To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic

To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic

To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic

To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic

Synopsis

France's Third Republic confronts historians and political scientists with what seems a paradox: it is at once France's most long-lived experiment with republicanism and a regime remembered primarily for chronic instability and spectacular scandal. From its founding in the wake of France's humiliation at the hands of Prussia to its collapse in the face of the Nazi Blitzkrieg, the Third Republic struggled to consolidate the often contradictory impulses of the French revolutionary tradition into a set of stable democratic institutions. To Be a Citizen is not an institutional history of the regime, but an exploration of the political culture gradually formed by the moderate republicans who steered it. In James R. Lehning's view, that culture was forced to reconcile conflicting views of the degree of citizen participation a republican form of government should embrace. The moderate republicans called upon the entire nation to act as citizens of the Republic even as they limited the ability of many, including women, Catholics, and immigrants, to assume this identity and to participate in political life. This participation, based on universal male suffrage alone, was at odds with the notion of universal citizenship-the tradition of direct democracy as expressed in 1789, 1793, 1830, and 1848. Lehning examines a series of events and issues that reveal both the tensions within the republican tradition and the regime's success. It forged a political culture that supported the moderate republican synthesis and blunted the ideal of direct democracy. To Be a Citizen not only does much to illuminate an important chapter in the history of modern France, but also helps the reader understand the dilemmas that arise as political elites attempt to accommodate a range of citizens within ostensibly democratic systems.

Excerpt

Completion of this manuscript in autumn 2000 by a coincidence was counterpointed by the American presidential election. With remarkable precision Al Gore, George W. Bush, and many other Americans reproduced the arguments of many of the subjects of this book, French men and women who lived in the 1870s and 1880s, expressing the conviction that little squares of paper (or punched cards) provide a unique means of representation. In the following pages, I argue that the attempts by the founding leaders of the Third Republic to establish a political system in which voting by adult males would take precedence over all other forms of expression by citizens meant not only a narrowing of forms of representation in republican political culture but also the marginalization or elimination from the republican political landscape of some claimants to citizenship. But this process was contested, and the qualities of “citizens” therefore became a focal point for the attempts of the Third Republicans to create a stable democracy.

This book began in 1989 when, with an extra week on my hands before my return flight from Paris, I decided to read newspaper accounts of the funeral of Léon Gambetta. In the decade since then, I have acquired numerous debts that have allowed me to complete it. The University of Utah supported this project through a series of grants and leaves: University Research Committee grants in 1995 and 1999 allowed research in France; a faculty fellowship in 1995 provided released time from teaching responsibilities, as did a College of Humanities research assignment in 1996.

Friends and colleagues have also provided vital support in my writing of this book. Gay L. Gullickson, Carol Harrison, and Megan Armstrong read versions of the entire manuscript and were helpful in their comments. Discussions of various aspects of this book with Anand Yang, Esther Rashkin, Faith Childress, Eric Hinderaker, Rebecca Horn, Susie Porter, Peter Von Sivers, Laura Mayhall, Judith Stone, Dave Mickelsen, and Ray Gunn also . . .

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