In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Cold War Studies 4.1 (2002) 113-115

[Access article in PDF]

Book Review

The Pompidou Years, 1969-1974

Serge Berstein and Jean-Pierre Rioux, The Pompidou Years, 1969-1974. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 273 pp. $59.95.

For France and other North Atlantic countries, the period from the student revolts of 1968 to the Arab oil embargo of 1974 marked a shift from the years of unprecedented postwar economic growth to a new era of social and cultural turmoil and liberalization. The same years correspond roughly to the French presidency of Georges Pompidou, who both preserved and fine-tuned the constitutional dyarchy of president and parliament that is the Fifth Republic. Serge Berstein (on politics) and Jean-Pierre Rioux (on economics, society, and culture) provide a wonderful introduction to, and reference work on, France in the Pompidou years. If the book is short on foreign policy and silent on the defense matters that will interest readers of the Journal of Cold War Studies, it nonetheless provides a generally balanced account of the problems and context of domestic France during those years.

Berstein begins by outlining the continuities and discontinuities in the transfer of power from Charles de Gaulle to Pompidou. Like de Gaulle, Pompidou insisted on the primacy of presidential power in the Fifth Republic. His style of rule, however, differed from de Gaulle's. A former prime minister himself (1962-1968), Pompidou was more pragmatic than ideological, and as president he micromanaged the administrations of both of his prime ministers. Berstein argues that this style helped Pompidou uphold presidential power in the charisma vacuum that followed de Gaulle's resignation. After all, Pompidou himself had risen to power not because of his own political skills, but because of his long-standing ties with de Gaulle, who abruptly decided to elevate Pompidou to the prime minister's post in 1962.

Berstein then divides the Pompidou presidency into its two conventional phases. The first phase was marked by the three-year premiership of the ambitious Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a centrist within the gaullist party whose policies often coincided with those of President Pompidou. Chaban-Delmas's New Society program augured an opening toward parties of the left as well as a new openness of French government. But the premier's independent spirit irked the president, who sought to ward off any encroachment on his constitutional powers, a matter still subject to interpretation in the post-de Gaulle republic. Although Chaban-Delmas always paid lip service to the principle of his subordination to the will of the president rather than parliament, his decision in May 1972 to seek a parliamentary vote of confidence to bolster his leadership strained the contradiction too far. Within weeks Pompidou requested and obtained the premier's resignation. [End Page 113]

The next prime minister was Pierre Messmer, de Gaulle's long time defense minister, whose integrity stood in contrast to some of the recent scandals implicating Chaban-Delmas. Furthermore, Messmer's past participation in the anti-Nazi resistance helped to counter intraparty accusations regarding Pompidou's leniency toward wartime collaborators. Most important of all, Messmer lacked the political ambition that could have challenged Pompidou's authority. With Messmer and an intervening Gaullist-Giscardian victory at the polls in 1973, Pompidou concluded his presidency in a more distinctly conservative tone than he had begun it. Berstein ascribes this shift to the worsening of Pompidou's terminal illness during those years. But it may also have simply reflected the president's tendency to become more assertive as he grew into his role and secured his political bases in parliament and public opinion. The final verdict on Pompidou's more conservative turn will have to wait for many years or even decades before the corresponding Elysée archives are opened. Toward the end of Pompidou's presidency, the same moderate liberalizers behind Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who had helped to defeat de Gaulle's referendum in 1969, distanced themselves from Pompidou's conservatism and prepared the ground for the pending change of leadership.

Moving from Berstein's nearly...