Date of Award

5-2012

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

French

First Advisor

Jean-francois Briere

Abstract

After a crushing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the first durable manifestation of the principles of the 1789 French Revolution arose from the ashes of the defeated authoritarian Second Empire. The Third Republic is still today the longest-lasting regime in France after the fall of the Ancien Régime. However, the Third Republic is infamous for its inability to adjust to the devastating effects of World War One, the economic crisis during the Great Depression and the ideological polarization between Fascism and Communism. One of the main weaknesses of the regime is found in its ministerial instability. For example, between May 1932 and February 1934, the average government lasted only four months.1 Today, one of the connotations of the Third Republic is that of an incompetent and decadent system that was powerless against Nazi aggression. I seek to reevaluate the achievements and the weaknesses of Third Republic through a political, constitutional and ideological lens. Through analyzing sources that shed light on the trials of the regime and the actual causes that led to the fall of the Republic in 1940, I ask the question: was the Third Republic more a success or more a failure? Despite the pressures put on the republic following the Great War, I argue that the Third Republic was still a highly successful regime. Its seventy years of stability contrast to the frequent revolutions of the 19th Century. One of the other major successes of the Third Republic 1 Muriel Montero, La France de 1914 à 1945 (n.p.: Armand Colin, 2001), p. 148. 3 is found in what historians Jean-Pierre Azéma and Michel Winock call “ideological cement”2. This national unity was evidenced by colonial expansion, patriotism, linguistic unification of the country and esteem for common values (such as a secular representative democracy elected by all Frenchmen regardless of social class). Some of the political successes of the Third Republic include very nearly, yet nonetheless successfully, averting death to a threat from both the right and the left: the Boulanger crisis and the threat of a French Communist revolution, both targeting the parliamentary system of the Republic. Both threats were very real but were successfully averted as a result of the Republic’s ideological and constitutional assets. The fall of the Third Republic in 1940 was clearly not a manifestation of its weaknesses, but simply a result of a military catastrophe and Hitler’s invasion. I argue that more emphasis should be placed on strained international relations, rather than constitutional flaws within the parliamentary system, when analyzing the fall of the Third Republic. With its founders wanting a representative democracy but having only two short-lived republics and many long-lasting authoritative monarchies to look at as precedent in France, the Third Republic was a remarkable success.

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