Front Page Titles (by Subject) FRANCE - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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FRANCE - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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land and history
Among the countries in which popular government prevails, France is in two respects unique. She adopted democracy by a swift and sudden stroke, without the long and gradual preparation through which the United States and Switzerland and England passed, springing almost at one bound out of absolute monarchy into the complete political equality of all citizens. And France did this not merely because the rule of the people was deemed the completest remedy for pressing evils, nor because other kinds of government had been tried and found wanting, but also in deference to General abstract principles which were taken for self-evident truths. Frenchmen have always shown, along with their gift for generalizing, an enjoyment of and a faith in general theories beyond that of the other free peoples. Thus the philosophical student of human institutions who desires to test political principles by their results finds a peculiar interest in examining the politics of France, for it is there, even more than in America, that the doctrines on which democracy is founded have told most upon the national mind, and been most frequently pushed to their logical conclusions. The history of the three Republics that have successively arisen since 1792 covers only sixty years in all. But within that space of time France has passed through many phases and tried many experiments. There has been much brilliant oratory, and endless political ingenuity. No period in history throws more light not only on the contrasts of theory with practice, but upon the tendencies which move and direct human society.
As the student of the contemporary politics of a country must everywhere try to understand the conditions, natural and historical, amid which the form of government was established and is being now worked, so nowhere is such knowledge more essential than when one comes to speak of France. We shall see that Nature has given her many things favourable to material prosperity and to immunity from external attack, while the course of her history has produced economic and social conditions which have profoundly influenced her political development.
Let us begin by glancing briefly at the physical features of the country, and then examine more at length the historical antecedents which still affect the State and its government.
France is naturally the richest of European countries, with everything needed to secure the well-being of an industrious people.1 Nearly all the soil is available for cultivation, or for pasture, or for the growth of timber. There is plenty of coal and iron, chiefly in the north-east, fisheries on the coasts, a climate eminently fitted for cereals in the north and centre, and for vines in the centre and south, as well as for fruits and other less important agricultural products. The country is washed by three seas, giving admirable facilities for commerce, and is guarded on the south and south-east by lofty mountains difficult to traverse. Only the north-eastern land frontier is exposed to attack and has most frequently suffered from it. The compactness of its territory, traversed by no ranges high enough to interfere with free communication, made Gaul appear to be one country even in the days of Julius Caesar, and has enabled its people to attain, despite differences of racial origin which survive in differences of language, a more complete national unity than exists in Germany or Italy or Spain.2
The wealth derived from the soil and from the industrious habits of the people gave France in the Middle Ages a place in commercial development hardly second to that of Italy. Prosperity brought in its train comforts and luxuries beyond those of her Teutonic neighbours to the north and east. She rivalled Lombardy and Tuscany in the skill and taste of her artificers, qualities which have been so well maintained that she continues to be the purveyor for the whole world of articles of beauty. The arable and vine or fruitgrowing regions, well suited for petite culture, are very largely in the hands of small landowners, and both these and the tenant farmers have formed habits of thrift by which the pecuniary resources of the nation have been increased and pauperism kept within narrow limits. Though a large manufacturing population has sprung up in the mining districts and great cities, the bulk of the nation is still agricultural, with the solid qualities and conservative instincts which everywhere belong to that class. A larger proportion of the total wealth of the country is to be found in the hands of men with small incomes than in any other great European or American country.
Long as France has obeyed one government, there are marked differences between the races that compose the nation — Teutonic Flemings in the north-east with other Teutons on the eastern border, a strong infusion of Norse blood in Normandy, pure Celts still speaking a Celtic tongue in Brittany, Iberian and possibly Ligurian elements in the south. These differences, however, which are as marked as those between the races that inhabit the British Isles, cause no political dissensions, serving rather to give variety, and the richness that comes from the presence of diverse elements, to the people as a whole. This variety, noteworthy in the literature of France, is no less evident in French politics. Her statesmen show several types of character, two of which are especially conspicuous, the man of the north or east, and the man of the south — the former more measured and cautious, the latter more impulsive and brilliant. These differences, however conspicuous in their extreme forms, are less significant than the intellectual character and habits of feeling and acting which have now come to belong to the nation as a whole: quickness of intelligence, a gift for oratory and a sense of style, together with a susceptibility to emotion not incompatible with shrewdness and a conservative prudence in affairs. It was the French love of knowledge and aptness for speculation that made the schools of Paris foremost among the great universities of the Middle Ages, and led mediaeval writers to place in France the local home of Learning (Studium), as they assigned Priesthood (Sacerdotium) to the Italians and Imperium to the Germans.1
In outlining the events and conditions that led up to the Revolution of 1789, when France made her first plunge into democracy, we need go no further back than the days of Louis the Fourteenth. Before the end of his reign France, already long conscious of her national unity, was thoroughly consolidated, and had become the most powerful as well as the most intellectually polished country in Europe, with by far the most brilliant court. Religious uniformity had been secured by the persecution or expulsion of the Calvinist Huguenots. Representative institutions had died out, for the ancient States-General had not met since 1614. As Louis himself said, the King was the State. No one talked of Liberty.
The seventy years that followed brought no changes in the constitution, but a complete change in opinion and sentiment. Protestantism did not revive, but scepticism spread widely among the educated classes, and affected even the clergy. The despotic system of government began to be freely criticized, especially after Montesquieu had pointed to English institutions as fit to be imitated. It was ultimately discredited, first by the scandals of the court of Louis XV. And the careers of his successive ministers, then by the growing disorder of the finances. Liberal opinions became fashionable. After the influence of the American Revolution, to which France lent her aid in 1778, had begun to tell on Europe, they spread further and found fuller literary expression. The ancient monarchy, supported by the old noblesse, seemed to stand much as it had stood some centuries before, when feudalism was still a reality, but three changes of the utmost importance had in fact come to pass. One was the loss by the nobles of their local administrative powers and functions. These had been absorbed by the Crown, which ruled the country by a King's Council in Versailles, the most important member whereof was the Comptroller in whose hands all financial affairs lay, and by Intendants, officials administering the provinces under the royal direction. The great landowners, having lost political power and administrative functions, retained over the peasantry feudal rights, which exposed them to the hatred of that class, a large part of which, though still liable to the old imposts and exactions, were even then owners of the soil they tilled. There was in the rural districts little of a middle class between nobles and peasants. The bourgeoisie were socially separated from the nobility, but less sharply from the classes below them, though the richer sort looked down upon the peasants whom they sometimes exploited, and who repaid them with suspicious dislike. It was the upper bourgeoisie, and especially the professional class among them, that supplied to the Crown its civil officials (other, of course, than the Court officials), so they managed to acquire plenty of real power and relieved their class from a good deal of taxation. Being by their attainments, their intellectual activity, and their education fully equal to the nobles, they felt their social disparagement all the more acutely. Thus in 1789 three political facts of the greatest moment had come into existence: (1) the centralization of all administrative as well as legislative authority in the King and his ministers, with a complete control of provincial as well as national affairs; (2) the arbitrary power of the Administration over the individual subject, who had no constitutional guarantees against its exercise; and (3) the antagonism of the richer and the poorer classes — contempt of the nobles for the bourgeois, contempt of the bourgeois for the peasantry, a dislike of the peasant and the workman for all who stood above them in the social scale. There was little local self-government either to draw the inhabitants of a district together into common work, or to accustom them to the exercise of a limited and subordinate executive power.
Then came the First Revolution, the great and terrible, yet beneficent, revolution. It swept away the feudal rights of the nobles, never to reappear. It overthrew, and for a time proscribed, the Church, abolished all titles and other distinctions of rank, and divided France into new administrative areas — the modern departments — cutting across and extinguishing the local life, enfeebled as it was, which had belonged to the old provinces.
In the seven turbulent years that succeeded the fall of the monarchy in 1792 there were, along with much destruction, some efforts, hasty and crude, to remodel the old or create new institutions. Systematic reconstruction came with Bonaparte, under whose strong hand a well-planned administration was erected on the foundations of the old régime, the centralization of power being retained and rendered more efficient, while the arbitrary power of the Crown, or its servants, was replaced by a law simplified and reduced to uniformity which, though it emanated from an autocracy, recognized rights substantially the same for all subjects. The old Conseil du Roi became the Conseil d'État, the old provincial Intendant was turned into the Prefect of the department, taking his orders from the central government and carrying them out with the same free hand as before.
When the Bourbon dynasty was re-established in 1814, the centralized administration and its arbitrary powers remained, and these have continued, though latterly somewhat reduced, down to the present day. This limited and quasi-constitutional monarchy of the Restoration was overthrown in July 1830 by the Second Revolution, the work of Paris rather than of France, which set up the monarchy of the House of Orleans, more constitutionally liberal than its predecessor, but on a narrow electoral basis. Its overthrow in 1848 by another Parisian insurrection — the Third Revolution — brought in the Second Republic, which proclaimed universal suffrage, but itself perished at the hands of its President, who had been elected in December 1848 by an enormous popular vote, before there had been time either to create local self-government or to provide guarantees for the freedom of the citizens. That President, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who by the “plebiscite” of 1851 got his Presidential power prolonged for ten years, succeeded by a second popular vote in turning it into the Second Bonapartean Empire, which was to be hereditary in his family. After he had been taken prisoner by the German army at Sedan in the war of 1870, a Republic, the Third, was hastily proclaimed by the legislative body then in existence. This fourth revolution expressed the feelings of Paris, but it was not made by the French people. In the following year a new Assembly, elected by universal suffrage in order to conclude peace, named Adolphe Thiers as “Chief of the Executive Power of the French Republic.” 1
Through these three monarchies, from 1814 to 1870, the centralized administration, as reconstructed by Napoleon, continued to exist, with the same autocratic powers. But the spirit of the First Revolution (1789–99) persisted in large sections of the urban population, and after 1830 its tendencies became more socialistic and aggressive. They burst into flame in the insurrection of the Commune of Paris in 1871, just after the Germans had evacuated the city.2
The nomination of Thiers was, and was understood to be, a purely provisional arrangement, and it hardly ceased to be so when the Assembly shortly afterwards elected him to be “President of the Republic.” He did what he could, against the resistance of the monarchical majority in the Assembly, to secure the establishment of a republican form of government, and was aided by the successes of the Republicans at the elections that took place from time to time to fill vacancies in the Assembly. But the majority was still Monarchist, and its displeasure at his policy led them to overthrow him in 1873. He was replaced by Marshal MacMahon, a Bonapartist soldier who had joined the supporters of the ancient Bourbon dynasty. Every one felt that a permanent constitution ought to be enacted, but the divisions of opinion offered great obstacles. Among the Monarchists there were three parties. The Legitimists, adherents of the Count de Chambord (grandson of King Charles X.), who represented the elder branch of the House of Bourbon, were supported by the Church. The Orleanists pressed the claims of the Count of Paris, the grandson of King Louis Philippe, who, having in 1830 received the crown by a vote of the Assembly, had not asserted a title to rule by hereditary right. The Bonapartists sought to revive the Second Empire in the person of Louis Napoleon's son. These three sections, constituting the majority of the Chamber, had combined to displace Thiers. But, apart from the personal jealousies that divided both them and the claimants they strove for, they represented different schools of political doctrine and purpose. The Orleanists were less reactionary and clerical than the Legitimists, the Bonapartists held to the Napoleonic tradition. Each pursued its own aims. A reconciliation was at last effected between the Count de Chambord, who was childless, and the Count of Paris, the latter waiving his claim since he became next in succession, but the former's subsequent refusal to accept the tricolor as the national flag, and his accompanying declaration of his extreme Divine Right principles, destroyed the chance of a Restoration. As was said at the time, “he lost the Crown of France for the sake of a bit of calico.” 1
Accordingly the Republicans prevailed through the dissensions of their adversaries. A republican Constitution was adopted in 1875, the decisive vote being carried by a majority of one, on an amendment to give to the head of the executive the title of “President of the Republic.” The Monarchist parties did not, however, abandon hope. President MacMahon, who had accepted in March 1876 a Moderate Republican (Left Centre) Ministry, was induced in 1877 to dismiss it and summon some of the leading reactionaries to form another. These bold men dissolved the Chamber, and ejected a large part of the administrative staff throughout the country, substituting their own partisans, but though prefects imposed restrictions on the press, putting more than the usual official pressure upon the electors, a large Republican majority was nevertheless returned. The President, an honest man and loyal to the Constitution, refused to attempt a coup d'état, and after an attempt to hold on with a new Monarchist Ministry, called back the Moderate Republicans to form an administration. Fourteen months later the elections to the Senate having given a Republican majority in that body, he resigned office, and an eminent lawyer and politician, Jules Grévy, was chosen by the Chambers to fill his place.
Since the Constitution of 1875 was established, there has been no attempt to upset it by force. The Royalists, partly owing to their own divisions, partly through their bhmdering tactics, and partly also because the children of the Count of Paris were not attractive figures, lost ground in the country and in both Chambers. The death of Louis Napoleon's son (in the Zulu War of 1879) destroyed the hopes of the Bonapartists.
Twice, however, has the republican form of government been threatened. At the elections of 1885 several causes had been tending to weaken the advanced Republican party, whose leaders formed the Ministry then in power. Grambetta, their strongest man, had died in 1882. They were broken into two sections, and lost seats in consequence. President Grévy, discredited by the corrupt practices of his son-in-law Wilson, resigned the presidency in 1887. A party of discontent, not professedly Monarchist but aided by Monarchist funds, had grown up, and was advocating a revision of the Constitution for the purpose of strengthening the executive power. It attached itself to a showy but essentially mediocre personality, General Boulanger, who had obtained some notoriety as Minister of War. Originally put forward by the Radical Republicans, he gained the support of the Clericals and of all who for various reasons disliked the parliamentary system, and during a few months was a public danger, for his adherents had, by carrying him as a candidate for the Chamber at a succession of by-elections in the more conservative parts of the country, made him seem a popular favourite. He even captured a seat in Paris.1 Ultimately, however, a vigorous Minister got rid of him by procuring his arraignment before the Senate sitting as a High Court of Justice. Knowing that it would condemn him, he fled to Belgium, and shortly afterwards killed himself. But it was a narrow escape for the Republic, since he seems, hoping for the support of the army, to have contemplated a coup d'état.
A few years later (1899—1902) the nation appeared to be drifting towards civil war. There had been for some time a notable revival of clerical activity, especially on the part of the religious Orders, for most of the parish clergy remained quiet. Pilgrimages were in fashion. A violent anti-Semitic agitation which had been originally directed against the great financial interests presently passed into politics. The Panama scandals, in which some Jewish financiers had played a part and some Republican deputies were involved, had shaken public confidence in the Chamber.
In 1894 a Jewish officer, Captain Dreyfus, was sentenced by court-martial to imprisonment for life on a charge of espionage and sent to Cayenne. In 1896 the question of his innocence was raised, and after a time became a political issue which convulsed France, the church and the army holding Dreyfus to be guilty, while the Republicans, though many at first hesitated, ultimately espoused his cause. He was pardoned by the President in 1899, and subsequently acquitted by the highest court after a civil trial. Excitement had by this time subsided. Though there had been no armed conflict, a bitterness of feeling had been disclosed afresh which seemed to imperil the stability of the Republic. In reviving the so-called “Nationalist” antagonism to the Parliamentary system, and in exasperating the anti-clerical Republicans, it led to the legislation disestablishing the Roman Catholic Church which, passed in 1902–5, was put into effect in 1906–7, encountering less resistance and creating less disorder than had been feared.
From the time when the restoration of the old monarchy ceased, because it had become hopeless, to be a real political issue, the relations of the Church to the State were the chief source of discord in France and made that discord passionate. The Church, which was exerting all its strength against the Republican party when Gambetta in 1877 uttered his famous phrase “Clericalism is the foe,” continued monarchist at heart, and the more extreme Republicans regarded counterattacks as the most effective form of defence. Education was the chief battle-ground, till the law of 1882, which made it compulsory, entrusted the elementary schools to lay teachers. Subsequently the Teaching Orders were dissolved by law. The course of the conflict was affected by the policy of the Vatican. Pope Leo XIII., fearing for the fortunes of the Church, counselled a conciliatory attitude as early as 1885, and in 1892 directed good Catholics to support the existing régime, observing that “on any theory the civil power is of God.” Many Monarchists obeyed, but anti-Semitism and the Dreyfus troubles accentuated the antagonism, and it has continued to persist.1
In another way also religion and the Church told upon politics. When the risk of a monarchical restoration had disappeared, the Republican groups who had been united to oppose it began to fall apart. The more conservative section, described as the Left Centre, disapproving, some from religious feeling, some from policy, of the campaign against the Church, drew off from the larger and more advanced division of the party. Their numbers continued to dwindle as time went on, while opinions of a socialistic type more and more prevailed in the urban electorate. Divisions among the Republicans continued to increase as the chances of a monarchical restoration diminished, yet fear of the clergy sufficed to make the dominant sections hold together against the Church upon the main issues.
In the evolution of opinion towards more advanced views, and also as a result of the growth of manufacturing industry and consequent increase of a working-class population, a new school of thought and a new political party arose which became a significant factor, especially after the defeat of the Clericals left it more free to play for its own hand against the Republican parties which it had been supporting. Theories of the reconstruction of society on a communistic basis were scarcely heard of in the First Revolution, nearly all of whose leaders came from the bourgeoisie, and did not question the rights of property.2 But at the Revolution of 1830 a Socialist party appeared among the working people, not definitely separating itself from other Republicans, but seeking to use a democratic republic as an engine for economic change.
In 1848, when the Third Revolution overthrew the Orleans monarchy, doctrines of this type had spread widely, and the subsequent Parisian insurrection of June in that year was largely the work of Socialists. The same element appeared again in the revolt of the Parisian Commune against the Assembly of 1871, though the direct aim of the Communards was not so much economic as the setting up of a practically independent local authority for Paris. Thereafter Socialist opinions continued to grow, and although the party was frequently rent by disputes, its sections often drew together again, and came to constitute a body powerful not only by its numbers but by its disciplined cohesion. They have succeeded in obtaining from the Chambers much of the legislation they desire. Though their voting strength comes from the wage-earning masses, most of their leaders belong to the bourgeois class and are highly educated men. They would constitute an even stronger force in politics but for the fact that the agricultural peasantry compose the majority of the French electorate, own the land, and have every motive for maintaining the right of private property.
The General course of French political development from 1789 till 1900 cannot be more tersely stated than in the words following, which I quote from the valuable book of M. Seignobos1 (vol. i. of English translation, p. 224):
The political development of the nineteenth century has been a series of ebbs and flows, but the tendency has been towards Republicanism. By repeated seizures of the government and an agitation more and more effective, the democratic Republicans have finally conquered France.
But the revolutions have been directed only to the structure of the central government and the possession of power. The social organization and the administrative mechanism have been preserved without serious change.
The democratic social organization, free from clerical control, established by the Revolution, was acceptable to the Republicans, and sufficiently popular to escape attack. The monarchical governments tried indirectly to revive the influence of the great landowners, the middle class, and the clergy, but they did not touch any of the social institutions — peasant proprietorship, equal division of inheritances, civil equality, eligibility for public office without distinctions of birth, exclusion of clerical control: France has steadily preserved the social system of the Revolution.
The centralized and bureaucratic administrative system has also remained nearly intact. All the parties, when in opposition, have declared it to be oppressive, but, on attaining office, have preserved it as an instrument of power. Of the older Imperial régime France still retains:
(a) The central administration with its ministers, the departmental administration with its prefects and sub-prefects, and its control over the communes;
(b) The judicial organization with its body of court counsellors and its permanent judges, with its Ministry of Justice composed of advocates and prosecuting attorneys, with its antiquated and formal civil procedure and its secret inquisitorial criminal procedure, with the Napoleonic code almost unchanged (the granting of divorce is only a return to an institution taken away in 1815).
The survey I have given (necessarily brief and imperfect) of the conditions under which democracy was born in France, amid which it developed, and from which it has taken its colour, brings us to the point at which we may attempt to summarize the salient economic facts and the most potent intellectual and moral influences that were affecting the political life of the nation when the storm of war broke suddenly upon it in 1914. These conditions were:
(a) In the economic sphere:
In most parts of the country the land was in the hands of peasants who owned the soil they were tilling, who were intensely attached to its possession, and who shared with most (though not all) of the bourgeoisie an almost timorous conservatism.
Over against these conservative classes stood an industrial element, greatly increased during the last two generations, both in cities and in mining areas, which was largely permeated by socialistic ideas.
(b) In the governmental sphere:
Executive power remained highly centralized. The hand of the administration in Paris was felt everywhere. Local authorities had far narrower functions than in Britain or the United States, and the old provincial feeling which had given a certain local political and social life to the ancient divisions of the country, had, except in a few regions, almost disappeared, not having transferred itself to the Departments, artificial creations of the First Revolution.
(c) In the social sphere:
The influence of the old territorial aristocracy had vanished, except in the West, and over most of the country the poorer classes were permeated by jealousy and suspicion towards the landowners.
The old antagonism to the bourgeoisie of the poorer class, and especially of the town workers, continued, and had in many places become stronger with the growth of Socialism.
The tradition of the First Revolution remained strong in a section of the bourgeoisie as well as in a much larger section of the masses, and was ready to break out when passion ran high, but the habit of resorting to force had declined as the practice of constitutional government became familiar, for there was now a prospect of winning by peaceful means what in the older generation had been sought by street émeutes and barricades. Paris, always the mother of revolutions, lost its predominance, and could no longer force the pace for the nation. Few of those who had fought for the Commune in 1871 remained to revive the angry memories of that day. A new danger was, however, revealed in the more frequent resort to strikes on a large scale, accompanied by maltreatment of non-strikers and the destruction of property. The disposition to obey public authority was still strong in the population generally. The coexistence of this submissiveness with a proneness to violence, which, if noticeable chiefly in the less-educated class, is not confined to them, remains one of the curious phenomena of French character.1
Religious bitterness is intense. It is as strong in the enemies as in the friends of the Church, and is prone to express itself in petty persecutions which perpetuate themselves by creating fresh resentments.
Through all these changes of government and various forms of strife the French nation has remained intensely patriotic, united, when everything else tended to divide it, by its pride in France and its love of the sacred soil. It clung to the hope of recovering the provinces lost in 1871, and with scarcely a murmur accepted heavy taxation for military and naval purposes. It had become more pacific in sentiment towards the end of last century, and less was being heard of Alsace and Lorraine, when the aggressive attitude of its mighty eastern neighbour revived its martial spirit. Self-confidence had returned before the fateful day when that spirit came to be tested.
We may now proceed to examine the Constitution and government of the country, which have altered little in form, though considerably in methods, since 1875.
the frame of government: president and senate
The Constitution of the French Republic is a Rigid one, distinguished from other laws by the fact that it is not changeable by ordinary legislation, but only by a special method to be hereafter described. In this it differs from the constitutions of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, for in all these countries the laws which regulate the structure and powers of government are not marked off from other statutes. It is not, however, set forth in a single instrument like the Rigid or Written Constitutions of the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, but is contained in three Constitutional Laws.
