Plea for the Republic

Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle on the Champs-Elysées on 11 November 1944 © Imperial War Museum

                 Polls do not make an election and the French presidential election is still far away. But the fact that a «putative» candidate can gather 15% of the voting intentions in several polls – which makes him a possible challenger in the second round is already quite surprising. That this potential candidate, still without a program, has expressed clearly racist ideas, designating the foreigner and a religion as such as the main if not exclusive source of France’s problems, is worrying and even shocking. The fact that the extreme right is supposed to unite a third of the French voters is just as alarming. 

The scapegoat policy is clearly a way of hiding the real responsibilities. The project of a confinement within artificial barriers, which will not stop neither the flow of information – as the dictatorships of the 20th century have already experienced – nor the pandemics and climate upheavals – as we are now experiencing on a global scale – is an anachronistic, medieval illusion. The foreigner, the Other, and next thing their neighbour or even their relative, have become Evil and no longer the source of enrichment that is the cornerstone of French civilization and long forgotten by those who dare to commit the insult of referring to their millennial Christian roots. 

It is within the political parties, through unclear and undefined procedures well ahead of the deadline under public eye of all, that the choice of who will stand for the vote of the French people is discussed. This is a situation which corresponds in all respects to what General de Gaulle denounced and which led him to found the 5th Republic against the «party system». The French presidential election, which has taken place by universal suffrage and two-round majority voting since the 1962 reform, was conceived as the encounter between a man or a woman and the French people without any mediation. 

The reduction of the presidential term to five years, since the 2002 election, has also profoundly altered the spirit of the institutions of the Fifth Republic. The Head of State, given this reduced mandate which coincides with that of the deputies in the National Assembly, is less able to play his role as arbiter, facing the people and above partisan opposition, and as strategist with a long-term vision. In practice, France has changed Republic.

In any case, the most important thing is not the enumeration of the Republic but the preservation of the republican character of the State. The United States had only one Constitution, that of 1787, which amounted to seven articles but modified, admittedly, by twenty-seven sometimes very substantial amendments, such as the abolition of slavery by the 13th amendment of 1865. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany is a “Fundamental Law” (Grundgesetz) protected by the Constitutional Court of Karlsruhe.

Democracy and Republic are not interchangeable terms and they do not overlap exactly. We cannot imagine democracy without a Republic, but the latter is not always democratic. The «Patrician Republics» that we saw at the beginnings of the Roman Republic or with the Republics of Florence and La Serenissima of Venice in the 13th and 15th centuries, are a testimony of this. In this case the Republic then means the sharing of power – which has the advantage of making dialogue necessary – and also a more equitable distribution of wealth. 

In the case of Russia today, we can consider that the problem is as much if not more a question of the Republic than of democracy. Freedom of movement and even of thought is disproportionate to the restrictions of the Soviet era. The national media, especially the print media (e.g. Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers) but even radio (e.g. Ekho Moskvyi ) and television (e.g. Ostankino channel), are of high quality. The unresolved issue is the sharing of national wealth, which was the subject of merciless appropriation during the privatizations of the Yeltsin years. The real blockage of the system, an obstacle to democracy, undoubtedly lies in the genesis of post-Soviet Russia. 

Historical and geographical references are not a simple exercise in style and deserve to be compared with contemporary democracies. Are we sure that these are safe from the oligarchies of money and media? Are we assured of equal opportunity in our societies? 

The statue of the Commandeurs of 1944 is not enough and the Republic and its preservation is also everyone’s responsibility. After the defeat of Sedan, Ernest Renan wrote «La Réforme intellectuelle et morale de la France» (The intellectual and moral reform of France). But it is not to be hoped that the urgency and necessity of individual asceticism, respect for the community and aspiration to noble ends will be imposed by disaster. The Republic is for each instant, it is above all made up of justice and balances.

Afin de vous faire profiter de la meilleure expérience utilisateur, notre site Internet utilise des cookies. Cliquez sur "J'accepte" pour poursuivre votre navigation.