Synopses & Reviews
France in the mid-nineteenth century was shaken by a surge of civic activism, the "resurrection of civil society." But unlike similar developments throughout Europe, this civic mobilization culminated in the establishment of democratic institutions. How, Philip Nord asks, did France effect a successful transition from Louis-Napoleon's authoritarian Second Empire to a functioning republic based on universal suffrage and governed by middle-class parliamentarians? How did French civic activism take this democratic turn?
Nord provides the answers in a multidimensional narrative that encompasses not only history and politics but also religion, philosophy, art, literature, and gender. He traces the advance of democratic sentiment and the consolidation of political dissent at its strategic institutional sites: the lodges of Freemasonry, the University, the Paris Chamber of Commerce, the Protestant and Jewish consistories, the Paris bar, and the arts. It was the particular character and unfolding of these struggles, Nord demonstrates, that made an awakening middle class receptive to democratic politics. The new republican elite was armed with a specific vision that rallied rural France--a vision of solidarity and civic-mindedness, of moral improvement, and of a socioeconomic order anchored in family enterprise.
Nord's trenchant analysis explains how and why the Third Republic (1870-1940) endured longer than any other regime since the 1789 revolution. The convergence of republican currents at midcentury bequeathed to the French nation a mature civil society, a political elite highly trained in the arts of democratic politics, and an agenda that encompassed not only constitutional reform but also a reformation of private life and public culture.
Philip Nord shows how France effected a successful transition from Louis-Napoleon's authoritarian Second Empire to a functioning republic based on universal suffrage and governed by middle-class parliamentarians. His multidimensional narrative encompasses not only history and politics but also religion, philosophy, art, literature, and gender.
A new perspective on the calamitous fall of France in 1940 and why blame has been misplaced ever since
In this revisionist account of France’s crushing defeat in 1940, a world authority on French history argues that the nation’s downfall has long been misunderstood. Philip Nord assesses France’s diplomatic and military preparations for war with Germany, its conduct of the war once the fighting began, and the political consequences of defeat on the battlefield. He also tracks attitudes among French leaders once defeat seemed a likelihood, identifying who among them took advantage of the nation’s misfortunes to sabotage democratic institutions and plot an authoritarian way forward. Nord finds that the longstanding view that France’s collapse was due to military unpreparedeness and a decadent national character is unsupported by fact.
Instead, he reveals that the Third Republic was no worse prepared and its military failings no less dramatic than those of the United States and other Allies in the early years of the war. What was unique in France was the betrayal by military and political elites who abandoned the Republic and supported the reprehensible Vichy takeover. Why then have historians and politicians ever since interpreted the defeat as a judgment on the nation as a whole? Why has the focus been on the failings of the Third Republic and not on elite betrayal? The author examines these questions in a fascinating conclusion.
About the Author
Philip Nord is Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Department of History, Princeton University. He lives in Princeton, NJ.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Civil Society
The Latin Quarter
The Republic of Lawyers
The New Painting
The Middle-Class Interior
Conclusion: In Defense of the Republic