One of these (Feb. 1875), assuming the President of the Republic as an official then existing under a law of 1873, enacts the method of electing him and his functions, and the mode of amending the Constitution. Two others of 1875 (one since partially repealed) deal with the legislature and the relations of the public powers, while two amending laws of 1884 introduce certain changes. The result of these enactments taken together is to create a legislature consisting of two Houses, a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies, who have the power (a) of electing, in joint session of both Houses, by an absolute majority, the President of the Republic, and (b) of changing the Constitutional Laws, not by the ordinary action of the legislature in each Chamber, but when sitting together in one body as a National Assembly. To enable them so to meet, each Chamber must have separately, either on its own motion or at the request of the President, declared, by an absolute majority, the need for a revision of those laws.1 A later Constitutional Law (1884) provides that “the principle of the government cannot be the object of a proposal of revision.” 1
The provisions of the Constitution need not be set out in detail here, since they will appear in the description (to be hereafter given) of the Executive and Legislative organs. It is only matters relating to the structure and functions of the government that are dealt with in the Constitutional Laws. There are no broad declaration of political principles, such as appeared in the many earlier Constitutions of France,2 no restrictions on the action of the legislature, nothing like what Americans call a Bill of Rights, guaranteeing those elementary and inherent rights of the individual which no power in the State is permitted to infringe. Taken together, these Constitutional Laws constitute the shortest and simplest, the most practical and the least rhetorical, instrument of government that has ever been enacted in France. Moreover — and this is a point of special interest to those who insist upon the sovereignty of the People — the National Assembly which passed these enactments in 1875 had received no mandate or commission from the French electorate to do so. It had been elected hastily, during the continuance of the war of 1870–71, in order to create an authority legally capable of making peace with Germany. As there did not then exist any authority competent to prescribe a suffrage for the election, recourse was had to the suffrage established during the Second Republic (1848–1852) which had been overthrown by Louis Napoleon. Neither this Assembly of 1871 nor any subsequent legislature has ever submitted for approval by a vote of the people the Constitutional Laws of 1875, and the question of so submitting them has been seldom raised, no one knowing what the result of a submission might be.
These features of the existing Constitution were due to those political conditions of 1875 which have been already described. In the one-chambered Legislature of that time the deputies who favoured a monarchical government and who had been hurriedly elected under the pressure of a terrible war, held a majority, but they were divided into three groups, Legitimists, Orleanists, and Bonapartists, corresponding to the three monarchies that had ruled in France; and each of these groups distrusted the others. Thus while the Republicans, though divided internally, were able to work together for some sort of republic, whatever character might subsequently be given to it, the Monarchist groups, each attached to one of several persons whose claims seemed irreconcilable, failed at the most critical moments to combine, and so drifted into a Republic which none of them desired. No party in the Chamber was strong enough to get all that it wanted: each had to consent to a compromise which it meant to be purely provisional. The more advanced Republicans acquiesced in a conservative Republic because they expected to change it in a radical direction. The Monarchists acquiesced in a seven-year Presidency, called a Republic, because they hoped thereafter to turn the President into a King or an Emperor.
The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years by the two Chambers of the legislature meeting in joint session.1 He is re-eligible for any number of terms. He is the head of the Executive Government, and has therewith:
The duty of executing the laws and power of proclaiming a state of siege.
The supreme control of the Army and Navy.
The conduct of foreign policy, through his right of negotiating treaties. Some of these, however, require legislative sanction, and he cannot declare war without the consent of the Legislature.
The power of appointing to all civil and military posts.
The power to pardon offences.
The function of representing the nation at all public ceremonies, and of presiding over them.
The right, concurrently with members of the Chambers, of proposing laws.
The power, with the consent of the Senate, of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies.
The power to summon the Chambers to meet in extraordinary session, and invite them to proceed, in joint session, to a revision of the Constitutional Laws.
The right of addressing messages to the Chambers. He cannot address them in person. Thiers had done so, but the Assembly, fearing the influence of his oratory, forbade this, and the prohibition has not been removed.
The power to adjourn the Chambers for a month, but not more than twice within the same session.
The power to require the Chambers to deliberate afresh upon a law they have passed. He has no veto.
All these powers, except of course those of a ceremonial nature, are exercised by or through his ministers, by one of whom every one of his acts must be countersigned. He is personally irresponsible and not legally removable by a vote of the Chambers, though they can practically make it difficult for him to retain office. But the Chamber of Deputies may accuse him of high treason, in which case he would be tried by the Senate, and would, if convicted, be deposed from office. Responsibility for executive acts done rests with his ministers, and it is to the Chambers, not to him, that they are responsible.
The position of the President in France is therefore entirely unlike that of the President of the United States. As the latter's title to power comes direct from the people who have elected him, he is independent of the legislature, and able to resist it. His ministers are his servants, responsible to and dismissible by him, and not responsible to Congress. Neither does the President of the Swiss Confederation come into comparison, for he is merely the Chairman of an Executive Council of seven ministers, with no more power than his colleagues. The real parallel is to be found in the Constitutional king of such countries as Italy, Britain, Holland, or Norway. In these countries the King reigns but does not govern, being the titular head of the State in whose name executive acts are done, while it is his ministers who are in fact responsible for them to the sovereign legislature. The French President is thus a monarch elected for seven years, but a monarch who has great dignity with slight responsibility and hardly any personal power. Of several rights vested in him little use has been made. Messages are rarely sent, not even at the opening and closing of a Parliamentary session. Only once has the Chamber been dissolved before the end of its natural term. The right of proroguing for a month has never been exercised, nor has that of calling on the Chambers to reconsider a Bill.
Two functions, however, there are, one of which he must fulfil without the intervention of his ministers, and the other of which has to be exercised upon the ministers themselves. The first is the selection of the person who is to be commissioned to form a ministry. When a Cabinet is defeated in the legislature and resigns, it is the President's duty to invite a leading deputy or senator to form a new administration. Custom prescribes that the President should first consult the President of the Senate and the President of the Chamber, because the aim in view is to secure a Prime Minister whom the legislature will be likely to support, and the chairmen of the two Houses are the persons best qualified to advise him on that subject. Heads of “groups,” as well as other politicians of less mark, frequently call upon him to proffer their advice, but he need not regard it.
As regards the composition of the ministry his rights are less clear. There is nothing to prevent him from advising the person whom he selects to be President of the Council (Prime Minister) as to the men who are more or less fit, or unfit, to be invited to join the Cabinet; but, on the other hand, there is nothing to oblige the incoming Prime Minister to follow the advice given. As a rule, the President interferes very little, and he is certainly not held responsible for the structure of the ministry. The procedure is much the same as that followed in similar cases in England, where the Sovereign usually confines himself to sending for the statesman whom he asks to form the Government, though it sometimes happens that he expresses a wish that some particular person should be included. The matter is simpler in England, where there have been, till recently, only two great parties, so that when a ministry containing the leaders of one of these has been overset, the choice of the Crown naturally falls on the leader (or one among the leaders) of the other; whereas in France there are in the Chamber many parties or groups, sometimes of nearly equal strength, and none commanding a majority of the whole body.
The other function of the President is that of advising his ministers in their conduct of public business. Being legally entitled to call for information as to all that passes in every public department, and especially in that of foreign affairs, he is able to advise, and has opportunities of expressing to his ministers his view on any subject. He thus holds a position between that of the British King, who reigns but does not govern, and that of the American President, who governs as well as reigns, but only for four years. There are two kinds of Ministerial meetings. One is the Cabinet Council (Conseil de Cabinet) held usually once a week, with the Prime Minister in the chair, to consider questions of current policy. It is like a British Cabinet. The other is the Council of Ministers (Conseil des Ministres), usually held twice or thrice a week with the President of the Republic in the chair. In it large political questions, including (besides matters purely formal) the measures needed to carry out the decisions of the Cabinet Council, are debated and determined. It is like an American Cabinet, save that in the latter the President can do what he likes, his Ministers being merely his confidential advisers.
What is the exact amount of power or influence which a French President exerts is an arcanum imperii which constitutional usage forbids either him or his ministers to disclose. The personal character of a President, his intellectual gifts, experience, and force of will make a difference in each particular case. Walter Bagehot, the most penetrating of British constitutional writers, indicated sixty years ago the value which the criticisms and counsels of a capable and experienced Sovereign, standing high above the strife of parties, might possess for his ministers. These counsels are in England not often given, and not always followed when given,— they carry of course no legal weight — but an instance is still remembered when they proved valuable.1 One can well believe that the advice of the President might be similarly useful in France, but there are two important differences. In France the President has always been a party leader, and may conceivably become one again; and the position he occupies, being less exalted in rank than that of a hereditary monarch, does not command so much formal deference. Advice from the President might therefore be less well received, and any influence exerted by him might be resented, not only by his ministers (who are said to be sometimes jealous even to the point of withholding information) but by the Chambers to which they are responsible. On the other hand, the President is sure to possess wide political experience, and is likely to be in general accord with his Cabinet, since he probably belongs to some section of the Left or Left Centre, as have all ministries since 1879. The Cabinet is usually what is called a Cabinet de concentration, i.e. one composed of the leading men drawn from various Left “groups,” so that the co-operation between “groups” which Cabinets naturally aim at securing can be profitably assisted and prolonged by the influence of the President, judiciously exerted to avert breaches by which the Cabinet might fall. Taking all these things together, one may say that the Executive plays a useful and indeed indispensable part. Presidents prudently efface themselves in domestic matters, and, though believed to have occasionally proved helpful in questions of foreign relations, they have, so far as concerns the public, kept silence even from good words.
The election of a President, being in the hands of the Chambers and not of the people, and seldom having first-rate political importance, is usually carried through quickly and quietly, and excites no great interest in the nation at large. It is sometimes settled in a preliminary gathering of the “groups” belonging to the Left (a name used to denote the more “advanced” parties), which thus becomes what Americans call a “congressional caucus.” Every Frenchman, except members of families that have reigned, is eligible for the Presidency, but the persons chosen have, since Marshal Mac-Mahon, been all Parliamentary leaders and most of them former Prime Ministers, so their characters are well known to those who exercise the choice.1 All have been men of high personal character, stained by no scandal. One only, Jules Grévy, was re-elected, but he resigned early in his second term in consequence of the malpractices of his son-in-law. Another (Casimir Périer) resigned in resentment at the vituperative attacks made by a section of the press on him and on the administration of the public services, against which (as he thought) the Chambers did not sufficiently protect him. Ten years later he expressed, in a letter to a newspaper upon a question which had arisen in the Senate regarding the powers of the Presidency, the view that the President of the Republic had no power which he could exert freely and personally except that of presiding at solemnités nationales. This notwithstanding, the dignity of the office is such that politicians of the first rank gladly accept it.
The constant recurrence in France of public ceremonial occasions of all kinds, and the value set upon the appearance of the Head of the State on such occasions, especially in the provinces, give him plenty to do, and enable him to feel that he is rendering real service to the country. That service is specially valuable when he happens to possess the dignity and affability which make his presence impressive or winning. He is an indispensable part of the constitutional machinery, for he represents the unity of the nation and the permanence of the executive power. In the words of Tocqueville, spoken long before the emergence of the Third Republic, “la grande ombre du peuple plane sur lui.”
There are those in France who would like to turn the Presidency to fuller practical account as a motive force. It ought, they hold, to be real as well as ornamental, a power which could do something to guide the people and do much to restrain the legislature. This school of thinkers appeals to the principle, recognized in every French Constitution, of the separation of the legislative and executive powers, arguing that the predominance, which they call despotism, now exerted by the legislature violates that principle, producing weakness and instability in the conduct of affairs. The opposition this view encounters springs from the distrust and fear of an Executive Head which, long deep-rooted in the French mind, became intense during the rule of Louis Napoleon, who had abused his Presidential office to effect the coup d'état of December 1851. How, moreover, could the exercise of personal power by the President be reconciled with the provision of the Constitution which requires all his acts to be countersigned by a minister? An irremovable and irresponsible President cannot impose upon his ministers responsibility for acts which are his and not theirs, any more than they can lay on him the blame for acts which are theirs and not his. It is not merely because he is not chosen directly by the people that a French President has less authority than his American analogue, but rather because the Constitution-makers desired an executive figurehead which, standing in exalted dignity above the ebbs and flows of democratic sentiment, should not enjoy a power that might tempt him to overthrow democracy itself. Responsibility to the people cannot well be divided: it must rest either, as in England, with the Ministry, or, as in the United States, with the Executive Head.
Nevertheless, as will presently appear, discontent with the inconstancy and excitability of the Chamber of Deputies has created a wish, frequently asserting itself, to have a strong Executive and entrust him with a veto power. Those who call for a revision of the Constitution have this chiefly in their mind. That a President should be encouraged to advise his ministers more than he is known to do, and that they should give more heed to his advice, would not satisfy this party, which desires something much nearer to the American than to the British system, and holds that such a President, especially if elected by the people, would be well suited to a democratic country.
The provisions which determine the structure and powers of the Senate were originally included in the Constitution of 1875; but a Constitutional amendment of 1884 took them out of the category of “Constitutional Laws” and placed them in that of those “Organic Laws” which can be altered in the same manner as all other laws by the ordinary action of the two Chambers. This does not in effect make them more easily changed, because when the two Houses agree to proceed together, as a National Assembly, to a revision of the Constitutional Laws, the Senate, having only three hundred members against the six hundred of the Chamber of Deputies, is liable to be outvoted, whereas when other laws come up to it in the regular course, it has a full power of rejection, and is unlikely, being interested in its own prerogatives, to accept proposals which would reduce them.
By the Organic Law of December 9, 1884 (which is still in force), the Senate consisted of 300 members elected in the eighty-six departments of France, in Algeria, in the Territory of Belfort, and in the Colonies, by Electoral Colleges, whose members have all been elected by universal suffrage. To these there have been added 14 for Alsace-Lorraine, making 314 senators in all. The Colleges consist of:
(a) The Deputies of the department.
(b) The members of the General Council of the department (Conseil Général).
(c) The members of the District Council (Conseils d'Ar-rondissement) within each department.
(d) Delegates chosen by the communes within each department, the larger communes being represented by a larger, the smaller by a smaller number of delegates.1
The Commune of Paris has 30 delegates, some few other large cities 24, while the large majority of the rural communes, often very small, have one each. Even so, the disproportion of delegates to population is startling. A great city like Lyons or Lille, for instance, may have no more delegates than a number of petty rural communes with a far smaller population. It therefore does not represent the people on a basis strictly proportioned to population, though it approaches that basis much more nearly than do the American and Australian Senates, where every State, large or small, is equally represented. The reason for this deviation from democratic principle was the desire to give to the Electoral Colleges that conservative character which was expected to belong to the rural and especially the agricultural population; and the laws of 1884 reduced this rural predominance chiefly by assigning a larger number of delegates to the small towns, in order to give a stronger representation to the bourgeois element which now dominates them, while the rural commune is in some regions under the influence of the local landowner.
In the voting of the Electoral College of each department a majority of all the votes cast is required at the first two ballots for the election of a Senator, but on the third ballot a plurality cast for a candidate is sufficient. Voting is obligatory. The expenses of the delegates who have to travel to the capital of the department for the voting are paid out of public funds (if asked for, as they always are), and are estimated to cost, at each triennial election, about 900,000 francs (£36,000, $180,000).
The number of Senators returned from each department varies from two to ten, according to population, the Algerian departments and the Colonies having only one each. A Senator's term of office is nine years. The Senate is a permanent body, never dissolved as a whole, but renewed by one-third every third year, the departments being arranged in three sets, each set holding an election at one of the three fixed dates. Eligibility for the Senate begins at the age of forty. No other qualification, not even that of residence, is required; but in practice a person is not likely to be chosen unless he be connected with the department, either by origin or by residence.
The legislative powers of the Senate are equal to those of the Chamber of Deputies except as regards financial Bills. These must originate in the Chamber, but when they reach the Senate it can amend them by way of rejecting or reducing items in taxation or appropriation. Whether it can also increase the expenditure proposed except by reinstating items which, proposed by the Ministry, the Chambers had struck out, is matter of controversy. It has sometimes done so, but the Chamber usually protests, and the Senate, knowing its case to be weak, usually yields.
It has also two special powers. One is to give or with-hold its consent to a dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies by the President before the legal time for the election of a new Chamber has arrived. This power has been exercised only once, in 1877. The other is to sit as a High Court of Justice when summoned to do so by the President of the Republic, for the trial of grave offences against the State. It has sat twice for this purpose. No special functions in connection with foreign affairs or with appointments (such as belong to the Senate of the United States) have been assigned to it.
The Senate in its actual Working. — When the Constitution was being formed, the more advanced Republicans preferred a single chamber system, such as had existed in the short-lived Second Republic of 1848–1852. But the Monarchist sections, and most of the moderate Republicans, insisted on having a body calculated to give stability, and would hardly have accepted universal suffrage without the check of another Chamber. Gambetta, eager to have a republic at once, acquiesced. Thus, after long discussions, in which nearly every possible way of creating an Upper House was considered, the example of the United States caused the election of three-fourths of the Senators to be vested in local authorities, while the selection of the remaining fourth was assigned to the National Assembly, which was to nominate them before it disappeared, subsequent vacancies among the nominees being left to be filled up by the Senate itself. This fourth were to sit for life. Indirect election, though suggested by the wish to have a comparatively conservative Assembly, was justified as giving a representation of the people not merely by numbers but by local social groups, each of which had a common interest and so a collective opinion. The idea was in so far a good one that it brought in many men of personal distinction, who gave lustre to the body in the eyes of the nation and helped to form in its members habits of decorum and gravity as well as to set a high intellectual standard in its debates. Of these nominated Senators and their co-opted successors the last died in 1918. The extinction of the class in 1884 was due, not to any complaints made against them, but to democratic theory, which disapproved of life tenure and demanded a popular, even if indirect, election. The present system works smoothly and is criticized by those only who object to Second Chambers altogether. Not much public interest is aroused either in the choice of delegates — the Maire is usually chosen in rural communes — or in the voting when it takes place in the Electoral Colleges. Although the delegates of the smaller communes still constitute almost everywhere a large majority in these Colleges, it is not they but usually the deputies and members of the Conseil Général who put forward and carry candidates. Nearly all the electing delegates belong to the so-called bourgeois class, i.e. they are neither nobles of ancient lineage nor working-men. Voting goes mostly on party lines, yet local connections and local influence count for much. The same local party committees which we shall find concerned with elections to the Chamber are at work here also. Bribery is rare, but it is alleged that the influence of the Prefect tells upon the delegates of the communes, which have (as will be seen presently) much to expect from his favour, the Prefect being usually the instrument through which the central administration works its will. The bulk of the Senators have of late years been professional men, chiefly physicians and lawyers, with a few agriculturists. The higher walks of commerce, landed property, and industry are not largely represented. Few men begin their political career in the Senate. Many have been deputies, who seek in their advancing years an easier life than falls to the lot of one who has to court a quadrennial re-election; many have been leading members of the Conseil Général or possibly of the Conseil d'Arron-dissement. Thus nearly all come in with some measure of political training. The character of the Senators differs from that of the deputies chiefly in the fact that they are older, have had a longer experience, and are on the average rather better off. They keep in a touch with their constituencies which need not be quite so close as that of the Deputy, since he sits for four years only, the Senator for nine.
Most of the numerous parties into which French politicians are divided are represented in the Senate, but the extremes at both ends, Monarchists and Socialists, are relatively weaker than in the Chamber, for there are few departments in which either of those parties could carry an Electoral College. So also the smaller “groups “or subdivisions of the chief parties, which we shall find in the Chamber are less well marked — some indeed scarcely exist — in the Senate. Partisanship is less pronounced, the temperature lower, outbursts of passion unusual. The General character of opinion, which used to be Conservative Republican or what the French call “Left Centre,” has become, since the end of last century, more anti-clerical and Generally Radical, but Radical in a strongly Republican rather than in a Socialist sense. Averse to constitutional change, not directly amenable to popular pressure, disposed to support authority and to maintain a continuity in policy, it examines proposals by the light of experience and good sense rather than by their conformity to democratic theory. Its members, mostly bourgeois, and largely rural bourgeois, represent and value respectability. Being often men of local consequence, they know their departments well, but are less occupied than the deputies with local patronage, so that their labours are lighter. They are also somewhat more independent of party ties and party leadership. Few are re-elected more than once. Occupying apartments in the fine old palace of the Luxembourg, more than two miles distant from the Palais Bourbon where the Chamber is lodged, they see less of its members than the Lords see of the Commons in London or the Senators see of the Representatives in Washington.
The relations of the Senate to the Chamber are determined by its powers, which are weaker in fact than they seem on paper. Subordination in the realm of finance debars it from controlling the Executive, though it has twice caused the fall of ministries, in one instance, however, because the ministry wished to fall, as the Chamber did not rally to its support. Since it is only in the second degree the creation of universal suffrage, its claim to express the will of the people is less strong. Thus, while feeling the natural and inevitable jealousy of a Second Chamber towards a First Chamber, it recognizes its own inferiority and seldom challenges its rival to a duel. Not venturing to stem the current that runs strongly towards democracy, it has accepted a position inferior to that for which it was designed. But though it has less force, it has more finesse. Its expert parliamentarians, many of whom are familiar with the Chamber in its ways and its weaknesses, know when the latter can be successfully resisted, and choose their battle-ground with skill. When the Chamber seems seriously interested in a Bill, or when the ministry intimate that they are resolved to press it, having public opinion behind them, the Senate gives way, curbing its own repugnance. When, on the other hand, it thinks that the Chamber will be absorbed by other objects, or has passed the Bill only in deference to momentary clamour, it quietly shelves the measure, or proceeds to amend it in a leisurely way, returning it to the deputies after their zeal has cooled down and popular interest has subsided. Thus many bad bills are slowly killed, sometimes after having gone twice or thrice backwards and forwards between the Houses. These tactics are least successful in the case of financial proposals, because the Chamber, perhaps of set purpose, frequently from its methods of business, which are alternately dilatory and precipitate, often keeps back the Budget of the year till the latest possible moment, so as to leave the Senate no time for consideration and amendment unless it assumes the responsibility of driving the Ministry to a provisional levy of taxation needing to be subsequently confirmed. This habit of ousting the Senate from the financial control which the Constitution meant to entrust to it is the more regrettable because finance is a subject which the Senate understands. The reports of its Commissions on the Budget are always careful and usually sound, but they have little effect in checking either the extravagance or the fiscal errors of the deputies.
Ordinary Bills seldom originate in the Senate, whose best work is done in the way of revising, both in substance and in form, measures brought to it from the Chamber. It is so assiduous and competent in this function that the Chamber is said to pass not a few demagogic Bills in the hope that the Senate will eliminate their worst features. Its dislike of State-Socialism has sometimes induced it to discourage legislation designed to improve the conditions of labour. It hated, but it feared to reject, the Bill for the purchase by the State of the Western Railway, and long stood out against an income-tax, the bête noir of capitalists and of the richer class Generally.
The only method provided for settling controversies between the Senate and the Chamber is that of a conference between two “Commissions,” one appointed by each House, these two bodies debating together but voting separately. If this method, seldom resorted to, fails to bring about agreement or to effect a compromise which each Chamber ratines by its vote, nothing further can be done, for there exists no Referendum for ascertaining the opinion of the people. Should the Chamber persist in its own view, that view will be likely to prevail, especially if there be evidence that the popular House has the people behind it.
Though it is from among the deputies that most members of French Cabinets come, there are usually three or four taken from the Senate, and these distinguished men, perhaps Prime Ministers. Veterans of renown seek its less troubled and turbid waters. Instead of the atmosphere of strife in which the larger House lives, and which makes its debates exciting, there reigns in the Senate a sedate and sometimes almost languid tranquillity befitting the comparatively advanced age of its members.1 Some critics say it has the obsolete air of a theatre de la rive gauche, or describe it by terms corresponding to the American “side show,” because it wants the vivacity of the Chamber, and draws far less of the attention of the nation. Nevertheless the position of a Senator is coveted, and his authority considerable. The level of the discussions is well maintained, not only as respects matter but also in the form and diction of the speeches. Brilliant oratory has been rare, but no other legislative body has in modern times shown a higher average standard of ability and knowledge among its members.
