Decline or Renewal? France since the 1930s

Decline or Renewal? France since the 1930s

Decline or Renewal? France since the 1930s

Decline or Renewal? France since the 1930s

Excerpt

Old France, worn down by history, bruised by wars and revolutions, going back and forth endlessly from grandeur to decline, but restored from century to century by the genius of renewal.

-- DE GAULLE, War Memoirs

The essays collected in this volume have been written over a period of eighteen years. Some of them were written for this book. The others, published earlier in either English or French, have been revised, often quite drastically, to become part of a coherent volume. In all of them, I try to answer one underlying question: what has been happening in the French political community since the 1930s? How has France been affected by the winds of change? Have they blown away the cozy society that emerged from the French Revolution, the parliamentary regime which in the early years of this century seemed to have brought stability at last to French political institutions, and France's age-old great-power status? Are the spectacular transformations of France's economic and social system, her constitutional order, and her role in the world a successful response to a formidable challenge, or a brave but ultimately doomed fight against internal paralysis and external decline?

This question is examined here from four different angles. First, from the sinister viewpoint of the war years. The tragi-comedy of the Vichy regime and the drama of French collaboration with Nazi Germany showed France at her nadir. Yet only if one examines Vichy's contradictions -- caught as it was between its frantic desire to protect an obsolescent society by means of reactionary institutions, and its deadly dependence on the good will of the occupying power -- can one understand fully France's postwar drive for modernization and independence. Nor can one otherwise explain the continuing reluctance of the French body politic to acknowledge its temporary acquiescence of a generation ago to Pétain's reassuring delusions. The nostalgia for a simpler past and de facto acceptance of a minor-power . . .

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