De Gaulle's Republic

De Gaulle's Republic

De Gaulle's Republic

De Gaulle's Republic

Excerpt

The Fourth Republic was conceived on 21 October 1945, when Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen, voting for the first time) were called to the polls by General de Gaulle. They had first to elect a new Assembly, and secondly to decide whether a new constitution should be drafted or the old one restored. Out of an electorate of twenty-five million, nineteen million voted; fewer than 700,000 favoured a return to the pre-war Third Republic.

Thirteen years later its successor was no less unanimously condemned. In the referendum of 28 September 1958, four voters out of five accepted the constitution of the Fifth Republic; but the spokesmen of the minority had all insisted that their opposition to the new system implied no approval of the old one, which most of them had indeed criticized throughout its brief existence.

Few good words are said today for the Fourth Republic, least of all in France. Yet the nation's prospects in 1958 were far better than in 1989. Then the country was ending a century of decline. Her birth-rate had touched bottom; her industry, coddled by protection and riddled by class war, lagged far behind her rivals; her standard of living was low, her social legislation backward, her armed forces far inferior to those of the Reich; her foreign policy was bitterly disputed between those who were content for her to remain a British satellite and those who preferred German (or Russian) leadership.

In 1958 France presented a very different picture. Her birth-rate since the war had been the highest for a century; the new generation, coming to maturity in the 1960s, was bound to prove a force for change--if not necessarily for progress. Industry was booming; the heavy investments of the immediate post-war years were at last bringing results.

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