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  • Writer's pictureLucian@going2paris.net

France


April 11, 2024


France, officially the French Republic, is a country located primarily in Western Europe. It also includes overseas regions and territories in the Americas and the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, giving it one of the largest discontiguous exclusive economic zones in the world. Metropolitan France shares borders with Belgium and Luxembourg to the north, Germany to the north east, Switzerland to the east, Italy and Monaco to the south east, Andorra and Spain to the south, and a maritime border with the United Kingdom to the north west. Its metropolitan area extends from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea. Its overseas territories include French Guiana in South America, Saint Pierre and Miquelon in the North Atlantic, the French West Indies, and many islands in Oceania and the Indian Ocean. Its eighteen integral regions (five of which are overseas) span a combined area of 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi) and have a total population of 68.4 million as of January 2024. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre; other major urban areas include Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes and Nice.


Metropolitan France was settled during the Iron Age by Celtic tribes known as Gauls before Rome annexed the area in 51 BC, leading to a distinct Gallo-Roman culture. In the Early Middle Ages, the Germanic Franks formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia evolving into the Kingdom of France. In the High Middle Ages, France was a powerful but decentralized feudal kingdom, but from the mid-14th to the mid-15th centuries, France was plunged into a dynastic conflict with England known as the Hundred Years' War. In the 16th century, the French Renaissance saw culture flourish and a French colonial empire rise.[14] Internally, France was dominated by the conflict with the House of Habsburg and the French Wars of Religion between Catholics and Huguenots. France was successful in the Thirty Years' War and further increased its influence during the reign of Louis XIV.


The French Revolution of 1789 overthrew the Ancien Régime and produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day. France reached its political and military zenith in the early 19th century under Napoleon Bonaparte, subjugating part of continental Europe and establishing the First French Empire. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars significantly shaped the course of European history.


The collapse of the empire initiated a period of relative decline, in which France endured a tumultuous succession of governments until the founding of the French Third Republic during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Subsequent decades saw a period of economic prosperity and cultural and scientific flourishing known as the Belle Époque. France was one of the major participants of World War I, from which it emerged victorious at great human and economic cost. It was among the Allied powers of World War II, but it surrendered and was occupied by the Axis in 1940. Following its liberation in 1944, the short-lived Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the defeat in the Algerian War. The current Fifth Republic was formed in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle. Algeria and most French colonies became independent in the 1960s, with the majority retaining close economic and military ties with France.


France retains its centuries-long status as a global centre of art, science, and philosophy. It hosts the third-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the world's leading tourist destination, receiving over 89 million foreign visitors in 2018. France is a developed country with a high nominal per capita income globally and its advanced economy ranks among the largest in the world. It is a great power in global affairs, being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and an official nuclear-weapon state. France is a founding and leading member of the European Union and the eurozone, as well as a key member of the Group of Seven, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Francophonie.


History


Pre-6th century BC


The oldest traces of archaic humans in what is now France date from approximately 1.8 million years ago.[25] Neanderthals occupied the region into the Upper Paleolithic era but were slowly replaced by Homo sapiens around 35,000 BC.[26] This period witnessed the emergence of cave painting in the Dordogne and the Pyrenees, including at the famous Lascaux site, dated to c. 18,000 BC.[25] At the end of the Last Glacial Period (10,000 BC), the climate became milder;[25] from approximately 7,000 BC, this part of Western Europe entered the Neolithic era, and its inhabitants became sedentary.


After strong demographic and agricultural development between the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, metallurgy appeared at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, initially working gold, copper and bronze, then later iron.[27] France has numerous megalithic sites from the Neolithic, including the exceptionally dense Carnac stones site (approximately 3,300 BC).


Antiquity (6th century BC – 5th century AD)


In 600 BC, Ionian Greeks from Phocaea founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille), on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it France's oldest city.[28] At the same time, some Gallic Celtic tribes penetrated parts of eastern and northern France, gradually spreading through the rest of the country between the 5th and 3rd century BC.[29]

The Maison Carrée was a temple of the Gallo-Roman city of Nemausus (present-day Nîmes) and is one of the best-preserved vestiges of the Roman Empire.


