France's New Deal: From the Thirties to the Postwar Era

France's New Deal: From the Thirties to the Postwar Era

France's New Deal: From the Thirties to the Postwar Era

France's New Deal: From the Thirties to the Postwar Era


France's New Deal is an in-depth and important look at the remaking of the French state after World War II, a time when the nation was endowed with brand-new institutions for managing its economy and culture. Yet, as Philip Nord reveals, the significant process of state rebuilding did not begin at the Liberation. Rather, it got started earlier, in the waning years of the Third Republic and under the Vichy regime. Tracking the nation's evolution from the 1930s through the postwar years, Nord describes how a variety of political actors--socialists, Christian democrats, technocrats, and Gaullists--had a hand in the construction of modern France.

Nord examines the French development of economic planning and a cradle-to-grave social security system; and he explores the nationalization of radio, the creation of a national cinema, and the funding of regional theaters. Nord shows that many of the policymakers of the Liberation era had also served under the Vichy regime, and that a number of postwar institutions and policies were actually holdovers from the Vichy era--minus the authoritarianism and racism of those years. From this perspective, the French state after the war was neither entirely new nor purely social-democratic in inspiration. The state's complex political pedigree appealed to a range of constituencies and made possible the building of a wide base of support that remained in place for decades to come.

A nuanced perspective on the French state's postwar origins, France's New Deal chronicles how one modern nation came into being.


France’s Fourth Republic (1946–1958) has an unhappy reputation, and it is not hard to see why. High hopes for a new constitutional order at the Liberation were disappointed. General Charles de Gaulle, who presided over France’s postwar Provisional Government, wanted a break with the parliamentary ways of the old Third Republic, favoring instead the creation of a strong, presidentialist regime. The parties of the Left, however, the Socialists and Communists, suspected the general of authoritarian designs and maneuvered to stymie his plans with a double consequence. First, the constitutional overhaul dreamed of by so many résistants never took place. The Fourth Republic, like the Third, would be dominated by parliament. And second, all the political infighting prompted de Gaulle himself to withdraw from public life in January 1946, Gaullist loyalists becoming in subsequent years among the most vocal opponents of the institutions of the new regime.

The Left in turn was fractured by the onset of the Cold War. The Communists had played a role in government coalitions in the early postwar years but were driven out of office in 1947. They too as a result became staunch enemies of the parliamentary status quo. The regime thus found itself beset on all sides, and it became ever more difficult to construct stable parliamentary majorities. Prime ministers now came and went with the same velocity as in the bad old days of the unmourned Third Republic.

The return of prosperity in the fifties buoyed the Fourth Republic for a period but not enough to carry it through the crises of decolo-

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