Devotees of the doctrine of absolute popular sovereignty through universal suffrage still demand the abolition of the Senate. It incurs some unpopularity by stifling, or cutting down, Bills which the Chamber lightly passes at the bidding of some section of opinion, and so comes to be denounced as reactionary. But it excites no very general hostility, and is indeed valued by most thoughtful men. It had once the honour of saving the Republic. When in 1888 General Bou-langer and his partisans were trying to force a general election of the Chamber likely to result in giving him the support he needed for his grasp at power, the refusal which it became known would proceed from the Senate to any request for a dissolution checkmated the scheme.1 This service gave the Upper Chamber a claim, not yet forgotten, to the support of good Republicans. Appearances indicate that it will hold its ground; and this appears to be the hope of the most reflective minds in nearly every party. Gambetta, who had rather reluctantly accepted it in 1875, said some years later that a bicameral system was a “principe constitutif de tout gouvernement parlementaire, et encore, malgre les errements anterieurs, principe constitutif de tout gouvernement demo-cratique.” Stable in its composition and habits, it forms a counterpoise to the haste and volatility of the more popular Chamber. Its half-century of life has not entirely fulfilled the hopes of those who created it, for the faults of what the French call Parliamentarism have been only mitigated and not restrained. Of the intellectual lights that adorned its earlier years none are left now burning, and those who have replaced them seem less brilliant. There are some who think it might have shown more courage in resisting the rash action of the Chamber, and made itself more representative of the sober and cautious elements in the nation. But the astute statesmen who lead the Senate may be credited with knowing their own business. They prefer the power of frequently securing delay and obtaining compromises to the risks which a bolder attitude of opposition would involve. A stage is provided from which a man kept out of the popular Chamber by his temperament, or advancing years, or aversion to the methods by which constituencies are captured and held, may address his fellow-citizens, establish a reputation, and serve the people not only by improving the quality of legislation but by discussing large issues with less risk of ruining his prospects than might deter a deputy from trying to stem the tide of temporary passion. Thus most even of persons opposed in theory to a bicameral scheme, as well as all of those who would like the Senate to show more boldness, are agreed in holding that it has justified its existence. Things would have been worse without it.
the chamber of deputies
Of the laws which regulate the election and powers of the Chamber, those only which provide for its election by manhood suffrage, and determine its relations to the President and the Senate, form a part of the Constitution. Ordinary laws have supplied the rest, directing that the Chamber is to be elected for four years, and fixing its number, which is at present 626, of whom 24 represent Alsace-Lorraine, while 6 come from Algiers and 10 from various colonies. The normal electoral area had been, since 1889, the Arrondissement, a division of the Department for local administrative purposes; but now the Department has been substituted, the voting for the numerous candidates being by a form of proportional representation tried for the first time in 1919. Under this new plan, however, the strength of each party in the Chamber does not exactly represent the strength of the parties in the nation. It was adopted as a compromise between the opponents of proportional representation and those of its advocates who desired to see their principle more boldly applied, and the latter think it has not gone far enough. Registration is performed by the local authorities. They have been known to falsify the register, but this is not common enough to be a serious evil. A man with more than one place of residence can choose at which he will vote, no one being permitted to vote in more than one area whether for the Chamber or for local purposes.
France has tried many electoral experiments in the arrangement of constituencies. Three times she established the system of making the larger area of the department the electoral division, assigning to each department a number of seats based on its population, for all of which the voting took place together on one list, with a second balloting where no candidate obtained an absolute majority. This plan is called the Scrutin de liste. Three times this method was dropped and replaced by the Scrutin d'arrondissement (the scheme of one-membered constituencies). Now the Scrutin de liste has returned once more. Gambetta, among others, supposed that the larger electoral area would tend to raise the quality of candidates and diminish the power of local cliques and wirepullers, but this did not prove to be the case. Whether it will do so now remains to be seen.1
The election arrangements are comparatively simple and inexpensive, and in rural areas the polling-places are numerous, there being one in every commune. It is usually the hall of the Mairie. Polling always takes place on a Sunday. The machinery of the polling and counting are a public charge, nor is there any legal maximum fixed for the candidates' expenses. Voting is by ballot, supposed to be secret, but in the rural communes the Maire can usually see how the peasant votes, and the peasant generally believes that his vote is known to the priest, the school teacher, and the landlord. Election frauds are not very frequent, though sometimes gross. They generally take the form of dropping into the ballot-box, probably with the collusion of the presiding officer, two or three extra voting papers concealed within the single paper which the voter hands to that functionary. Pleasant anecdotes are told of the way in which these things are sometimes done in southern France. On one occasion the clerk of the Maire, finding that the votes given were not sufficient to elect the candidate desired, remarked to his subordinate, “It is for you to complete the work of universal suffrage.” Disturbances sometimes occur in which the ballot-boxes are seized by a group of rowdies, carried off and tampered with, but this is rare, and seems to be known only in the hot-headed south.
Bribery is sporadic, thought necessary in some places because otherwise the voters will not come up, and in other places useless because it would make no difference to the result. It seems less frequent than it was in England before the Corrupt Practices Act of 1882, or is now in some parts of the United States and Canada. Sometimes men defend or excuse it as a counterpoise to the exercise of undue influence by officials or (formerly) by ministers of religion. “Treating,” which is delicately described as “libations at the expense of the candidate,” is infrequent, though the village cabaret is usually the meeting-place of political committees. An experienced friend told me that illicit expenditure could hardly be a growing evil, for the tendency had of late years been to an increase of the votes given for candidates of advanced opinions, who are nearly all poor men, unable to spend money on elections, and receiving little or no help from party funds.1 Neither is there now in most parts of France any intimidation worth regarding by employers or landowners, though meetings are sometimes broken up and the polls disturbed by the violent opponents of a candidate. There are districts, however, especially in the west, where the landlord does exert influence on the tenant, and the master on the workman, and the priest on the parishioner.2 Clerical persuasion no longer takes illegitimate forms. The force that may seriously pervert elections is the quiet pressure of local functionaries under the direction of their superiors or at the bidding of the sitting deputy.3 Though there are not to-day any “official candidatures,” such as those which were shamelessly practised under the Second Empire and revived under the Monarchist ministry of 1877, it is common for public functionaries or employees, from the Prefect of the department down to the local gendarme or road-mender, to do what each can to further the election of the person whom the ministry in power approves. There is much less pressure on individual voters than there was in Louis Napoleon's days, but the district or the commune is made to understand the wishes of the Government and led to expect favours from it in the way of expenditure upon local public works, from a parish pump up to a bridge or a town hall. As Parliamentary majorities are fluctuating, so that every vote in the Chamber becomes of consequence to ministers, the latter exert themselves not only to secure the election of their professed supporters, hut to propitiate as many deputies as possible. The Prefect and under-Prefect and all the persons in local public employment know this, and do their best, whether expressly instructed or not, to promote the candidature of those on whom the ministry counts, or whom it seeks to oblige. In recent years the candidate, if he feels himself strong, has been wont to require these services from the Prefect, whose fortunes he may make or mar by his influence with the Government, and he sometimes lords it over the local officials. In 1902 a deputy whose election was being disputed, on the ground of the governmental influence exerted on his behalf, was reproached with having had himself everywhere presented to the voters by the Prefect. “Quite the reverse,” said he, “it was I who presented him.”
The most active because the most omnipresent and often the most intelligent agent in pushing the interests of a candidate, especially one of advanced opinions, is the village schoolmaster. He is usually also the clerk of the Commune, and has his own reasons for being a strong Republican, because he is the natural rival of the parish priest.
However willing a Prefect may be to turn his administrative machinery to party purposes, he is often embarrassed by the fact that the ministry's hold on office is so weak that the party of the candidate whom he has been opposing may, by some turn of the Parliamentary wheel, come into office and punish him for his action. The worshipper of the Sun must make sure that it is not a setting sun whom he worships. Thus a Prefect may show deficient zeal for ministerial candidates,1 and could, when the arrondissement was the electoral area, throw out anchors to windward by earning merit with candidates of different political stripes who were standing in different arrondissements of his department. Nevertheless the supporters of the Government actually in power have on the whole the advantage, and thus a threatened ministry usually strives to retain office till the Chamber expires by effluxion of time, so that it, may be able “to make the elections.” Yet it sometimes happens, in the constant shifting of Parliamentary majorities, that the Minister of the Interior finds after a few weeks that he has secured a majority for his successor.
When a return is contested on the ground of irregularity or fraud or undue influence, the matter goes first to a Committee of the Chamber chosen by lot, and then to the full Chamber. The Committees are said sometimes to decide impartially, after weighing the (unsworn) evidence laid before them. The majority in the Chamber is less scrupulous and seats or unseats the members elected in obedience to party motives.1 It is remarked that at the subsequent fresh election the unseated candidate is usually returned, for the French voter has a touch of the frondeur in him, and sets little store by the decisions of the Chamber, given in the spirit which is known to animate it.
Unsatisfactory as is the condition of things here described, there is little talk of mending it. The Chamber would not part with its control of disputed elections, nor would any one suggest that it should, as in England, be transferred to the judges, for it is held that only a body itself the child of universal suffrage can be entitled to deal with the results universal suffrage purports to have given. As regards official interference, the excuse made under the Second Empire that in a country so changeful as France it was the first duty of every Government to work for the stability of institutions, is one to which Republicans who acclaim the sovereignty of the people are hardly entitled to resort. If the people is all-wise as well as all-powerful, it ought to have its way. The practice is in fact constantly denounced by all parties, but it continues, because no ministry wishes to be the first to part with an advantage which it finds ready to hand in the far-reaching power of the central government. The command of the machinery makes the temptation; and the defence made for yielding to it dates from the earlier days of the Third Republic, when the gravity of the issues then before the Chamber seemed not only to Royalists, who had seen it unscrupulously used by Louis Napoleon, but even in some measure to Republicans also, sufficient to justify practices theoretically indefensible. The system is really of old standing, having its roots in the excessive power over local officials vested in the Government of the day. As an eminent politician observed when inveighing against the evil, “It is not the Government I accuse, but Centralization; not the heir, but the heritage.”
Let it be here mentioned, before proceeding to examine the rules of the Chamber and their working, (a) that a deputy must have attained the age of twenty-five and have all the qualifications of a voting citizen; (b) that members of families that have heretofore reigned in France cannot become candidates; (c) that no one can be a candidate at the same time in more than one constituency; and (d) that salaried officials, except a few of the highest, are ineligible. Ministers of religion are sometimes elected. Bishops have more than once been prominent figures.
The Chamber lasts for four years, meeting automatically in January, and has once only been dissolved before the expiration of its term. It is required by law to sit for at least five months in each year, but in fact has usually held a continuous session, interrupted by short vacations at different times in the year. It is convoked, not by the President of the Republic, though he may summon it for an extraordinary session, but by its own President.
This high functionary resembles the Speaker of the American House of Representatives rather than the Speaker of the British House of Commons, for he is not expected to display that absolute impartiality which is the distinguishing note of the latter, and he may rebuke, sometimes with pungent sarcasm, deputies whose language he disapproves. Custom has allowed him to favour, yet with due regard to fair play, the party to which he belonged before his elevation. He has not in recent years intervened in debates, but he keeps his eye on his own political future, often aspiring to the Presidency of the Republic, and sometimes called from the Chair to become the head of a Ministry. He is assisted in a general direction of the business of the Chamber by a Bureau or Standing Committee, consisting of the four Vice-Presidents (any of whom can preside in his absence), the eight Secretaries, and the three Questeurs, who have charge of financial matters. All these are deputies and chosen by the Chamber.
At its first meeting the Chamber divides itself into eleven sections called Bureaux, the members whereof are chosen by lot and similarly renewed monthly in the same way. Their chief function used to be to create what are called “Commissions,” bodies corresponding generally to the Committees of the British Parliament and the American Congress, but now it is the “Groups “(hereinafter mentioned) who nominate, each in proportion to its numerical strength, deputies to represent them on a Commission. Every Bill introduced is referred to some one of these bodies, which may alter it in any way, after hearing it explained and defended by the introducer. A member of the Commission, called the Reporter, prepares and submits to the Chamber a report upon it as amended, stating the reasons for the form the Commission has given to it.1 When it comes before the full Chamber he takes charge of it, sometimes almost entirely superseding its introducer, even though a Minister. As the membership of an important Commission is much sought for, the post of Reporter on an important Bill is an avenue to distinction, or a proof of distinction already achieved. Under this system, the Chamber through its Commissions exercises a control over administration as well as legislation, for they can enquire into all the work of a department, summoning its functionaries before them, and recommending or refusing the measures the department desires. The authority of the ministry is reduced, for its bills may return from the Commission in a form different from that which they originally had or which ministers approve. The majority of the Commission need not be supporters of the Ministry, or anywise disposed to meet its wishes.
The inconveniences attending this system of the dual control of ministerial measures are most manifest in the case of the Budget. Financial proposals made by the Executive come before a Commission of thirty-three members, which can alter them at its own pleasure, refusing some appropriations, adding others, so that, unless it condescends to defer to the representations of the Finance Minister, it may produce, after long secret deliberations, a Budget very different from that which he submitted. So when the Ministerial scheme comes before the Chamber, the Reporter appears as a sort of second and rival Finance Minister, whose views may prevail against those of the Cabinet. The Government of the day has little influence, except what it may personally and indirectly exert, upon the composition of the Commissions, which may contain a majority of members opposed to its general financial policy, or to the view it takes of particular measures. The natural result is to render legislation incoherent, to make the conduct of financial policy unstable and confused, and to encourage extravagance, because ministers cannot prevent expenditure they think needless or mischievous. A further consequence is to reduce the authority of an Executive which can be easily overruled, the jealousy which animates the deputies leading them to disregard its wishes, perhaps to enjoy the rebuffs it suffers. The power of those persons who seem responsible because they were the original authors of a measure, or who can be made responsible to the public because they hold an office, being thus so reduced or destroyed that they cannot fairly be treated as responsible, actual control has passed to bodies whose members, debating in secret and holding no office, are not effectively answerable. The nation cannot, if displeased, punish the latter and ought not to punish the former. In these practices there is visible a deviation, due to the tendency of an Assembly to encroach wherever it can, from the doctrine to which lip-service is paid in France, of the separation of legislative from executive power, for an Executive is impotent when the funds needed for administration are withheld.
Here let a curious custom be noted. Only since 1885 have the names of deputies voting in a division been regularly recorded and published.1 Voting is by ballot-papers of two colours, white denoting assent, blue disapproval. These are collected into an urn passed round by the attendants. A deputy may abstain from voting, though present in the Chamber, and can even vote by proxy, entrusting the function of dropping into the urn his paper to a friend who will vote white or blue according to what he conceives to be the wishes of his colleague. A case was mentioned to me in which an obliging deputy deposited the votes of more than thirty of his colleagues.
So much for what may be called the procedure of the Chamber. Let us pass to the men who run the machinery. As the Chamber is the centre of the whole political system, exerting a more complete control than does any legislature in any other government, we must examine in some little detail the persons who work the system and whom the system forms.
Though social as well as political equality reigns in France, there are still differences of rank, more significant in their disabling than in their recommending effect. Very few deputies come from the ancient nobility or from the large landowners, a section numerous in the West. That financial manufacturing and commercial plutocracy, which is called in America “Big Business,” has few representatives, and among these extremely few persons of great wealth. The largest element consists of professional men, lawyers, physicians, journalists, retired functionaries, and professors or school teachers, this last class being the fewest.
There are not many to speak for agriculture, and even fewer had worked with their hands before they entered the Chamber. Most of the Socialists belong to the professional or commercial class. The Chamber is no more plutocratic than it is aristocratic. It consists chiefly of the same upper strata of the middle classes as does the United States Congress or the Parliament of Canada, the chief difference being that in those bodies there are even more lawyers, but hardly any physicians or teachers or journalists.1 Few of the barristers have achieved distinction in their profession, for the building up of a large practice would be hardly compatible with attendance in the Chamber, but advocates who have succeeded there sometimes return to the bar and utilize at it their political fame while retaining their seats. Literature is represented almost entirely by journalists. If it be true, as French critics complain, that there are now few such intellectual displays as adorned the Chamber in the days of Louis Philippe, or in the first Assembly, elected in 1871, of the Third Republic, there is plenty of keen intelligence and especially of oratorical talent. It is not so much universal suffrage that has brought in men from -what Gambetta called the nouvelles couches sociales as the diffusion of secondary education, which has made easier the upward path for ability, especially of the literary and rhetorical kind. An English or American observer is impressed by the large number of deputies who possess not merely fluency but the gifts of lucid exposition and readiness in debate. Whether a man has much or little to say, he seems to know how to say it, not indeed in that choice or stately language which delighted auditors in the Assembly of 1871, but with readiness, force and point.
Such being the Deputy, whence comes he and how does he become a deputy? Though a man gains by being a resident or in the electoral area, or connected with it by birth, candidates are not, as in America, restricted to the place of their residence, and men of eminence have sat for districts with which they had no personal tie. The large majority, however, have spent their earlier life in the places they represent, and have begun their political career by acquiring influence among their neighbours. They enter local councils, and thus become known in the canton, the arrondissement, perhaps the department. They serve as Maires of their commune; they are active in local party work, and alert in looking after local interests generally. An ambitious doctor or lawyer may give gratuitous consultations or otherwise ingratiate himself with a local clientele. To belong to a Masonic lodge, or even to an angling society or a gymnastic club,— all these things help. Broadly speaking, the personality of a candidate counts for much, and of course counts for more when political issues are least exciting and where convictions are least strong. One must not only cultivate an easy and genial manner, but observe, at least in the provinces, a decent regularity of life, avoiding, especially in the northern parts of France (for the South is indulgent), whatever could shock the ame rigide de la province. If one has money to spend on local purposes, so much the better, particularly in the mountainous districts where people are poor; but as local candidates are seldom affluent there is less than in England of what is there called “nursing a constituency.” When an aspirant has in these ways established his position, it is for the party committee of his district to put him forward as candidate, since the central party organizations count for little (except among the Socialists) and do not send down a candidate or supply him with the sinews of war. When the election comes, the candidate, except in great cities, will usually talk more about local affairs and the services he expects to render to the constituency than about national politics or the merits and programme of his own particular section of the Eepublican party. The authority of party leaders has been little invoked since the death of Gambetta, the last statesman who had a name to conjure with. Though contests evoke much heat, sometimes expressing itself in personal abuse, perhaps even leading to a duel, the bulk of the citizens may be languid, and many will not sacrifice their Sunday holiday to come to the polls. The vote cast has been light, according to the standards of Britain, Switzerland, or America, rarely however falling below 60 per cent of the qualified voters.1 In 1919 it stood high, only 30 per cent having failed to vote.2
Once in, the deputy's first care is to stay in. This must be achieved —and here I refer less to large towns than to the ordinary rural or semi-rural constituencies —by a sedulous attention to the interests not merely of the district but of the individual residents in the district, especially of those to whom he owes his seat. Every kind of service is expected from him. He must obtain decorations for his leading supporters, and find a start in life for their sons and sons-in-law. Minor posts under Government and licenses to sell tobacco have to be secured for the rank and file. All sorts of commissions to be performed in Paris are expected from him, down to the choice of a wet nurse or the purchase of an umbrella. Several hours of his day are consumed in replying to the letters which pour in upon him, besides the time which must be given to the fulfilment of the behests he receives.
This is slavery. But there are compensations. Apart from his salary, which to the average member is a thing to be considered, he has power. He is one of the nine hundred odd who rule France. Though he is the servant of his electors, he is often also their master, respected and deferred to in his district as at least the equal of the Prefect, and perhaps stronger than his local party Committee. He is the fountain of honour, the dispenser of patronage, inspiring a lively sense of favours to come. So long as he helps the Department, and his friends in it, to the satisfaction of their desires, he is not likely to be disturbed, unless some sudden revulsion of political sentiment should sweep over the country. If he is well off, his subscriptions to local purposes help him; if poor, people feel it would be hard to turn him out and send him to seek a new means of livelihood. Accordingly, provided he keeps on good terms with the local wirepullers, and is not involved in a scandal which would reach the constituency, he is likely, at least in rural areas, to hold his seat, and may in the fulness of time transfer himself to the calmer waters and longer term of the Senate. A sitting member is, like a British member, generally selected by his party to fight the seat, so the bulk of members in each Chamber have sat in a preceding one. In 1919, however, 340 new members were elected.
Next to that of staying in, the chief aim of our deputy is to get on. His best course is at first to eschew the grande politique, and be content with establishing his position by securing a place on one or more of the best Commissions, and establishing friendly relations with as many as possible of his colleagues, primarily of course with those who share his opinions, but if possible with other sections also. He usually begins by inscribing himself as member of one of the numerous “groups “into which the Chamber is divided. This brings us to consider the parliamentary parties.
I have already traced in outline the history of the movements of political opinion in France since 1871. It would be tedious, and for our present purpose needless, to describe the successive evolutions and modifications, the splits and recombinations, by which the broad division of politicians into Monarchists and Eepublicans passed into the more numerous now existing parties. It may suffice to enumerate these as respects the Chamber of Deputies, for it is only there (and to a less degree in the Senate), not in the country, that they are clearly marked. The French hahit has long been to describe parties by names which had their origin in days when Conservatives sat on the right hand of the presiding officer, and Liberals on the left; and these names have the advantage of being colourless, while terms bearing a reference to particular tenets or a particular spirit frequently change their meaning, as the title “Progressive “has come to denote persons who are really Moderates, even perhaps Clericals, and “Radical,” once a name of terror, has been so softened down that men talk of “Eadicaux Moderes “or “Eadicaux Con-servateurs.” So the name “Socialist” is so far from being equivalent to “Collectivist “or “Communist “that one has heard of “Socialistes anti-Collectivistes”; and when a party calls itself “Independent,” its independence always inclines to the Eight, or conservative, rather than to the more “advanced “side.1
The nine groups which existed in 1914 and the eight which existed at the beginning of 1920 might be broadly described as being fractions of four larger parties, or rather subdivisions of four types of political opinion —first, the Monarchists; secondly, the Moderate Republicans (sometimes called Liberals); thirdly, the Advanced Republicans, cherishing the traditions of the First Revolution; and lastly, the Socialists, whose professed aim is an economic reconstruction of society.1 The groups from time to time dissolve, or unite, or re-form themselves under other names. They may be —indeed they are sure to be—-different in 1925 from what they are in 1920. It is therefore not worth while to describe their vaguely defined tenets or their always varying composition.
Let us now look at the Parliamentary group only as a wheel in the Parliamentary machinery. There is nothing like it in the American Congress, and only occasionally has something like it appeared in the British Parliament.2 It is nominally a political organization, holding certain views which it desires to advocate. But it is also personal. Having a social side and directly practical aims, it concerns itself with the fortunes of its members. It claims for them places on the more important Commissions, and if a new ministry has to be formed, the incoming Prime Minister will be likely, if the professed opinions of a group do not differ widely from those he professes, to strengthen his position by inviting one or more of its members to accept a portfolio. A new deputy may therefore be guided in joining a group not only by his own political predilections, or by a wish to play up to the general sentiment of his constituents, but also by his estimate of what the group can do for his own career. Some few remain outside the regular groups in the class of “deputies not inscribed,” and they also, it is said, act together on behalf of the personal interests and claims each desires to push. Though the members of a group have a Chairman and a Committee, and though they sometimes meet to consult on their collective action and usually vote together, they have not what the English call “whips “to bring them up to vote on a division. It is only among the Socialists that the obligation to act as one disciplined body is recognized and enforced by the threat of excommunication.
Besides these political groups there are, or have been, others formed on the basis of a specially keen interest in one subject, e.g. the French colonies, lay instruction, national defence; and also other groups devoted to the protection of some material interest. Such is the Agricultural Group, the Sugar Group, the Vine-growing Group, the Group of physicians. These aggregations form a sort of cross division of the Chamber. Most of them have nothing to do with party politics, and exert pressure on the ministry only for the advancement of their special industrial or commercial aims. The Colonial Group has large ambitions, and is frequently active in influencing governmental policy in the Chamber as well as in prompting the press.
