual justice and social justice. Student protests lit the match.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fifth Republic II, 1969–95

Frontmatter

Chapter 25. Pompidou’s and Giscard’s Presidencies, 1969–81: May’s Aftershocks and the End of the Trente Glorieuses

The 1970s marked a turning point for France as for the West as a whole. With the oil crisis of 1973, three decades of post-war prosperity – the trente glorieuses – came to an end. Economic growth ceased abruptly and never resumed its previous levels. Despite highs up to 4 per cent in the late 1980s and again around 2000, the average annual rise in GDP would remain under 2 per cent for the rest of the twentieth century and under 1 per cent from 1996 to 2016, compared to an average of 5.4 per cent from 1949 to 1974. From the 1970s, wages and salaries began to decline and unemployment to increase; the trend toward equality was reversed. This was a sea change, though at the time it was thought a temporary aberration. The aftershocks of May ’68 continued, with contradictory effects. On the one hand, until the economic crisis began to bite, worker ‘insubordination’ and student protest continued, especially in secondary schools, and, in the longer term, second-wave feminism and gay rights were born in May and in its aftermath of ‘insubordination’ and protest.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 26. Mitterrand’s Presidency, 1981–88: ‘Socialist France’?

‘The Bastille falls again’, ran Le Monde’s headline following the second-round vote on Sunday, 10 May 1981. After results were announced, a huge crowd celebrated at the Place de la Bastille. ‘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. Mitterrand was in touch with youth, with immigrants, with all who desired a more just society. The Common Programme and the nationalizations guaranteed his good faith in seeking to rebuild society, to create ‘Socialist France’. Mitterrand, however, came to power just as the modernist dream of a society of plenty evaporated. By the early 1980s, the Western world was in deep recession. In this context, it proved impossible for a medium-sized country to implement the reforms to which Mitterrand was committed and, as in 1936, the markets soon forced a turnaround on these policies.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 27. Mitterrand’s Presidency, 1988–95: Stalemate

Mitterrand’s second term set a record. No French leader since Napoleon III had remained 14 years in office. But France seemed bereft of direction. The heroic Mitterrand of the Common Programme gave way to the cynical tactician, leaving France adrift. Having been forced to reverse his key policies, he would not allow Rocard or Chirac to lead France into neo-liberalism. The result was stalemate. Michel Rocard was the clear favourite for Prime Minister among Socialists and in public opinion. An Enarque and a technocrat in the line of Mendès France, Rocard was one of a small number of left politicians who openly favoured neo-liberal reforms. He had been Mitterrand’s only rival since he joined the PS. A journalist called their relationship The Tranquil Hatred.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 28. Culture after ’68: Conflicting Trends

The quarter-century following 1968 saw the beginnings of a shift from social concern to a preoccupation with self, which coincided with a shift from optimism to pessimism. These shifts began with the defeat of May ’68. After the oil crisis of 1973, expectations of continued social and material progress began to decline. Mitterrand’s victory seemed to reconnect France to the hopes of the Liberation and thus masked the new reality by giving France a short-lived climate of optimism, culturally as well as politically, but by the mid-1980s pessimism was again on the rise. This shifting climate gave rise to conflicting trends. Post-modernism contributed to new approaches to gender issues, which fostered the development of queer theory. At the same time, however, thinkers on the left such as Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Badiou turned their backs on post-modernism, while on the right ‘new philosophers’ such as André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy reinvigorated the French counter-revolutionary tradition. Literature produced new genres, from which would emerge the dominant trends of the fin de siècle. These genres, however, failed to capture the national imagination.
Charles Sowerwine

The Fifth Republic III, 1995–2017

Frontmatter

Chapter 29. Chirac’s Presidency, 1995–2002: From Juppé to Jospin

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. ‘Solidarity’ gave way to pension cuts, which unleashed the greatest strike wave since 1968, widely construed as a rejection of neo-liberalism. This reduced the government’s margin of manoeuvre in the face of the emerging liberal, globalized world economy and weakened Chirac’s presidency. The Maastricht criteria and the euro further reduced the government’s ability to influence the economy.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 30. Chirac’s Presidency, 2002–07: Sarkozy Rising

the issues raised by le pen’s electoral success caused a continuing malaise. the iraq war and the october 2005 banlieue riots kept the muslim spectre on the front pages and led to a resurgence of racism, adding to an emerging crisis of confidence in france and french values – what the political scientist vincent tiberj called france’s crispation (tensing up). and the economy remained sluggish. when, in 2007, chirac left office after 12 years, french gdp had slowed to an average growth rate of 1.9 per cent annually.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 31. Sarkozy’s Presidency, 2007–12: Neo-Liberalism and the GFC

Éric Besson’s jibe, that Sarkozy was ‘an American neo-conservative with a French passport’, was wide of the mark. By American standards, Sarkozy was hardly conservative. He recognized the threat of climate change and he maintained the French welfare system. Culturally, however, he was of the right and his quest for support from the far right led him to policies bordering on racism. Economically, he was the most radical neo-liberal to take power in French history until Emmanuel Macron won the 2017 presidential elections. His presidency confirmed the UMP’s turn from Gaullism to neo-liberalism. Sarkozy’s neo-liberal plans, however, were derailed by the Global Financial Crisis of 2007–08 (GFC or Great Recession), his flamboyant personal life, his aggressive postures and his links to the super-rich.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 32. Hollande’s Presidency, 2012–17:Socialism or Neo-Liberalism?

Hollande, everyone thought, had been elected as a true Socialist, to stand up to the EU, to maintain welfare and services and to ensure the wealthy paid their share of tax. But his policies shifted quickly towards neo-liberalism and the austerity policies associated with it. These apparent reversals seemed to betray all his promises. His sensational private life added to voter disappointment and he soon became the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic. Within five years, the Socialist Party was in ruins and France changed course dramatically. Hollande appointed as Prime Minister an old-school Socialist, Jean-Marc Ayrault. From a humble working-class background, Ayrault was active as a youth in rural social Catholic movements and followed Mitterrand into socialism. He appointed women and men in equal numbers, establishing a tradition of parity-based cabinets. He appointed Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (born in Morocco) as Minister for Women’s Rights with full cabinet status for the first time since 1986. She proved a dynamic minister. Her law for ‘Generalization of Parity’ (4 Aug. 2014) extended the principle of parity to all levels of French life: sporting clubs and federations, professional associations, mutual associations, et cetera.
Charles Sowerwine

Chapter 33. Racism, Pessimism, Despair:A Culture for the Twenty-First Century

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the French mood began to darken. The title of a best-selling 2007 book caught the public imagination – La France est foutue (France Is Stuffed) – although the book actually argued that France could be saved by a radical embrace of neo-liberalism. Cultural production increasingly shared this dark mood. Pessimistic, narcissistic fiction became a major aspect of literature, while escape from a bleak mood drove cinema. Other modes of cultural production were affected in different ways, but pessimism remained the dominant mood. It compounded the disenchantment that followed the failure of governments to respond effectively to the prolonged slump following the GFC and thus helped open the door to Macron’s election in 2017.
Charles Sowerwine
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