This book has a large but limited theme: the parliamentary machinery of the Fourth Republic and the combinations of men who operate or obstruct it. It describes each of the principal parties and political institutions of the country, and analyses the working of the parliamentary system as a whole. Many important and interesting subjects have had to be omitted. Administration, justice, and 'France overseas' fall outside its scope. Institutions not mentioned in the constitution are not discussed; those which are mentioned, but which do not impinge on domestic politics, receive only the briefest notice. The social and philosophical background is not treated; significant and revealing episodes like the worker-priest movement, or the protest against the Rosenberg executions, find no place. The influence of press and army, universities and trade unions, is touched on only incidentally. Problems of policy are mentioned only when necessary to explain their impact on institutions or parties.
The period covered is approximately the term of office of the first President of the Fourth Republic, from the beginning of 1947 to the end of 1953; but it cannot be made intelligible without much discussion of the preceding years. The period has been regarded as a whole; for example more space has been devoted to the R.P.F. than to its rivals, in spite of its present decline. A volcano remains interesting when the eruption is over.
The sources most likely to be available in Britain have been quoted wherever possible.
In one important respect the French practice has been followed. In writing about politics, the British academic tradition is one of complete detachment: the French (despite state control of the universities) are less concerned to avoid the appearance of taking sides. There is much to be said for both approaches: there is nothing to be said for professing one and practising the other. Bias is dangerous only when it is concealed--or unconscious. In studying French affairs I have tried to appreciate all points of view; but I have neither found it possible, nor felt it desirable to avoid acquiring preferences and prejudices. The reader is, therefore, entitled to know my political standpoint, which is that of a supporter of the moderate wing of the Labour party.
My principal debt of gratitude is to the Warden and Fellows of Nuffield College, Oxford, both for making it possible for this book to be written and for much encouragement and stimulus in the writing of it. Mr. David Butler and Mr. Asa Briggs read the manuscript and gave much helpful advice and criticism in the formative stages, as did M. Jean Blondel and Mr. J. W. Saxe later; and I am also most grateful to Mr. Butler for advice about the diagrams, and to the draughtsman for . . .