As the groups are numerous, and no one of them commands one-third of the Chamber, no ministry expects to possess a majority which it can call its own. It must rely on a combination of two or more groups, constituting what is called, when it has reached solid stability, a Block. While the Block holds together, Ministers are reasonably safe. But the fluidity of each group imports an uncertainty into the action of every combination, so that when a new issue suddenly arises, due perhaps to displeasure at some act of the ministry, or to any other cause which creates temporary passion, the majority may crumble and the ministry fall, even without the open dissolution of the combination. It has also sometimes happened that the extreme groups, such as the Clericals on the one side and the Socialists on the other, hostile in principle, suddenly coalesce, and turn the balance of votes on a division. The union of extremists against the men in the middle is specially dangerous, because seldom predictable. These causes, taken together, explain the kaleidoscopic changes of government.
Another feature of the system, surprising to a British or American observer, is the absence of recognized leadership. Though every Group has its president, who to some extent directs it, who negotiates on its behalf with the existing ministry and with other groups, and is presumptively the person who will be chosen to represent it in a new ministry, he exerts less authority than Parliamentary leaders do in Britain or Canada or Australasia. This seems due not altogether to the absence of political issues sharply defined as between the various Republican groups, but partly to an exaggeration of the sentiment of equality combined with the French tendency to the assertion of individual will. So soon as any one statesman shoots ahead of others by his oratorical gifts or forceful personality, he excites first jealousy and then envy. His colleagues render to him no more allegiance than their own interests or those of the Group prescribe. His enemies talk of him as aiming at a sort of dictatorship, and the charge gives secret pleasure to some of his adherents. Thus Gam-betta fell at the moment when he seemed strongest. Seldom has a Parliamentary chief so strong a hold on the country outside as to find in its support a means for securing the loyalty of his following in the Chamber. At general elections, the names of the chief statesmen are no talismans: they may, indeed, be scarcely mentioned. No one since Gambetta, except perhaps Waldeck Eousseau at the election of 1902, has been a popular figure, a name wherewith to conjure, in the same sense as were Peel, Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, in Britain, or as Macdonald and Laurier were in Canada, or as Parkes in New South Wales, or Seddon in New Zealand.1 This fact has something to do with the atmosphere of personal intrigue which has long suffused the French Chamber. If parties were tightly organized, they might find an advantage in having a recognized leader and making much of him. But only the Socialists are so organized, and they are the last who would seek to exalt one man above his fellows.
This passion for equality, this dislike of authority, this incessant striving for prominence and influence among the deputies, each descrying a ministerial portfolio at the end of the vista, finds another expression in the constant struggle on the part of the Chamber (and its Committees) to assert itself against the ministry and grasp more and more of executive power. The Commissions are already even stronger than the Committees of the Senate and the House in America, and their leading members are wont to express surprise that there is not a similar effort in the British House of Commons to overbear the ministry.
The every-day work which the Chamber performs may be classified as (a) legislation, (b) criticism of executive departments, (c) displacement of ministries. In legislation the contrast between measures introduced and measures passed is startling. A deputy finds their introduction an easy means of attracting notice, and can thus please his constituents, whom he deluges with copies. A first and second reading are readily granted on the plea of urgency, but the great majority go no further, being stifled or shelved in the Commissions. Proposals on subjects of importance brought in by a minister have a better chance, but may emerge from a Commission so changed as to be scarcely recognizable. Comparatively few are passed into law. Questions of the first magnitude, debated session after session, remain long unsettled. This happens in all legislatures, but perhaps most frequently in France, not merely because the Commission system and the group system hamper the power of a ministry, but for a deeper reason also, viz. the existence of the Civil Code, which has permanently fixed so many principles of private civil law as to induce a dislike of innovations, for in the French mind, which superficial observers have called volatile, there is a strong vein of conservatism. E'ew questions, economic and social, have emerged, especially during the last half-century, which the Code does not cover, but the Chamber does not find in legislation its chief interest, as is realized by those who notice how scanty is the attendance when important Bills are under discussion. Its delight is in personal matters and those “live issues” which affect the fortunes of a government. Any mistake made by a Minister, any conduct which can be represented as having either a pro-clerical or an anti-clerical tendency, any act which either offends the Labour Unions or betrays subservience to them, leads to animated debates which may shake the ministry if it be weak, or accentuate hostility if it is defiant. Such acts furnish pretexts for resorting to that favourite method of attacking a Cabinet which is called the Interpellation. The deputy gives notice that he will interrogate a minister on some declaration made or administrative act done by him. The interpellation consists of a speech denouncing the conduet or the policy blamed, and asking the Prime Minister, or the Minister personally responsible, for an explanation. Neither the Cabinet nor the particular Minister is obliged to accept the debate on the spot, so usually a later day is fixed for the interpellation. When that day has arrived and the debate has run its course, a motion is made for passing to the Order of the day (i.e. proceeding to the next business on the paper). Then arises the opportunity for defeating the Cabinet. The Ordre du jour can be either pur et simple or motive. The Ordre pur et simple is a motion stating, without any word of praise or blame for the Administration, that, the debate being at an end, the House resumes its previously appointed work. The Ordre du jour motive adds to this resolution some words approving or condemning the conduct of the Ministry, the favourable resolutions coming from the friends, the unfavourable from the enemies of the Cabinet. The skill of the Opposition is shown in so phrasing their motions as to rope in the largest number possible of groups hostile to the ministry, while introducing something against which a group likely to befriend the ministry will find it hard to vote. Before the division the Ministry declare which of these ordres du jour they are disposed to accept. If they carry it, they are back into smooth water. If defeated, their bark goes down. These interpellations are the field-days of politics, rousing the greatest excitement, and drawing crowds of spectators. If the Cabinet has lost moral authority, or if it becomes known that it is riven by internal dissensions, almost any pretext will serve. Such a pretext is seldom found in matters of foreign policy, for an honourable tradition disposes men to avoid anything that could weaken France in the face of the outer world. Ministries fall more frequently by these interpellations than in divisions on legislative or financial measures, and they may fall quite suddenly, perhaps by an unexpected combination of groups, perhaps by want of promptitude in accepting, or themselves devising, the ordre du jour motive which will carry them safely down the rapids.
The public business of the Chamber is not, however, the chief care of the deputy. He has private work to do which affects not only his own personal fortunes but the exercise of the functions discharged in public sittings. The relations (already described) which he maintains with his constituents oblige him to be in constant contact with the administrative departments. Only from the latter can he obtain the favours which he owes to the former. Ministers dispense the honours, the medals and ribands, the administrative posts, mostly of small consequence, the tobacco licences, and even the college bursaries. To them the deputy goes when the commune or the arrondissement desires a bridge or a road, when a farmer wants to be compensated for damage done to his vines by a hail-storm, when a taxpayer disputes the tax-gatherer's claim, when a parent wishes to have an indulgent view taken of his son's performances in an examination, when a litigant thinks that a word of recommendation might help him in a court of justice.1 The constituent writes to the deputy and the deputy approaches the minister, and when either a grant of money to the commune, or a riband, or a salaried post is in question, the minister is made to understand that the deputy's support at the next critical division will be affected by the more or less benevolent spirit the Administration displays. Thus besides the great game of politics played by the parties in the Chamber, besides the pressure of the Commissions upon the Administration, there is a continuous process of triangular trafficking between the constituents, the deputy, and the ministers, which is, to the two latter, always vexatious and often humiliating. A somewhat similar process went on once in England, and is not extinct, though now much attenuated, in the United States. Its prevalence in France, where the grosser forms of corruption are comparatively slight, is due to the concentration in the National Government of the whole administrative machinery of the country, every local functionary being appointed from Paris, and the cost of most kinds of local, public work being defrayed by the national treasury.2 A French Administration might well desire to have less far extended power, for its power is its weakness.
The Chamber is full of talent because, though many of the members have come from narrow surroundings and retain narrow views, the quickness and flexibility of the French mind enable them to adjust themselves to the conditions of a large assembly more readily than would most Englishmen or Americans. When an exciting moment arrives, the debates reach a high level of excellence. Repartees are swift and bright, and great tactical skill is displayed in escaping dangers or forming combinations on the spur of the moment. Turbulent scenes occur, but none worse than have once or twice occurred both in Congress and in the House of Commons, nor has violence approached the pitched battles of Buda Pest, where benches were broken, and inkstands hurtled through the air. There is little personal rancour, even among those who are most bitterly opposed in politics. Deputies will abuse one another in the Chamber and forthwith fraternize in the corridors, profuse in compliments on one another's eloquence. The atmosphere is one of a friendly camaraderie, which condemns acridity or vindictiveness. Parisians say that the level of manners has declined since 1877, and the style of speaking altered, with a loss of the old dignity. Wit may be as abundant, but one misses that philosophic thought by which the Assemblies of 1848 and 1871 impressed the nation and won the admiration of Europe.
The deputy receives a salary of 15,000 francs (£600 = £2800) a year. The sum used to be 9000 francs, but in 190G the deputies voted themselves an increase up to the present figure, rather to the displeasure of the country. Are they then fairly described as professional politicians? The mere fact of payment does not make them so, any more than it does the members of the British and Australian Parliaments. Comparatively few have entered the Chamber merely to make a living, though there are many whose effort to remain there is more active because they have abandoned their former means of livelihood. It would have been practically impossible not to pay those who quit their avocations to give their whole time to politics. Payment may not have done much to lower the moral standard of political life: it may indeed have enabled some to resist the temptations which surround them, yet it necessarily tends to make them eager to keep their seats, and in so far affects their independence.1 They are not, as a rule, closely held to the terms of their electoral professions of faith, though proposals have been submitted to the Chamber that the popular mandate of any one who has disregarded these professions should be deemed, and if necessary judicially pronounced, to have been forfeited. It is customary for a deputy to appear before his constituents at least once a year, as in England, and to give a review of the political situation, which furnishes an opportunity for questioning him on his conduct. It is not, however, by his action in the grande politique of the Chamber that a deputy (other than a Socialist) usually stands or falls. Those few who are supposed to represent great financial or commercial interests need not greatly fear the attacks of extreme partisans in their districts, for they are likely to have the means provided them of securing by various influences the fidelity of the bulk of their constituents.
The chief differences between the professional politician of France and him of America is that the latter depends even more on his party organization than on what he secures for his constituents, that he can seldom count on a long tenure of his seat or of an administrative post, and that he can more easily find a business berth if he is sent back to private life. The number of those who belong to the class described in America as “professionals “is of course far larger there than in France, for it includes a host of persons who are not members of legislatures, most of the work they do being of a humbler kind.
cabinet ministers and local party organizations
Three powers rule France: the Deputies, the Ministers, and the local Party Committees. We may now pass to the second of these three forces that are incessantly contending or bargaining.
The Cabinet ministers are in practice, though not by law, either deputies or senators, and all expect, when their brief span of office has ended, to return to their functions as private members and resume the rôle of critics till the time comes for them to succeed their successors. Herein France resembles the British self-governing Dominions, in which every minister sits in Parliament.1 and is unlike the United States, where a minister not only cannot sit in Congress but has, more frequently than not, never sat there. Thus the minister is by temperament, ideas, and habits first and always a member of the legislature. He knows his Chamber's ways, and has an intimacy, in which there may be little enough of friendship, with most of its members.
The person who has been summoned to form a Cabinet as President of the Council, selects his colleagues, choosing most of them from his own particular group, but generally adding one or two or more from other Republican groups by which he expects to be supported. The differences in their views and affiliations do not prevent the persons thus selected from getting on together and presenting a united front to the opposing faction. Self-interest prescribes this, and the political cleavages between the Republican groups are not very deep. Consistency is one of the lesser virtues in politics. A recent French Prime Minister observed, “Les necessités font éclater les dogmes.”
The qualities which bring a deputy into the class of “Ministrables”1 do not much differ from those which lead to Cabinet office in every democratic country and popular assembly. In France they may be summed up as —Ready eloquence, alertness of mind, Parliamentary tact, personal popularity, general adaptability. In the allotment of posts knowledge counts for something, and most so in the departments of finance and of the naval and military services. But adaptability counts for more.2 Dignity of character and a spotless reputation are a valuable asset, especially in a Prime Minister, yet their absence does not prevent a man from rising high.
The Cabinet offices vary in number —in 1913 there were twelve —all of the same rank and carrying the same salary, but there may be (and in war time were) ministers without a portfolio, so the deliberative Cabinet might be of any size, though it had never, up to 1914, exceeded seventeen.
French ministers cannot well be compared with those of the United States, for the latter do not sit in the legislature, and are often selected less for their capacity than because they belong to States which the President wishes to gratify by giving them representation in his Cabinet. An American minister usually disappears from Washington after his four years' term of office, and may be no more heard of in the world of politics, while in France the ex-Minister holds on; and the wealth of the nation in former occupants of high office grows so fast by frequent Cabinet changes that there are plenty of tried men from whom a Prime Minister may make his selections. Talent is never lacking, though it is more frequently of the showy than of the solid order.
The dignity of a Minister is, next to the Presidency of the Republic and the Presidencies of one or other Chamber, the goal of a politician's ambitions. It carries the title of Excellency, and its possessor is received with every mark of honour when he visits a provincial city to perform some public function. The power which belongs to it is more extensive than a like office enjoys in any other free country, for nowhere else are the functions of the Executive so far-reaching. But this power is greater in semblance than in reality. The machinery of French administration is so complicated that the permanent official hierarchy, deferential as they are to their chief, can impede his action when they think that he is breaking through their settled practice, for want of expert knowledge may make him helpless in their hands, not to add that he is generally deposed, or transferred to some other post, before he has had time to learn to “know the ropes.” If he tries to understand everything he is asked to sign, work accumulates, and the machine stops. While he is struggling to master his duties, he has not only to face his critics in the Chamber but to endure the daily plague of requests from deputies to do this or that job for the benefit of their constituents. High-minded and courageous as he may be, he is obliged to think of the fortunes of the ministry, and must yield to many an unwelcome demand in order to secure the vote of the deputy who himself seeks to secure the vote of his constituent. Nor are the deputies the only people to be feared. The financiers and heads of big business enterprises, partly by the power of their wealth, partly through the newspapers or the deputies, whom they can use as tools, may bring to bear a formidable pressure.
Two other complaints are heard in France. One is that the minister brings with him, or is soon surrounded by, a swarm of personal dependents, private secretaries, and various hangers-on. These constitute what may be called his private political and patronage staff, who help in his parliamentary work, deal with the press, keep an eye on places to be disposed of, and are what physicians call a nidus for intrigue as well as an annoyance to the permanent officials of the department. The other charge is that the tendency of local officials to refer everything to Paris continues to grow, delaying business and increasing the risks of jobbery, because the Minister, who cannot know the facts as well as the Prefect on the spot, is at the mercy of interested representations.
The “expectation of life,” as insurance agents say, of a French Ministry is short. Between 1875 and 1914 there were 48 administrations with an average duration of nine months and twenty-two days. Only one ministry since 1896, that of M. “Waldeck Rousseau, had lasted for more than two years. A change of Ministry makes little difference to the country, and cannot —as it often can in England —be deemed to indicate any change of popular opinion. When a Ministry falls it does not lose a public confidence which it may never have possessed. This is a phenomenon which Frenchmen deplore as harmful to the nation, because it prevents ministers from acquiring a grasp of their departmental duties, delays legislative progress, and creates a general sense of instability, defects which have done much to discredit Parliamentarism in the eyes of the people. Yet they are less serious evils than they would be in other countries, and that for two reasons. They do not disorganize, though they disturb, the general course of administration, because the great machine goes steadily on its way, being worked by a strong and competent bureaucracy which is as little affected by changes at the top as the equally strong and competent bureaucracy of the Roman Empire was disturbed in the provinces by the frequent accession to supreme power of one military adventurer after another. They affect but slightly the foreign policy of France, for its general lines have been prescribed by the necessity of maintaining unity in the face of a threatening enemy. They are an evil less serious than the inner malady of which they are the visible symptom. What then are the causes which make ministries so unstable and changes so frequent? Those which appear on the surface have been already stated, viz. the number of groups in the Chamber, the want of discipline in these groups and shifting of deputies from one to another, the suddenness with which political crises arise, the tendency of extreme groups to unite for the momentary aim of defeating a ministry which they dislike for opposite reasons, the impatience which makes deputies desire a change for the sake of a change. But behind these there are other causes of wider scope, due to permanent conditions. Some of these may be enumerated.
(1) Regional divisions of opinion in the country, making the political tendencies of the West, of the North and East, of the South, and (still more markedly) of the South-east differ so much from one another as to prevent a general consensus of view on fundamental questions.
(2) The antagonism between the strongly Roman Catholic proclivities of certain sections of the population and the anti-religious, or at least anti-clerical, vehemence of other sections.
(3) The hostility of the industrial masses, especially in the manufacturing and mining areas, to the employers and to the richer sort of people generally. But for the outside pleasure, enforcing national cohesion, a class war might have broken out in many places, as indeed it has done at intervals in Paris, and to a less extent in other industrial centres.
(4) The indifference to politics of a large part of the agricultural population. This has its good side in so far as it has prevented party passion from seizing on the bulk of the nation and making the struggles of the Chamber provoke outbursts of violence over the country. But it has been also unfortunate in having failed to keep the deputies in order, to condemn intrigues, to discourage the creation of small groups, to make the parties feel their responsibility to the nation. If Parliamentary parties were formed on well-defined and permanent lines, the policy approved by a majority at a general election might be steadily pursued (as in England or Holland or Canada) until the country changes its mind, or some conspicuous error brings about the collapse of a ministry.
(5) To these causes one may perhaps add the fact that since the death of Gambetta no single leader of dominating personality has arisen. Democracies need men who by their genius, or by the strength and worth of their characters, can become not merely leaders but inspirers of a party.1 The foremost men of the last forty years have been parliamentary rather than popular chiefs. Some of them (I speak of course only of those who have passed from the scene) have shown brilliant talent and great force. But none have had that sort of hold on the country which enabled Pitt or Peel or Gladstone in England, Calhoun, Clay, Webster, and Lincoln (not to mention later statesmen) in America, to become national figures, who were as necessary to their parties as their parties were to them. To the causes which prevent the development of leadership in France we must presently return.
After the deputies and the ministers comes the third and largest set of the actual though unconspicuous rulers of France, those who all over the country keep the machine of party government running, managing the elections by which deputies are chosen and ministers are installed in power. To understand the part played by the local committees we must recur to the political parties as already enumerated.
These parties, though more or less organized in the Chamber of Deputies, do not extend over the country at large, or, to speak more exactly, they exist in the country as tendencies or nuances of opinion rather than as political organisms. For the purposes of France as a whole one must think of those four parties, or rather four schools of opinion already noted —the Right or Clerical Monarchist, the Centre or Moderate Republicans, the Radicals or Advanced Republicans, and the Socialists. Of these four only one, the Socialists, constitute a cohesive party in the English or American sense, for they alone have created and maintain a well-knit organization extending over a large part of the country and gripping its members tightly together outside as well as inside the Chamber. Of the other three, the Clericals or Monarchists hold well together, but the number of those among them who profess Legitimist principles has been much reduced, and their organization is confined to certain areas. The other two, Moderate and Advanced Republicans, are divided into the sections already described. Some of these sections have a central party committee as well as a certain number of local committees which carry on a propaganda, publish literature, and look after elections. No party group or section has, however, an organization ramified through all the constituencies like the three parties (Tory, Liberal, and Labour) which divide Great Britain or the still better drilled and more constantly active two great historic parties of the United States. There would be no use in trying to work a Socialist organization in the agricultural parts of Brittany, nor a Monarchist party in Marseilles. Accordingly no section dreams of running in every electoral district candidates of its own particular colour, but confines itself to those in which it has a reasonable chance of success.
If you ask an average French citizen about his political views, he is as likely as not to say that he takes nothing to do with politics; “Monsieur, je ne m'oceupe pas de la politique.” If, however, he has views and is willing to express them, he will probably prove to be, in the rural parts or small towns of the west and north, either a Conservative of Clerical leanings or a Moderate anti-Clerical Republican; in the south-east, the central, and the eastern regions or small towns, either an Advanced or a Moderate Republican; in the mining districts and the great industrial centres, either an Advanced Republican or a Socialist. There are of course nearly everywhere some men of Socialist views, and everywhere some few Clericals or Monarchists, usually of a Legitimist colour. Candidates, therefore, whatever group in the Chamber they mean to join, belong to one or other of these four types of opinion, and do not —always excepting the Socialists —usually announce themselves to a constituency as adherents of any one Republican group in particular. It is between the four types that the electoral battle rages. The candidate may be sent down, or be financially aided, by the central committee of a group, but he does not necessarily appear as their man, nor (unless he be a Socialist) as selected by a local committee of a particular stripe. He stands on his own account, just as candidates did in Britain in the middle of last century, before parties had begun to be locally organized. When he issues his address, it is accompanied by a list of his chief local supporters, who constitute a sort of general committee, but it is only a few of the more active among them who form, along with the candidate and his agents, the working committee. Other candidates may come forward belonging to the same or a nearly allied section of the Republican party, each recommending himself less by the particular character of his views than by his personal merits and by the fervour of his promises to serve the material interests of the constituency. Candidatures are numerous because not generally costly. There used to be three, four, or five (or possibly more) aspirants to the single seat, perhaps a Monarchist and a Socialist, and three Republicans of slightly different shades, but now under the new system of election by departments with proportional representation, the number is larger. All went to the poll; and when, as frequently happened, none secured an absolute majority, it was usual for the one among the Republicans who had received the fewest votes to retire, so that the Republican party might have the best chance against a Monarchist or a Socialist. There is, however, no established practice in these matters, and an Advanced Radical may feel himself nearer to a Socialist than to a Republican of a less vivid hue, while some moderate Republicans differ but slightly from Conservatives.
Acute French observers distinguish two types of election. In one there is a more or less avowed coalition on the platform of anti-clericalism by the various groups of the Centre and the Left against the groups of the Right. The other type shows a sort of combination or co-operation of the Centre, or Moderate Republicans, with the Right on the platform of anti-Socialism and “social order “against the Socialists and more advanced Radicals. The election of 1906 belonged to the former type, the election of 1919 to the latter. In it the Socialist party suffered a set-back, owing to the uneasiness created by the language and policy of their most extreme men. In France, even more than elsewhere, extremists produce by their activity and vehemence the impression that they speak for the whole party, and thereby damage its cause.
In most constituencies, or at any rate in those dominated by the Advanced Republicans, political committees are kept alive during the interval between one election and another in order to look after the interests both of the party and of the candidate, and work if necessary in local elections, whenever these are fought on political lines, as well as in Senatorial elections for the Department. Such committees are not, as in America, Great Britain, and Australia, elected by the local members of the party, and though often in touch with the Central Committee in Paris of the group with which they are in sympathy, they do not take their orders from it. It may excite surprise that in a country where democratic principles are so ardently professed and where the disposition to work out every principle with consistent logic is so strong, the local committee which conducts the business of the party should not be officially created, and from time to time1 renewed, as is done in the United States, by a vote of all the local members of the party. The reason is that the bulk of the citizens are less definitely committed to any one party than they are in the English-speaking countries, and that the groupings in the Chamber are not generally represented by like groupings over the country at large. The local committees are rather what used to be called in Scotland “cliques”? — small camarillas of persons whose political activity is due either to the fervour of their attachment to a certain set of doctrines or to a desire to secure local influence and obtain the best of what is going in the way of honours and benefits for themselves and their kinsfolk or friends. Such good things are obtainable (as already observed) from the Administration through the deputy, who is the Fountain of Honour. The clique goes to him. He presses the ministry, or tries to overawe the Prefect. Sometimes there is in the clique a strong man who fills the place of the American Boss, but more frequently the deputy is himself a sort of Boss, being in constant and confidential relations with the chiefs of the committee and dependent upon their support, just as they are dependent on him, for without him they could not get those favours the dispensation whereof is the basis of their local power. The men who compose these local cliques —minor officials or ex-officials, shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists —constitute, along with the deputies and a few rich men, financiers, chiefs of industry and owners of great newspapers, what are called the classes dirigeantes of France, the practical rulers of the country, though of course more or less controlled by that public opinion which they bear a large part in making.
