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Remembering and Forgetting in Contemporary France

Napoleon, Slavery, and the French History Wars

Philip Dwyer

On the front cover of Claude Ribbe’s Le Crime de Napoléon is a photograph of Hitler surrounded by a bevy of generals looking down at the tomb of Napoleon at the Invalides during his visit there after the fall of France in 1940. The message is clear: the author is thus directly associating Napoleon with Hitler and, as we shall see as Ribbe develops his argument, with the Holocaust. Napoleon, Ribbe claims, is guilty of a “triple crime” against humanity: the reintroduction of slavery in 1802; the deportation and killing of large numbers of Africans (or people of African origin); and the massacre of blacks that took on a “genocidal nature” and that prefigured the policy of racial extermination carried out by the Nazis during the Second World War (12 13). “Le crime est si impardonnable”, writes Ribbe, “qu’il a provoqué plus de deux siècles de mensonges. Car les faits sont bien connus des historiens, mais volontairement passés sous silence” (13).

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Laurent Marie

In 2004, fifty-one documentaries obtained a theatrical release in France. This new record represents a measure of the success enjoyed by the wave of documentaries that has reached France’s silver screens since the turn of the century. Tackling a variety of issues, these documentaries have been remarkably successful at home; in terms of domestic admissions, fifteen of the top seventeen performing French documentaries have been released in the last ten years.

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The Relationship Between France and the United States

Reflections for an American Audience

Lionel Jospin

Since the relationship between France and the United States is going through a difficult period, we must find opportunities to talk things over.

It is true that it is not always easy to broach the subject of this relationship between the US and France in a balanced and reasonable way. We idealize its past and blacken its present.

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Naomi J. Andrews and Jennifer E. Sessions

Scholarly attention to the history and legacies of France's overseas empire is a welcome development of the last two decades, but the field of modern French colonial history has become overly focused on the “tensions” and “contradictions” of universalist republican imperialism. This introduction argues that we must recognize the ideological diversity of the French state and the complexity of the relationships between colonial and metropolitan histories in the modern period. The articles in this special issue show the critical role of the non-republican regimes of the nineteenth century in the construction of the modern French empire, and the ways that colonial entanglements shaped processes of post-Revolutionary reconstruction in France under the Restoration (1815–1830), July Monarchy (1830–1848), Second Republic (1848–1851), and Second Empire (1852–1870).

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Michèle Lamont

In recent years, surveys have consistently shown relatively high levels of racism and xenophobia in France. In particular, a 1999 Harris poll conducted for the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme revealed that 68 percent of the respondents in a national sample declared themselves somewhat racist; 61 percent believed that there are too many foreigners in France; 63 percent believed that there are too many Arabs (up 12 percent compared with 1998); and 38 percent believed that there are too many blacks (up 8 percent compared with 1998).1 Against the backdrop of a long, difficult, and partly repressed colonial past, a full 28 percent of French voters have, since 1983, voted at least once for the openly racist and anti-Semitic Front National.2 These results clash with the popular image of a Republican France, where the dominant political ideology affirms that the ascribed characteristics of citizens are irrelevant to their participation in the polity.

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Comparing Risk Regulation in the United States and France

Asbestos, Aids and Genetically Modified Agriculture

David Vogel and Jabril Bensedrine

This article compares three health, safety and environmental policies in France and the United States: the regulation of asbestos, the regulatory impact of the health crisis associated with AIDS, and the regulation of genetically modified foods and seeds. These cases illustrate the evolution of regulatory policies and politics in France and the United States over the last three decades. In brief, risk management policies have become less politicized and risk averse in the United States, while they have become more politicized and risk averse in France. In many respects, regulatory politics and policies in France during the 1990s resemble those of the United States from the 1960s and through the late 1980s.

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Charlie Michael

For those of us accustomed to thinking of French cinema as a low-budget, philosophical alternative to Hollywood, the past few years might have been a bit disorienting. Established auteurs (Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Agnès Varda) and challenging newcomers (Gaspard Noé, Catherine Breillat, Erick Zonca) continue to impress, but their idiosyncratic views are now complemented by an increasing number of what look a lot like, well, French “blockbusters.” These are popular genre films that feature special effects and glossy production values.

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Rescue of the Jews and the Resistance in France

From History to Historiography

Renée Poznanski

Two obstacles blocked the incorporation of the rescue of Jews in France into the Resistance movement. The first, which can be traced back to the sources of the social imaginary, had to do with the fear of stirring the old demon of the Jewish problem by referring specifically to the fate awaiting the Jews. The second was inseparable from the meaning attached to the Resistance ever since its inception, which focused on political opposition to Vichy and on the liberation of France and never included rescuing those whose lives were in danger. This double marginalization (from the History of the French people as a whole and from that of the Resistance) survived liberation and gave way to three different historiographies: that of the French Resistance, that of the rescue of the Jews, and that of Jewish resistance. The history of the rescue of the Jews in France should be studied through an integrated perspective that leads to thinking about the Resistance as a whole, organized and unorganized, Jewish and non-Jewish.

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Florence Rochefort

In the French polemics over the Islamic headscarf, the relationship betweensecularism and sexual equality has sometimes been made out to be an artificialone. The articulation between politics, religion, secularism, and women'srights is examined here over the longue durée. Since the beginning of the secularizationprocess during the French Revolution, a minority has championedan egalitarian conception of secularization. Rivalries between or convergencesof political and religious authorities have driven an ambivalent and not veryequal secularization, creating secular pacts that rely on gender pacts to thedetriment of equality. This dynamic reversed itself beginning in the 1960swith the battle for legal contraception and abortion, which shook one of thevery bases of French Catholicism to its foundation. The headscarf affairsrevealed the egalitarian effects of secularism and favored the elaboration ofthought about secularism in conjunction with sexual equality, which, whateverthe various interpretations of that thought may be, could prove to be anon-negligible benefit.

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Jocelyn Evans

Political parties use policy radicalism as a means of attaining electoral success. Differentiation from other parties and ideological renewal after a period of incumbency or prolonged opposition are valid reasons for policy innovation, but excessive radicalization has a number of detrimental effects, including mismanaging voter expectations. This article analyzes a number of examples of policy radicalization under the French Fifth Republic. It starts from concepts taken from policy mood and spatial competition models, and examines how French political parties of both Left and Right have overreached in their ideological stances, and thereby exacerbated political disenchantment among the French public. The article concludes by looking at the notion that mainstream politicians may not be acting in their own best interests when they radicalize the political agenda by misreading electoral competitive cues.