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France's New Deal is an in-depth and important look at the remaking of the French state after World War II, a time when the nation was endowed with brand-new institutions for managing its economy and culture. Yet, as Philip Nord reveals, the significant process of state rebuilding did not begin at the Liberation. Rather, it got started earlier, in the waning years of the Third Republic and under the Vichy regime. Tracking the nation's evolution from the 1930s through the postwar years, Nord describes how a variety of political actors—socialists, Christian democrats, technocrats, and Gaullists—had a hand in the construction of modern France.
Nord examines the French development of economic planning and a cradle-to-grave social security system; and he explores the nationalization of radio, the creation of a national cinema, and the funding of regional theaters. Nord shows that many of the policymakers of the Liberation era had also served under the Vichy regime, and that a number of postwar institutions and policies were actually holdovers from the Vichy era—minus the authoritarianism and racism of those years. From this perspective, the French state after the war was neither entirely new nor purely social-democratic in inspiration. The state's complex political pedigree appealed to a range of constituencies and made possible the building of a wide base of support that remained in place for decades to come.
A nuanced perspective on the French state's postwar origins, France's New Deal chronicles how one modern nation came into being.
"Nord offers a magisterial, highly nuanced account of the dramatic remaking of the French nation after the crushing defeat of 1940 and the empty years of occupation by the Nazis."—Choice
"Most of the time, reading a work on controversial eras of French history—and especially the Vichy regime—imparts a teeter-totter effect, as the historian seesaws between contrasting sides. Philip Nord, instead, quietly presents a convincing analysis that integrates and harmonizes the opposing sides without disservice to truth. . . . On the author's insightful telling, what was new on the modern French scene was the presence, and concerted action, of Christians committed to democracy, some of them engaged as organized partisans, others as unaffiliated individuals. The emergent model—what Nord calls 'France's "new deal"'—was a thoroughly French version of the activist state: modern and modernizing in economic life, yet allergic to liberal laissez-faire individualism."—Steve Englund, Commonweal
"[V]ery wide-ranging and informed. . . . This is a very thought-provoking work, which will be a point of reference for the discussion of French modernization in the future; it is also very well written even though it deals with daunting technical issues and is a work of primary research. It is rare to find such reader-friendly work at such a demanding level."—David S. Bell, European Legacy
"Philip Nord's new book tells a big story and teaches us something novel and important about twentieth-century France. . . . Nord's book makes an original and on the whole convincing argument."—Paul Cohen, Canadian Journal of History
"Nord's book is an important work for all of us who would protect and build on the social reforms of the Liberation movement and since; it is better to understand the original intent of the founders in order to revise their work. And Nord has given us the best history, a work that shows us not only what happened but why, the underlying motives of the time without imposing our own wishes or assumptions. In France's New Deal, Philip Nord has written a book that should be read by all, not only those interested in French history but all interested in understanding our time."—Gerald Friedman, Enterprise & Society
"Nord's work is a masterfully constructed challenge to our conventional understanding of the postwar state agenda as a new beginning in France. It invites further inquiry into the political roots and the dynamics at the origin, and the divergent developments, of 'new deals' elsewhere."—Kenneth Mouré, French Politics, Culture & Society
Technocrats in Waiting
Depression-era France seems to have little to recommend it. There was to be sure the bright spot of the Popular Front, but the Blum experiment did not last long, and its successes were partial at best. It is rather France's failures that stand out. The Third Republic, to all appearances, proved incapable of generating an effective response to the critical challenges of the day: at home, a deepening economic slump that sharpened class tensions; abroad, the rise of an aggressive Germany intent upon a radical revision of the international order. But the idea of French paralysis, or "immobilism" as it has sometimes been called, does not tell the whole story.