From this description, however, I must not omit two other political forces, the one clerical, the other aggressively anticlerical. In many places, especially in the Catholic West, the cure (the priest's house, or what is called in England the parsonage) is the natural centre for ecclesiastical and pro-ecclesiastical action, and there are also some Catholic unions and associations, with numerous branches, which exert power, though probably less power than their antagonists credit them with. Over against these clerical organizations stand the secret Republican societies, and especially the [Freemasons. This ancient order, which in America is non-partisan, and in England rather Conservative than Liberal in its proclivities (so far as it has any), is in France, as in Italy and Spain, Republican and anti-religious, and as such is condemned in those countries, as well as in Ireland, by the Roman Church. Its Lodges are in France rallying-grounds for the Advanced Republicans, and are believed to possess immense influence, which (as always happens with secret societies) is sometimes perverted to personal ends. These underground organizations, ecclesiastical and anti-ecclesiastical, create an atmosphere of mystery and suspicion in local politics not favourable to the free expression of opinion, and tending to keep sensitive men out of local politics, just as the intrigues of the Chamber deter such men from entering Parliamentary life.
judicial and civil administration
The Judicial Bench is one of the oldest and most respected of French institutions, adorned in time past by many illustrious names, and constituting under the ancien régime what was called the noblesse de robe. It is not, as in English-speaking countries, virtually a branch of the profession of advocacy, but, as in most parts of the European continent, a distinct calling, which young men enter when their legal education is finished, instead of being the crowning stage, as in England, of a forensic career. Englishmen and Americans naturally prefer their own system, which restricts judicial appointments to those who have had experience at the Bar. This plan would, if applied to republican France, have one serious drawback. Advocates who were also deputies might recommend themselves for judicial posts by political services in the Chamber, and would be likely to retain on the bench their political proclivities. The British system is doubtless exposed to the same risk, but both in England and in Scotland tradition and the fear of professional disapproval have been so strong for more than a century that though judges are sometimes appointed as a reward for party services, public opinion keeps them straight. They may sometimes have a slight half-unconscious bias, but they would not lower themselves to do the bidding of a government.
Both the higher French judges and the lowest rank, called juges de paix, are appointed by the Minister of Justice. Under the old Monarchy judicial posts were purchased; and Montesquieu defended the system by the remark that if they had been in the gift of the Crown they would have been bestowed upon Court favourites, probably less competent and less trustworthy than the sons of judicial families whose parental purchasers had imbued them with judicial traditions. The appointment is permanent, for, in principle and as a rule, a judge cannot be removed except with the consent of the Cour de Cassation, the highest Court of Appeal. Removals for incompetence or delinquency are rare. But there have been times when the government of the day, fearing the anti-Republican tendencies of some of the judges, has required them to swear fidelity to the Republic, or has, after passing statutes suspending the rule of irremovability, gone so far as to displace a number of those whom they distrusted. This process, called a “purification” (épuratiori), was applied between 1879 and 1883 to remove a considerable number of judges and other legal officials whose loyalty to the Republic was suspected.1 So bold a step, being the act of a dominant party, gave a shock to public sentiment; but it must be remembered that in a country where the form of government itself is an issue between parties, as was at that time the case, the need for defending existing institutions is deemed to excuse extreme measures. In A.D. 1745 an English judge known to belong to the party of the exiled Stuarts might conceivably have been deemed a potential rebel and extruded from the Bench by an address of both Houses of Parliament.
An easier method of making vacancies to which there can be appointed persons whom a ministry desires to have as judges in any particular court is found in promoting an existing judge and filling his place with the person desired. The hope of promotion from a lower to a higher court is an influence which a minister can, and sometimes does, bring to bear upon a judge. It is in one way or another his interest to stand well with the Government, and, to some extent, even with the deputies from the district in which he sits, which is usually, if he can so arrange, the district to which he belongs by birth or adoption, and where he dwells among relatives and friends. One hears other ways mentioned in which governments or persons of influence with governments have been known to interfere with the ordinary course of justice, such as transferring a case from one court to another, or in the assignment by the Procureur-Général (Attorney-General) of a case to a particular Judge d'instruction2 or to the president of a particular tribunal; but there seems to be little basis for such charges, for the rules of judicial administration are uniform and pretty strictly observed. Deputies and others who possess influence, political or financial, are reported to approach judges, or give letters recommending litigants to their attention, a proceeding which, though disapproved, is not stamped out.
France has been so proud of her judiciary as to be extremely sensitive to its honour. This makes even small delinquencies noticed and lamented, and engenders suspicions that there may be more delinquencies than the public knows. So far as a stranger can judge, they appear to be rare. The judges are poorly paid, but the dignity of the office attracts capable men of high character, and a laudable standard of legal science is maintained in the decisions, those of the higher courts being reported as carefully, if not as fully, as the judgments of British or American tribunals. The judges in these courts are conspicuous social figures, taking rank among the first citizens of the communities within which they reside. If the government of the hour sometimes gets a little more than it ought from the judges, it gets so much less than it desires, that it has sometimes threatened another “purification.” This seems improbable, unless an extreme party should obtain control of both Chambers. Great as is the power in France of abstract democratic theory, no one seems to suggest the direct election of judges by the people. Such a change would be unwelcome to deputies and ministers, who desire to retain all possible kinds of patronage.
The Civil Service
The Civil Service of the country consists, as in England, of a small branch which is political, including the offices which change with each ministry, such as the under secretaries in the central departments, and of that far larger branch which is permanent, carrying on the regular administrative work.
The civil administration is the oldest institution in France. Established under Richelieu and Louis XIV., it was interrupted and, for the moment, shattered, by the first Revolution. Reconstructed by Bonaparte during the Consulate, it has remained little changed in essentials since his time. No more need be said of it than will suffice to indicate the relation it bears to the democratic character of the government. It has suffered at the hands of democracy, yet has shown itself strong enough to mitigate some of the faults it cannot cure.
The Civil Service of France is larger in proportion to the population than that of any other free country, possibly, indeed, than that of any country in Europe or America, because the sphere reserved for local self-governing authorities is so narrow that nowhere else, not even in Germany, is so much work thrown upon the central administration. Men's eagerness to enter even the humbler walks of official life has led to the multiplication of posts by governments tempted to increase their patronage, and has made the competition for posts extremely keen.1 Elective administrative offices, such as exist in the United States, are unknown, all appointments being made, as in England, by the Executive. Admission to most branches of the service, including those for which special knowledge or training is required, is by competitive examination, while the comparatively few places of a political character, whose occupants change with a change of ministry, lie outside the examination rules. To these the minister appoints at his discretion, probably influenced, at least where the post is of some consequence, not only by the politics of the aspirant, but also by private pressure exerted on his behalf. Promotion within the service is understood to go partly by seniority, partly by merit; but it is also largely governed by the political inducements which the deputy or some other important supporter brings to bear. In this way the less deserving may climb high, while efficiency suffers. No one can be displaced, except for some fault, though vested interests may be preserved by transfer or promotion to some other post so as to create a vacancy for the man whom influence pushes upwards. The observance of this rule is secured by public sentiment, and especially by the strong corporate spirit of the service itself, which few ministers would venture to offend. The permanent heads of the chief departments are men of proved capacity and high social standing. Their knowledge and experience are indispensable to every government; and, like British officials, they render loyal service to the government of the day, whatever their personal predilections.
The salaries paid to the permanent civil servants are low in proportion to the cost of living, which had risen in France even before 1914; and it would be hard to secure adequate competence but for the widespread desire, extending even to the lower ranks in the official hierarchy, for that social importance which State employment confers. Complaints made relate chiefly to the routine and formally precise or bureaucratic methods which prevail in France almost as much as in Germany. The deeply ingrained habit of obedience to official orders makes these methods endured more patiently than they would be among English-speaking men. The delays that occur in the working of the administrative machine are not altogether the fault of the permanent service, for it is the pressure exercised on ministers for favours that makes the local official await orders and shirk responsibility, since he fears to take any action which might interfere with his chief's desire to oblige.
One branch of the Civil Service has an importance peculiar to France, viz.: that which consists of the teachers in elementary schools, all of whom are appointed and may be dismissed by the Executive. In the course of its conflict with the power of the clergy, the Republican party has by a series of statutes established lay teachers in every public school, and found in them powerful allies. They have organized themselves in a sort of union, and recently sought, against the wishes of the Government, to join the General Labour Federation in order to improve their pay and position. This insubordination — as it is called by the chiefs — is not confined to the teachers. Others among the rank and file of the public employees ask to be allowed to agitate for higher pay and better conditions, arguing that by becoming employees they do not cease to be citizens. The question that has arisen how far such action is compatible with the discipline (said to be already impaired in the Customs department) necessary for efficiency, is serious, and has raised trouble both in Great Britain and in Australia. In the villages the teacher is usually the best-educated and best-informed layman, who adds to his influence over the pupils that influence which belongs to him as being (in most communes) the clerk to and adviser of the Maire. In the State secondary schools and universities no religious instruction is given; but in these public opinion secures perfect freedom for the teachers, and no complaints are made regarding favouritism in appointments or the exercise of political control.
In France the railroads nearly all belong to private companies, but recently one great system, that of the West, was taken over by the Government. Its management became more costly, and the inefficiency charged against it is used as an argument to meet the Socialist demand for the “nationalization “of all railroads. Few other “public utilities “have been undertaken by the State. It draws revenue from a monopoly of tobacco and matches.
The chief local administrative official is the Prefect, a figure to whom there is no one to correspond in any English-speaking country nor in Switzerland. It is he who in each of the eighty-six departments represents the Government for civil purposes.1 He is appointed, and may be removed, by the ministry at its discretion, no examination or other special qualification being required, since the post is a frankly political one. For his helpers and advisers he has a Prefec-tural Council, exercising a local jurisdiction over employees and minor administrative affairs; and under him there are Sub-Prefects also, appointed and removable by the ministry of the day, one for each arrondissement, of which there are in France 362. Through these functionaries a ministry carries out its wishes and fills most of the local posts, often consulting the Prefect, but (as already observed) chiefly influenced by the deputy, who has latterly become the stronger through his political hold on the ministry.
The rules of the permanent Civil Service forbid its members to take an active part in politics, but when they quietly work for ministerial candidates they need not fear its disapproval. The Prefect and Sub-Prefect lie under no similar disability, and frequently go round with a Governmental candidate.
Two other significant features of the French system must be here noted. One is the wide legislative power entrusted to ministers. Statutes are as a rule drawn up in general terms, leaving many details to be subsequently filled in. This happens to some extent in the United Kingdom, but there the statute expressly delegates to the Sovereign in his Privy Council, or to high officials — as for instance to the council of judges of the Supreme Court, or to the Home Secretary — power to issue Orders or Rules for carrying out the purpose of the statute, which, if made within the limits prescribed, have the force of law. In France, however, ministers are competent without such special authorization (though this is sometimes conferred) to issue ordinances binding not only their subordinates in the administration but the citizens generally. The more important of these are promulgated the name of the President, as Decrees. Minor matters are dealt with by various functionaries, not only individual ministers but Prefects, and even Maires as heads of communes. These are called arretes. The President's power extends to some slight extent even to the authorizing, in urgent cases, the borrowing of money (up to a certain limit) by the public treasury.
The other feature, unknown to English-speaking men though not to several continental countries, is the recognition of what is called Administrative Law. An official charged with some dereliction of duty, whether against his superiors or against a member of the public, is not liable, as in Britain or the United States, to be either sued or prosecuted in the ordinary Courts for an act done in the course of his official work. Complaints must be brought before the Administrative Tribunals, which are constituted of officials, the jurisdiction of these bodies covering many matters withdrawn from the competence of the ordinary Courts. This system, an inheritance from the old monarchy, is defended as required by the principle of the division of powers into Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.1 To permit the ordinary Courts of Law to try a functionary for an administrative act would be, in French eyes, to allow the Judiciary to interfere with the Executive, so the very same doctrine which in America secures the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive is used in France to secure the independence of the Executive, nominally as against the Judiciary, but really as against the public, for the agents of the Executive thereby escape direct liability to the citizen, being themselves, through their special Courts, the judges not only of the facts of a case but also interpreters of the law to be applied.
This rather undemocratic arrangement is an illustration of the width of the power wielded in France by an executive which is not only centralized but autocratic. Yet the exercise of power, since liable to be checked by the legislature, becomes uncertain in any particular case, for ministers, the creatures of a large and fluctuating body, exercise their patronage at the wishes of the individual members of that body and hold their own places at the caprice of its collective majority. With restricted functions their position would be more independent and more stable. But a strong executive is congenial to French ideas, and every government, be it republican or monarchical, feeling bound to maintain at all hazards its own form, has clung to a power which helps it to repress attempts at revolutionary change, supported by the feeling of the middle classes that public safety must be secured.
A part of the administration which deserves mention, because there is nothing analogous to it in any English-speaking country, is the Council of State. Founded by Napoleon, this useful and highly respected body consists of a number of eminent persons appointed and dismissible nominally by the President of the Republic, but practically by the ministry of the day, though it is in practice not frequently changed in composition. Its functions are to advise upon certain classes of ordinances and divers other matters of an administrative nature, and to sit as a final Court of Appeal from the decisions of administrative tribunals. This latter duty, which belongs only to one class of the councillors, seems to be now the more important, for advice given on other matters need not be followed by the ministry. This Council has won the commendation of some English writers, who think that some similar institution might usefully be formed out of the British Privy Council. In France itself there are those who hold that it could well be used more largely than it is for the purpose of drafting or revising projects of legislation, and regret that the Ministry and the Chambers are too jealous of their own powers to share them with a nominated body.
It has already been pointed out that pre-Revolutionary France had no system of local institutions similar to those of England and the United States. Certain ancient rights of jurisdiction belonged to the noblesse; and local judiciaries existed in the Parlements of some of the greater provinces, but administration, civil and financial, had passed into the hands of the officers of the Crown. When the welter of the Revolution ended in 1799, Napoleon, in reconstructing the administrative system of Louis XIV., so strengthened it as to make the hand of the Central Government felt in every part of the country. There was no thought of creating local institutions, still less of putting them upon a popular basis. France was cut up into Departments, on lines which in some cases ignored the old provinces.1 The departments were artificial divisions, with no corporate tradition, such as still belong to English counties, and awakening no local patriotism. Only one relic of antiquity remained in the rural Commune, a civil as well as an ecclesiastical unit, which, now that the severance of the Catholic Church from the State has extinguished its religious character, remains as the basis of civil organization. To it we shall return presently, when the larger unit of the Department has been described.
Democratic principles require some sort of self-government, so in each Department there has been created an elected council, the Conseil Général, chosen by universal suffrage, each canton returning one member who sits for six years, one-half of the whole Council being changed every three years. There are two sessions in each year, one lasting for a month, the other a fortnight. If an extra session is called, the sittings must not exceed a week. Its taxing powers are strictly limited, and it can be dissolved by the Government, should it incur their displeasure. Its chief functions are the care of the departmental roads, a class of highways intermediate between the national roads and the so-called “neighbourhood roads” (chemins vicinaiux), as well as of the schools and asylums, and it can give subventions to railways. The narrowness of its sphere is due to the wide powers exercised by the Prefect as the agent of the Central Government. Not only does he appoint the departmental officials and manage the public institutions, dealing with many matters left in England or the United States to locally elected authorities, but his is the executive hand by which the decisions of the Council have to be carried out, and his power over the Council itself is considerable. It cannot take action without having received his report on the matter proposed to be dealt with. Its decisions on certain subjects can be annulled by the Central Government, whose approval is required for its tax levies, and for their appropriations to particular objects. Notwithstanding these limitations, there is considerable competition for seats on the Council, partly because they open a path to public life. The elections are fought upon the lines of national party, and thereby embittered.1 Local would-be leaders find a field for making themselves known, and do so the more easily because the substantial citizens show little interest in the conduct of Departmental business. A statute of 1884 withdrew from the Councils, as liable to partisanship, a part of the control they had possessed over the affairs of the communes.
The Arrondissement, which is the next largest local circumscription, and was till 1919 the electoral area for the election of a deputy to the Chambers, also possesses a Council (members elected for six years), but of slight importance, since it has neither revenues nor expenses of its own. So, too, the canton, a still smaller division for judicial and military purposes, need not concern us.
Thus we arrive at the Commune, a local entity which is over nearly the whole of Central and Western Europe the basis of rural life, bearing in Germany and German-speaking Switzerland the name of Gemeinde. It corresponds to the Town or Township of the Northern and Western States of America. In England it was represented by the Parish, but after the middle of the seventeenth century that area had little significance for non-ecclesiastical purposes, until a statute of 1894 created Parish Councils with some civil functions. English and American readers must, however, beware of thinking of a French Commune as if it were what they understand either by a Parish or by a Township. The Commune is just as much urban as rural. It is a municipality capable of holding property as a corporation, and may be as large as Paris or as small as an Alpine hamlet. It has a Communal Council, varying in size from ten to thirty-six members, unpaid, elected for four years by universal suffrage, and themselves electing their Maire,1 who, besides being the chairman, has administrative functions both as the agent of the Central Government, carrying out the directions of the Prefect, and as the executive in matters falling within the sphere of the Communal Council. In some of these matters the Prefect can interfere to annul the acts of Maire or Council; and he may suspend either, or both, from office for a month, while the Central Government can remove him and dissolve the Council altogether. Subject to this control the Council has a general management of local affairs, though official approval is required for the sale of communal property and nearly all other financial business.2
The Commune, or as we should say, Municipality, of Paris is specially regulated. It has a Council of eighty members, but the executive authority belongs partly to the Maires of its twenty arrondissements, who are appointed by the Central Government, partly to two high officials, the Prefect of the Seine and the Prefect of Police. Paris has been too formidable a factor in the political life of Prance to be left to wander at its own sweet will.
The Councils both of the Departments and of the large urban Communes differ greatly in composition and in competence. In villages the Maire is said to be often imperfectly educated and obliged to lean on the schoolmaster. It is alleged that in some large cities, especially where the Socialists have captured the council, local demagogues have found their way into the councils by profuse promises of benefits to the poorer citizens, that rash experiments have been tried, the legal limits of taxation exceeded, heavy debts contracted, patronage misused in the interests of personal friends and parties, improper advantages, such as free tickets for theatres, given to the councillors. If such abuses have been tolerated by the Prefect or the Minister of the Interior, this is ascribed to political motives, because the Administration may hesitate to quarrel with its friends. About the load of debts which presses many of the large municipalities — debts often contracted with little foresight, and sometimes from electioneering motives — there is no doubt, but the other evils just mentioned do not seem to have spread widely. Serious scandals are rare, and have nowhere reached the dimensions of those, now less frequent than formerly, which have disgraced many North American cities. Honest city government has not been one of the great political problems of France. There is probably some want of skill and of judgment, and a readiness to outstep the limits of the law in pursuing what are believed to be the interest of the masses, but peculation is seldom charged. Both French and German critics of democracy are so trenchant in their censure of the Parliamentary Republic that one cannot but suppose that where there is hardly any smoke there can be little fire.
The reader may ask why in a country democratic in spirit and logical in pushing its principles to their conclusions so little has been done for local self-government. The sovereignty of the people is the corner-stone of the Republic. Why trust a nation of forty millions to deal with questions vital to national existence, and refuse to trust the inhabitants of departments or communes with the management of their local affairs, affairs in which a little mismanagement will not greatly matter?
The first answer is that the permanent Civil Service, a bureaucracy holding power and liking power, doing their work well and believing that the people would not do it nearly so well, resist schemes of decentralization.
The second answer is that ministers and deputies cling to the patronage by which the latter keep their hold on their constituents and the former can win the support of deputies.
The third answer is that all who have ruled France since the Directory which Napoleon overthrew in 1799 have had to fear an insurrection which might change the form of government, whether that form was a Monarchy or a Republic. “Self-preservation is the first law of life. Whatever happens, the Monarchy, or the Empire, or the Republic (as the case may be) must be preserved. All the means needed for that supreme end must be used. The control of the whole administration of the country from the centre is such a means. We have it, we need it, we will keep it. It gives us the police as well as the army. It enables us to fill the local posts with our friends, safe men who will serve us at a pinch. It prevents local bodies which might be at a given moment disaffected, from becoming local centres of open resistance or secret conspiracy. If such bodies commanded large funds, or controlled the police, or were in any way strong and conspicuous enough to influence the masses of the people, they might be a danger. We must not give them the opportunity.”
Furthermore, the people of France have not asked for a larger measure of local self-government. They have no such dislike to being governed as used to exist, and to some extent exists still, in England and America; and they care much more for being governed well than for governing themselves. Political philosophers and practical political reformers, from Tocqueville eighty years ago to Taine in our own time, have held up to them the example of the United States as fit to be imitated. Novelists have told them that centralization has injured local social life as well as political life all over France.1 They have listened unmoved, making no such demand as stirs a ministry to action. No political party could by carrying a full-blown scheme of self-government gain enough credit to compensate for the difficulties of the enterprise, and for the troubles that might be expected before the people had learnt to use self-government wisely. There are those who tell the observer privately, though few would proclaim it, that little could be gained by entrusting wide functions to communities most of which have not been fitted by history, and are not fitted by existing social conditions, to use those functions wisely, for the direction of affairs would be likely to fall into the hands of plausible demagogues or wily schemers, the motive forces would be self-interest tempered by fanaticism, predatory in some places, religious or anti-religious in others. Local self-government ought not to be given till the people have learnt to use it. Yet how will they learn to use it except by trying? This is the old problem which has always divided thinkers as well as politicians. Swimming can be learnt only by going into the water, but if you go in before you can swim you may be drowned. Those who know the history of Switzerland, America, and England do not deny the risk, but think it well worth taking.
There has recently arisen a movement called Regionalism, aiming at the division of France into a number of large administrative governmental areas to be formed by grouping departments on geographical lines in accordance with their respective economic interests and historical traditions, and proposing to confer upon each such area a measure of local autonomy sufficient to relieve the Central Government of many functions.1 Considerations already referred to may seem to recommend such a project, especially if accompanied by a scheme enlarging the scope of self-government in the existing minor local divisions such as the Arrondissement. But the idea had not in 1920 so far won popular support as to make it probable that the legislature would give practical effect to it at a time when other grave questions were occupying the public mind.
What has been said in preceding pages regarding the history of France and its political parties may serve to explain the characteristics of public opinion in France as compared with other democratic countries.
Public opinion, as we have already seen,1 is a better ruler, when its will can be ascertained, than is the ballot. But its rule works best when it is National, i.e. national in two senses of the word, as being the product of nearly the whole nation, irrespective of local divisions, and as possessing a certain unity and generality of colour and tendency which includes or overrides or mitigates the inevitable divisions of view created by the existence of social classes and political parties. Where each type of class opinion or party opinion is sharply opposed to other types, one can hardly talk of the public opinion of the country at large, so the statesman who desires to obey the national will is driven to estimate the respective strength of each type, treating them as conflicting forces, and to strike a sort of balance between them, according to their power of supporting or resisting a given policy.
France is a large country, in which, strong as is the sense of national unity, marked differences of race and temperament are still discernible. The men of the North-west are unlike those of the East and South-west, while both are unlike the passionate South-east and the more phlegmatic Northeast. The Normans are almost a distinct type, but less so than the Basques. In economic conditions also there are contrasts. Large estates remain in parts of the west and centre: in other regions the land belongs in small lots to the peasants. The population of the great manufacturing centres is as excitable as that of the quiet agricultural districts is sluggish and averse to change.
