Tuesday, May 12, 2015

France in the Nineteenth Century, by Elizabeth Latimer

Onward from the French Revolution!  Or perhaps I should say into the continuation of the Revolution.  This work at times is a bit like a polite tabloid as we are often treated to a verbal image of the queen's (or the aspiring queen's) dress.  There is also an emphasis on personal accounts, so that at times there is a sense that the overall picture is not being given with regard to economics and government.  There is little sense of what happened in the French Revolution of 1848.

What does come through is an impression of mediocrity in leadership that lasts from the time of Napoleon almost through the entire century, with only a few brief exceptions.  The French were divided between monarchists, depotists, socialists and communists.  What they did not have were any of what would have formerly been known as liberal republicans, even though they spoke of a republic.  What they called a republican was someone who intended to achieve socialism through the mechanisms of a superficially democratic, constitutional government.  But there was no regard for any constitution, which whatever it might be would be in need of constant change, or so everyone seems to think.  The text gives us a bit of Louis Phillip, Napoleon III, along with some peripheral characters like Maximilian.  Another novelty was to learn that the French only had one central body for deliberation, so that the municipal and state elections that we take for granted were unknown to in France.

The largest piece of writing is reserved for the Franco-Prussian War and the chaos and carnage of the Paris Commune.  The French clearly get the stupidity award for starting this war, but the thing that stuck out most in my mind is how the Prussians seem to have anticipated the revolt that led to the Commune and cleverly exploited this to their benefit.  But then the atheist Communists could not be restrained to any of the laws of humanity, which resulted in a counter-blow nearly as ruthless.  One has a sense that modern terrorism was invented at this time, but that may be a leap too far.  What seems clear is that the Prussian success with their policy likely inspired the Kaiser to repeat the trick by supporting Lenin in Russia during World War I.

The French finished this period with the Third Republic, which featured the removal of the Romanists from all teaching positions, as well as from charitable activities.  How - or if - they modernized during all this isn't quite clear, but perhaps it was just a spill over from the other side of the channel.

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