France: Political Culture and Political Socialization
I. Political Culture
A: An Introduction
- Remember the concept from our discussion on Britain.
Put simply, a political culture can be defined as the attitudes and beliefs that people hold about their political system. To quote Dennis Kavanagh, the source of the definition provided in the text on Britain, it is a “shorthand expression to denote the emotional and attitudinal environment within which the political system operates”. The political culture defines what is considered to be legitimate political activity and the individuals role within the system. The political culture serves as a filter through which individuals perceive their government and their role within the system. Variance between p.c. of US and China, England and France.
Political culture of a country is the result of the combination of the views held by the individual citizens. Of course, this will vary from individual to individual and also from group to group, so one should not presume that all will follow the defined political culture, but it is a general tool for analysis. The political culture of a country will reflect its past and provide a determining influence on how its future evolves. Various ways of measuring political culture.
- parochial, subject and participant political cultures.
B. French Political Culture
1. Distrust of Government and Politics
- Discussed earlier - mistrust of centralized power yet a corresponding fear of chaos that leads to vacillating between strong and weak executives. Simultaneous mistrust of and craving for authority.
- Simultaneous desire for individualism and equality.
- Historic sense of localism that tends to place more faith in the family and the region than the national gov’t. Perhaps indicative of a society that was later to urbanize than either Britain or Germany. Changing with the increasing mass communication and migration to the cities in the post-war period. Mayors and local officials remain far more popular and more trusted than national officials (save the President).
2. Flair for Dramatic Change
- Experience of the Revolution and succeeding Republics has created desire for dramatic, rather than evolutionary change in the French culture.
- We often look at France and see a country that seems to be perpetually unstable, rather it would be better to view it as a history of brief crisis and extended periods of routine.
- Sense of instability stems from the fact that the different constitutions have resulted from either international causes ( Napoleon, Franco-Prussian War, WWII) or domestic events (Bourbons, Algerian Rebellion), but all have resulted from major crises of some kind. The result was the drafting of hotly contested constitutions that favored the victors rather than compromise. Prior to the Fifth Republic, the French constitutions were usually only satisfactory to one segment of the public, with the other awaiting the next crisis (and the presumed failure of gov’t) to impose its vision.
- The experience of the Fifth Republic has been a little different. First of all, as mentioned earlier there are provisions for both a strong President and a representative chamber. Secondly, the coming to power of Francois Mitterand in 1981, and the victory of a coalition of the left in the national assembly later in that year, confirmed that the right did not have a monopoly on political power in the Fifth Republic. Created the perception that all of the players have a chance to influence the government and that none were excluded. Thirdly, France has not had to face a major international crisis in the time of the Fifth Republic, its chances of being invaded are close to nil, and with the settlement of the Algerian question, and the subsequent decolonization in Africa, it no longer possesses any rebellious colonies. However, we should not be too quick to presume that this means that the Fifth Republic will prove to be the end of French constitutional change. After all, it is less than 40 years old, and I am sure that there were similar feelings about the 3rd Republic following the first world war.
- Anyway, the general point is that the French have tended to favor dramatic solutions rather than evolutionary change.
3. Religious and Anti-Clerical Traditions
- It is interesting in that France is both a religious and a secular state.
- France is a catholic country, in the early 1990s, 81% of the population defined themselves as Catholic. Yet the catholic church itself considers the country to have been “de-christianized”. Of this catholic majority, only 12% attend mass on a regular basis, and 67% either never attend church or only go to such ceremonies as marriages or baptisms. This 12% is about half the number of regular church attendees of the early 1970s, especially true among the farmers and middle class, the industrial workers have been less likely to attend church than other groups for most of this century (5% at present), largely due to political and social reasons that I will explain in a moment.
- For most of the French history since the revolution (until early in this century), hostility between believers and non-believers was one of the main features of French political life. Served as divisions at all levels of society. Still has some relevance in that Protestants and Jews tend to favor the political left, regardless of the their socio-economic class. Generally, practicing Catholics tend to favor the parties on the right, the depth of religious observance seems to be one of the most effective predictors of voting behavior, meaning if someone attends church regularly, chances are that they will vote for a party of the right. Non-Catholics are overwhelmingly likely to support parties on the left. Tradition stems from Monarchists vs Republicans.
- Schism between the clericals and anti-clericals finds strong roots in French history. Remember that prior to the Revolution, France was an absolutist state, where there was open persecution of Protestants and other religious groups (persecution of jews continued well into this century - Dreyfus Affair, Collaboration). Mutual hostility between the leading elements of the revolution who regarded Catholicism as being connected to the Bourbons and those of the Church who regarded the revolution, and its seizure of church land and attempts to secularize the state as the work of Satan. Division between the catholics and the republicans (those who favored the revolution).