Around 390 BC, the Gallic chieftain Brennus and his troops made their way to Roman Italy through the Alps, defeated the Romans in the Battle of the Allia, and besieged and ransomed Rome.[30] The Gallic invasion left Rome weakened, and the Gauls continued to harass the region until 345 BC when they entered into a formal peace treaty with Rome.[31] But the Romans and the Gauls would remain adversaries for the next centuries, and the Gauls would continue to be a threat in Italy.[32]


Around 125 BC, the south of Gaul was conquered by the Romans, who called this region Provincia Nostra ("Our Province"), which over time evolved into the name Provence in French.[33] Julius Caesar conquered the remainder of Gaul and overcame a revolt carried out by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix in 52 BC.[34] Gaul was divided by Augustus into Roman provinces.[35] Many cities were founded during the Gallo-Roman period, including Lugdunum (present-day Lyon), which is considered the capital of the Gauls.[35]


From the 250s to the 280s AD, Roman Gaul suffered a serious crisis with its fortified borders being attacked on several occasions by barbarians.[36] Nevertheless, the situation improved in the first half of the 4th century, which was a period of revival and prosperity for Roman Gaul.[37] In 312, Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity. Subsequently, Christians who had been persecuted increased rapidly across the entire Roman Empire.[38] But from the beginning of the 5th century, the Barbarian Invasions resumed.[39] Teutonic tribes invaded the region from present-day Germany, the Visigoths settling in the southwest, the Burgundians along the Rhine River Valley, and the Franks in the north.[40]


Early Middle Ages (5th–10th century)


At the end of the Antiquity period, ancient Gaul was divided into several Germanic kingdoms and a remaining Gallo-Roman territory, known as the Kingdom of Syagrius. Simultaneously, Celtic Britons, fleeing the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, settled in the western part of Armorica. As a result, the Armorican peninsula was renamed Brittany, Celtic culture was revived, and independent petty kingdoms arose in the region.


The first leader to unite all Franks was Clovis I, who began his reign as king of the Salian Franks in 481, routing the last forces of the Roman governors of the province in 486. Clovis claimed that he would be baptised a Christian in the event of his victory against the Visigothic Kingdom, which was said to have guaranteed the battle. Clovis regained the southwest from the Visigoths, was baptised in 508 and made himself master of what is now western Germany.


Clovis I was the first Germanic conqueror after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity, rather than Arianism; thus France was given the title "Eldest daughter of the Church" (French: La fille aînée de l'Église) by the papacy,[41] and French kings would be called "the Most Christian Kings of France" (Rex Christianissimus).


With Clovis's conversion to Catholicism in 498, the Frankish monarchy, elective and secular until then, became hereditary and of divine right.


The Franks embraced the Christian Gallo-Roman culture, and ancient Gaul was eventually renamed Francia ("Land of the Franks"). The Germanic Franks adopted Romanic languages, except in northern Gaul where Roman settlements were less dense and where Germanic languages emerged. Clovis made Paris his capital and established the Merovingian dynasty, but his kingdom would not survive his death. The Franks treated land purely as a private possession and divided it among their heirs, so four kingdoms emerged from that of Clovis: Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. The last Merovingian kings lost power to their mayors of the palace (head of household). One mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, defeated an Umayyad invasion of Gaul at the Battle of Tours (732) and earned respect and power within the Frankish kingdoms. His son, Pepin the Short, seized the crown of Francia from the weakened Merovingians and founded the Carolingian dynasty. Pepin's son, Charlemagne, reunited the Frankish kingdoms and built a vast empire across Western and Central Europe.

Proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III and thus establishing in earnest the French government's longtime historical association with the Catholic Church,[42]

Charlemagne tried to revive the Western Roman Empire and its cultural grandeur. Charlemagne's son, Louis I (r. 814–840), kept the empire united; however, this Carolingian Empire would not survive his death. In 843, under the Treaty of Verdun, the empire was divided between Louis' three sons, with East Francia going to Louis the German, Middle Francia to Lothair I, and West Francia to Charles the Bald. West Francia approximated the area occupied by modern France and was its precursor.[43]


During the 9th and 10th centuries, continually threatened by Viking invasions, France became a very decentralised state: the nobility's titles and lands became hereditary, and the authority of the king became more religious than secular and thus was less effective and constantly challenged by powerful noblemen. Thus was established feudalism in France. Over time, some of the king's vassals would grow so powerful that they often posed a threat to the king. For example, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror added "King of England" to his titles, becoming both the vassal to (as Duke of Normandy) and the equal of (as king of England) the king of France, creating recurring tensions.


