Crisis and Renewal in France, 1918-1962

Crisis and Renewal in France, 1918-1962

Crisis and Renewal in France, 1918-1962

Crisis and Renewal in France, 1918-1962


Since 1914, the French state has faced a succession of daunting and at times almost insurmountable crises. The turbulent decades from 1914 to 1969 witnessed near-defeat in 1914, economic and political crisis in 1926, radical political polarization in the 1930s, military conquest in 1940, the deep division of France during the Nazi Occupation, political reconstruction after 1944, de-colonization (with threatening civil war provoked by the Algerian crisis), and dramatic postwar modernization. However, this tumultuous period was not marked just by crises but also by tremendous change. Economic, social and political "modernization" transformed France in the twentieth century, restoring its confidence and its influence as a leader in global economic and political affairs. This combination of crises and renewal has received surprisingly little attention in recent years.

The present collection show-cases significant new scholarship, reflecting greater access to French archival sources, and focuses on the role of crises in fostering modernization in areas covering politics, economics, women, diplomacy and war.


Kenneth Mouré and Martin S. Alexander

The story line in Charles de Gaulle’s War Memoirs traces a pattern recurrent in French political history. The crises of defeat and German occupation in The Call to Honor lead to a gathering of French resources to combat the forces of occupation in his second volume, Unity. The third volume, Salvation, brings liberation and victory, followed almost inevitably by discord, disunion, and de Gaulle’s departure from politics. On his final page, writing from self-appointed political retreat in Colombey, de Gaulle evoked the fundamental lessons of nature that gained in significance as he grew older. He likened the return of spring, the everrecurring return of light and life to a cold and darkened world, to his own life and hopes, and to France itself, “weighed down with history, prostrated by wars and revolutions, endlessly vacillating from greatness to decline, but revived, century after century, by the genius of renewal!” De Gaulle returned to active politics before the volume appeared in print, and his engineering of the Fifth Republic produced a political renewal to parallel the French economic miracle that reached fruition in the 1960s.

France takes pride in a revolutionary tradition that has made of French experience an exceptional model for political modernization; exceptional in rendering French experience exemplary, rather than unique and separate. If for more than a century after the Revolution, France experienced unusual political instability that demonstrated a “uniquely revolution-prone political culture,” the political

Notes for this chapter begin on page 13.

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