- Hostility continued through the 19th and early twentieth centuries. When the Third Republic severed all ties between the church and the state in 1875, the Pope excommunicated all of those deputies who voted in favour of the separation laws.
- Division within French society proved to be one of the key separating points between support for the right and the left. Socio-Economic concerns drove many of the workers toward the leftist and anti-clerical parties.
- Division has become less important in recent times as Catholics have become less likely to attend church or to support the policy positions of the Vatican (abortion, pre-marital sex, etc.). Position of the Church is declining in France, presently the Catholic church is ordaining less than a third of the number of priests than it did in the early 1960s, and, as mentioned earlier church attendance is about half of what is was 30 years ago. Yet, this distinction is still relevant. Practicing catholics are still more likely to vote Right than left by considerable numbers.
- Controversy with Muslims, Islam is now the second largest religion in France. Practiced mainly by immigrants from North Africa, 5% of the French public are Muslim. Presents problems in French public schools, as many Muslims insist on carrying on with traditional dress patterns (chador, scarves) in defiance of school uniforms, etc. Contrasts with the French notion of secular public schools . Difficulties in a changing society and one that is not used to being multi-cultural. However, the number of practicing Muslims is declining in France, half of the level of 30 years ago, yet it is higher among those between the ages of 16-24 than in the immediately older groups, perhaps signs of a revival.
- France is sort of a secularized Catholic country, number of churchgoers is very small, but the country still celebrates many of the Catholic holidays, little trade and commerce on Sundays. More cultural catholics than anything else.
4. Class and Status
- Like Britain, France is a very class conscious country. Yet, since equality is much stronger in France, there is little of the sense of deference that characterized British society, and resentful antagonism is often expressed. French workers have been more likely to be militant than their British counterparts (of course, this would not have been true during Britain’s industrial problems twenty years ago). Strikes over Juppe’s planned reductions in governmental spending.
- Safran identifies four main class groupings in France: (1) Upper Class - made up of the graduates of the most prestigious Universities, directors of the largest companies, upper level civil servants, bankers, remains of old aristocracy; (2) Upper Middle Class - professions (doctors, lawyers, engineers), university professors, mid-level civil servants, owners of medium sized shops and family companies; (3) middle class - white collar workers, small shopkeepers, elementary teachers, low-level civil servants; (4) lower classes - workers and small farmers.
- Lower classes are more likely to vote for the left, though as we have seen, this is complicated by religion. Also influenced by family, member of the middle class who has a worker father is also more likely to vote for the left than one whose family comes from the middle class. However, mobility tends to be lateral rather than upward.
- However, with the decline in traditional industry (de-industrialization), this has been declining over the past twenty years, in the late 1980s, only 56% of the population clearly stated that they belonged to a social class, this was down 12% from the corresponding number in the late 1970s.
- This element is also important with respect to the new immigrants to France, many of whom arrive with limited skills (or at least skills that are limited in an industrial and post industrial economy). Therefore, in the case of the new immigrants, we see the class differences being reinforced by racial and ethnic differences as well. Potential source of discontent.
5. National Symbols
- Shared points of Pride
- France as a Great Power
- French Culture
- French Language
Latter two are not accepted unequivocally, right and the church are not overly comfortable with the latter - some dispute in 1989 when it came time to mark the bicentennial, notion of the resistance is tempered by the actions of the collaborators and the Vichy government. Defense of the Language and Culture from assault by Anglo-American mass culture. France as a Great power is more a myth than reality, especially following German re-unification and its seeming rise as the new leader of Europe.
Less overt flag waving than the British (mention the story of the last World Cup), much more so than the Germans but with as deep a sense of pride and the leadership is capable of overt acts of chauvinism (mention this as national rather than gender related) that would make the Brits and the Germans blanch with horror. Remain very nationalistic and look to the above as points of pride.
II. Political Socialization
- Remember that Political socialization is the processes through which people acquire knowledge and attitudes about politics. In more common discourse we use the term socialization to refer to the way that children are introduced to, and acquire the values within their society.
- Means of transmission of a political culture.
- Remember that at its most basic level people acquire images of their country (nationalism or perhaps anti-nationalism); self images of their class, gender, or ethnic groups; their religious and ideological commitments; and a basic vision of their rights and obligations within the society. This process also helps to reinforce sub-national loyalties. The earliest elements of socialization, as they are frequently reinforced throughout the course of ones life, tend to be the most durable.
