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The Fall of Two Presidents and Extraparliamentary Opposition: France and the United States in 1968

  • P. G. Cerny


EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY OPPOSTION MADE ITS APPEARANCE IN THE midst of the political upheavals of 1968 both as part of a wider phenomenon of social and political life and as the result of a specific combination of factors in certain countries, especially France and the United States. In the wider sense, it resulted from the age-old problem: are established political structures willing (or indeed able) to answer the needs of the larger socio-political communities for whose welfare they have been made responsible? The problems of the technological age—popular participation in governmental processes, the coming of age of the post-war ‘baby boom’ generation, the quality of life in the consumer society, and, perhaps most significantly, the increasing bureaucratization of administration and politics on both sides of the iron curtain—served to stoke the furnaces of scepticism and open rejection of accepted answers. As the year progressed, the collective leadership of the Soviet Union continued to pull back from the de-Stalinization of the Krushchev era, American leaders were assassinated and racial strife continued, hopes for a Middle East settlement faded, and the Vietnam war exploded in the Tet offensive. The atmosphere of hopeful progress which had permeated the early 1960s was shattered for good, and a widespread mood of frustration came to predominate.



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1 P. Cerny, The French Presidency Under de Gaulle, forthcoming, chaps. 7–10.

2 Cf. Williams, Philip M., The French Parliament 1918–1967, Allen, George and Unwin, , London, 1968 .

3 In the elections of 23 and 30 June 1968.

4 In the first round, Pompidou received 44 per cent (against his nearest rival’s 21); in the second round, the vote was 58 per cent for Pompidou, 42 per cent for centrist candidate Poher.

5 Dissent at the congressional level in the U.S. is taken for granted. Constitutional, legal, political and social problems have instead concerned the relationship of the individual to the government. In France, on the other hand, parliamentaty freedom of dissent has been the major historical issue since the revolution; individual freedom of dissent has been more or less taken for granted. These differences are partly those of social attitudes, such as the puri- tanical fervour of early American society v. the willingness of French kings to allow revolutionary thinkers at their court. But they are also differences of political theory. In France, the sanctity of parliamentary debate has been at the root of the notion of parliamentary sovereignty since the 1789 National Assembly, to the detriment of both public debate and effective government. Cf. Goguel, F. and Grosser, A., La Politique en France, Armand Colin, Paris, 1965 and Brogan’s, D.. The Developmenf of Modern France (1870–1939), Hamish Hamilton, London, 1940 . Thus the characterization of French Third and Fourth Republican politicians as the political class and the Third Republic itself as the ‘stalemate society’ (Stanley Hoffman). In the United States, on the other hand, the debate has been along strikingly different lines, centred upon public debate rather than parliamentary debate, especially in regard to freedom of speech, publication, association, etc. Mr Justice Holmes described politics as a ‘marketplace of ideas’, etc., the best of which could be determined only by free discussion; Mr Justice Rutledge added in Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 530, that it is ‘in our tradition to allow the widest room for discussion, the narrowest range for its restriction’. For a more philosophical discussion, see particularly W. G. Peden, Civil Disobedience: The Individual’s Relation to the Law in Society, Unpublished thesis, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, 1968.

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

7 Goguel, F. (ed.), Le Référendum d’Octobre et les Elections de Novembre 1962, Armand Colin, Paris, 1965 .

8 Viansson-Ponté, Pierre, Barrillon, Raymond and Duhamel, Alain, ‘Apres le Second Tour des Elections’, Le Monde Sélection hebdomadaire, no. 961, 1622 03 1967, p. 2.

9 Vedel, Georges, ‘Vers le Regime Prksidentiel?’, Revue Francaise de Science Politique, vol. XIV, 02 1964, p.20 ; Goguel, ‘Quelques Remarques sur le Problkme des Institutions Politiques de la France’, ibid., p. 7; Duverger, M., La Vle République et le Régime Présidentiel, Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1961 .

10 Cf. Beloff, M., The American Federal Government, London, 1959, p. 199 .

11 Charles Roberts, ‘Inside Story: LBJ’s Switch on Vietnam’, Newseek, 10 March 1969, pp. 26–7; ‘Histoire d’unc décision’, L’Express, 31 March-6 April 1969, pp. 40–8.

12 Newsweek, 29 September 1969, p. 28.

13 Cerny, The French Presidency Under de Gaulle, chaps. 3, 5–7.

14 Suffert, Georges, ‘L’Elyske en seconde ligne’, L’Express, 29 09 – 5 October 1969, pp. 1415; Cf. also Johnson, Douglas, France, Thames and Hudson, London, 1969 .

15 Transcript in The Sunday Times, 28 December 1969, pp. 8, 17.

16 Grosser, , La Politique Extérieure de la Ve. République, Collection Jean Moulin, Le Seuil, Paris, 1965, pp. 3740 . Cf. also Gaulle, Charles de, Le Fil de L’Epeè, Berger Levrault, Paris, 1932 .

17 Cerny, op. cit., chaps. 4, 12.

18 Seale, Patrick and McConville, Maureen, French Revolution 1968, Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middx., 1968 .

19 Goldey, David B., ‘The Events of May and the French General Election of June 1968’, Parliamentary Affairs, vol. XXI, no. 4, Autumn 1968, and vol. XXII, no. 2, Spring, 1969.

20 General de Caulle, Discours de Bayeux, June 1946.

21 Peden, op. cit., chaps 5 and 6, on the relationship of the civil rights movement to the traditional value structure of American society.

22 Roberts, , op. cit.; Lees, John D., ‘Deviation and Dissent – The American National Elections of 1968’, Parliamentary Affairs, vol. XXII, no. 2, Spring 1969 ; Mailer, Norman, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, New American Library, New York, 1968; Beloff, op. cit., p. 29 .

23 Sartori, G., Democratic Theoty, New York, 1965 .

24 Goldey, op. cit., part 1, Spring 1969.

25 Seale and McConville, French Revolution 1968.

26 L’Express, 3–9 February 1969, pp. 6–7.

27 Galbraith, John Kenneth, The New Industrial State, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1967.

28 Cerny, op. cit., chap. 12.

The Fall of Two Presidents and Extraparliamentary Opposition: France and the United States in 1968

  • P. G. Cerny


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