France, moreover, resembles a region where volcanic forces have been recently active. Here and there the ground is seared by explosions. Deep chasms have opened: rumblings are heard which may betoken fresh eruptions. The passions roused in three revolutions are not extinct. The bitterness of the workman against the bourgeois is exceeded by that which rages between the friends and the enemies of the Church. Thus in France public opinion is more profoundly divided than in any other great State. Even in the smaller countries, like Ireland or Australia, one finds no parallel. In Great Britain, though there have been hot conflicts between the two great parties, there have always been many questions outside the party sphere; and there have been plenty of citizens who thought and voted with independence, shifting the balance from one party to another, according to their judgment on the issues prominent at the moment. An acute and dispassionate observer could, not indeed always, yet generally, tell the direction in which the national mind was moving. This is even more true of the United States1 and of Switzerland and of Canada.
France presents another peculiar feature. In Britain and the United States, as in most free countries, it is chiefly the men who think, speak, and write that form public opinion. Though only a small minority of the population, they are not a class, but shade off imperceptibly into the general body of the nation, the bulk of which, though in very varying degrees, takes some interest in politics. And of those who do the thinking and the speaking, in the capital and all over the country, a comparatively small proportion are members of the legislature or otherwise directly occupied with political work. Still more is this the case in Switzerland, where everybody is expected to possess some sort of knowledge and show some sort of interest in public questions. Not so in France, according to the reports of most foreign observers, who declare that a large section of the population, especially in rural districts and in the smaller towns, cares little about politics unless when some question arises directly affecting their occupation,2 and that many of those who vote at a general election, because they are brought up to the polls, give so slight an attention to public matters that definite opinions cannot be attributed to them. Their local newspaper contains scarcely any political news. To them business, family affairs, and social pleasures cover the whole of life; so, though they count as possible voters, they do not count for the purpose of expressing (except almost mechanically at elections) a real popular will.
Frenchmen, however, declare that the foreign observers referred to exaggerate this apparent indifference. The peasant and the petit bourgeois does not wear his opinions upon his sleeve. Even when he has no clear and decided view on a particular question or the merits of a particular politician, he is governed by tendencies, generally persistent, as is shown by the constancy with which many electoral districts adhere from one generation to another to candidates of a particular type, be it clerical, or moderate conservative, or that of the advanced republican parties. The election of 1919 is cited as indicating the existence of a large body of opinion which, alarmed by the attitude of the Extreme (or Socialist) Left, came to the polls in unusual strength, and swung back from the Left towards the Centre or the Right. Evidently these voters had been thinking.
There is also a class important by its talents and influence rather than by its members, which eschews parliamentary politics. It consists of the men of letters and science, and includes most of the teachers in the universities and higher schools, as well as many of those who follow the learned professions. These men seem to stand more apart from the practical political life of the country, both national and local, than does the corresponding class in Britain or Switzerland or the United States. They have, however, and they deserve to have, a very real influence in the formation of opinion. They have knowledge and capacity, an admirable power of expression and a patriotic interest in the country's fortunes. But they are (except the journalists) in little direct touch with the legislators, less than Englishmen of the same type would be, so their opinion, though powerful and respected, tells comparatively little, or at any rate not directly, on the conduct of affairs from session to session.
Premising these facts, let us see what are the chief currents of political opinion in France. I have already enumerated the parties in the two Chambers, and have indicated the four main types of which the parties are subdivisions. The first of these is the Catholic Legitimist, which cherishes the traditions of the old Monarchy and the Church as they stood in the days of Louis Quatorze. Though attached in theory to the ancient dynasty, nearly the whole of this section has ceased to hope for a Restoration. It is now much more Catholic than Legitimist, three-fourths at least of its adherents having accepted the Republic. Its real principle is attachment to Catholicism; and the hostility shown by the more advanced Republicans to the clergy, even since the disestablishment effected in 1903-5, gives it grounds for holding together to defend religion. Most of its members do not seek to re-establish the Church, but would be content with a reasonable concordat, the recognition of a place for the teaching Orders in the instruction of the people, and the cessation of the present anti-Catholic intolerance. Respectable by its sincerity and by the social influence it can still put forth, it is not a force of the first order, except in some parts of the West and North,1 and in the army, chiefly among the officers.
Such authority as men of a second type of opinion exert, springs rather from the eminence than from the numbers of those in whom it is embodied. These are the moderate Republicans, whose ideal, influential in 1848—49 and again in 1870-75, of a conservative Republic, upholding the rights of property, repressing attempts at disorder, and carefully husbanding the national revenue, has lost favour in France. It has still some distinguished literary exponents and the sympathy of a large part of the cultivated bourgeoisie; but its force, scanty if we regard the votes it can command, is felt chiefly in the unseen restraint which it imposes, largely through the official class, upon projects of rash change. It has even a certain distant tenderness for the Church, less from religious sympathy than from a sense that religion exerts a steadying influence. It acquiesces in the existing Constitution, fearing that something worse might follow were that to be tampered with, hut it disapproves the methods by which deputies and ministers work the system, and recoils from some of their proposals.
No sharp line can so far as respects specific articles of political faith be drawn between these Moderates and the third main type composed of the more numerous Advanced Republicans of the Left. But there is a difference of temper and tendency. The Radical school of opinion professes more faith in the masses, and is committed to semi-socialistic experiments planned in their interest. It looks back to 1791— 93 as the Moderates look back to 1789-90, and cherishes the memories of the revolutions in which Paris overthrew four monarchies in succession. If any one type of opinion can be said to dominate the country it is this, for it is strong in the east and south and in most parts of the centre.
Finally, there is Socialist opinion. Of those who profess it, some are more, some less, attached to the doctrines of Proudhon or to those of Karl Marx, some more ready than others to resort to the general strike and even to violence. But all agree in desiring an economic reconstruction of society upon a collectivist or communistic basis. Many, probably most, of the leaders are not themselves hand-workers, but literary or professional men. Though the Socialists, being the best organized and best disciplined of all the parties, may be deemed a well-defined body, socialist opinions are not confined to that organized party, and the more advanced Radical views melt into those of the less advanced Socialists. While many Radicals are permeated by collectivist doctrine, not a few eminent Socialists have from time to time quitted the party to enrol themselves in the Radical ranks, either modifying their former views or recognizing that the time has not arrived for translating theory into practice.
Let it be noted that all the sections of the Republican Left, whatever their differences, have a bond of union in their hostility to Clericalism, and therefore to Monarchy which they associate with Church power. This is the dividing line that goes deepest.
Besides these various schools of political thought, a tendency has now and then emerged which is not so much a Doctrine or Programme as a manifestation of discontent with the existing system of government. A few sentences may serve to explain its origin.
When Louis Napoleon's coup d'état overthrew the Second Republic in 1852, he hastened to legalize his position by asking for, and obtaining, a plebiscite or popular vote of the whole nation,— for universal suffrage then already existed,— by which he was chosen President for ten years. A similar vote taken in 1852 made him Emperor, the majorities being large on both occasions. Many Frenchmen have been captivated by the notion of a popular dictatorship, a government by one man, democratic in its source, because it springs straight from universal suffrage, but uncontrolled in its exercise, because not dependent on the favour of a legislature. Despite the calamities which the Second Empire brought upon France, this idea kept alive a large party, which called itself Bonapartist, and commanded many votes in the Chamber down till the death of Louis Napoleon's son in 1879. Thereafter the party declined, there being no representative of the family whose personal merits recommended him as its standard-bearer, and for many years past candidates for the Chamber have ceased to offer themselves as Bonapartists. But the type of doctrine, the tendency which prefers not a constitutional monarchy but a popular dictatorship to the rule of a legislature, has persisted as a protest against Parliamentarism, cherishing a desire to strengthen the Executive, whether by conferring greater powers on the President or by setting up some new kind of authority through which the country, delivered from the intrigues of the Chamber, may stand stronger and more united in the face of foreign foes. It was this tendency which, suddenly developing with unsuspected force, made a hero of General Boulanger, who was supposed to have in him the makings of a dictator. It reappeared in the days of the Dreyfus conflict, when the anti-Semites and the rich and the timid clamoured for strong government. Never definitely embodied in a party, it has gained support from every quarter in which there was discontent. Monarchists favoured it: Clericals welcomed it, and so did a large section of the army, of which it frequently proclaimed itself the champion. It drew votes from a section of the Radicals, even from a section of the Socialists. Blossoming into a party, it took the name of Nationalist, but as it found no leader who could be put forward as a candidate for the Presidency, much less for an avowed dictatorship, it presently withered and subsided as an organization. Yet the tendency remains, for it is on its practical side an inevitable reaction against the faults of “Parliamentarism,” and on its theoretical side an expression of democratic faith in universal suffrage and the direct action of the people through the man of their choice. It finds vent in the proposals frequently launched for enlarging the powers of the President, so as to give him a leadership and authority independent of his ministers. It has to be reckoned with as a real, though a variable and unpredictable force. How far the experiences of the Great War will affect it remains to be seen. None of the military chiefs who won fame in that war has sought to turn his influence to any political purpose.
Through what organs do these types of opinion express themselves, and how is their respective strength to be gauged? All are represented in the two Chambers. All appeal to the public through the press, and by meetings, though these are less frequent, excite less interest, and play (except in the great cities) a smaller part in public affairs than popular gatherings do in Britain or America. It is naturally the more numerous and the more advanced parties, especially Radicals and Socialists, who make most, and the Conservative Republicans who make least use of popular demonstrations. An army moving to the attack will shout or sing: that which stands still stands silent.
All these types have their exponents in the newspaper press, of which, as being both an index and a moulder of opinion, some words must be said.
The French Press presents forms of excellence and forms of turpitude more extreme than can be found in other great countries. The worst journals live by blackmailing and other base arts. The best reach a dignity of manner not surpassed and a perfection of literary expression hardly equaled elsewhere. Their articles may not contain more knowledge and thought than did two or three of the ablest newspapers of Vienna, of Buda Pest, and of Germany, but they are better written, the French language being singularly adapted to this form of literature, for which the ablest Trench pens of the last hundred years created an admirable tradition. In these best newspapers one finds a wide outlook, a philosophic insight, a familiarity with the politics of other European countries, and a felicity of phrase which have rarely, if ever, been found combined in the press of any capital save Paris.
This is an old characteristic: two other features of the French Press are more recent. One is the business character which the newspapers of the largest circulation have assumed. They are great commercial enterprises, returning immense profits to their owners, and it is the profits that come first in the minds of their owners. Nowadays a newspaper lives by advertisements rather than by circulation, so it becomes necessary to secure advertisements. Circulation is desired because it draws the advertiser. These things being so, the owner is obliged both to propitiate that part of the business world whence advertisements come, and to avoid whatever is likely to reduce his circulation by offending any large body of readers. Hence — so it is alleged — a great journal cannot to-day show so much independence as formerly. Some one has said, “When the opinions of a journal begin to count, it ceases to have opinions.” There are other ways in which newspapers are subject to influences. They like to stand well with the powers that be in the world of commerce and finance. They desire the latest, most exact, and most secret political news from abroad. Since this is in the gift of the Government, one must be on good terms with the Government in order to have it. A tacit understanding with ministers suits both parties, for ministers, when they obtain press goodwill, have a guarantee against attack, imperfect, no doubt, yet worth something, while the journal gets what helps its circulation. It is good policy to receive the proprietor or editor when he asks an interview, and to take reporters around in the special train when the President goes on a tour. The deputies follow suit, and confide to the newspaper such news as they can impart. Even the judicial bench seeks praise from the press.
While noting the above facts, generally true as regards the influence of newspapers in the country and at normal times — so far as any times can be called normal — another fact also is to be remembered. The small circle of persons who in Paris habitually occupy themselves with politics, i.e. with ministerial intrigues and changes, with gossip about foreign affairs, and with schemes for reaping pecuniary crops on that field where business and politics meet — this small crowd of ministers and deputies, with the buzzing swarm that surrounds ministers and deputies, is much influenced by the Parisian newspapers, especially at the arrival of a ministerial crisis. A scathing article may destroy the chances of an aspirant or wreck a possible combination. The incisive skill of French journalism which inflicted such wounds on Napoleon III. in his palmiest days, shows itself at these moments with unabated force. It permits itself much licence, but without that licence many truths which need to be told might remain unspoken.
These phenomena are not confined to France. Similar causes have been producing them everywhere. More peculiar to France is the ownership of a journal by some eminent politician, who writes in it or uses it as his organ, so that it gives currency to his views and becomes identified with his plans and aspirations. This is fairer to the public than a secret league between a newspaper and a minister, who is expected to reward it (as happens in some other countries) by an appointment or the bestowal of an honour. The open advocacy of the views of a particular statesman, or group, by his or its newspaper, supplies to some extent the decline in the freedom and earnestness with which politics are handled in the most widely circulated journals, which would appear to be to-day less purely political than they were thirty or forty years ago. As financial interests have grown more powerful and financiers have thrown their tentacles over politics, those newspapers which finance can use have in losing independence lost much of their value, both as critics and as leaders.1
It must not, however, be forgotten that the influence of the Parisian press, which alone most foreigners see, great as it is in and in a circle around the capital, declines rapidly when that point in the circle is reached where it is the local newspapers that the householder reads before the day's work begins. Cities like Lyons and Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseilles, have powerful and well-written journals which escape some of the temptations that beset the capital. They follow the proceedings of the legislature closely and, like the newspapers of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Scotland, deal effectively with general as well as local issues. It is often said that both these leading provincial papers and their readers take politics more seriously than do the Parisians.
Men ask in Prance whether it is the press that guides public opinion or public opinion that guides the press. Both processes go on, but the ability of a journalist is shown, not so much in following and heightening the sentiment of the moment as in presaging the course which any sentiment is just beginning to take, and heading his ship that way before his rivals.
The type of opinion which most needs the help of the press is the Conservative Republican, because though strong in intellectual resources it is weak in numbers and organization. The stranger who admires it as literature is apt to overestimate its influence. In reality neither its organs nor those of the extreme schools already enumerated (always excepting the Socialist papers read by Socialist workmen) reach the masses of the people. But there are papers read by them, and especially those read by the rural voter, which do not make politics their main concern, since it is not for their politics that men buy them. Local affairs, agricultural affairs, conspicuous crimes, and what are called faits divers form the staple of their news. The proceedings of the Chambers, scantily reported in nearly all journals, are in these barely adverted to, so when an important speech is delivered by a Minister which the majority in the Chamber desires to bring before the people, it is printed on a broadsheet and sent down to all the communes, to be pasted up on the wall of the Mairie to be read by the good citizen. “Whether the good citizen spends much time in perusing it there may be doubted. I have never seen him so engaged. These things seem to show that the press, or at any rate the Parisian press, is no sure index to the views or probable action of the agricultural electors.
How, then, is opinion formed? Among the industrial workers of the towns largely by the Radical or Socialist press which developes, as events occur, views of the type its readers already hold. To some extent, among the upper section of the professional and commercial class, by one or more of the leading journals of the capital, and among the middle or poorer sections of the bourgeoisie generally, by talk in the cafés of the town where they live, or perhaps at their clubs (cercles), for the Trench, being a sociable people, spend more of their evenings in one another's company than do the English or the Americans, and if they care at all about politics, discuss current events eagerly. Opinion seems to be formed more than in England by talk and less by the printed page, though of course each man's paper supplies the facts, or its version of the facts, upon which the discussions of the café proceed. The power of any single newspaper over its readers may be less than it has often been in England and in Australia. But the press can probably do more than it could in those countries to disparage or discredit a politician whom it seeks to ruin, for the French public is suspicious, apt to presume some foundation for charges positively brought, while the law of libel is notoriously ineffective where politics are concerned. Able and judicious as are some of the newspapers in each of the great provincial cities, the capital has been the chief factory in which political opinion is made. Though Goethe was fond of dwelling on the immense value of Paris as the meeting-place of philosophers, writers, and artists, it might be better for the country to have independent centres of political thought such as Germany has had, and as are guaranteed to America by her vast extent. They give to opinion a greater variety, and tend to soften the asperities of conflicts waged too exclusively on the same parliamentary battlefield.
Returning to the main issue, we have to ask how far public opinion, as compared with the legislative and executive machinery of government, is fit to direct the domestic and foreign policy of France. In the United States and Switzerland public opinion rules. To a less degree it rules in England also. Does it rule in France?
France differs from these three countries in two ways. In all of them a large majority of the voters are interested in public affairs, so a statesman of insight can usually discover the general trend of their views and wishes, even when he cannot predict precisely the result of an election, for many secondary questions affect different sets of voters. Opinion is so widely diffused among the more passive sections as well as among the more active, that it can be tolerably well tested in all classes. It is in the air which men breathe. But in France a somewhat larger section of the voters have few positive opinions, but are moved rather by tendencies, grounded on habit or a vague sense of their own interests, or on a feeling for or against the Church or the chateau, or on a dislike of the bourgeoisie. Such tendencies, even when they determine their permanent attitude to a party, do not necessarily prescribe their votes on every current issue, some of which may not affect personal interests or appeal to religious proclivities.
On the other hand, that part of the French people which, holding definite views, cares for and watches public affairs, is sharply divided into different schools of thought and (less sharply) into political parties. The extreme schools differ on fundamentals, even on the form of government and the economic structure of society. Thus when we take all these schools and groups in the aggregate, we find in them no general public opinion, but rather a congeries of dissident opinions, incapable of being brought into harmony. It is an orchestra of clashing instruments. So sharp is the clashing that, whereas in America and England one can reckon on a disposition to acquiesce in the decision of the majority once that decision has been given, one cannot so reckon in France. The will which an election reveals may remain the will of the strongest factions only, not of the nation as a whole. The statesman has to keep his eye on the conflicting parties as abiding factors and calculate their present or prospective strength. He cannot make a national harmony out of the discordant notes and try to sing in tune. To this, however, there is the one exception, which I have already mentioned. On the main lines of foreign policy there has been a truly national public opinion. Differences of course there must be as to the prudence of any particular diplomatic step. Differences there were before the war as to the extent of the military precautions required; but these differences rarely weakened the Executive in its conduct of foreign relations. Pride and patriotism imposed silence on factions.
Secondary issues are, however, too much left to the Chambers and the group of political journalists who manufacture opinion in Paris. Here, as in England, the knowledge of foreign affairs and the interest felt in them have been too slender to enable the people to hold in check the schemes of adventurers pressing for the assumption of responsibilities abroad, and to exercise that control over foreign policy which is needed for the doing of justice and the maintenance of peace. The journals and coteries of Paris are in this sphere not sufficiently restrained by the opinion of the provinces.
It may help the reader to comprehend the peculiarly complicated phenomena of France if I try to present the forces and influences at work on politics in yet another form of classification, enumerating six classes or sets of citizens of most importance.
First come the peasantry, more than half of the total number of voters, knowing little, and often caring little about politics, but, shrewd in their way, thrifty almost to excess, and of a conservative temper.
Secondly, the working men in cities and other great industrial centres. Knowing more and caring more about public matters than do the peasants, but also regarding them chiefly from the side of their own interests, they are not generally revolutionists, but eager for changes that promise to better their condition.
Thirdly, the commercial sections of the middle classes, forming the great bulk of the bourgeoisie, thinking first of their business, valuing the stability of institutions, and, like their peasant neighbours, suspicious of novelties.
Fourthly, the professional classes, who while in one sense a part of the bourgeoisie, are more generally highly educated men, many of them occupied with letters or science, well qualified and disposed to take a lively interest in politics both foreign and domestic.
Fifthly. Across and through all these classes and the material interests by which each of them is moved, strikes the influence of religion and the Catholic Church, an influence whose appeal to tradition and emotion is capable, at moments, of thrusting aside or overriding all considerations of material interest — the peasant's passion for the land, the bourgeois' love of a quiet life, the intellectual detachment of the scholar or man of science. Among the workers also there are those over whose capacity for idealism socialistic doctrines can exercise a power like that of religion.
Lastly there are the plutocrats of finance and industry, insignificant in number, but strong by the influence which wealth always confers, and which it here exerts, chiefly in secret, through the press. There are, probably, among them some disinterested patriots, but, taken as a whole, they are more distinctly “out for themselves first, last, and all the time,” than any other section of the community, and this concentration of effort on a single definite end is one of the sources of the power of wealth, apparently greater in France than anywhere else in the world.
the tone of public life
This survey of the persons by whom France is ruled and of the methods which deputies, ministers, and officials are wont to employ, needs to be completed by a few words on public life as a whole, its purity and its general tone. All that foreign observers have said in censure of the two former classes has been surpassed in acrimony by critics who are themselves Frenchmen. The stranger who seeks to discover the truth from books and newspapers feels bound to discount much of what native writers say about their countrymen, as due to that warmth of partisan feeling which has for forty years been more intense here than elsewhere in Europe. Some faults, moreover, which belong to politics in all countries, and were at least as evident under the three preceding monarchies, are now held up to scorn as if peculiar to the present regime. But how much, then, are we to discount the sum total of the iniquities charged against the Third Republic? I have tried to correct the exaggerations of political polemics by the opinions of impartially minded French friends, but while the conclusions to be here stated seem to me generally true, it is with the greatest diffidence that I submit them.
Let us begin with the ordinary citizen. Is his vote at an election purchasable? The Commissions which investigate these matters take evidence laxly, and the Chamber is influenced in its decisions by party motives. But the upshot seems to he that the giving and receiving of bribes is rare. Few candidates can afford to spend money in this way; and though here, as in other countries, the voter may see little harm in making something out of his vote, the process is too costly to be often employed in the large constituencies universal suffrage has created.
As respects members of the Legislature and Ministers, for these classes may be considered together, it is especially hard to speak positively. The resounding explosion of the Panama affair, in which it was proved that immense sums had been diverted from the making of the Canal to private gains, and that some of these had gone to purchasing support in the Chamber, possibly from a few ministers and certainly from some deputies, created an atmosphere of suspicion which lasted for years, like the smoke that continues to hang over the spot where a high explosive shell has struck the ground. A scandal so tremendous seemed to confirm the vague suspicions that had existed before: and it tended to render probable charges subsequently made. That very few persons were ultimately convicted scarcely diminished the effect, because it was known that some of the accused had escaped justice, either for want of evidence or through official connivance, and no one could be sure how many these might be. Nothing similar has occurred since, yet the memory of Panama has remained to be used as a reproach against Parliamentary government, even by those who know that there were scandals in the days of Louis Philippe, when the intellectual character of the Chamber stood high, and more numerous scandals in the eighteen years' reign of Napoleon III. than the Republic has seen during the last fifty.
That there are some corruptible members of the Legisture is probable. Such men are to be found in every large assembly, though in a few the standard of probity has been kept so high that they seldom venture to affront it. Some sources of temptation are absent. Those private Bills, promoted in the interests of some commercial or industrial enterprise, or granting a valuable concession of public rights to private undertakings, which are the chief source of corruption in American legislatures, scarcely exist in Trance. Few new railroads have been constructed of late years: few projects are brought forward which affect business men sufficiently to make it worth their while to approach legislators. Those who seek their own interests in the imposition or reduction of protective duties on imports generally pursue their aims openly. Nevertheless it does happen that large financiers, or firms desiring to develop undertakings abroad, as for instance in Turkey, or in the colonies, do attempt to bring improper influences to bear: and sometimes they succeed. Persons who ought to know assure me that the percentage of purchasable deputies is trifling, but that a good many are not above using their position for gainful purposes, as an advocate may extend his practice by his position in the Chamber, or as a deputy can profit by indirectly helping a commercial company. Some evidence of the anxiety which the connection of senators and deputies with business undertakings has been causing may be found in the bills introduced to declare certain positions incompatible with that of a legislator. The provisions of the existing law declare the ineligibility for a seat of any one who exercises a public function paid by State funds (with a very few exceptions for Ministers and others), of any one who is a member of a “Commission Départmentale,” or of a Conseil Général, and of a director of three great steam-packet companies which hold postal service concessions from the Government. It was proposed by a bill of 1917 to extend this ineligibility to persons discharging either any function paid by the funds of the State, or of a Department, or of a Commune, or of a Colony, or any function to which a person may be nominated by the State in any financial, industrial, or commercial company or enterprise; and the bill would also forbid members of either Chamber, Ministers, and Under Secretaries of State to take part in any bargain or adjudication to which the State, or departments, or communes are parties in respect of work to be done or goods to be supplied. One can conjecture the evils at which such provisions as these are aimed.
