The Place of the Military in the Political Evolution of France, 1871–1914
The crushing defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War resulted in the emergence of a new regime, which was saddled with the task of governing and reorganizing the seemingly shattered nation. Difficult as this task was for a government lacking in both prestige and authority, it was made even more so by the fact that the defense and domestic stability of France depended upon the continued existence of a large standing army, inherited from the defunct Bonapartist Empire and led by a caste of professional officers. Between this army and the new republican regime there was an evident incompatibility of outlook and a fundamental difference in ideals. In this book, David B. Ralston succeeds in explaining how the army and the Third Republic nevertheless managed to achieve an effective understanding that laid the foundation for national security and provided an atmosphere of stability for the political evolution of France.
As an investigation of a somewhat neglected aspect of French history during a politically crucial era, as a study of the structure and organization of the army, or simply as a fascinating account of a “pragmatic accommodation which guaranteed the particular institutional interests of both the army and the Third Republic,” this book will appeal to the academic historian and the amateur alike. By analyzing the military legislation of the period, the annual budget for the Ministry of War, and the development of the French command structure, the author provides an interesting insight into how the Third Republic dealt with one vital sector of government. No other work deals as intensively with the foundation and evolution of the French General Staff and the peculiar political problems created thereby-in particular its effects on the role of the Minister of War as head of the army.
The author draws his conclusions too upon the basis of the attitude displayed by the military in times of crisis. In facing the Boulanger episode, the Dreyfus Affair, and the Seize-mai, the army, despite its philosophical alienation from the government, remained absolutely loyal to the Third Republic; such loyalty, no doubt, helped the regime to surmount each crisis as it came. The Republic, for its part, made no effective effort to purge the predominantly Bonapartist officer corps or to reduce the size of the army, even though its strength and the authoritarian ideals upon which it was founded seemed to threaten the very basis of the government. Why such policies were adopted by the regime and by the army are matters that this study seeks to illuminate. Author Ralston explains:“... the army and the state managed on most occasions to reach some accommodation as to what was expedient and proper. This entente was based lass on mutual sympathy and comprehension that on a common devotion to the same patriotic vision... the re-establishment of the place of France in Europe, the ending of her diplomatic isolation, and ultimately the revision of the Treaty of Frankfort....”
Detailed and documented as Professor Ralston's investigations may be, it is clear that this book is no mere compilation of facts and dates. The undercurrent of pragmatism-of the successful common-sense approach to internal problems laden with dangers for the political future of France-characterized the policies of the Third Republic during this period of its history. This book provides a sound and sensible interpretation of that atmosphere of rationality.