France: A Second Empire, A Third Republic | The Modernization of Nations

Sometime between 1850 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, rural France joined urban France in expressing a common sense of identity—nationhood.

By the end of the century popular and elite cultures were united in their sense of patrie (fatherland), of nationality, even when they continued to disagree over the nation’s goals. The modernization of France at times set one French group against another; equally often, as external forces appeared to threaten France, it strengthened the sense of common identity and community.

The basic argument of Karl Marx, that class is best understood in terms of its relation to the mode of production, was increasingly accepted by various economic theorists; however, those who looked first to social or political realities found that class was better understood in the context of its historical time and its social friction with other contemporary classes.

According to Marxism, the middle class was not just middle in the economic spectrum, but middle in sequence—arising out of feudalism and followed by industrial working-class triumphs. Others saw the middle class as the principal impetus for historical change.

French culture had been a peasant culture overlaid by a Parisian veneer of great urbanity and sophistication; by 1914 the peasant was on the verge of what the historian would call modernity. This modernization changed the forms of collective action—and thus of collective violence—that had marked the French Revolution.

France’s democratic revolution, so optimistically begun in 1848, had by 1852 brought still another Bonaparte to the throne: Napoleon III (1808-1873), nephew of the first Napoleon. As president of the Second Republic, “Prince” Louis Napoleon soon quarreled with the National Assembly elected in 1849, in which monarchist sentiment greatly outweighed Bonapartism.

The Assembly refused to amend the constitution of 1848 to allow him a second four-year term. Fearful of radicals and socialists, the Assembly also compromised the universal male suffrage of 1848, depriving about 3 million French men of the vote—an act that enabled the prince-president to denounce the move and act as the champion of democracy.

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