High and Late Middle Ages (10th–15th century)


Joan of Arc led the French Army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453), which paved the way for the final victory.


The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned king of the Franks.[44] This date is often used as the transition between West Francia and the Kingdom of France. His descendants—the direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon—progressively unified the country through wars and dynastic inheritance. Starting from 1190, during the reign of Philip II, the Capetian rulers began to be referred as "kings of France" (rex Francie) rather than "kings of the Franks" (rex Francorum).[45] Later kings would expand their directly possessed domaine royal to cover over half of modern continental France by the 15th century, including most of the north, centre and west of France. During this process, the royal authority became more and more assertive, centred on a hierarchically conceived society distinguishing nobility, clergy, and commoners.


The French nobility played a prominent role in most Crusades to restore Christian access to the Holy Land. French knights made up the bulk of the steady flow of reinforcements throughout the 200-year span of the Crusades, in such a fashion that the Arabs uniformly referred to the crusaders as Franj caring little whether they came from France.[46] The French Crusaders also imported the French language into the Levant, making French the base of the lingua franca (lit. "Frankish language") of the Crusader states.[46] French knights also made up the majority in both the Hospital and the Temple orders. The latter in particular held numerous properties throughout France and by the 13th century were the principal bankers for the French crown, until Philip IV annihilated the order in 1307. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars in the southwestern area of modern-day France. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomous County of Toulouse was annexed into the crown lands of France.[47]

From the 11th century, the House of Plantagenet, the rulers of the County of Anjou, succeeded in establishing its dominion over the surrounding provinces of Maine and Touraine, then progressively built an "empire" that spanned from England to the Pyrenees and covering half of modern France. Tensions between the kingdom of France and the Plantagenet empire would last a hundred years, until Philip II of France conquered, between 1202 and 1214, most of the continental possessions of the empire, leaving England and Aquitaine to the Plantagenets.


Charles IV the Fair died without an heir in 1328.[48] Under Salic law the crown of France could not pass to a woman nor could the line of kingship pass through the female line.[48] Accordingly, the crown passed to Philip of Valois, rather than through the female line to Edward of Plantagenet, who would soon become Edward III of England. During the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power.[48] However Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England in 1337, and England and France entered the off-and-on Hundred Years' War.[49] The boundaries changed greatly with time, but landholdings inside France by the English Kings remained extensive for decades. With charismatic leaders, such as Joan of Arc and La Hire, strong French counterattacks won back most English continental territories. Like the rest of Europe, France was struck by the Black Death, from which half of the 17 million population of France died.[50]


Early modern period (15th century–1789)


The French Renaissance saw spectacular cultural development and the first standardisation of the French language, which would become the official language of France and the language of Europe's aristocracy. It also saw a long set of wars, known as the Italian Wars, between France and the House of Habsburg. French explorers such as Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain claimed lands in the Americas for France, paving the way for the expansion of the French colonial empire. The rise of Protestantism in Europe led France to a civil war known as the French Wars of Religion, where, in the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572.[51]

Events such as this forced many Huguenots to flee to neighbouring Protestant regions such as the British Isles (especially to the Kentish coast), the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, and more. The Wars of Religion were ended by Henry IV's Edict of Nantes, which granted some freedom of religion to the Huguenots. Spanish troops, the terror of Western Europe,[52] assisted the Catholic side from 1589 to 1594 and invaded northern France in 1597; after some skirmishing in the 1620s and 1630s, Spain and France returned to all-out war between 1635 and 1659. The war cost France 300,000 casualties.[53]


Under Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu promoted the centralisation of the state and reinforced royal power by disarming domestic power holders in the 1620s. He systematically destroyed castles of defiant lords and denounced the use of private violence (duelling, carrying weapons and maintaining private armies). By the end of the 1620s, Richelieu established "the royal monopoly of force" as the doctrine.[54]


From the 16th to the 19th century, France was responsible for 11% of the transatlantic slave trade,[55] second only to Great Britain during the 18th century.[56] While the state began condoning the practice with letters patent in the 1630s, Louis XIII only formalized this authorization more generally in 1642 in the last year of his reign. By the mid-18th century, Nantes had become the principal French slave-trading port.[55]

Louis XIV, the "Sun King", was the absolute monarch of France and made France the leading European power.


