The Government of France

By E. Drexel Godfrey | Go to book overview
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ernment service, and powerful control bodies, still modeled after Napoleonic originals, exercise enormous authority over the entire apparatus and provide a sense of unity. The highest nonpolitical officers of the state have been described as "mandarins who employ their encyclopedic knowledge of the inner workings of the intricate French bureaucratic machinery to insure themselves unlimited, if anonymous power." There is some truth to this. Few private individuals could ever hope to comprehend the complexities of French administration, the various parts of which have taken form at different historical periods in response to particular requirements, each developing distinctive patterns and procedures of its own.

Political leaders, who normally head government ministries, have in general not survived long enough as ministers to acquaint themselves with the mysteries even of their own departments. Very few have had the occasion to probe the great bureaucratic bastions of the judicial system or one of the formidable administrative control bodies, such as the Council of State, whose functions will be considered below. Perhaps the only outsider who might hope to approach a true appreciation of the labyrinthine world of the French state would be a lawyer with long service both as a national deputy and as a local official in his provincial city. Unless, however, his career had been quite an extraordinarily broad one, even he could barely scratch the surface. Curiously enough, the extensive apparatus of the national government, the multitude of civil servants, and even the impressive arbitrary powers which the state exercises, are more or less taken for granted by the highly individualistic Frenchman. He finds it most difficult to understand our federal system with its parallel levels of government, autonomous state administrations, and the overlapping jurisdiction of dissimilar judicial systems. But to say that the French find a unitary apparatus of the state a logically obvious and familiar arrangement tells one very little about their deeper feelings toward the bureaucracy. Indeed the average Frenchman's attitude toward the state, its mysterious authority, and its servants is a curious mixture of resignation, contempt, and envy. For the most part he regards himself as a perpetual loser in a lifelong struggle with authority and its spokesmen. The advantages, he feels, are all on the side of the bureaucrat, but the bureaucrat's actions, in turn, are tightly restricted and controlled by an exacting network of regulations and codes.

The French civil servant is sheltered by the fact that he can only narrowly interpret the regulations which define his func

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