CASE STUDY: FRANCE—CONSENSUS AND COLLUSION
The situation of nineteenth-century France, structurally characteristic of ‘modernizing’ societies today—the disproportionately large rural population, the traditional power and prestige of the state, the social dislocation created by capitalist development—also demonstrates the condition of economic-political incompatibility, and the resulting efforts at accommodation (collusion), followed by recurring, and symbolically significant, instances of corruption.
In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century France, as in modernizing societies today, the perverse impact of corruption was, however, offset to a varying extent by normative strengths in society. The ‘republican virtues’ of individual freedom, equality, tolerance, and civic consciousness reflected the rise to power of civilian politicians (supplanting the aristocracy and the military), of lay professionals (repudiating the influence of the Church), and more broadly of a financial, industrial and commercial middle class, partly collaborating with and partly opposed to provincial small-town society and the mass of land-holding peasants. Similar ‘virtues’ characteristically express the views—and reflect the interests—of the emerging middle class in developing countries today.
But in early twentieth century France, despite the consolidation of republican institutions, there occurred a more or less catastrophic erosion of civic virtues in the context of an increasingly polarized society. Externally, the enormous toll of World War I exhausted a generation of French people; internally the collusive power of capitalists and conservative politicians blocked any serious implementation of much-needed social reforms. Paradoxically, during this period, the dynamic sector of the economy was held back from developing the resources and expanding the wealth of the country by the political and social pull of backward or static small-town France.