Critiques of prevailing economic policy proliferated in the thirties. They came, of course, from socialists and trade unionists who had little use for a laissez-faire liberalism, which, so far as they could see, had landed France in a depression. And liberal orthodoxy, it seemed evident enough, had no answer to the crisis, save a budget-cutting mania, which, killing demand, just made matters worse. No, what France needed was a plan: to iron out the irrationalities inherent in a market system driven by egotistical profit-seeking and to guarantee the working man a fair share in an economy geared to the interests of capital. But the Left was not alone in voicing complaint. Maréchal Lyautey, a career military officer and onetime resident-general of Morocco, gathered around himself a circle of protégés in the early thirties. Here, the accent was on the redemptive potential of energetic leadership. The standard-issue French businessman-prudent and risk-averse-lacked the firmness of purpose to right a foundering economy. A new generation of executives, men of action with the moral wherewithal to bring subordinates along, was the "one thing needful" in a France grown slack in purpose. Nonconformist opinion, sometimes Catholic in coloration, did not disagree but placed greater emphasis on organization. The anarchy of the laissez-faire economy set employer against employee. A corporatist system, on the other hand, held out the promise of restoring a modicum of order to the marketplace. Workers and managers, brought together by a tutelary state, would hash out wages and prices, creating as they did so a harmonizing bond among the producing classes, a "community of labor," which would inject a note of humanity into an otherwise cold and indifferent system. More technocratic-minded critics of liberal orthodoxy worried no less about labor relations; they too spoke of humanizing the economy. But there was less hostility to the market and the individual entrepreneur. The problem was to manage irrational behavior: to foresee economic calamities before they occurred and then correct for them. This required planning, a capacity for economic forecasting, which in turn presumed an adequate statistical grasp of the economy's ups and downs. It is not surprising then that so many proponents of the technocratic critique were graduates of France's preeminent engineering school, the Ecole Polytechnique, which boasted a curriculum that placed a premium on mathematical facility. Indeed, the principal locus of technocratic thinking in the thirties was an association nicknamed X-Crise, so called because students matriculated at the Polytechnique-polytechniciens-were known familiarly as "les X."
Liberal orthodoxy came in for withering criticism from multiple directions. Among the critics numbered socialists of various stripes, but there were others as well: self-styled leaders of men, nonconformists, Catholic corporatists, technocrats, all of whom came eager and credentialed. They were not figures of power, but they would become so, and their rise dates, not from the war or the postwar years, but from the thirties. It may just be that the Third Republic, for better or for worse, was not so blocked as sometimes supposed.
The French socialist party, the SFIO, had long confronted an ideological dilemma. It imagined itself a revolutionary body, the vanguard organization of a radiant socialist future, yet it at the same time went about the more mundane business of running candidates for parliament and sponsoring reform legislation. A minority within the party latched on to planning as an avenue out of the reform versus revolution conundrum. A planned economy was a concrete project that might be realized in the here and now through practical political activity, but it also represented an advance on the existing order, a step toward the socialist utopia of tomorrow. Would-be socialist planners crystallized into a formal tendency in 1931, taking the name Révolution constructive. Georges and Emilie Lefranc were the animating spirits of the group, which attracted just a handful of adherents, not more than a dozen at first, but they made up in quality for what they lacked in number. Claude Lévi-Strauss, just getting started as an ethnologist, belonged, and so did Robert Marjolin, an up-and-coming economist with good connections outside socialist circles. As a student, Marjolin had done a year's training in economics at Yale University. On return to France, the patronage of a teacher, sociologist Célestin Bouglé, got him a posting at the Centre de documentation sociale. The Centre was lodged at the Ecole normale supérieure, and there Marjolin worked alongside star normaliens, among them Raymond Aron and Jean Stoetzel, who, like Marjolin himself, were thinking their way toward a more social-scientific understanding of how the modern socioeconomic order functioned. Marjolin's distinctive mix of talents drew him to the attention of Charles Rist. In the midthirties Rist had founded a think tank, the Institut de recherches économiques et sociales, and though a convinced free marketer himself, he was keen to recruit the best minds to the enterprise. Rist invited Marjolin to sign on, and Marjolin did not hesitate to do so.
The Révolution constructive group had intellectual heft, and it had a cause. Planning was very much in vogue in the early thirties, thanks in good part to the efforts of Belgian socialist Henri de Man. De Man may not have been the first to concoct a plan. His, like so many others, envisioned a mixed economy, part state-owned, part private. But de Man's signal achievement was to persuade the Belgian socialist party, the Parti ouvrier belge (POB), to adopt the idea. This happened in December 1933, and the event galvanized Lefranc's team, which arranged to have de Man's Plan republished in France. The SFIO majority, however, remained unmoved, "reserved, not to say hostile" to the whole concept of planning, as trade unionist René Belin put it. The party in fact made a point of slapping down the planners at its 1934 Toulouse congress. Lefranc's faction found allies in more venturesome comrades like André Philip and Jules Moch, but that was not enough to counterbalance the opposing weight of party chief Léon Blum.
