The Government of France

By E. Drexel Godfrey | Go to book overview
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is gingerly beginning the process of re-aligning its basic political sympathies, and of testing new systems of government that will give expression to these sympathies. The outcome of this period of experimentation and change is difficult to predict, and the general lines of any new synthesis that emerges may not be clear for some time. Hence, we shall concentrate in this chapter on those forms, patterns and habits of the parties and of the party system that still have life today and have such deep roots that they cannot be safely overlooked by those planning for the future.


The Parties and Ideology

Frenchmen, as we have seen in previous chapters, tend to wear their political and philosophical beliefs on their sleeves. By seeking to identify themselves with special political creeds they are striving to embrace consistent systems of thought which both rationalize their own behavior in everyday life and suggest personal objectives for the future. In a very real sense, therefore, ideological parties fill a strong need in French life. Some have been organized to embody the emotions and idealism emanating from a great moment in French history, others to preserve the ideas of some respected figure long since dead, still others to serve the interests of what is regarded as a precise and homogeneous class in French society -- distinct from all other classes. The consequences of this particularistic division of party groupings are often startling. Thus, the staid and rather timid Socialists, now composed predominantly of government bureaucrats, wave the red flag of proletarian revolution and chant the Internationale with as much gusto as the Communists. They claim their party is the direct heir of the early French Socialist Party, a section of the Second Workers International which employed these same symbolic devices, and from which the Communists departed forty years ago, illegally misappropriating for their own use the badges of the true faith when they left. The ideologues of the Catholic MRP (Mouvement Républicain Populaire) insist on counting amongst the inspirers of their party the most liberal Catholic writers of the last half century, yet it is common knowledge that the views of these writers are shared by only a small fraction of the party following and a mere handful of its elected deputies. The Communists, for their part, associate their party with a myriad of historical events antedating the Leninist revolution in Russia, and claim as their forebears the same pantheon of im

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