Regeneration through Empire: French Pronatalists and Colonial Settlement in the Third Republic

Regeneration through Empire: French Pronatalists and Colonial Settlement in the Third Republic

Regeneration through Empire: French Pronatalists and Colonial Settlement in the Third Republic

Regeneration through Empire: French Pronatalists and Colonial Settlement in the Third Republic

Synopsis

Following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71, French patriots feared that their country was in danger of becoming a second-rate power in Europe. Decreasing birth rates had largely slowed French population growth, and the country’s population was not keeping pace with that of its European neighbors. To regain its standing in the European world, France set its sights on building a vast colonial empire while simultaneously developing a policy of pronatalism to reverse these demographic trends. Though representing distinct political movements, colonial supporters and pronatalist organizations were born of the same crisis and reflected similar anxieties concerning France’s trajectory and position in the world. Regeneration through Empire explores the intersection between colonial lobbyists and pronatalists in France’s Third Republic. Margaret Cook Andersen argues that as the pronatalist movement became more organized at the end of the nineteenth century, pronatalists increasingly understood their demographic crisis in terms that transcended the boundaries of the metropole and began to position the French empire, specifically its colonial holdings in North Africa and Madagascar, as a key component in the nation’s regeneration. Drawing on an array of primary sources from French archives, Regeneration through Empire is the first book to analyze the relationship between depopulation and imperialism.

Excerpt

The race is hardly responsible for French depopulation
because, far away from the metropole and the artificial
influence of civilization and customs, French people
once again become prolific.

—CHARLES RAISIN, La dépopulation
de la France
, 1900

French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War was swift; in less than two months of war, enemy troops had encircled Paris, captured the emperor Napoleon III, and left the government of the Second Empire discredited. This humiliating defeat in 1870 resulted in the unification of Germany, the loss of Alsace and Lorraine, the establishment of France’s Third Republic, and fears that France was on the brink of becoming a second-rate power in Europe. The crisis that gave birth to the Third Republic would influence its political history throughout its existence; in the immediate aftermath of the war, patriotic French men and women turned their attention to their empire, the declining birthrate in France, and the comparative demographic strengths of rival powers in Europe.

It was therefore in the early Third Republic that Malthusian arguments in favor of fertility restraint were eclipsed by the growing belief that victory over Germany in the next war would require a higher birthrate. This conviction was shaped by statistical studies revealing the relatively slow growth of the French population over the . . .

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