Sunday, May 06, 2007

Where the French revolution went wrong

When the French revolution started, Thomas Jefferson hoped that France would become a democracy on the American example while Alexander Hamilton feared that the revolution would lead to anarchy and chaos. Both were partly right: the revolution was a violent as Hamilton feared but, after a long while, a democracy of sorts emerged. The French democracy that did emerge, however, was more Hamiltonian, with centralized power, than Jeffersonian with local power, as summarized by Michel Gurfinkiel:
But what really undermines France as a democracy is the constitution behind the constitution: that is, the role played by the non-elected state bureaucracy. As Chauvel puts it:
What used to be said of Prussia—other states have armies, but Prussia is an army that owns a state—applies to France today, with a slight difference. Other countries may have a state bureaucracy, but France is a state bureaucracy that owns a country.
Statism in France is hardly a new issue. Tocqueville devoted a book, The Old Regime and the Revolution, to the subject. He contended that the 1789 revolution, for all its upheavals and radicalism, had ended by reinforcing rather than destroying the monarchical nature of the French state; everything still revolved around the central power and its hierarchically organized agencies. And bureaucratic statism was to play an even more pervasive role in the late 19th and especially in the 20th century.
The rest of the article describes the current state of France with its stagnant salaries, high unemployment, and social unrest. The title of Mr. Gurfinkiel's article is "Can France be Saved?" He is not optimistic.

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