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Cleavage, Aggregation, and Change in French Politics

  • P. G. Cerny


French politics have been undergoing a process of restructuring since the coming of the Fifth Republic in 1958. This process, like any process of political change, has been a complex one involving many factors and variables. The most obvious of these factors has been the one most commented upon by journalists and contemporary historians – the influence of General de Gaulle and his policies (the new constitution, foreign policy, etc.). What is only beginning to emerge from the academic debate is the relationship between Gaullist politics and the other variables.



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1 Eckstein distinguishes three kinds of political division: specific disagreements (on policy and/or procedure); cultural divergences (on general ways of defining preferences); and segmental cleavages (congruence of social differentiation with political divisions). These three kinds of division are further qualified by their extensiveness and their intensity. From this he draws certain hypotheses:

(1) While specific disagreements can exist among men not otherwise significantly divided, segmental cleavages are unlikely to exist without concomitant cultural divergences.

(2) The more extensive are cleavages, the more extensive will be divergences; and the more extensive are divergences, the more extensive will be disagreements (although extensive disagreements need not imply extensive divergences, or the latter extensive cleavages).

(3) The more extensive is political division, the more intensive it will tend to be (although intensity need not imply extensive political divisions).

(4) Stable democracy requires:

(a) political divisions highly restricted in extent; or

(b) political divisions highly restricted in intensity; or

(c) little divisions over general social identifications or broad cultural norms; or

(d) some combination of (a), (b) and (c).

(5) Whether stable democracy requires (a), (b), (c) or (d), cleavages are most inimical, disagreements as such least inimical, to stable democracy. This is deducible from (1), (2) and (3) above.

Eckstein, Harry, Division and Cohesion in Democracy: A Study of Norway (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 33–7.

2 The concept of overlapping memberships has been developed by Ernst B. Haas; cf. ‘Technocracy, Pluralism, and the New Europe’ in Graubard, S. R., ed., A New Europe? (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1964). Haas is also a proponent of the ‘liberal conception’ of pluralist democracy, in which self-interest is cancelled out by being subjected to free competition and the public interest emerges as if guided by an invisible hand; this is a modern version of the Federalist's notion of enlightened self-interest, later expressed in Mr Justice Holmes's description of a ‘free marketplace of ideas’ in which, presumably, the best available product comes at the best price.

3 The role of elites has been examined by Lijphart, Arend J. in his ‘Typologies of Democratic Systems’. Comparative Political Studies, I (1968), and in his The politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968). As regards the goals pursued by de Gaulle and his supporters, cf. Cerny, P. G., ‘De Gaulle, the Nation-State, and Foreign policy’, The Review of Polities, XXXIII (1971), 254–78.

4 Cf. Williams, P. M., et al. , French Politicians and Elections 1951–1969 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 19; and Blondel, J. and Godfrey, E. Drexel JrThe Government of France (New York: Crowell, 1968), p. 11.

5 Hoffmann, Stanley, ‘Paradoxes of the French Political Community’, in Hoffmann, , et al. , In Search of France (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963).

6 The two major exceptions to this general pattern of ‘clustering of affectations and expectaions’ (Haas) are the dimensions of Communist Party affiliation with the working class (about 50 per cent of the Communist vote comes from the working class) and the coincidence of the Catholic-anticlerical conflict with broad divisions of left and right. This may be in part explained by the all-encompassing ideological framework of both Communism and Catholicism. However, there is no correlation remotely approaching the paradigm of class political affiliation in Britain.

7 These are what Macrae, has called the ‘stable parties’: Macrae, Duncan JrParliament, Parties and Society in France 1946–1958 (London: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 1516, 31, 257–9.

8 The consistent issue-orientation of French party allegiance has been noted in Converse, Philip E. and Dupeux, Georges, ‘Politicization of the Electorate in France and the United States’, Public Opinion Quarterly, XXVI (1962), p. 1.

9 MacRae, , Parliament, Parties, and Society, pp. 257–9.

10 Through the isolation of what was called the ‘political class’, the structure of parliamentary politicking took on a certain autonomy; much of the study of French politics centred on this aspect of French politics alone, and many of the legalistic solutions offered by would-be reformers treated the defence mechanisms rather than the disease.

11 The importance of the administration is underlined by the emphasis placed on it in French legal and political treatises, and in recent behavioural studies as well. Cf. Ridley, F. and Blondel, J., Public Administration in France (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969); Wahl, N. in Beer, S. H. and Ulam, A. B., Patterns of Government (New York: 1962); Anderson, M., Government in France: An Introduction to the Executive Power (Oxford: Pergamon, 1970); and Crozier, M., The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (London: Tavistock, 1964).

12 Lijphart, , ‘Typologies of Democratic Systems’, p. 24; Leites, N., La Regle du jeu à Paris (The Hague: Mouton, 1966).

13 Macrae, , Parliament, Parties and Society, p. 259. Young left-wing parties remained much more loyal to their programmes than this might suggest but tended to develop along these lines later on. The attitude of the Socialist Party to the Algerian War is a notable recent example (1955–8). The gap between electorate and deputy was narrowed only when (1) local issues were involved and the deputy could be approached in his personal capacity, or (2) party control was especially unstable. Cf. Rosenthal, H., ‘The Electoral Politics of Gaullists in the Fourth French Republic: Ideology or Constituency Interest?’, American Political Science Review, LXIII (1969), p. 476.

