The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power

By Roger Price | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Creating the conditions for prosperity

INTRODUCTION

Napoleon III assumed that, along with the restoration of public order and the promotion of moral order, prosperity would provide the means of ensuring social harmony. The Emperor's economic advisor, Michel Chevalier, closely reflected his master's views in a pamphlet published in 1853: 'One of the essential conditions for the stability of the state and society is growing social wealth, so that the objects and services which respond to the various human needs increase more rapidly than the population, and each individual is able to gain a better return for his work, and as a result enjoy improved nourishment, better clothing, and warmer, more brightly lit and better-furnished homes. '1 Indeed, in establishing the level of the public works budget Rouher in 1856 insisted on the threefold objectives of satisfying the 'legitimate' demands of numerous communities, supporting entrepreneurial activity, and providing employment.2 The Emperor also believed that economic modernisation was essential to the survival of France as a great power. He was determined to emulate Britain, the model of a modern society and a country he knew well and admired. Together with some of his closest advisors he shared a progressivist and nationalistic ideology, which ascribed a positive economic role to the state. The rapid completion of the primary rail network and the programme of urban reconstruction were the clearly defined objectives of an Emperor determined to launch and to sustain his regime on a wave of prosperity. Amongst historians a relatively positive view of the regime's economic achievements has emerged since the pioneering studies of railway construction by Marcel Blanchard in the 1930s and Louis Girard's massive volume on public works published in

____________________
1
Quoted Caron, La France, p. 37.
2
Ministère de l'agriculture, du commerce et des travaux publics, Rapport 'a Sa Majesté l'Empereur, 30 Nov. 1856, ANF14/8508A.

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