Guillaume Perrault: "The Fifth Republic turns 60: Should we thank her or curse her?"

Home"TO THE ONE"Guillaume Perrault: "The Fifth Republic turns 60: Should we thank her or curse her?"
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Guillaume Perrault: «La Ve République a 60 ans: Faut-il la remercier ou la maudire ?»

ANALYSIS - Great authors judge that the republican monarchy founded in 1958 paradoxically condemns the president to powerlessness. But it is in other directions that we must look for ways to ward off the danger of political paralysis, argues Guillaume Perrault.


Guillaume Perrault: «La Ve République a 60 ans: Faut-il la remercier ou la maudire ?»
- Photo credits: figaro

Guillaume Perrault is a reporter for FigaroVox and Le Figaro. Senior lecturer at Sciences Po, he teaches French political history and political institutions. His latest book, "Conservatives, Be Proud!", Was released by Plon in 2017.


The French "become jealous of the authority at the very moment when they entrusted it", warned Mirabeau to the Assembly on October 17, 1789. Given this trait of character, it is not a small feat, for the Fifth Republic, to have reached the respectable age of 60 years.

On September 4, 1958, Place de la République in Paris, de Gaulle presented the new institutions and asked for "a frank and massive adhesion" to the constitutional bill. On 28 September, the Constitution, submitted to the French by referendum, was approved by 79.2% of voters. Participation reached a record (84.9%). The Constitution was promulgated on October 4, 1958.

De Gaulle set the bar very high: the Fifth Republic aims to ensure the state the foundation "which it has been deprived for 169 years", that is to say since the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, explain he in his Memories of hope. The president-monarch derives his legitimacy from the election by direct universal suffrage (1962). The Assembly, all-powerful under the Fourth Republic, lost some of its prerogatives for the benefit of the executive. The government is almost certain to last. For several decades, the bad memories of the IVth assured the new institutions the favor of the French. The alternation, in 1981, made miraculously lose on the left his initial prejudices.

And if the Fifth Republic, far from having guaranteed the effectiveness of public action, was one of the causes of our blockages?

Now, the feeling of a relative decline in the country has raised, since the 1990s, the questions of men of quality: and if the Fifth Republic, far from having guaranteed the effectiveness of public action, was the one of the causes of our blockages? As early as 1992, while François Mitterrand's second seventh year was dragging, the thesis was defended by Jean-François Revel in a glittering and very funny pamphlet, Ineffective Absolutism - Against French Presidentialism. For the liberal thinker, the presidential election maintains the illusory belief of the French against the omnipotence of the state. The campaign raises immense hope that can not be met. Once sobered, the French are inevitably led to disgrace the president whom they had first adored. Isolated in the empyrean Elysian, surrounded by his court, the head of state, he, revels in the feeling of his infallibility. Is he not the chosen one? Hence a series of unfortunate consequences, which are as many chapters in Revel's book: "Unresolved despotism", "The incapacitating presidency", "The fiction of the prime minister", "Transfers of irresponsibility" or "Governing is to name ".

The dramatic reversal of media and opinion towards Emmanuel Macron seems to relentlessly verify Revel's thesis. One of Nicolas Sarkozy's former collaborators at the Élysée, the essayist and historian Maxime Tandonnet, faithful signature of the pages Débats du Figaro and of FigaroVoxJudge also, in the light of his experience, that the omnipotence of the President paradoxically condemns him to impotence.

To the legitimate interrogations of sincere thinkers are added, however, prosecutors with less pure motives. A political class incapable of resolving the ills of the country may wish to blame its failures for our institutions. The Constitution must be guilty for itself to be innocent.

The seductive diagnosis of a Jean-François Revel can not be turned into a prescription to cure the patient.

Moreover, the seductive diagnosis of a Revel can not be turned into a prescription to cure the patient. The Fifth, the French adopted it and strengthened by two referendums (in 1958 and 1962) and they like it. Who can believe that our citizens would accept the right to elect the president by direct universal suffrage, the only vote in which they still go en masse? Who would think that the country would see without reacting the head of the State, designated by him, confined to a role of representation and influence, for the benefit of the party leaders, "the notables and the notorious", as they were called by Gaulle?

We are embedded in the system of the republican monarchy. Impossible to go down. Let's take our side. It is in other directions that the means must be sought to ward off the danger of the political paralysis which still lurks in France. The referendum of popular initiative in force in Switzerland, to a lesser extent in Italy and in certain States of the United States, like California, is certainly not exempt from dangers, but has an immense merit: to guarantee by universal suffrage that he will have the last word to impose his views on the topics deemed crucial by him. A happy way to renovate institutions threatened with disaffection. And a good subject for reflection for the right if it wants to regain the confidence of its own voters.


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Guillaume Perrault: «La Ve République a 60 ans: Faut-il la remercier ou la maudire ?»

Guillaume Perrault

Grand reporter at Figaro and FigaroVox

Source: © Guillaume Perrault: "The Fifth Republic turns 60: Should we thank her or curse her?"

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