THE FIFTH REPUBLIC AT TWENTY by William G. & Stanley Hoffman--Eds. Andrews


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With the French Fifth Republic's Constitution a virtual tour de force by its founder, de Gaulle, the question was, after the General, what? Now that de Gaulle's been gone for a while, and the Fifth Republic is still around, 25 American and French scholars and writers focus on what kind of shape it's in, and what changes have occurred over its life-span. Michel DebrÉ, a Gaullist who had a major role in creating the Constitution, leads off with the view that the main objective of the Fifth Republic's early years was to establish the ""legitimacy"" of the French state and its institutions: the Presidency, elected by universal suffrage; the National Assembly, elected separately; and the Government, headed by a Prime Minister chosen by the President, but based on a majority of the Assembly. DebrÉ thinks the main job has been done, though he decries the shift toward an institutionally more powerful President (none of whom, however, could be more powerful than de Gaulle was in practice). If ""legitimacy"" is changed to ""stability,"" then the rest of the contributors would agree, though for varying reasons. William Sconfeld (UC Irvine) takes the position that Gaullism has survived its period out of power (since the election of Giscard) and that Chirac's Rassemblement is a Gauliist mass movement. Peter Gourevitch (UC San Diego), on the other hand, writes of ""Gaullism Abandoned,"" seeing the Gaullist project as suitable only under conditions of crisis; the general's heirs, Gourevitch maintains, have shifted their emphasis from modernization, under the control of a new elite, to reliance on traditional elites and preservation of the new status quo. Similarly, Stephen S. Cohen argues that Gaullism was a creature of the postwar economic boom and oriented toward modernization, both of which are over; and so too, he thinks, is Gaullism. But Gaullism's survival through transformation--or, alternatively, its demise and replacement--are not the only perceived sources of the Fifth Republic's continued stability. Mark Kesselman (Columbia), Frank Wilson, and Georges Lavau all stress the absorption of the Left into the structure of the Republic, either through its acceptance of an Oppositional stance or through its fragmentation into a party satisfied with local power (the Communists) and one which seeks to succeed Gaullism as a ruling force (the Socialists). The extent of the existent stability is also captured by Ezra N. Suleiman (Princeton), who shows that talk about decentralizing power is just talk: the growing importance of the administrative elite--Socialists prominent among them--ensures that no actual reforms will be instituted. As always, there is a fascinating lack of fit between French rhetoric and practice, so these essays, on the political structure, are supplemented by others on the economy and foreign policy--along with a nasty put-down of cultural trends by French sociologist Michel Crozier. Taken together, this collection provides a solid, up-to-date summary of the condition of France's public life.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: State Univ. of New York Press