In any volume examining the relationship between democratic practice and differing theories of democracy, and the ways in which these can contribute to our understanding of democratization as a process, France merits a special place.
It is now two hundred years since the revolutionary turbulence of the years between 1789 and 1794 secured her decisive break with Absolutism and then unleashed Napoleon’s armies across the length and breadth of Europe, redrawing the boundaries of states in their wake and recasting institutions in the name of the Revolution’s ideals of citizenship and nationhood. Yet the pre-eminence of France’s contribution to the emergence then of modern democratic politics has contrasted strikingly, and unhappily, with the chequered history of successive attempts by the French in the course of these two centuries to secure a stable institutional framework in which to practise democracy themselves. Thus in the summer of 1958, when a revolt by a section of France’s armed forces in the cause of L’Algérie française triggered yet another regime crisis, the French found themselves embarking on their twentieth constitutional experiment since 1789 (Duhamel 1991:6-8).
This chapter will explore the dynamics of institutional change under the new Republic that was established with de Gaulle’s return to power, and will examine the relationship between the initial constitutional settlement and the distinctive patterns of democratic practice that have subsequently developed over this thirty-five year period.