France emerged from World War II profoundly weakened economically, but it had once again learned to appreciate its republican traditions. Indeed, one effect of Vichy’s collapse was to discredit the traditional right, which had never really accepted the values of 1789 as its own. The nearly universal acceptance of republican values after 1945 facilitated the building of a more stable political system.
The year 1945 was also a turning point demographically and economically, after which France acquired an energy not seen for half a century. Striking new population growth and a rising standard of living increased demand for consumer goods and for more education and other services from the state. Women, enfranchised in 1944 by a wartime decree, exercised their newly acquired right to vote and gradually improved their economic status. Having dealt with some of the collaborators, the new government sought to build on the patriotic spirit of the Resistance, hoping to synthesize unity out of the myth that nearly everyone had been a resistor. The government enacted fresh reforms, extending the vote to women. But political differences soon resurfaced, and parties quickly formed. The political right, which had been discredited by its association with Vichy, was in disarray. A new centrist party, the Christian Democratic Mouvement Republicain Populaire, or MRP, emerged and won about 25 percent of the votes in the fall 1945 legislative election, as did the older socialist and communist parties.
The National Assembly drew up a new constitution amid protracted controversy. It soon became clear that the constitution would mandate another parliamentary regime, not the presidential system that de Gaulle favored. De Gaulle resigned in January 1946 and spent the next 12 years in virtual political exile. The assembly approved a proposed constitution calling for a state dominated by a single-chambered legislature, but the voters rejected it, fearing it would facilitate a communist takeover of the whole government.
In October 1946 the voters approved a second draft, which proposed a two-chambered legislature, but included mechanisms to make it easier to pass legislation than under the Third Republic. The Fourth Republic was born. During the 12 years of its existence, the Fourth Republic witnessed a string of relatively short-lived governments that over time tracked more and more to the right.
None was particularly distinguished, except for that of the Radical Pierre Mendès-France, who sought to breathe life into the republic through a series of reforms inspired by British economist John Maynard Keynes. Two major items dominated the political agenda: the economy and decolonization. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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