5. the Political Context of the Modernization Debate

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How does one connect the requisites for social, economic and organizational change with political change? There is a growing literature that addresses the dynamics of change within the French electorate. The main thrust of this analysis is to underscore the growing disaffection of the French electorate with traditional French political institutions, but there is a remaining attachment to the constitution of the Fifth Republic. (1)

The growing shifts in French public opinion provided the basis for a potential shift in the French party system and structures. For example, in an August 1994 issue of Le Point a comparison was made of French voting behavior in the 1989 and 1994 elections for the European parliament. The electorate committed to "institutional France" declined from 27.8 percent to 18.6 percent and overall the willingness to protest grew. More than 50 percent of the electorate abstained, and more than two- thirds of those who did vote cast their support outside of the traditional party candidates (figure 6).

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One analyst underscored that the French electorate increasingly believes that the French polity does not direct and control the economic fate of France. (2) The emergence of such a belief within the electorate provides the basis for a shift in judgment about the role of the state and its rightful functions. These shifts in public opinion, however, provide only the potential basis for shifts in how France is governed and how the French plutocracy operates. (3) Current political trends indicate there are four broad alternatives emerging in the French political modernization debate. (4)

* Rejection of France's "overemphasis" upon the need to compete in the world at large. Here an emphasis is placed on French values and the French way of life. Closing the doors to immigration and a rejection of European integration are key issues in defining this French position. The state would play a key role in guiding a paternalistic reaction to the pressures from global interdependence.

* Emphasize a key role for the state in guiding France forward into a new and more competitive situation. Here the key tension would be between the paternalistic role of the state in guiding reform and the need to reduce the stranglehold which Paris and the national state have upon French society. (5)

* Emphasize incremental reform of the role of the state and its management of social and economic change. Gradually, the role of the state would be diminished vis-a-vis the society and economy. But there would be no decisive effort to draw upon political forces to reconstruct the political system to change decisively how the French economy and society operates. (6)

* Emphasize the need to reconstruct in a fundamental way the operation of French society and the economy. Here the disaffection of the French public with French institutions would be drawn upon in an effort to reconstruct the political system. A new political center would be created by drawing upon disaffected members of the left and the right. A socially responsible state would remain but the level of intervention in the economy and society would be drastically reduced. …