WITH the results of the latest French elections fresh in mind, but without going into detail about them, I should like to discuss here the conditions in which the French people vote and their underlying concept of government. International opinion--and American opinion in particular--is always interested in what is happening in France since she is one of the cornerstones of the European structure. Moreover, the presence of France in North Africa could not be ended without grave peril to Western civilization. In addition, the question is often asked how it happens that a people held to be so intelligent govern themselves so badly. French politics always seem something of an enigma. Why should they be so incomprehensible to foreigners, especially to Americans? First, because Europe is not America--and though this fact is obvious, it must be stated at the very start. Secondly, because a "parliamentary régime" is not a "presidential régime" and the difference lends itself to a host of misunderstandings when comparisons are drawn or interpretations attempted. Finally, because France is France, the prisoner of a long past through which she has evolved in a political climate peculiarly her own.
Thus, while the elections of January 2, 1956, can be explained in part by current circumstances, they cannot be fully understood unless one keeps in mind certain constants which manifest themselves regularly from one election to another, regardless of the specific issues raised or the parties involved. Changeable as she seems, France is actually one of the most stable countries in the world in reactions and basic tendencies, so much so that some persons even reproach her for this at the very moment when her superficial instability is giving cause for grave concern.
It must always be remembered that the Frenchman, the man in the street as well as the intellectual, is above all an individualist. But, it may be argued, there are individualists everywhere; this is scarcely a Gallic monopoly. The answer is that the individualism of the
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