During Louis XIV's minority and the regency of Queen Anne and Cardinal Mazarin, a period of trouble known as the Fronde occurred in France. This rebellion was driven by the great feudal lords and sovereign courts as a reaction to the rise of royal absolute power in France. The monarchy reached its peak during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. By turning powerful feudal lords into courtiers at the Palace of Versailles, his command of the military went unchallenged. Remembered for numerous wars, the so-called "Sun King" made France the leading European power. France became the most populous country in Europe and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became the most-used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, and remained so until the 20th century.[57] During his reign, France took colonial control of many overseas territories in the Americas, Africa and Asia. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing thousands of Huguenots into exile and published the Code Noir providing the legal framework for slavery and expelling Jewish people from the French colonies.[58]


Under the wars of Louis XV (r. 1715–1774), France lost New France and most of its Indian possessions after its defeat in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). Its European territory kept growing, however, with notable acquisitions such as Lorraine (1766) and Corsica (1770). An unpopular king, Louis XV's weak rule, his ill-advised financial, political and military decisions—as well as the decadence of his court—discredited the monarchy, which arguably paved the way for the French Revolution 15 years after his death.[59]


Louis XVI (r. 1774–1793) actively supported the Americans with money, fleets and armies, helping them win independence from Great Britain. France gained revenge but spent so heavily that the government verged on bankruptcy—a factor that contributed to the French Revolution. Some of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs and inventions, such as the naming of oxygen (1778) and the first hot air balloon carrying passengers (1783), were achieved by French scientists. French explorers, such as Bougainville and Lapérouse, took part in the voyages of scientific exploration through maritime expeditions around the globe. The Enlightenment philosophy, in which reason is advocated as the primary source of legitimacy, undermined the power of and support for the monarchy and also was a factor in the French Revolution.


Revolutionary France (1789–1799)


The Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 was the most emblematic event of the French Revolution.


Facing financial troubles, Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General (gathering the three Estates of the realm) in May 1789 to propose solutions to his government. As it came to an impasse, the representatives of the Third Estate formed a National Assembly, signalling the outbreak of the French Revolution. Fearing that the king would suppress the newly created National Assembly, insurgents stormed the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a date which would become France's National Day.


In early August 1789, the National Constituent Assembly abolished the privileges of the nobility such as personal serfdom and exclusive hunting rights. Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (27 August 1789), France established fundamental rights for men. The declaration affirms "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" to "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests were outlawed. It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges and proclaimed freedom and equal rights for all men, as well as access to public office based on talent rather than birth. In November 1789, the Assembly decided to nationalise and sell all property of the Catholic Church which had been the largest landowner in the country. In July 1790, a Civil Constitution of the Clergy reorganised the French Catholic Church, cancelling the authority of the Church to levy taxes, et cetera. This fueled much discontent in parts of France, which would contribute to the civil war breaking out some years later. While Louis XVI still enjoyed popularity among the population, his disastrous flight to Varennes in June 1791 seemed to justify rumours he had tied his hopes of political salvation to the prospects of foreign invasion. His credibility was so deeply undermined that the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic became an increasing possibility.


In the August 1791 Declaration of Pillnitz, the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia threatened to restore the French monarch by force. In September 1791, the National Constituent Assembly forced Louis XVI to accept the French Constitution of 1791, thus turning the French absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. In the newly established Legislative Assembly (October 1791), enmity developed and deepened between a group later called the 'Girondins', who favoured war with Austria and Prussia, and a group later called 'Montagnards' or 'Jacobins' who opposed such a war. A majority in the Assembly in 1792 however saw a war with Austria and Prussia as a chance to boost the popularity of the revolutionary government and thought that such a war could be won and so declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792.


