The Long Presidency: France in the Mitterrand Years, 1981-1995

The Long Presidency: France in the Mitterrand Years, 1981-1995

The Long Presidency: France in the Mitterrand Years, 1981-1995

The Long Presidency: France in the Mitterrand Years, 1981-1995


In this informed & balanced treatment of recent French history, Julius Friend analyzes the changes, successes, & failures in the long & checkered record of former French president Francois Mitterrand. Extensive interviews with French politicians & intellectuals complement Friend's original research.


The story of François Mitterrand's two seven-year terms is one of rapid reversals of fortune, beginning with the triumphant and unexpected elections of the president and a Socialist parliamentary majority, then a brief honeymoon spent in intoxicated self-assurance. There followed economic difficulties, which forced retreat from original Socialist party principles. Unacknowledged at first, then admitted, retreat undermined popular confidence in the president and government, engendering confusion about their real policy and doubts of their competence.

Entering into power after twenty-three years of Gaullist and post-Gaullist rule in the Fifth Republic, the Left had believed, in the rhetoric of Culture Minister Jack Lang, that it had crossed "the frontier that separates the light from darkness." For the French Socialists and the adherents of the Left in general, a new age had begun. For the defeated Right, an age had ended. Said former interior minister Michel Poniatowski: "The trouble-makers of 1968 are in power."

It is easy enough, years after a political event, to scoff at the rhetoric of winners and losers. At the difficult end of the twentieth century it is harder to transport ourselves back to the time of unprecedented growth and understand the mind-set and the assumptions of both Right and Left in 1981. The period in France improperly baptized the "Trente Glorieuses" -- the Thirty Glorious Years -- had ended with the oil shock of 1974. Both Left and Right denied that anything but a short interruption of prosperity had occurred. They could not know that enormous changes in the economic nature of society were nearly upon them, changes that would strip the nation-state dear to all the French of much of its economic sovereignty and would impose revision of a welfare state built up since World War II by Left and Right.

In 1981, both camps intended to continue on the course on which the events of May 1968 had launched them. The Right wished to pursue a dirigiste capitalism, tempered by a need for social policy. The Left demonized the Right, denied its social achievements, and promised great results from a radical policy of mixed Keynesianism and socialist nationalization.

Did the years 1981-1983 see the end of socialism à la franαçaise? The failures in those years were of the inflated hopes and ill-adapted policies that carried the Socialists into office. The rhetoric of rupture -- a break with capitalism -- vanished . . .

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