The trade-union movement, by contrast, proved itself far more receptive. The POB's conversion to planning roused sympathetic stirrings in French syndicalist ranks. The Fédération des fonctionnaires published a version of de Man's plan with favorable commentary from union officers, among them Robert Lacoste. The Fédération belonged to the Confédération générale du travail, France's largest national labor organization, and the CGT in turn began to take an interest. In January 1934, Belin, a member of the CGT executive, sketched a plan that he circulated among member organizations. CGT secretary Léon Jouhaux constituted a study committee to come up with a more detailed version, appointing Lacoste, of course, but also fellow-traveling intellectuals like Lefranc and the polytechnicien Louis Vallon. The committee wrote up what came to be known as the "Plan de la CGT," which was in due course adopted at the CGT's 1935 congress. The CGT's plan called for, in Lacoste's words, an "économie dirigée." Like the Révolution constructive plan, the CGT's imagined a two-sector arrangement: a public sector composed of nationalized industries from banking and insurance on down and a private sector governed, not by market forces, but by state directive. But who was to formulate such directives? On the CGT's scheme, that task fell to the Conseil national économique, an already existing institution that the CGT intended to redesign. In its present form, the CNE was a consultative body that brought together labor and management spokesmen under the auspices of the Ministère du Travail. The CGT wanted to bolster the CNE's executive capacity, to invest it with all necessary authority to intervene in the economy in the interests of harmonizing industrial activity; and the CGT wanted to formalize and extend the CNE's representative character, to make it a true "emanation of all the organized economic forces of the Nation."
It was not just on the trade-union Left that the notion of planning caught on. Dissident socialists, néo-socialistes as they were called, seized on the idea too, though taking it in a less dirigiste, more corporatist direction. The "néos" were onetime SFIO members expelled from the party in 1933. They had urged the SFIO to join coalition cabinets, a strategy that ran against existing party policy. Until the Popular Front turn, Socialists, anxious to hold on to their working-class constituency, refused to enter into compromising political bargains with bourgeois partners. The néos had taken note of Hitler's rise to power, of the German demagogue's manipulation of nationalist rhetoric to rally a frightened middle class, and they urged the SFIO, in the interests of combating fascism, to respond in kind, a political departure that the party, proletarian and antinationalist, was unwilling to swallow. The néos, led by Marcel Déat, a war hero turned ardent pacifist, did not attract a substantial following. The events of 6 February 1934, however, kindled in them hopes that the situation might be turned around. A financial imbroglio implicating prominent politicians, the Stavisky scandal, had come to light, sparking a march on parliament, followed by a night of rioting that left almost a score dead. The néos plotted how they might tap into such massive but inchoate discontent.
The problem was to hone a message. The néos had launched a review, L'Homme nouveau, just prior to the Stavisky riots. This was the chosen vehicle, the "ideological laboratory" as one historian has called it, for cooking up the neosocialist appeal. The paper understood itself as the standard-bearer of a new political class, "Team France" in Paul Marion's ringing phrase. L'Homme nouveau cited with approval the dictum of litterateur Abel Bonnard: "A nation can save itself without the help of a great man, it cannot do so without the existence of an elite." That saving elite once formed, its task was to "kick down the door" of a decrepit parliamentarism, "sweep out the thieves" within ("Down with the thieves" was a slogan bandied by the rioters of 6 February), and replace the lot with an "Etat fort." Nor did the review settle just for sloganeering. It defined the strong state as "corporatist" in constitution and set about thinking through just what a practical corporatism entailed.
This is where Pierre Laroque came in. Laroque was a Sciences Po graduate who had entered the junior ranks of the Conseil d'état. In 1931, he landed a post as chef de cabinet to then minister of labor Adolphe Landry. The connection was not just the result of happenstance. Laroque had an established expertise in managing the medical costs of social insurance, very much part of the Ministère du Travail's brief. No less relevant, there was a family tie. Laroque's father knew Landry's son-in-law, the Radical politician César Campinchi. Laroque's record of public service and his work with insurance funds and doctors' unions had awakened him to what the state, working in collaboration with organized interests, could accomplish, and this experience was reflected in a series of articles he drafted for L'Homme nouveau.