- Ongoing process that will occur throughout our lives.
- Also, there are perspectives on current events, policies, personalities, parties. They will also play a role in the development of a belief structure with respect to the interpretation of future events.
B. Political Socialization in France
Elements of political socialization are part of a broad tradition within an old country such as France, serve to reinforce a broad cultural tradition. This is not to assert that these forces are static, nor to assert that they are not shaped by the relevant historical period. Rather, that these traditional forces help to shape development, as well as the re-interpretation of history.
Will examine main forces: the family, education, occupation, and the media.
While the French are rather notorious for the degree of skepticism with which they view outsiders and even their neighbors, perhaps a result of the recent urbanization and the peasant base of France’s history, the family has always been an important element of French society and one which is normally imbued with a strong sense of trust. We have seen this trust demonstrated in recent opinion polls. In 1994, the French government conducted a survey to determine the attitudes of its youth. Not surprisingly, given the unemployment rates among French youth (25% under 27) they had a rather bleak view of society. 78% stated that they had no confidence in the schools to prepare them for the future, and only 28% expressed any confidence in the future.
However, this bleak outlook did not extend to the home life; 75% believed that their families had prepared them well for the future, and that their parents loved and had confidence in them.
French family life has certainly not remained static over the past 40 years, it has undergone many of the changes prevalent in other industrialized countries. Some of these changes include: births out of wedlock, increased divorce rate, and changes in the status of women.
In 1990, more than 30% of the births in France occurred outside the marriage, only a slightly lower % than that in the US. Dramatic societal change for France, especially in comparison to 6.4% in 1968. Also, this does not carry the stigma that it might in times past - clear evidence of cultural change between generations.
France has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of divorces, roughly 40% of all marriages end in divorce now, double the rate of 20 years ago, when more flexible divorce laws came into effects. Again, a major societal change, and one that is remarkable in a country with such a high percentage of its population being catholic. Perhaps indicative of the degree of secularization within that society.
Have also seen changes in the status of women within society. French women did not get the vote until after France had been liberated from German occupation during WWII, over two decades after this became commonplace in the West. It was not until 1970 that French law proclaimed the absolute equality of men and women in the exercise of parental authority, and in the material management of the family.
Presently, more than 80% of the French women between the ages of 25 and 45 now work continuously throughout their adulthood and 46% of the labour force is female. This has a tremendous impact on the socialization process within the family, women that work outside of the home are likely to differ in regard to religious and moral outlooks, and especially political outlook. In these attitudes, women are much more likely have beliefs that are similar to their male contemporaries than women who are not employed. Also, as I mentioned when discussing Britain, this also introduces another powerful voice into the socialization process of the family. This is not to pretend that women are presently in a state of equality of men in contemporary France. While, they may hold a third of senior professional jobs, and females may outnumber males as university students, women are also far more likely to work in low wage jobs than males. On average, women earn 20% less than men. Also, women made up less than 6% of the last parliament (do not have the current numbers), about the same percentage as when they were first granted the right to vote. Traditionally have run for the left, right stances against abortion (legalized 1975) and contraception (1967) have had continued impact.
- Mention the case of Cresson (1991-1992, 10 months)
Worthy of note that the family will not be the only agent of socialization, people will encounter other influences that will shape their outlook and beliefs. Also, certainly subject to change, as we have seen above. Yet, the family influences are strong ones - for example, while French citizens of Algerian parentage are less likely to attend the mosque than their parents, they are more likely to practice religion than their peers. Family and society each influence the developmental process.
Crucial in the transmission of cultural values. Strong degree of centralization, Ministry of Education controls curriculum, teaching methods, selecting and promoting teachers and students, content of exams. Very useful as a means of promoting french values and civilization.
Presently, within the system the students attend a uniform education until the age of 16 (the present minimum age for school leaving, prior to 1959 it was 15), then those who choose to go on, more than 50% of the French students, attend the lycee (secondary school), guided into one of several filieres (streams) including: letters, social sciences, physical education, music and art, mathematics, physical sciences, et al.
- Traditional French emphasis on the humanities has come under challenge.
Passing each step in the system requires the completion of a standardized examination. Not unusual - the Japanese, among others, practice this, what is unusual is the degree to which the state, and indeed the French people seem to believe that everyone is equal before an examination. Completion of the examination marking graduation from the lycee grants open access to University and the possibility of economic improvement for those from economically disadvantaged groups, and in theory this is equally accessible to anyone. Yet, in practice it benefits the children of the upper and upper middle classes the most. This becomes even more apparent when we discuss the grandes ecoles in a few moments.
- Why? What do they think of standard tests?