On 10 August 1792, an angry crowd threatened the palace of Louis XVI, who took refuge in the Legislative Assembly.[60][61] A Prussian army invaded France later in August 1792. In early September, Parisians, infuriated by the Prussian Army capturing Verdun and counter-revolutionary uprisings in the west of France, murdered between 1,000 and 1,500 prisoners by raiding the Parisian prisons. The Assembly and the Paris City Council seemed unable to stop that bloodshed.[60][62] The National Convention, chosen in the first elections under male universal suffrage,[60] on 20 September 1792 succeeded the Legislative Assembly and on 21 September abolished the monarchy by proclaiming the French First Republic. Louis XVI was convicted of treason and guillotined in January 1793. France had declared war on Great Britain and the Dutch Republic in November 1792 and did the same on Spain in March 1793; in the spring of 1793, Austria and Prussia invaded France; in March, France created a "sister republic" in the "Republic of Mainz" and kept it under control.

Also in March 1793, a counter-revolution in Vendée began, evoked by both the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 and the nationwide army conscription in early 1793; elsewhere in France rebellion was brewing too. A factionalist feud in the National Convention, smouldering ever since October 1791, came to a climax on 2 June 1793 with the group of the Girondins being forced to resign and leave the convention. By July the counter-revolution had spread to Brittany, Normandy, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Toulon, and Lyon. Between October and December 1793, Paris' Convention government took brutal measures to subdue most internal uprisings at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. Some historians consider the civil war to have lasted until 1796 with a toll of possibly 450,000 lives.[63] By the end of 1793, the allies had been driven from France.


Political disagreements and enmity in the National Convention reached unprecedented levels, leading to dozens of Convention members being sentenced to death and guillotined. Meanwhile, France's external wars in 1794 were prospering, for example in Belgium. In 1795, the government seemed to return to indifference towards the desires and needs of the lower classes concerning freedom of (Catholic) religion and fair distribution of food. Until 1799, politicians, apart from inventing a new parliamentary system (the 'Directory'), busied themselves with dissuading the people from Catholicism and royalism.


Napoleon and 19th century (1799–1914)


General Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799 becoming First Consul and later Emperor of the French Empire (1804–1814; 1815). As a continuation of the French Revolutionary Wars, changing sets of European coalitions declared wars on Napoleon's empire. His armies conquered most of continental Europe with swift victories such as the battles of Jena-Auerstadt and Austerlitz. Members of the Bonaparte family were appointed as monarchs in some of the newly established kingdoms.[65]


These victories led to the worldwide expansion of French revolutionary ideals and reforms, such as the metric system, the Napoleonic Code and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. In June 1812 Napoleon attacked Russia, reaching Moscow. Thereafter his army disintegrated through supply problems, disease, Russian attacks, and finally winter. After the catastrophic Russian campaign and the ensuing uprising of European monarchies against his rule, Napoleon was defeated. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic Wars.[65]

After his brief return from exile, Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, and the Bourbon monarchy was restored with new constitutional limitations.


The discredited Bourbon dynasty was overthrown by the July Revolution of 1830, which established the constitutional July Monarchy. In that year, French troops began the conquest of Algeria. In 1848, general unrest led to the February Revolution and the end of the July Monarchy. The abolition of slavery and the introduction of male universal suffrage, which were briefly enacted during the French Revolution, was re-enacted in 1848. In 1852, the president of the French Republic, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I's nephew, was proclaimed emperor of the Second Empire, as Napoleon III. He multiplied French interventions abroad, especially in Crimea, Mexico and Italy which resulted in the annexation of the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Napoleon III was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic. By 1875, the French conquest of Algeria was complete, with approximately 825,000 Algerians killed from famine, disease, and violence.[66]


France had colonial possessions, in various forms since the beginning of the 17th century, but in the 19th and 20th centuries its global overseas colonial empire extended greatly and became the second-largest in the world behind the British Empire.[14] Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached almost 13 million square kilometres in the 1920s and 1930s, 8.6% of the world's land. Known as the Belle Époque, the turn of the century was a period characterised by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In 1905, state secularism was officially established.


Early to mid-20th century (1914–1946)


France was invaded by Germany and defended by Great Britain to start World War I in August 1914. A rich industrial area in the northeast was occupied. France and the Allies emerged victorious against the Central Powers at a tremendous human and material cost. World War I left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, 4% of its population.[67] Between 27 and 30% of soldiers conscripted from 1912 to 1915 were killed.[68] The interbellum years were marked by intense international tensions and a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government (e.g., annual leave, eight-hour workdays, women in government).

French Poilus posing with their war-torn flag in 1917, during World War I.