The name of a deputy on the directorate of an incorporated company has lost what value it once possessed, because confidence has been shaken. A deputy may possibly, and a minister will usually, know facts enabling him to speculate in stocks with a prospect of success, and the opinion of his fellow-members deals leniently with this form of what is called tripotage. Though it is thought unbecoming for a politician to be mixed up with business matters, a slur on his reputation does not shut the door of office against him. The deputies and ministers who lack private fortune are not those round whom suspicion most frequently hovers, nor has the receipt of a salary lowered the moral standard, except in so far as it creates a further motive for giving an unconscientious vote in order to retain a seat. Public opinion is sensitive on the subject of pecuniary gains by politicians: it is only a talent which approaches indispensability that obtains impunity for transgressors. When stories are profusely circulated censoriousness tends to defeat itself, because if many accusations are made and remain unproved, people begin to treat the subject lightly, giving weight only to a few charges, and not troubling themselves to discriminate between the rest, for in despair of reaching the truth they cease to probe matters to the bottom.
A singularly fair-minded French observer, who tells me that during the last forty years the intellectual level of the deputies has slightly risen, while their moral level has slightly fallen, attributes this to two causes which have little to do with politics. The diffusion of higher education among the middle and lower middle and even the wage-earning classes has enabled a larger proportion than formerly of able men of humble origin to enter Parliament. Such men are less responsive to the standards set by a highly cultivated society because they have never belonged to it. They have brought with them less polished manners and less refined tastes, and they represent that new spirit which, pursuing merely material aims, is indifferent to religious or philosophical principles, a spirit which, though deemed characteristic of the generation that has grown up under the Republic, is not necessarily due to the Republic. There was plenty of irreligion and of licence, as well as plenty of corruption, under the Second Empire. The philosophic enthusiasts who championed liberty against Louis Napoleon believed that the Republic would bring purer morals and a loftier public spirit. But these things the Republic has not yet brought.
As respects the public departments, it has been already observed that their management has been on the whole honest and efficient. The branch in which lavish expenditures, with inadequate results, have most frequently occurred is the navy, but in all countries jobs or peculations may be looked for where large contracts are placed. Even the admirably organized and strictly disciplined public service of Germany has not been exempt. The eagerness to concentrate fire upon Parliamentarism may dispose French critics to spare their Civil Service, but certainly one hears few charges brought against its members. They have a pride in their work and a sense of professional solidarity which makes the upper ranks of the service at any rate feel that every man is the guardian of the honour of the profession as well as of his own.
The same may be said of the Judiciary. It is above pecuniary seductions. Yet the statements heard from many quarters, that judges are sometimes affected by political influences, proceeding either from the government, or from persons in touch with the government, cannot be disregarded. On the other hand, cases are quoted in which governments have demanded from the judges what the latter have refused to give. It would seem that though little harm may have so far resulted there is need for watchfulness. Public opinion is perhaps too tolerant of attempts to affect the impartiality and independence of the Bench. The habit of writing letters to judges about cases that come before them is a dangerous one, and the practice of promoting judges from lower to higher posts creates temptations, since it provides a motive for trying to stand well with the Government.1 Some promotions of course there must be. They exist in England, where the most capable High Court judges of first instance are raised to the Court of Appeal, and in the United States, where District and Circuit judges are sometimes sent to the Supreme Court. But in both these cases the public opinion of the Bar, from which all judges are taken, provides a safeguard against favouritism. As French judges are not drawn from the Bar, it knows less of them and takes less interest in their careers.
When we come to what is called the Tone of public life it is still harder to form a correct estimate. What does the term mean? It can be felt rather than described, being something whose presence is, like a scent, impalpable but unmistakable. It is a quality in the atmosphere, delightful when it stimulates, depressing when it lowers intellectual or moral vitality. It is open-minded, free from prejudice and intolerance, governed by the love of truth. It is also imaginative and emotional, feeling the greatness of a nation's life, gladly recognizing the duty and the privilege of serving the State. It is patriotic in that sense of the word which implies that a nation ought to aim at righteousness as well as at power. Even in ambitious men it restrains the promptings of mere self-interest. It insists that those to whom the people have given their trust as representatives or as officials, should show themselves worthy of a nation's best traditions, sets a high standard for those who come forward as leaders, expects from them not only good taste and decorum, but also honour and a respect for one another's honour, requires them not only to apply the principle of noblesse oblige to themselves, but also to assume that opponents are to be treated with respect till they show themselves unworthy. Whoever has sat for many years in a representative assembly comes to know what its “tone “is by noting what acts or words it permits or condemns, what persons it admires or distrusts, and he learns how to discriminate between the tone of one parliament and another, as an ozonometer might be used to test the health-giving quality of air on a hilltop or in a swamp.
“Tone “in this sense is formed partly by tradition, which has by long observance set up a standard whereto public men are expected to conform, partly by the number and weight in the political life of a country of those who, admitted to be above all mendacity or treachery in the relations of private life, carry the same sense of honour into their public action. Such men are found in every class and every social stratum. They are also wanting in every class, in the socially highest as well as those who would be called the humblest. But as it is those of social standing who are most easily made amenable to the opinion of their own class and to the standards that class recognizes, it is an advantage to a country when such men, possessing also the intellectual gifts which make them eminent, are numerous in its public life,'for they are obliged to respect the rules of conduct imposed by the society in which they move.
The political atmosphere in which French politicians live is not easily described. Everywhere in the world divergent views are expressed regarding the morals and manners of public men, and veterans are prone to note and lament a decline. But in Trance the vehemence of partisanship makes the divergence specially marked, for those who dislike the present political system begin by decrying its products. What does seem tolerably clear is that the public men of today, and especially the deputies, receive less respect and deference than did their predecessors in the first ten years of the Third Republic. The dignity of the Chamber has sunk. Vituperation abounds; injurious charges are bandied to and fro, and seem, because so frequent, to be little resented. The odour of intrigue, never absent from any legislature in any country, seems rank in the Palais Bourbon,1 and the talent for intrigue counts for as much as does oratory or administrative capacity. A man universally distrusted may be among the busiest in contriving combinations to oust successive ministries in the hope that before long his own turn of office will arrive. Whether it is better to have or to want that hypocrisy which has been described as the tribute Vice pays to Virtue, is a question often debated. Here, at any rate, there is little of it Yet corruption, judicially proved, does exclude a man from office, and the possession of a stately and unblemished character commands authority as well as respect. Even those who do not imitate can admire.
A minister who goes touring in the provinces is welcomed with external marks of deference far exceeding those that would be offered to a British or an American official of equal rank, for in France authority is honoured. But the individual man who holds the authority may not receive at other times the confidence and respect of his fellow-citizens. He is assailed — even Presidents have been assailed — in language rare in America and unknown in Switzerland, rare even in England, where personal attacks have been latterly more malignant than they were seventy years ago. Though the conception of the State as a supreme and all-embracing power may inspire in France a sort of awe unknown in those countries, and posts under the State are more eagerly sought, the fact of serving it does not implant a higher sense of responsibility and duty. There are a few religious idealists and a few Socialist idealists, but apart from these and from that reverent devotion which the thought of France and her position in the world inspires, one is struck, no less than in the legislatures of America or Australia, by the pervasively materialistic spirit. In a new country like Australia it is not surprising to find a certain commonness in political life. But France is the country which has at times seemed to live by its ideals, and which in bygone days set to Europe the standard of chivalric honour.
This state of things, often complained of by Frenchmen, is sometimes treated as a result and sometimes as a cause of the comparative paucity among present day politicians of such students, writers, and thinkers as adorned the legislatures of the Restoration, of the Orleans Monarchy, of the Second Republic, and, indeed, of the earlier years of the Third Republic. True it is that neither Congress nor the British House of Commons is richer in such men than is the French Chamber. It is chiefly by comparison with its former brilliance that the latter seems nowadays to shine with faint or few lights of genius. Yet a country so fertile in spiritual independence and keen intellectual activity ought to see more of its most gifted sons seeking to enter its governing assembly. Why do comparatively few enter? Partly, men say, because the position of a deputy no longer carries social distinction outside the district which he represents, while the daily work of a deputy is laborious and humiliating. A scholar, a university professor, a scientific investigator, even an advocate in large practice, would have to renounce his pursuits in order to hold his seat by such arts as are forced on the deputy. Many who would like to enter are practically debarred by the want of local connection, for having their home in Paris they may be unable to recommend themselves elsewhere. Partly also because men of this type have little chance with constituencies. The good graces of local cliques are more easily won by the local doctor or lawyer or business man who will devote himself to local interests, or, where there is room for a stranger, by a wealthy manufacturer or financier from some great city. It is also alleged that in parts of the country a man of old lineage or polished manners suffers from his social status. The rural or small town electors want some one of their own class, while the wage-earners regard a wearer of a black coat as a natural enemy. These tendencies, discouraging to men of refinement or of a philosophic cast of mind, would operate still more widely but for the diversity of social conditions in different parts of the country. The monarchical and Catholic West, for instance, though not more susceptible to ideas than other regions, offers a better chance to members of old landed families, often more independent of their constituents than a member can be where the masonic lodge or other local clique rules.
what democracy has done for france
He who should try to set forth and weigh against one another the defects and merits of popular government in France under the Third Republic would himself err and mislead others if he failed to remember the conditions under which it has had to live since 1870. These conditions have been made by the past, and by it only can they be explained. Without repeating the historical sketch presented in Chapter XVIII., I will try to show, by briefly comparing the results of political development in England with those visible in France, the advantages which the former has enjoyed for working democratic institutions.
In England the compact framework of society changed very slowly from A.D. 1500 to 1900. The ancient aristocracy of land and birth passed by degrees into a new aristocracy of wealth. The old ties that held each class to those that were above it or below it, though slowly changed in character, were never roughly broken.
In France the old feudal order lasted down till 1789, though it had become a hollow shell. It continued sharply cut off from the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie were also, if less sharply, cut off from the peasantry and the artisans. Since the First Revolution there has been going on what the French call a morcellement within each class, a dissolution of each social stratum into social atoms.
In England there was, except at a few crises, such as Wat Tyler's rising in 1381, very little class hatred and no permanent class antagonism. Neither is there to-day. It has appeared in one of the British colonies, though in no acute form, and its appearance there surprises the British visitor.1
In France the three classes disliked one another before the Revolution. The old aristocracy of birth is now reduced to comparatively few families, and the new industrial and financial plutocracy which has arisen out of the bourgeoisie cannot look down on its immediate parents. But that plutocracy is hated by the industrial masses, and it fears them.
In England there were traditions of the independence of the legislature and of its power to assert popular rights going back to the fourteenth century; and since the middle of the seventeenth the privileges and usages of Parliament had become familiar to the nation. Every man who entered the House of Commons knew, or soon learnt, how to work the Parliamentary machine.
In France the ancient and cumbrous representative institution of the States-General had died out, and a new start was made at the First Revolution, without experience and in the midst of excitement.
In England the national mind was from early times pervaded by the idea of the supremacy of Law, a law based on the old customs of the people, a Law of the Land which operated not only as between the king's subjects but against the king himself if he sought to transgress it. When the day came for restricting the power of the king, that which was taken from him went to Parliament, and the last thing which Parliament desired was to entrust any discretionary power to the State — a word seldom used in England — or to any State-appointed local officials.
In France the Crown was not restrained. The ideas of Justice and Law were clearly grasped, and justice was skilfully administered as between subject and subject, but the conception of what law should be between subject and sovereign was clouded by a feeling that public interest must prevail against private interests, perhaps also by the texts which lawyers and judges drew from the law of imperial Rome. Thus no well-defined line was drawn limiting the powers of the State, and Raison d'état was allowed to justify the overriding of the subjects' rights. When that argument was used, law was affected as is the needle when a magnet is brought near to a compass. The men of 1789 found this doctrine and practice existing; they used it and let it pass on to their successors. The argument of Raison d'état has continued to hold its ground.
In England there was an old system of local self-government in counties and boroughs. This had, before the end of the eighteenth century, become very rusty and practically oligarchic. But it had sufficed to exclude the control of the central government and had fostered a sentiment of local patriotism.
In France such slight self-government as existed in the provinces and the towns before the First Revolution was subject to be controlled or overruled by the Crown. The only force that tried to resist Louis XVI.'s financial measures was the Parlement of Paris.
In England the central government had few posts to bestow outside the capital; and when many new offices began to be created in the nineteenth century as the functions of government went on expanding, a system of competitive examination was set up which took them out of the sphere of favouritism and made their occupants a practically permanent civil service. Members of Parliament, who had been worried by the demands of their constituents to be recommended for appointments, gladly acquiesced in the loss of what brought them more trouble than advantage. Political patronage finally disappeared in the later Victorian days.
In Prance the number of places under the central government is extremely large, and the political influence of officials at elections and otherwise is so great that it has been deemed necessary, by all governments and parties in their turn, to confine appointments as far as possible to persons who can be trusted to support the existing form of government, whatever it may be.
In England, down to 1876 and 1886 (when two successive schisms broke up the old Whig party), each of the great rival parties which had existed since the seventeenth century included large bodies of persons belonging to each of the social classes. There were plenty of the poor in the Tory party, plenty of wealthy nobles among the Whigs. (The Labour party dates only from 1906.)
In France political parties did not exist before the First Revolution; and since then nearly all the large landowners and most of the rich have belonged to one of them, and the large majority of the working-men to the more advanced sections of the other.
In England abstract ideas have counted for very little in politics, because the struggles of the Whigs and the middle class against the power of the Crown took the form of an assertion of rights some of which were as old as Magna Charta, and the habit thus formed of relying on precedents and making reforms bit by bit, as each occasion called for them, became a tradition and a part of British character. Only at rare moments did reformers appeal to Natural Eights.
In France, on the other hand, theory came before practice, dazzling inexperienced minds. When the old monarchy fell, the traditions, such as they were, of feudal independence and local self-government had been forgotten, so there were no foundations, save those of abstract doctrine, on which to build. Practice has never been able to keep up with theory, and theory has always been apt to stand in the way of slow and small reforms. It discredited them as inadequate.1
In Great Britain the strife of jarring creeds and churches was fought out and all but settled in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such antagonisms as continued between the Established Church and the Nonconformists were of slight political moment. The nation has, since 1688, been practically of one faith, and persecution went out of fashion in England and Scotland because there was no occasion for it.
In Trance the reaction against the dominant Church, which had continued to persecute till within thirty years of the Revolution, was violent enough not only to overthrow the Church, but for a time to crush down religious observances. Ever since, the hostility of Catholics and Voltaireans, or atheists, has divided the nation, causing an exasperation more bitter than mere political quarrels provoke. There are not enough of Protestants and of Republican Catholics to form a middle term between the extremes of Clericalism and Secularism.
These differences may all be traced to the different course which events took in each country. They may have been also affected by racial qualities inherent in each people. But where history supplies a sufficient explanation, why hunt for causes in the far more obscure phenomena of racial heredity? More may perhaps be attributed to the insular position of Britain, and something also to the fact that the law of imperial Rome, never adopted there, did not lend its sanction to the doctrines of absolutism. It is not merits in one stock of mankind nor defects in the other, but a set of geographical facts and a series of historical facts, for which neither country is to be praised or blamed, that gave Britain conditions more favourable to the working of that democratic system into which she passed in 1868 and 1885 than those amid which France has had to live. Some of the defects in French government are due to those conditions and not to democracy. It is still too soon to say whether Britain, which now finds herself swept into an epoch of change, will make the most of the advantages she has inherited. These differences in the preparation of France and of England for a Parliamentary democracy need to be remembered when we come to appraise the merits of Republican government in France.
French critics, detached philosophers as well as reactionary politicians, complain of what they call “Parliamentarism.” That system is on the face of it a government by ministers responsible to the Chambers (virtually to the Chamber of Deputies) who are assumed to represent the views of their constituents, and thus to give effect to the wishes of the majority of the nation. Thus described, it resembles the system of Britain and her self-governing Dominions. In practice, however, it is largely worked by the personal relations of deputies to the majority in their constituencies, or to those who appear to lead that majority, and of ministers to deputies. Deputies hold their seats by obtaining favours for constituencies or individual constituents, ministers hold their places by granting these favours to deputies, a process which depletes the Treasury, demoralizes the legislature, and weakens the Administration. It is government by patronage. It is aggravated by the division of the Chamber into so many parties and groups that for many years past no ministry has been able to command a majority all its own, and every arrangement has a provisional character. Sometimes (as in 1901) a combination is formed, but its permanence cannot be reckoned on. This, in making Cabinets unstable, compels a minister to think constantly of every vote, frequently even of one to be caught from among his opponents. The group system engenders and almost justifies intrigue, for how else can a working majority be secured? French politicians are probably not less scrupulous than politicians in other countries, but they are driven to tortuous methods.
The jealousy which the deputies show of the Administration may be explained partly as a tradition from the days of the Second Empire, partly from the critical temper inherent in the French nature, partly from the corporate ambition which leads every body of men to try to extend their power. It is unfortunate as a further source of instability, though sometimes as, for instance, in war crises, stringent criticism is needed to keep ministers up to the mark.
The plan of conducting legislation by Committees of the Chamber has been censured as weakening the power of a ministry to frame and push through its measures, and as injuring their symmetry. But this is due to the increasing demands made on the time of legislatures. The same procedure has been forced on the American Congress. In the British Parliament the opposite method of legislation by the whole House led to a deplorable congestion of business, to cure which a system of committees is being now tried. The governing assemblies of all the large countries are oppressed by more work than they can dispose of.
Of corruption in the legislature I have spoken already. Though neither flagrant nor widespread, there is enough to show that republics do not necessarily, according to Montesquieu's dictum, live by Virtue as Monarchies live by Honour. A graver defect has been the mismanagement of finance, the extravagance of every government, and the increase of the floating debt. So far from securing economy, as John Bright and the English Radicals of his time fondly expected, democracy has proved a more costly though less incompetent form of government than was the autocracy of Louis XV. in France or that of the Czars in Russia.
The Executive, pitifully weak in its relations with the deputies, is over-strong as against the individual citizen. Of civil liberty, as understood in Britain and America, there is not too much but too little.1 The citizen is not safe from domiciliary visits and arbitrary arrests. On the other hand, the press enjoys practical impunity for whatever charges it may bring against individuals.
The responsibility of officials to special administrative tribunals, instead of to the ordinary courts of justice, secures for them, not indeed indulgence, for the special courts do their duty fairly enough, but a privileged position which reduces the citizen's sense of freedom. This is the more serious because the range of action of the centralized administration is so wide, stretching over the whole country, drawing trivial matters to Paris for decision. The Prefect, a product of the old régime reproduced under Napoleon, has not had his wings clipped by democracy. The local civil servant, ruled by the deputy through the Prefect, is expected to render help in elections, and is at all times liable to be accused of political partisanship. The Executive, moreover, sometimes at the prompting or with the consent of the Legislature, has been inclined to infringe upon the judicial department. Judges were once displaced on a large scale because of an alleged want of loyalty to the Republic.
These faults have been excused on grounds of political necessity. Where the very form of government is in dispute, and attempts to overthrow it by force may be feared, the same measure of freedom cannot — so it is argued — be allowed to local authorities or to individual citizens as in countries where a well-settled order has long existed, for a centralized bureaucracy holds a nation compactly together and restrains tendencies to disunion. To this it is answered that the policy of restraint is one to which republics ought least of all to resort, because, themselves founded on freedom, they claim that freedom assures the contentment of the people and their loyalty to free institutions. But though every Government, in its turn, applies repressive measures, defending itself by the plea that its predecessors have used them, the average citizen does not resent such action. If conservatively disposed, as are most bourgeois and peasants, he sees in them a guarantee of order.
The intolerance shown in religious matters and the spying upon officials, upon the army, even apparently upon judges, in which this intolerance expresses itself, and which in 1913 was charged on Freemasons who were believed to have practised it, are equally unworthy of a free Government. They are palliated on the same ground, viz. that the Roman Church, its clergy, and its aims are unfriendly to the Republic, so that a sous préfet who goes frequently to mass or lets his daughter sing in a church choir is presumably wanting in loyalty to the government he serves.
“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity “is still the motto of the Republic. Equality, civil and political, exists. Social equality is a thing which governments cannot establish, except by extinguishing all classes save one. Economic equality has come no nearer than elsewhere. Only a social and economic revolution could create it, and it is doubtful whether it could thereafter be maintained. Liberty is less secured than in some monarchies. As for Fraternity, one who notes the personal bitterness to which political and ecclesiastical partisanship gives rise is reminded of Metternich's saying: “If I lived in France I should prefer to have cousins rather than brothers.”
Class hatreds, anti-religious intolerance, and the deficient respect for personal liberty have not been brought into France by democracy. They are maladies of long standing, for which it is responsible only so far as it has not succeeded in eliminating them. It is the misfortune not the fault of the Republic that antagonisms are stronger than affinities, that they impede the working of government, distract it from some of its social tasks, and create a general sense of unrest.
This may also be said of the alleged indifference to politics of a large section of the population. Four revolutions and the almost incessant turmoil of political life since 1788 have not sufficed to make the bulk of the peasantry, and a considerable percentage of the bourgeoisie, take that steadily sustained interest in public affairs expected from them when the Republic was established. This impairs the influence of public opinion. In some classes it is sluggish, while if one regards the whole country, the divisions are too sharply cut to be blent into anything approaching a general national will. Though these conditions are no worse than they were under previous forms of government — perhaps indeed less evident than in the days of the Orleanist and Bonapartist monarchies — they are naturally disappointing to those apostles of popular government who hold that the gift of political power confers the sense of a duty to use it and the capacity to use it wisely. Happy faith, which the experience of a century and a quarter has not shaken.
It is time to turn to the other side of the balance-sheet and see what the democratic Republic has accomplished for France since 1871.
Its achievements must be judged, not only by the adverse conditions (already described), which the Past had bequeathed, but also by comparison with the performances of previous Trench monarchies, and in particular with those of the Second Empire, a period of material growth and widespread prosperity. Has France risen or sunk since her government became popular? By how much has the individual citizen been made happier and more contented?
Civil administration has been, both in town and country, reasonably efficient and generally honest. There has been less corruption and favouritism among officials than under the Second Empire. Some municipalities have been wasteful as well as lavish in expenditure, and that of Paris far from pure; yet such scandals as have arisen are less than those which, common in America from 1865 to 1900, have not yet been expunged from its cities.
Public order has been creditably maintained. When one considers the flame of anger that has blazed up in more than one political crisis, and in great strikes, among an excitable people, one must admit that only an Executive armed with large powers and bold enough to use them, even in the face of denunciations in the Chamber, could have checked disorders threatening civil war. The range of action and the arbitrary methods allowed to the police shock the Englishman or American, but they are seldom used with an evil purpose. Civil justice is less costly than in Britain or America. Few complaints are made of its administration or of that of the criminal courts, and the superior judges are generally trusted. The procedure in criminal cases which foreign observers have censured as harsh towards the suspected prisoner, and the laxity of the rules regarding the admission of evidence, are things of old standing in France, and unconnected with the form of government. Respect for the law and the Executive have prevented the growth of the habit of lynching.
It is hard to estimate the value of the legislation which the Republic has produced without passing an opinion on measures which nothing but experience of their working can test. The subjects which have chiefly occupied the Chambers have been education, controversial only so far as it affects the action of ecclesiastics, the relations of Church and State, the right of working-men to combine in unions, old-age pensions, sanitation, factory laws, and taxation, the most hotly contested point in which has been not the tariff, for Protectionist doctrine reigns, but the imposition of an income-tax. Upon these subjects statutes of wide scope have been passed. There are complaints that more has not been effected for the benefit of the masses, but whoever considers the atmosphere of incessant party strife in which the Chambers have had to debate and decide will not disparage the amount and value of the work done to improve industrial conditions. The total annual output of measures is said to be about the same as under the two preceding monarchies. Most of these have been non-controversial and of minor importance, partly no doubt because the Code framed under Napoleon definitely settled many questions in the law of family and the law of property which have remained less clearly determined in English-speaking countries, where there has been little codification on a large scale.