Dramatic expansion of the educational system under the fifth republic. Number of students in secondary schools has increased 8 fold between 1945 and the present, and there is 10 times the number of university students at the present time as there was in 1958. In 1991, 42% of those between the ages of 20 and 24 were in university, a higher proportion than any other European country.
Yet, the class structure in France has not changed to a corresponding degree. While all of those who hold a baccalaureate can gain admission to a university, the standards become much more stringent as the student advances with large numbers being dropped at the end of the first or second years. Of those who fail, a disproportionately large number come from lower-class backgrounds.
- Massification of education and the resulting perceived decline in standards.
Another feature of the French system that deserves some mention is the Grandes Ecoles. Which operate outside of the network of Universities (many are private and some are sponsored by governmental departments). Number at somewhere around 300, but there is also a hierarchy within this branch. The upper echelon of the grandes ecoles serve as the training ground for the French elite - top civil servants, business leaders, etc. Virtually of the graduates of the grandes ecoles are immediately placed and many take up positions among the French elite.
Two of the most famous of the Grandes Ecoles are the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) and the Ecole Polytechnique. Virtually all of the upper echelon civil servants (very important in a country with such a strong partnership between government and business) are recruited directly from these two schools. Study revealed that 40% of those who graduated from ENA between 1960 and 1990 have served as ministerial advisors in the various governments during that time.
Also, 17% of ENA graduates are now working in French industry, many of these were former higher level civil servants prior to making the jump to the world of commerce. Members of the Grand Corps (highest rank of civil servants) can go on leave for indefinite periods of time, while retaining their pension rights and the ability to return to their governmental positions, to take positions in industry. This further cements the partnership between government and industry.
Established in 1946 with the aim of training the elite of French civil servants, is enormously influential within the French system - also produces many of France’s political leaders. Small and select group (only about a 100-150 students are annually admitted to the body), but its 3,000 odd graduates much up a strong percentage of France’s political elite. Training consists of a first year of work in an administrative office, a second year of academic study and the third year is spent in the particular ministry that the individual hope to serve.
While those admitted are selected by examination, they tend to be part of a self-perpetuating elite. High percentage tend to be Parisians and children of the political establishment. Questions of the supposed mass basis of the system.
3. Occupation and Peers
- Work also provides an important socializing experience, who are your peers? What does your job entail? How does increased/decreased state spending impact upon this job. Reflection of economic interests.
- Employees of State (25% of total)
- Who are your peers? Chums from school, work, other interests? Affect of shaping and interpreting news and events.
- Will discuss class and economic interests a little later (parties and interest groups).
4. The Media
Press is similar to that of the rest of the Western world. However, the French have tighter controls on the media than we are used to in the West, for example it is a felony to publish statements damaging to the President or public authorities. Also, the police have the right to “undertake all acts necessary with a view to preventing crimes and violations of the...security of the state”. This does not mean that France can be confused with Singapore in terms of the restrictions on press freedoms, but this does give the authorities ammunition if they wish to harass newspapers that are they interpret as being overly critical.
- Most important papers Le Monde (liberal), Le Figaro (conservative), L’Humanite (Comm), International Herald Tribune (English Language).
Originally, television and radio were the sole purview of the state. Until 1982, all radio and television stations that originated programs on French territory were owned by the state, and staffed by personnel paid and appointed by the government. Since that time, television has been largely privatized, with only two of the top seven television stations being owned by the state as of 1996. Also, one of the central purposes of this legislation was to regulate the thousand odd pirate radio stations that were in existence at that time, since then most have come under the control of business and regulation from the state.
The media changes (enacted by a socialist government and continued since then by all players) also allowed free advertising to all political parties during election campaigns (ask their opinions on this one).
Conclusions about Socialization
- Ongoing process.
- Family values undergoing change with the changes to French society.
- Importance of the family in France - one institution that the French youth seems to have some confidence in.
- Education system has been traditionally geared to the elite, changing to some degree and the French seem to have a great deal of confidence in the ability of examinations to ensure a level playing field. Yet, practice has not born this out. Advantages of the children of the bourgeoisie, true in all societies.
- Importance of the Grandes Ecoles - esp poly and ena. Providing the elite of the civil service, business and political worlds. Often knew each other in school, shared interests. Most from the upper and upper middle classes.
- Tendency to parachute from civil service to business (more on this later), close relationship between the two. Partnership between government and business.
- Economic and professional interests - farmers, business, civil servants.
- Media and the transition from state controlled to state regulated.
- resulting competition for ratings, but could be also interpreted as increased freedom of choice (meeting the desires of the public).