14 Lijphart, , ‘Typologies of Democratic Systems’, pp. 23–4, 38. Lijphart, however, is less deterministic than many earlier observers, e.g. Fauvet, Jacques, The Cockpit of France (London: Harvill, 1960).

15 See Hoffmann, ‘Paradoxes’, and Robinson, J. N., Pessimism in the Political Thought of Alain, unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Manchester, 1968.

16 Goguel, F., La Politique des partis sous la IIIe République (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 3rd edition, 1958).

17 The question of whether or not a centrist tendency is ‘natural’ to France is of long standing. Siegfried identified a centre tendency in Tableau politique de la France de l'ouest sous la IIIe République (Paris: A. Colin, 1913). Goguel believes that the left-right split is more profound, however; see above, note 16. The controversy between Duverger and Sartori over the effects of proportional representation is significant here; Duverger feels that dualism is natural and that any centre tendency is the artificial creation of superimposed cleavages seen through the distorting glass of PR, while Sartori thinks that a centre tendency is natural in a highly polarized polity where the extremes are far apart. See Duverger, M., Political Parties (New York: Wiley, 1962), and Essai sur le centrisme français: l'eternel marais’, Revue Française de Science Politique XIV, (1964), p. 33; and Sartori, G., ‘European Political Parties: The Case of Polarized Pluralism’, in Lapolombara, J. and Weiner, M., eds., Political Parties and Political Development (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963).

18 See above, note 15; also Larmour, P. J., The French Radical Party in the 1930s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964).

19 See Steed, M., ‘France’, in Henig, S. and Pinder, J., eds., European Political Parties (London: Allen & Unwin for PEP, 1969), p. 181.

20 Macrae, , Parliament, Parties and Society, p. 6.Rothman, calls them ‘flash movements’, European Society and Politics (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), p. 352.

21 The Christian Democrat MRP (Popular Republican Movement) began after the Liberation as a ‘surge’ party, but soon found a place in the spectrum of government-coalition parties; the Gaullist RPF after 1952 seemed to be following the same course, and might have disappeared had it not been for the events of 1958.

22 In Duverger, M. and Goguel, F., eds., Permanence et changement dans le systéme des partis français, Association Française de Science Politique, Entretiens du Samedi, no. 8, 06 1967.

23 See the author's ‘De Gaulle, the Nation-State, and Foreign Policy’.

24 Much has been written on the institutions of the Fifth Republic, the best of which is in French; unfortunately the descriptions offered generally do not lead in themselves to any but the most tentative conclusions. Cf. François Goguel, Les Institutions politiques françaises, Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris, 1966 (mimeo, revised annually); Duverger, Maurice, Droit public (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1966); and Cerny, P. G., The French Presidency, unpublished thesis, Kenyon College, Ohio, 1967.

25 The best authority is Chariot, Jean: L'Union pour la nouvelle République: etude du pouvoir ait sein d'un parti politique (Paris: A. Colin, 1967); and The Gaullist Phenomenon (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971).

26 Discours de Bayeux, 16 June 1946, in Gaulle, C. De, Discours et messages, Vol. II, ‘Dans l'Attente’ (Paris: Plon, 1970), p. 8.

27 Gaulle, C. De, The Complete War Memoirs (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 3.

28 Cf. Planchais, Jean, ‘La cassure de I'armée’, in Dix années de Gaullisme, la nef, nouvelle série, no. 33, 0204 1968, pp. 115–23; and Wiatr, Jerzy, Militaryzm a Demokracja (Warsaw: Wydawnitcwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, 1966).

29 This figure excludes the Radicals who maintain an independent identity but whose members are split between those who favour an alliance with the centre and those who favour joining left-unity movements (see below), with the latter in the majority. There are approximately 370 Gaullists and allied adherents to the majority. Centrist influence is still strong at certain levels, however, as will be seen below.

30 The French Communist Party, which remained strongly loyal to Soviet policies in the 1950s but which has vacillated over its response to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, has been in a quandary in internal politics because of Soviet approval of de Gaulle's foreign policy initiatives.

31 Cf. Goguel, François, Modernisation economique et comportement politique (Paris: A. Colin, 1969).

32 The idea of participation, representative since the 1940s of the left-wing element in Gaullism (somewhere between worker control and corporatism), was re-emphasized by de Gaulle after the events of May 1968; however, the lack of public appeal became evident in the campaign for and the results of the referendum of April 1969 which was supposed to have been based on this idea.

33 Chariot, The Gaullist Phenomenon; Williams, P. M., The French Parliament 1958–1967. (London: Allen & Unwin, 1967).

34 Cf. the author's The Fall of Two Presidents and Extraparliamentary Opposition: France and the United States in 1968’, Government and Opposition, V (1970), p. 287.

35 Cf. Taylor, M. and Herman, V. M., ‘Party Systems and Government Stability’, American Political Science Review, LXV (1971), p. 28.

* Department of Politics, University of York.

Cleavage, Aggregation, and Change in French Politics

  • P. G. Cerny


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