France, Laroque diagnosed, suffered from an excess of individualism, the unavoidable consequence of a mind-set, "the ideology of 1789," that was all too prejudiced against intermediary bodies. In the present day, however, such bodies-trade unions, insurance funds, mutual-aid societies-were essential to the reordering of a social organism that had grown lax and incoherent. The problem was that existing unions and syndicates lacked both numbers and unity. They did not command large followings; they fought among themselves, sometimes with violence. The corporate world required a firm guiding hand that the state alone was in a position to provide. Yet the present-day state itself, weakened by parliamentary tussling, by "the evolution of liberalism," lacked the authority requisite to its tutelary task. It is not hard to detect an authoritarian impulse at work here, but Laroque, ever the measured civil servant, kept it in check. France needed an "Etat fort," but he did not specify how this was to come about. He noted that, in fascist regimes, the state dictated to corporations, which in turn dictated to constituents. Laroque, however, employed the vocabulary of arbitration and coordination when talking about state/corporation relations. On the matter of trade-union organization, on the other hand, he took a tougher stand. In this domain, the state might want to insist on strengthening union authority, not just over members, but over all workers in a particular sector, whether they wanted it or not. The particularism of individual interests had to be combated, even if this entailed "the limitation if not ... the suppression of syndical liberty."
It is not so surprising that the Left, at the outset of the depression decade, might explore dirigiste or even corporatist antidotes to the current crisis. But the Left was far from alone in its critique of the prevailing disorder.
Maréchal Lyautey may be counted among the more renowned members of France's political establishment: a career military officer, a celebrated colonizer, a onetime minister of war. On his death in 1934, he was buried where he had served, in Morocco. In the wake of Moroccan independence, Lyautey's body was returned to France, where it now lies interred at the Invalides.
Lyautey early on carved out a public persona for himself as a leader of men. In 1891, he authored an article in the prestigious La Revue des deux mondes titled "Le rôle social de l'officier," a study of military authority, understood not just as an exercise in top-down command but as a spiritual dominion earned through self-discipline and moral example. A lifetime's experience came to persuade Lyautey that the qualities demanded of an effective military officer were no less essential to good leadership in the civilian world.
The year 1920 witnessed the founding of two new associations, the Equipes sociales and the Scouts de France (SdeF). Both organizations were Catholic, and both engaged Lyautey's attentions. Robert Garric, a war veteran, wanted to re-create in peacetime the social solidarity he had known at the front and to that end founded the Equipes sociales. The Equipes brought together laborers and young bourgeois Catholics in a spirit of common moral and educational endeavor. The kind of "go-to-the-masses" Catholicism that Garric preached, with an accent on youth and social exchange, was attractive to bright, eager souls like Simone de Beauvoir who came from good families but hankered for something more than a conventional life. And it appealed to Lyautey as well, who involved himself in the Equipes' study circle in working-class Belleville, laboring there alongside much younger men like Hyacinthe Dubreuil and Raoul Dautry, the former a trade unionist, the latter an engineer in the railroad industry. Lyautey's encounter with the Equipes sociales may have been tangential; it was less so with the Scouts de France. The Fédération nationale des Scouts de France devoted itself, like Garric's Equipes, to the team spirit but with a more military and crusading twist. The Catholic scout movement conceived of itself as a twentieth-century reincarnation of "ce vieil idéal de la chevalerie chrétienne." Troops named themselves after champions of old, the spotless Bayard, the crusading Saint-Louis. Indeed, a militant purity was taken to be the very essence of scouting. The English scout pledged himself to cleanliness, but his SdeF counterpart went a step further, vowing to be "pure in body, thought, word, and deed." And the movement took as its emblem the croix potencée atop a shield. This had been Godefroy de Bouillon's blazon in crusading days, later taken up by the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. Throughout the interwar years, the position of chef Scout was occupied by a series of generals, and topping the SdeF hierarchy was its honorary president, none other than Lyautey himself.
Excerpted from FRANCE'S NEW DEAL by Philip Nord Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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