Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan
Edited by Ludger Helms
Chapter 5: Presidents Behaving Badly: Poor Leadership and Bad Governance in France
John Gaffney When studying leadership and governance in France, particularly within a comparative framework as is implied by a book of this kind, one has to address an issue which has come to haunt French studies, a phenomenon that has pushed analysis of France away from the enormous value of the comparative, namely, the question of the ‘French exception’ (Chafer and Godin 2010). Leadership and governance, both good and bad, are universal political and social institutions. Is France truly an exception in such company, and does this – and if so, how – inform our study of the French variety? Almond and Verba’s (1963) comparative study of political cultures deliberately missed France out of its study, because it did not ‘fit’ properly. It was emerging from the Algerian crisis and the creation of de Gaulle’s new regime in 1958 (Andrews 1982; Nick 1998; Rémond 1983; Sirius 1958; Terrenoire 1964). But the exclusions have been rife ever since. For Almond and Verba, it was the political flux and instability France was in that made them feel it was inappropriate to include it. We could say, however, that, although the regime is over 50 years old, having enjoyed real stability, especially by French standards, it remains the case that the discourse of drama and crisis, and the perceived role of the ‘providential man’, acting decisively to avert disaster and restore the state’s integrity, flooded into the early Fifth Republic, and have gone on informing, even driving, leadership and governance ever since. As regards...
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