chapter  10
7 Pages

POWER AND THE SWORD

Since the Revolution France has often been governed by soldiers - Napoleon, Cavaignac in 1848, Trochu in 1870, MacMahon from 1873 to 1879, Petain and de Gaulle - but never by the army. This is not the least important of French paradoxes. In no major European countries other than Spain and Russia was armed force so frequently used at home. In 1814-16, in the turbulent period between 1827 and 1852 and in 1871 it was the final decider of which regime France should have. It was also frequently used in these years, and in the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s, to suppress social conflict. Yet it never exercised autonomous power. Two of France’s neighbours demonstrate how differently things could turn out: in Spain, the army frequently intervened to arbitrate or alter the political system; in Germany it possessed autonomous power within the State structure. In France, in spite of political instability, the army never attempted to impose its own political solution, and indeed at crucial moments it stood aside or even proved impotent in the face of political challenge to the established order. And in spite of its prestige and considerable influence, it always remained obedient to the civilian authorities in major matters. Why did the dog not bark? Why was the army ‘ la grande muettd?