The Government of France

By E. Drexel Godfrey | Go to book overview

keeps moving toward a solution of the Algerian war. Moreover, many Frenchmen have lived for some years with the fear that the army might at any moment take matters into its own hands and seize control of the government with disastrous consequences for France. Finally, in the more articulate circles a sense of urgency about the rush of events has developed: many fear that outside elements -- the Communists, the allies of France, the United Nations -- by intervening in Algeria might suddenly force drastic changes on the polity of France, and that President de Gaulle would be unhorsed and his "great experiment" discredited in the process. The future is obscure to all, frightening to many, and the general realization that things cannot remain as they are provides a frenetic background for the day-to-day operations of government.

Under these circumstances it is difficult to make confident judgments about the effectiveness and the vitality of the Fifth Republic. It may be appropriate, however, to speculate on the present course of the government and to offer some generalizations on the impact which the Gaullist experience is having on the French political consciousness. Any such discussion must consider both the possibility that the Algerian problem will be resolved in such a way that minimum damage is done to all the participants involved, as well as the grim prospect that de Gaulle will fail and that his regime will either deteriorate steadily or be brutally deposed. Because de Gaulle is, after all, mortal -- despite the mystique surrounding his person -- a brief examination of the viability of the institutions of the Fifth Republic without its linchpin must be attempted.

In its more than two years of life the Fifth Republic has plunged erratically through a number of crises that would have easily capsized any of its predecessors. Its leader has thereby earned a reputation for toughness, agility, and even political shrewdness. De Gaulle's survival was made possible, however, only at the cost of damage to his own public image and the erosion of traditional French sensitivities to deflation of democratic values. The president, who had a well developed sense of the style and technique of leadership when he took office, preferred to use his own personal talents to surmount political difficulties and overcome stubborn opposition to the regime, rather than to make the machinery of the new constitution more flexible and the workings of the new governmental institutions more palatable. At the same time he did not hesitate to recommend on short notice drastic constitutional changes as a means of legitimatizing

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