The Right in France, 1890-1919: Three Studies

The Right in France, 1890-1919: Three Studies

The Right in France, 1890-1919: Three Studies

The Right in France, 1890-1919: Three Studies

Excerpt

After 1877 the Right in France was excluded from effective political power. In the 1890's the rise of an organized socialist movement limited further the Right's freedom of manœuvre. Boulanger had been the last political figure to unite, although with difficulty, both Left and Right in protest against the Centre. The three studies in this volume are designed to illustrate the reaction of the Right to this new situation.

The dilemma that faced the adherents of the Right can be stated simply: if they indulged to the full their political preferences they could not but aid the subversion of the social and economic order that they wished to preserve; yet the preservation of that order seemed, at least in the period before the First World War, to entail supporting a political regime that they detested. In this situation they had to choose between parliamentary co-operation with the Centre and attempts to change the regime, whether violently by a coup, or legally by exploiting an issue that might win a popular majority. There were few on the Right who made a choice and consistently maintained it. For one thing conditions changed; more right-wing politicians would have been prepared to stake their future on anti-parliamentarism in 1899 than two years previously. Yet even the right-wing Nationalists at the height of their successes were still anxious to maintain their contacts with the Centre.

The behaviour of the politicians of the Right in this dilemma resembled that of the Left. On both sides principles were compromised to avert a greater evil. On both sides divisions opened between men inclined to compromise and those who were more fundamentalist. On the Left Millerand raised an issue by joining Waldeck-Rousseau's cabinet; on the Right the question was whether to vote for a government that included no politician of the Right. That this was, in one form or another, a constant problem for the Right should come as little surprise. There was a natural temptation to hedge the bet; revisionist candidates in 1889 could claim that they wished only to maintain the existing order, and the careful behaviour of Nationalist politicians in Paris after 1900 contrasts strongly with the antics of Déroulède. Furthermore circumstances could alter political dispositions and make intransigents of compromisers; Jacques Piou, the supple parliamentary strategist of the Ralliement in the early 1890's, was forced at times into rigid opposition by the anticlerical outburst that followed the Dreyfus Affair. The nature of the men on the Right and the . . .

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