In 1940, France was invaded and quickly defeated by Nazi Germany. France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north, an Italian occupation zone in the southeast and an unoccupied territory, the rest of France, which consisted of the southern French metropolitan territory (two-fifths of pre-war metropolitan France) and the French empire (including French Tunisia, French Morocco, and French Algeria); the Vichy government, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, ruled the unoccupied territory. Free France, the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle, was set up in London.[69]

From 1942 to 1944, about 160,000 French citizens, including around 75,000 Jews,[70] were deported to death camps and concentration camps in Germany and occupied Poland.[71] In September 1943, Corsica was the first French metropolitan territory to liberate itself from the Axis powers. On 6 June 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy, and in August they invaded Provence. Over the following year, the Allies and the French Resistance emerged victorious, and French sovereignty was restored with the establishment of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF). This interim government, established by de Gaulle, aimed to continue to wage war against Germany and to purge collaborators from office. It also made several important reforms (e.g., suffrage extended to women and the creation of a social security system).


Contemporary period (1946–present)


The GPRF laid the groundwork for a new constitutional order that resulted in the Fourth Republic (1946–1958), which saw spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses). France was one of the founding members of NATO. France attempted to regain control of French Indochina but was defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954 at the climactic Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Only months later, France faced another anti-colonialist conflict in Algeria, then treated as an integral part of France and home to over one million European settlers (Pied-Noir). During the conflict, the French systematically used torture and repression, including extrajudicial killings to keep control of Algeria.[72] This conflict wracked the country and nearly led to a coup and civil war in France.[73]


During the May 1958 crisis, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which included a strengthened presidency.[74] In the latter role, de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the Algerian War. The war was concluded with the Évian Accords in 1962 which led to Algerian independence. Algerian independence came at a high price: it resulted in between half a million and one million deaths and over 2 million internally displaced Algerians.[75] Around one million Pied-Noirs and Harkis fled from Algeria to France upon independence.[76] A vestige of the colonial empire are the French overseas departments and territories.


In the context of the Cold War, de Gaulle pursued a policy of "national independence" towards the Western and Eastern blocs. To this end, he withdrew from NATO's military-integrated command (while remaining within the NATO alliance), launched a nuclear development programme and made France the fourth nuclear power. He restored cordial Franco-German relations to create a European counterweight between the American and Soviet spheres of influence. However, he opposed any development of a supranational Europe, favouring a Europe of sovereign nations. In the wake of the series of worldwide protests of 1968, the revolt of May 1968 had an enormous social impact. It was the watershed moment when a conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) shifted towards a more liberal moral ideal (secularism, individualism, sexual revolution). Although the revolt was a political failure (as the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before) it announced a split between the French people and de Gaulle, who resigned shortly after.[77]


In the post-Gaullist era, France remained one of the most developed economies in the world but faced several economic crises that resulted in high unemployment rates and increasing public debt. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, France has been at the forefront of the development of a supranational European Union, notably by signing the Maastricht Treaty (which created the European Union) in 1992, establishing the eurozone in 1999 and signing the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007.[78] France has also gradually but fully reintegrated into NATO and has since participated in most NATO-sponsored wars.[79]


Republican marches were organised across France after the January 2015 attacks perpetrated by Islamist terrorists; they became the largest public rallies in French history.

Since the 19th century, France has received many immigrants. These have been mostly male foreign workers from European Catholic countries who generally returned home when not employed.[80] During the 1970s France faced an economic crisis and allowed new immigrants (mostly from the Maghreb)[80] to permanently settle in France with their families and acquire French citizenship. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of Muslims (especially in the larger cities) living in subsidised public housing and suffering from very high unemployment rates.[81] Simultaneously France renounced the assimilation of immigrants, where they were expected to adhere to French traditional values and cultural norms. They were encouraged to retain their distinctive cultures and traditions and required merely to integrate.[82]


Since the 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings, France has been sporadically targeted by Islamist organisations, notably the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015 which provoked the largest public rallies in French history, gathering 4.4 million people,[83] the November 2015 Paris attacks which resulted in 130 deaths, the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II[84] and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004,[85] as well as the 2016 Nice truck attack, which caused 87 deaths during Bastille Day celebrations. Opération Chammal, France's military efforts to contain ISIS, killed over 1,000 ISIS troops between 2014 and 2015.[86]



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