Courtesy Reuters

The Future of Representative Democracy in France

THE French people have now chosen the 586 members of the Assembly which is to draft a new constitution for France. The form of that constitution will in large part settle the course and fate of French representative democracy and will foreshadow, in turn, the trend of events in many other European countries.

Representative democracy has never worked smoothly in France. This new constitution will be the fourteenth since the French Revolution. Each constitution reflected the public opinion then prevailing, and although economic and social problems grew in importance during the nineteenth century, and were the paramount issues in 1848, the chief conflicts of that century centered around the fight between authority and liberty -- around the questions of political and civil freedoms, a more liberal enfranchisement, and relationships between the State and the Church.

Under the Constitution of 1875 France experienced a magnificent colonial expansion, steadily improved living standards and industrial equipment, acquired a leadership in letters and arts, knew the glory and exhaustion of the First World War -- in which, at Verdun, she played the rôle that England took during the blitz -- and met, finally, the disaster of 1940. From 1870 to 1940, 106 different Cabinets governed the country, with an average life of eight months each; only eight Cabinets lasted more than two years, only ten more than one year. There were 31 that did not last three months. It may be noted that this ministerial instability was not a phenomenon of the postwar period; President MacMahon had presided over ten Cabinets, Grévy over twelve, Carnot over ten. The situation did become worse after 1919, however. President Doumergue cheerfully solved 15 political crises, and President Lebrun, with less cheerfulness and more austerity, struggled with 17. President Roosevelt pointed out to General de Gaulle that it had sometimes been difficult for him to remember who was head of the French Government. What was really new after the First World War, however, was that instability was no longer accepted as a natural element of the political game,

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