To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic

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Overview

France's Third Republic confronts historians and political scientists with what seems a paradox: it is at once France's most long-lived experiment with republicanism and a regime remembered primarily for chronic instability and spectacular scandal. From its founding in the wake of France's humiliation at the hands of Prussia to its collapse in the face of the Nazi Blitzkrieg, the Third Republic struggled to consolidate the often contradictory impulses of the French revolutionary tradition into a set of stable democratic institutions.To Be a Citizen is not an institutional history of the regime, but an exploration of the political culture gradually formed by the moderate republicans who steered it. In James R. Lehning's view, that culture was forced to reconcile conflicting views of the degree of citizen participation a republican form of government should embrace. The moderate republicans called upon the entire nation to act as citizens of the Republic even as they limited the ability of many, including women, Catholics, and immigrants, to assume this identity and to participate in political life. This participation, based on universal male suffrage alone, was at odds with the notion of universal citizenship—the tradition of direct democracy as expressed in 1789, 1793, 1830, and 1848.Lehning examines a series of events and issues that reveal both the tensions within the republican tradition and the regime's success. It forged a political culture that supported the moderate republican synthesis and blunted the ideal of direct democracy. To Be a Citizen not only does much to illuminate an important chapter in the history of modern France, but also helps the reader understand the dilemmas that arise as political elites attempt to accommodate a range of citizens within ostensibly democratic systems.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In his latest treatise, Lehning. . . displays a phenomenal grasp of primary and secondary sources dealing with the formative years of the French Third Republic (1870-1940). . . Lehning has produced a graduate-level study, but every student of history would do well to read this account of a divided society that never found a basis for political unity. Recommended for academic and larger public libriaries."—Library Journal, February 2002

"The Third Republic's civic project. . . . continues to be celebrated by French republicans for its successful articulation of the principles of good citizenship. Yet, the elites of the Third Republic sought from the outset to contain the political intervention of the masses. . . . The limitations identified by Lehning were in many respects very real, and his work serves as a valuable corrective to those French historians and politicians who continue to view the Third Republic through rose-tinted spectacles."—Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement, February 28, 2003

"To Be a Citizen by James Lehning is an overview of the limitations of republican political culture in the early Third French Republic, especially as it affected women, colonial subjects, immigrants, workers, and Catholics. No other book offers such breadth and depth of analysis about this period."—Raymond Jonas, University of Washington

Library Journal
In his latest treatise, Lehning (history, Univ. of Utah; Peasant and French), who has been an innovative interpreter of French history since the 1970s, displays a phenomenal grasp of primary and secondary sources dealing with the formative years of the French Third Republic (1870-1940). He skillfully uses obscure administrative correspondences and police reports to re-create the dynamics of a government struggling to implement seemingly noble political ideals. Lehning emphasizes that the early leaders of the Third Republic were haunted by the bloody legacy of the Revolution of 1789, and universal male suffrage was considered to be the panacea for French society's inclination toward violent clashes between extreme political visions. Their dreams were shattered by the realities of a body politic that could never seem to find common ground. For a more positive view of the early years of the Third Republic, see Philip Nord's The Republican Moment (LJ 10/15/95). Lehning has produced a graduate-level study, but every student of history would do well to read this account of a divided society that never found a basis for political unity. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801438882
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 0.76 (d)

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