Nationhood and Nationalism in France: From Boulangism to the Great War, 1889-1918

Nationhood and Nationalism in France: From Boulangism to the Great War, 1889-1918

Nationhood and Nationalism in France: From Boulangism to the Great War, 1889-1918

Nationhood and Nationalism in France: From Boulangism to the Great War, 1889-1918

Synopsis

Leading international historians examine the impact of nationhood and nationalism on French life. World-renowned contributors (many publishing for the first time in English), include Eugene Weber, Zeev Sternill, Pierre Sorlin and Jean-Claude Allain.

Excerpt

The theme of ‘nation’ has been central in French political thought and practice since the revolution. For the revolutionaries, the nation replaced the king as the source of political legitimacy; the will of the nation was the justification for their acts. From the beginning, this concept was a domestic political weapon and so it always remained: opponents were attacked as enemies of the nation. The revolutionary wars brought out xenophobic aspects, exalting the uniqueness of the French nation as the embodiment of progress, and justifying its conquests as acts of liberation. The return of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814 and again in 1815 ‘in the baggage train of the Allies’ renewed the domestic political potency of the national theme, by associating the ultraroyalist party with the nation’s foreign enemies. Moreover, as Eugen Weber recalls below, aristocrats were alleged to be descendants of the conquering Franks who had for centuries oppressed the Gauls. Hence the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy in 1830 was hailed as a ‘national revolution’ and revenge for Waterloo.

Throughout the next two decades the national theme continued to be played in many contexts—for example, hostility to foreign goods or foreign workers could be justified as the defence of le travail national against the depredations of the English or the Jews—but was always founded on the assertion that the true interests of the nation were being neglected or betrayed by decadent anti-national elements within the body politic, and by governments that were toadying to these or to foreign pressures. During the 1840s, the most vehement accusers were Bonapartists, left-wing liberals (the Centre-Gauche and Gauche Dynastique groups), republicans and socialists, and their principal targets were the bourgeoisie—caricatured as ‘les satisfaits’, ‘les ventrus’, ‘gros, gras et bêtes’—and the ‘bourgeois monarchy’ of Louis Philippe. They were endlessly accused of creating an atomized and decadent society by putting selfish material interests before the honour and greatness of the nation and its historic mission: in Michelet’s words, ‘c’est l’égoisme pur du calculateur sans patrie’. ‘We shall first bring down the enemy within, and then we shall deal with the enemies without,’ wrote a liberal in 1840, encapsulating the classic nationalist programme. The supporters of these attacks were broadly speaking the whole political left (though often echoed by the legitimist right), but with different degrees of virulence between the parliamentary opposition such as Thiers, Tocqueville, or Barrot, and

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