- To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic
A crucial if not entirely uplifting aspect of James Lehning's recent contribution to the debate over the realization of republican citizenship in the modern world is that he does not seem particularly eager to glorify it. To Be a Citizen neither celebrates nor idealizes the successful establishment and stabilization of the French Third Republic, despite its obvious importance in the history of Western Liberalism. Instead the book [End Page 404] is a reasoned and rigorous account of how early republican leaders, their differences notwithstanding, sought to create a political culture that would above-all avoid the revolutionary violence of France's infamous past. Democracy and freedom seem to have been less on their minds than 1793, 1830, 1848, and 1871. And if there was a "repub-lican moment," then it was to be limited to election day and perhaps some carefully orchestrated public ceremonies. Otherwise, as Lehning sees the motives of early republican leaders: "the sovereign people…should remain quiet when it came to making and implementing policies" (85).
Lehning's thesis concerning the path to republican legitimacy and citizenship may seem harsh, and narrow, but he manages to support it with a dizzying array of intensively researched examples. In this slim volume the reader is treated to a close-up of high politics in the Palais Bourbon and striking leather dyers in the Croulebarbe district of Eastern Paris; the clash between Church and State in the provinces (in particular the impact of the March 29, 1880, decree dissolving the Jesuits); and the problems posed by radical leftists, feminists, foreigners living and working France, and indigenous Algerians. Running through all these episodes is one major challenge for early republicans: how to define the "terms of the relationship between a mass public and republican institutions" (183). In more straightforward terms, how far can a government that claims to be democratic actually go in order to maintain order, protect national security, and to survive generally?
In one of the book's most methodologically interesting chapters, entitled "Taming Paris," Lehning approaches this issue by comparing four public ceremonies that took place between 1877 and 1885 – the funerals of Adolphe Thiers, Leon Gambetta, and Victor Hugo, and the first celebration of the fête nationale (Bastille Day) on July 14, 1880. How were these national events manipulated by republicans "as instruments for rewriting the meaning of Parisian spaces for their own purposes" and transforming "the urban crowd into citizens" (60-61)? Lehning finds that this involved such things as carefully stage-managing cortege routes in relation to key national symbols and historical markers. Victor Hugo's funeral procession, for example, was deliberately steered clear of the radical (read: non-republican) quarters of Paris, and the police confiscated red and black flags. Every time a prefect or police spy recorded "calm crowds" that "dispersed peacefully," it represented, according to Lehning, another victory for the young Republic.
Of course the national mood and the desire for a political voice could not simply be held in check by altering parade routes and monitoring public meetings, particularly when it came to those social constituencies without access to that elixir of republican sovereignty: universal manhood suffrage. For women, foreigners, colonials and, to an extent, male workers (since they lacked significant representation in the National Assembly), "to be a citizen" meant to operate at the far margins of republican political space. In the case of foreigners, it meant that the republican ethos was also a national one (even with the 1889 citizenship law, which still placed limits on public participation for naturalized citizens); for colonials, it was racial. And for women like those who participated in the Croulebarbe strike in 1888–89, Lehning writes, "it was an exploration [End Page 405] of the contours of the margins of public life into which the discourses of French republicanism, political economy, gender, and even radical politics placed them" (98). What it definitely was not, however, was...