The Political Role of the Military: An International Handbook

By Constantine P. Danopoulos; Cynthia Watson | Go to book overview

FRANCE

Michel Louis Martin

In any social system, the inherent structural tension between the managers of armed violence, who as such participate from the very essence of the state, and political authorities responsible for its administration is most of the time accentuated by the contrasting evolution of the respective systems of values from which the society and the military proceed. Rarely synchronous, these norms, as well as the conducts and loyalties they induce, seem from the point of view of the military either in advance of or lagging with respect to those of the parent social system. France does not escape this tendency, when it is not the very illustration of it, where continuously the armed forces have served as refuge to partisans of ideas and beliefs more or less in opposition to civilian authorities and the society. Thus, throughout the Ancien Régime for example, royal troops appeared to welcome members of the nobility often nostalgic for the Middle Ages and the modes of social organization they implied. Without thinking to question the Capetian legitimacy, they more or less consciously felt somewhat at variance with the policies of modern state-building undertaken by the absolute monarchy. By contrast, after the Revolution and during the first half of the nineteenth century, armed forces were viewed under the Empire, and more so under the Restoration and the July Monarchy, as strongly attached to republican principles; the police were concerned at the time with watching officers closely, as many a potential plotter attested to the threat they posed for the established order. Then, by a characteristic turnabout, under the Second Empire and the Third Republic, the military was again perceived as more conservative, as the institutional niche for men out of the aristocracy, or pretending so, who embraced the career of arms as a way of serving their country without compromising themselves with the regime. After World War II and with the progressive advent of a wide-enough consensus in French society around a few political, economic, and social values, the role of the armed forces as a place of opposition in the name of ideas formerly in vogue and now questioned fades away. It

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