One of the chief tasks of each successive ministry has been to provide for military defence. Though the results accomplished fell short of what was frequently demanded, and though pessimists declared that democratic habits could not but destroy obedience, these results have been creditable to a people which had renounced and did not wish to revive its old militaristic spirit. A superb line of fortifications along the north-eastern frontier was constructed in the'seventies and'eighties. Constant attention was given to the supply of artillery. Mobilization was efficiently carried through in August 1914, and the French Army acquitted itself in the war which then began with a discipline and spirit worthy of its best traditions. The management of naval affairs, in which France had shone in days now remote, was less satisfactory, while the performances of the fleet in war seemed scarcely proportionate to the sums that had been spent upon producing it, or to the ancient fame of the French naval service.
The colonial possessions of France have been largely increased under the Republic in North, in West, and in Central Africa. Madagascar has been annexed, and so have large territories in South-E astern Asia. All these acquisitions (except Tunis and Morocco) are tropical, and would be un-suited for the settlement of Frenchmen, even if France had any surplus of population to send abroad. Whether they have the commercial value attributed to them, considering the expenditure which the maintenance of a navy to protect them implies, is a further question.
Foreign policy has been conducted, through many difficult crises, sometimes unwisely, yet with fewer variations of aim than have been visible in the lines followed by the other great European States. The two Chambers, in this respect reflecting and obeying the mind and purpose of the nation, have almost always strengthened and supported the Executive. When one considers the defects incident to the rule of popular assemblies, the restraint which the Chambers imposed upon themselves must elicit the respect of impartial observers. Foreign policy has been deemed, ever since (and even before) the days of Demosthenes, to be the weak point of a democracy. This charge finds little support in a study of French history between 1871 and 1914. Greater errors were committed and more weakness shown under the Orleans Monarchy and certainly under the Second Empire.
The chief praise, however, which may be given to the Third Republic is that it has lasted fifty years, more than twice as long as any preceding form of government since 1792.1 Several times it has been in peril. But though the currents drove the ship very near to the rocks, she managed, by skill or good luck, to escape them unscathed, and her course during the present century has been steadier than before. It would be too much to say that the mass of the people are better contented than in previous generations, for the peasantry and a large part of the bourgeoisie were content under Louis Napoleon, to whom many looked back as the man “qui faisait vivre toute le monde,” and large sections of the working-men are impatient for a socialistic Republic. But a long series of elections has shown that though there is a dislike of Parliamentarism and a hankering after a stronger Executive — I do not mean a dictatorship — the old monarchical parties are virtually extinct. The Republic, in one form or another, is the choice of France. Even Paris, which has so often made revolutions without the will, or against the will, of the country, could not do so to-day. Tocqueville asked, more than half a century ago, “Are we on the way to intermittent anarchy, the incurable disease of old peoples? “But France seems no nearer to-day than in 1870 to that calamity. Many forces are struggling for mastery within her. But those that make for stability, a stability in those essentials which give life and hope, seem likely to prevail.
What are the lessons which the history of popular government in France can furnish to other countries? Caution is needed in basing conclusions of general applicability on the experience of a country whose conditions are so peculiar, for the successes and the failures there may be due less to the system than to those conditions. But subject to this reservation some few morals may be drawn illuminative for the student of popular governments in general.
Democracy needs local self-government as its foundation. That is the school in which the citizen acquires the habit of independent action, learns what is his duty to the State, and learns also how to discharge it. The control of local affairs by the Central Government has in France lessened the citizen's sense of responsibility. It has multiplied the posts of which the executive can dispose, and thereby enlarged the field in which political patronage can run riot. Patronage may no doubt be employed and abused by local authorities also, and is so employed in America and elsewhere for personal or party ends. But this does less harm to the higher interests of the State, for the held of action is narrower, and the malady may be only sporadic, curable by the action of the local citizens themselves when they have been roused to a sense of its evils, as it is being cured to-day in the United States.
That democracy is not necessarily a weak government is proved by the vigour and firmness with which the French Executive has more than once repressed breaches of public order. Much of course depends on the support which the ministry may count upon from public opinion. Much depends on the individual minister. He may be timid, he may be strong. But the general truth remains that a forceful man whose motives are above suspicion will be supported. The masses value courage in their leaders.
The control of a single omnipotent Assembly is dangerous. A check on haste or passion is needed, be it that of a Rigid Constitution limiting the Assembly's powers, or that of a presidential veto, or that of a Second Chamber. Some high authorities would like to see the French Senate stronger, not merely in respect of its legal powers, but by the weight of the men who compose it. But taking it as it is, it has been a valuable safeguard.
Democracies, especially Parliamentary democracies, need the kind of leadership which creates compact and steady parties, one of which may constitute a majority capable of maintaining, for some while at least, a government that will pursue a settled and consistent policy. It fixes upon one or a few that responsibility which can no more be fixed on an Assembly than you can grasp a handful of smoke. France has suffered, since the death of Gambetta, from the want of such leadership. Jules Ferry had some of the qualities required. Waldeck-Rousseau had these in larger measure, and he pulled things together when they were falling into confusion. The leader may no doubt be a demagogue who can lead the Assembly or beguile the people into dangerous paths, but France is not a soil specially favourable to demagogism, less favourable perhaps than England. France is intensely critical. It is not from plausible Parliamentary or platform rhetoricians that the menacing spectre of a dictatorship has arisen.
Universal suffrage offers no guarantee against such a spectre. It installed Louis Napoleon as President for ten years, it subsequently made him emperor, it confirmed his power a few months before his fall in 1870, and on each occasion by a vast majority. It gave a good deal of support to Boulanger. Caesarism can attract the masses now as it did in the last days of the Roman Republic.
Secret societies, indispensable to the friends of liberty who conspired against the tyrants of Italy two generations ago, are regrettable in a country which has secured full constitutional freedom. Their influence on politics is unhealthy because irresponsible, prone to intolerance, and easily made the tool of selfishness or social persecution.
Individual liberty is not necessarily secured either by the sovereignty of the people, or by equality in private civil rights, or by social equality. In France the citizen has less security against arbitrary arrest and detention, or the searching of his house, or any act of discretionary authority on the part of police or other officials, than Americans think to be an essential part of freedom or than Englishmen enjoyed as such long before democracy was established in England. He is subject in peace time to some of those stringent restrictions which in most free countries are imposed only in days of war.
Whoever surveys the history of France from 1789 to our own time must be struck by the habits of thought and action which repeated revolutions engender. Each violent disturbance of the established order disposes men to another. That “sacred right of insurrection “which ought to be the last resort when other remedies have failed, is invoked on occasions which do not warrant it, and is likely, if successful, to carry destruction farther than is necessary. Weakening the respect for authority, it encourages ambitious adventurers to use it against a lawful government whose defects can be removed in a legal and peaceful way. The fear of it, terrifying the quiet and “respectable “citizens who think first of their comfort and their property, makes them rally to the usurping adventurer and support the government he sets up. The acts of violence that accompany it may leave behind animosities dividing the nation for generations to come.1
All these things happened in France. That the Revolution was needed in 1789 few will now deny, but two or three generations passed before the spirit which the Revolution called up could be exorcised. Half a century of constitutional government seems to have now broken the habit of insurrection, for the people know that they can obtain by their votes whatever they desire. But they still suffer, if not from the disease, yet from what physicians call the sequelae. The venerable doctrine of the English Whigs that where constitutional changes are needed they ought to be effected with the least possible breach of continuity, may seem obsolete and moss-grown. Nevertheless there are countries in which it still finds its application.
Those who say that democracy has not brought to the service of the State enough of the best ability of the nation cannot mean that there is a lack of talent, for as George Sand was wont to say, “Talent is everywhere in France.” Englishmen and Americans who live in Paris are struck by the sustained vivacity of French politics and the amazing cleverness they elicit. The Chambers are a theatre in which the actors are also the audience, enjoying as connoisseurs one another's performances. Some of this cleverness might, however, be usefully exchanged for an infusion of calm and reflective minds, with a wider outlook around and ahead, who could by their characters and attainments exert a steadying influence on opinion. Each democracy needs leaders of the qualities fitted to compensate its peculiar defects. There is no lack in France of men rich in knowledge, acute and vigorous in thought. No modern country has done more, if indeed any has done so much, to originate and develop philosophic thinking on politics. But the greater part of these stores of knowledge and wisdom are not used in political life, and those few statesmen who possess them seem unable to breathe freely in the circumambient atmosphere of passion and partisanship.
A sketch of what the Republic has done or failed to do for France cannot well conclude without some reference to its alleged effects upon the intellectual and moral life of the country. Edmond Schérer, writing in 1883, remarked, as many had said before him and have said since, that democracy was producing mediocrity. Some able French writers of our own day, not Royalists or Clericalists, attribute to it that moral decline also which they discover in their countrymen. With all deference to these eminent persons, one may doubt whether forms of government have more than a slight and transient influence upon literature or art or philosophy. Proposing in a later chapter to deal with this subject, I will here touch but briefly on the case of France. Political freedom has not there borne those intellectual fruits which enthusiasts who lived under despotism expected, for great thinkers and teachers and statesmen are no more frequent now than they were in those days. Democracy may, in the sphere of politics, have levelled down as well as levelled up, and failed to produce many figures conspicuous for elevation and independence. But though it may develop some kinds of talent more than others, there is nothing to show that it reduces the volume of talent that any country possesses, still less that it retards the growth of science, or of art, or of learning, or of polite letters. These things lie outside politics. They bloom or wither from causes hitherto unexplained, perhaps unexplainable: they are affected by social environment and the general tendencies of the age. If it be a materialistic age, men whose minds feed chiefly upon newspapers, men occupied with business projects and leading a restless, leisureless life, are not likely to be creative in the higher realms of thought. “Whatever tendencies happen to rule their world will find expression in politics also, and colour their ideals; but it is in the tendencies themselves rather than in the form of government that the cause resides. Why suggest that it is democracy which has refused to the France of the twentieth century poets of outstanding fame like Victor Hugo, or prose writers like Kenan and Taine, when we note the same absence of exceptionally brilliant figures in almost every country, whatever its form of government. Ranke and Mommsen have had no successors of equal rank in monarchical Germany; nor have Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning had such successors in democratic England. The charge that may be with more force brought against democracy is that it has failed, as in many Other countries, to bring to the front, in sufficient numbers, men of high constructive gifts, fit to grapple with the increasingly difficult problems the modern world has to face. Herein universal suffrage and the representative system have not fulfilled the hopes of 1789.
With morals the case is not quite the same, since they are affected by the standards which the law sets up and which the habits of political life make familiar. If law gives a free rein to licence in writing or in conduct, it may help to lower the tone of social life. The law, or the application of it, has in these matters been far from strict under the Republic. But the standard of morality, public or private, is in practice no lower than it has often been under monarchies or oligarchies. Not to go back to the Regency and Louis XV., those who read the records of the Restoration after 1815 or remember the Second Empire, will not single out the Third Republic for censure. Pecuniary corruption was far more general and more flagrant under the Russian autocracy than it has ever been in any free country. Sixty years ago the France of Louis Napoleon used to be unfavourably contrasted with what were then believed to be the superior morals of Germany. Such a contrast between the two countries would not be drawn to-day. The increase of divorce, arraigned as a blemish due to the legislation of the Republic, is a feature of modern society in every country, nor is morality any higher in the countries that forbid divorce altogether than m those which permit it. There may, however, be force in the complaint that recent French legislation discourages school instruction in moral duty by forbidding the teacher to make any reference to the existence of the Deity, and by excluding everything of a religious nature from the school-books.
Political philosophers have been apt to attribute too much to the influence of forms of government upon the life of a nation as a whole. Foreign observers in particular are apt to fall into this error, knowing less of the inner spirit and domestic virtues of a people than they do of its government and politics, for where a government is popular its defects are patent to all eyes, and these defects are taken to be an index to its character. Seven years ago such observers thought they saw in France a people torn by internal dissensions, religious and political, a legislature changeful and discredited, a large part of the population indifferent to politics, only a small fraction of the finest intellect of the country taking part in its public life. They concluded that France was a decadent country, in which the flame of national life was already flickering low. Then suddenly a war more terrible than any known before broke upon the nation. And an invading army occupied large parts of its territory. Political dissensions continued, political intrigues were as rife as ever; ministry followed ministry in quick succession. But the Nation rose to confront the peril that threatened its existence, and showed that the old spirit of France had lost nothing of its fervour, and her soldiers nothing of their valour.
Russia has, of course, with her vast stretches of fertile land, a greater productive capacity, but less variety of products and a less genial climate.
Breton is spoken in the north-west corner of Brittany and Basque in a still smaller area in the Western Pyrenees, as well as German in parts of Alsace.
In respect of the possession of the Papacy by Italy and of the Holy Roman Empire by the German kings.
It would seem that the Assembly, in which there was a Monarchist majority, acquiesced in the use of the word “Republic,” because they feared that if they proclaimed a monarchy forthwith, the monarch would have to bear the odium of signing the harsh treaty of peace which victorious Germany was imposing. See ch. i. of the France contemporaire of M. Gabriel Hanotaux.
The outline of events which occupies the next few pages seems needed to explain the parties that now exist in France and determine the character of its government.
There was a story current that Pope Pius IX., when he learnt of the failure of his hopes for monarchy in France (the Count of Chatnbord having insisted on the white flag of his House), remarked, “Et tout cela pour une serviette.”
The scrutm de liste system of election which had been introduced in 1885 enabled him to stand for a whole Department. It was abolished in February 1889 in order to check this device, but has now been restored (see p. 241).
Anti-religious reaction has been strongest in those countries of Europe and America where ecclesiastical power had been most fully dominant It was a political misfortune for France when the Huguenots were crushed by Louis XIV. Many of them were educated and thoughtful men, imbued with a liberalism which France could ill spare.
Babóuf had proclaimed communistic doctrines during the First Revolution, but found little support for them. The National Assembly of 1789 in its declaration of the Rights of Man recognizes Property as a primordial right, along with Liberty, Security, and Self-Defence.
Histoire politique de I'Europe contemporaine, 1814-1896.
Something similar has been observed in other peoples of Celtic stock.
The procedure for amending the Constitution has been used twice only.
I.e. that the presiding officer of an Assembly in which such a proposal is made cannot allow it to be discussed there. This law, though only negative, may be considered to be a provision of the Constitution meant to convey a solemn warning to any legislature invited to consider the abolition of the republican form of government. Were a legislature so disposed, it would of course begin by striking this provision out of the Constitution, and would then proceed to abolish the Republic just as if the provision had never existed. See as to a similar expedient in some ancient Greek republics, the Author's Studies in History and Jurisprudence, Essay III., pp. 205-207, of vol. i. of English Edition.
See Chap. V. in Part I.
The description which follows of the structure and functions of the organs of Government in France has been made somewhat full because the French system may probably be imitated in the new republics which are now (1919) springing up in Europe, the new constitutional monarchies which were formerly in fashion having been discredited by the behaviour of the recently deposed kings who (or whose predecessors) had been given to rather than chosen by Greece and Bulgaria.
On the occasion of a despatch addressed in 1861 to the United States Government regarding the Trent affair.
Here may be noted another contrast with the United States, where out of the Presidents chosen since Lincoln only four had sat in either House of Congress.
The Commune is in France the unit of local government in town as in country. It is a municipality presided over by a Mayor (Maire) whatever its size, from great Paris down to a hamlet in an Alpine valley.
The average age of Senators is sixty-three.
It subsequently, as a High Court of Justice, found him guilty of high treason, he having fled from France.
In the election of 1919 out of 626 seats all but 50 were filled on the first balloting. For these a second balloting took place.
The great banks and financial companies are said to subscribe to the funds of some of the parties, but apparently not to such an extent as that which led to the legal prohibition in the United States of such contributions.
André Siegfried, Tableaux Pohtiques de la France de l'Ouest
A darker (and, so far as I can judge, overdrawn) picture as respects bribery, intimidation, and election frauds is presented by Hasbach, Moderne Demokratic, pp. 560-563, who, however, describes southern France rather than northern.
M. Felix Faure (afterwards President of the Republic) said in 1893 that functionaries are often more preoccupied in giving satisfaction to the Ministry of to-morrow than to that which they actually represent. (I quote from Mr. J. E. C. Bodley's France.)
That this frequently happened in England sixty or seventy years ago was one of the grounds alleged for transferring the trial of election petitions to the judges in 1867
I omit many details regarding these Bureaux and Commissions which are not necessary for a comprehension of the working of the Chamber.
The names were occasionally published between 1871 and 1885. The official record now states the names of deputies who did not vote, or were absent on leave, or were detained by attendance at the Budget Commission. The names of members voting in divisions in the British House of Commons were not recorded before the passing of the Reform Act of 1832.
The Chamber elected in 1919 contained 140 advocates, 44 journalists or men of letters, 4 Catholic priests, and 3 Protestant clergymen.
Between 1881 and 1910 the percentage of abstentions ranged in Western France from 24 to 32 per cent.
The numbers were for Continental France, without Alsace-Lorraine — electors, 11,048,092; votes east, 7,801,879; and for Alsace-Lorraine — electors, 397,610; votes cast, 328,924.
In 1914 the party groups in the Chamber of Deputies were the following. I give them as from Eight to Left:
In 1920 there were stated to be besides twenty-one “non-inserits” deputies more or less detached, but classifiable in a general way with the Left, the following eight groups:
Of these the largest were No. 4 with 93 and No. 6 with 86 members. At the election of 1919, which took place under the influence of a reaction against Socialism, there was a certain co-operation between the Right and the Centre parties.
Of the “Nationalists,” who can hardly be described as a party or group but who represent a tendency affecting the members of several groups, I shall speak later.
There was in the House of Commons a so-called Radical group from 1870 till 1880, and a sort of “Neo-Conservative “group from 1880 till 1885, the latter very small but very active, and containing men of importance. Of the present House and its varying groups the time has not come to speak. British Parliamentarism seems to be entering a new phase of development.
The constitutional arrangements of the United States and Switzerland scarcely permit a comparison between leadership in France and leadership in those countries.
It is not to be supposed that in these latter cases justice suffers. It is easy to write a letter which can be read between the lines.
M. Poincare, speaking in the Chamber in 1912 (June 25) observed: “Nous sommes obliges d'employer la plus grande partie de notre activity a des beBognes fastidieuses, a des demarches ingrates et nous en arrivons sous la passion des influences locales a considerer comme une necessity vitale pour conserver notre mandat notre ingfirence quotidienne dans toutes les questions administratives.”
Rousseau wrote: “Sitôt que le service public cesse d'être la principal affaire des citoyens, et qu'ils aiment mieux servir de leur bourse que de leur personne, 1'État est déjà près de sa mine” (Contrat Social, iii. 15).
In England, the custom which requires a Minister to be a member of one or other House of Parliament has been sometimes departed fiom, though only for a time, since the prolonged absence of a person responsible for the management of a department would be highly inconvenient I take no account of the cases which occurred during the war of 1914-19, for the conditions were then quite exceptional.
A word probably suggested by the Italian adjective Pcc=papibile (of a man fit to be chosen Pope); and an equivalent of the American phrase, “Cabinet timber”
True of England also, where a Minister is (in normal times) very rarely selected with any regard to his special knowledge.
Jules Ferry seemed for a time to be coming near to this position, and Waldeck Rousseau, a finer character, came still nearer.
Local political party committees in France are a creation of the Third Republic. When universal suffrage had been established and the party system had “got into its stride,” some kind of organization became necessary; but the conditions of the country have prevented it from developing to the extent attained in the United States, or even in England and Australia.
The number has been given at 982 of the former and 1763 of the latter class.
The title given to the official charged with the investigation and preparation of a criminal ease. This could happen only in those few places where more than one juge d'instruction is attached to a tribunal, and the function of the official is only to report if there is a case for a piosecution. The French judicial system, with its separate administrative courts and special treatment of the military and naval services, presents more varieties than are found in English-speaking countries.
It is sometimes said that the equal division of inheritances, believed to have the effect of discouraging emigration, tends to increase the eagernesss to obtain posts under government.
Excluding Alsace-Lorraine which stands for the present outside.
The system was on this ground maintained in the Constitution of 1791.
Often, however, as in Normandy, Brittany, Gascony, Provence, a group of departments corresponds pretty closely with the ancient Province.
The fact that the Councils have a part in choosing the Senate has contributed to bring national politics into local elections. A like result followed in the United States from vesting the choice of the senators in those State Legislatures from which it has been now withdrawn.
I use the French name, because the word Mayor is to English and American readers indissolubly associated with a city or borough.
Some of the smaller and poorer communes occasionally receive subventions from the public treasury.
See, for example, a striking passage in Octave Feuillet's story, M. de Camors, published as far back as the Second Empire.
Seventeen such local divisions, each containing from 3 to 10 departments, have been suggested.
See Chapter XV. in Part I.
In the United States one must, of course except nearly all the coloured people and most of the recent immigrants, many of whom cannot speak English.
Such as was the condition of vine-growing, which produced the angry demonstrations of the “viticoles “some years ago.
An extremely interesting study of the political character of the western and north-western parts of France may be found in the book of M. André Siegfried, Tableau politique de la France, and some valuable articles on the same subject by the Count de Calan have appeared in the Revue politique de l'Ecole Libre des Sciences politiques during recent months. The persistence of political attitude since 1789 shown by constituencies in the south-west, north-west, and south-east of France is remarkable. There is more changefulness in the Central regions. It is to be wished that some British student would undertake a like local enquiry into the political proclivities of British counties and cities, and the causes thereof.
Not a few journals, even among those of importance, are believed to have succumbed to the wiles of “interests,” foreign or domestic, but the truth of these allegations is not easily ascertained.
A veteran statesman, candidate for the Senate, describing himself as “ni libéral ni progressiste, ni radical ni socialiste,” but “tout simple-ment républicain,” wrote in November 1911 as follows: to the electors “Trouvez-vous que la justice soit assez indépendante, l'armée assez protégée contre les influences politiques, la masse grossissante de nos fonc-tionnaires eat-elle assez pénétrée du sentiment de la discipline? Le scep-ticisme et 1'apathie des citoyens paisibles ne font-ils pas de redoutables progrès, et l'audace impunie des autres? … Vous sentez-vous assez gouvernés?”
The building in which the Chamber sits.
See chapter on Australia, post.
People sometimes allege that there is a fondness for abstract theory in the Celtic mind and a preference for practical expedients in the Teutonic. But no Celtic gathering ever produced more theories and showed more viewiness than did the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848-9.
In recent years something has been done to provide better guarantees. But something still remains to be done. A high authority wrote in 1910: “Notre histoire politique des cent vingt dernières années se resume dans ce paradox irreductible énervant et sterile, loger un individu parfaitement libre heureux et satisfait dans un État puissant omni- potent et autoritaire.”—M. Maurice Caudel, in the preface to his instructive book Nos Liberiés politiques
The monarchy of Napoleon lasted fourteen years (dating from the beginning of the Consulate), that of the Bourbon Restoration sixteen years, that of Louis Philippe eighteen years, that of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte nineteen years. The first Republic had a life of seven, the second of three years.
Of Labour troubles and the advocacy of what is called “Direct Action “nothing need be said here because these phenomena have appeared in other democratic countries also. So far from being characteristic of democracy, the General Strike (as a means for compelling submission by a government) and Direct Action are attacks on the fundamental principles of democratic government What they show is that those fundamental principles are either not understood or not regarded by a section of those who consider themselves democrats