The Rhetoric of Revolution and Reality: Boulangism and Mass Politics in France.
Lerer, David S.
- The political history of the first century of modern France reads as a continuous succession of revolutions and upheavals, occurring at fairly regular intervals of about twenty years, each deposing the existing government and substituting an often radically different one in its place. This paradoxical "revolutionary tradition," cultivated in a country in which the only constant was change, became ... read morean undeniable fixture of the political landscape. The revolutionary challenge of Boulangism threatened the Third Republic with a fate similar to the regimes that had preceded it. Boulangism was a popular movement rooted primarily in the immense popularity of the notorious General Boulanger, behind whom rallied all the enemies of the Republic: monarchists seeking a royal restoration, Bonapartists hoping for a new empire, nationalists yearning for revenge on Germany, socialists envisaging a proletarian uprising. At its height in 1889, the movement was expected to topple the government, but it faltered and fell apart, eventually compelling Boulanger to kill himself on the grave of his mistress. Boulangism was more, however, than a tragicomedy of failed political aspirations. Through an experimental and unprecedented campaign of propaganda and party organization that spanned the whole of France, it revealed the possibilities of electoral competition in an incipient mass political landscape at the same time that it showed the bankruptcy of the revolutionary tradition it purported to revitalize. This thesis examines the electoral innovations of Boulangism and traces the rhetoric of the affair as it evolved from revolutionary invocation against the government to appeals to legal, electoral participation within it. It also investigates the coincidence of Boulangism with the centenary of the French Revolution and the famous Universal Exposition, which forced political actors, including the government itself, to critically re-examine the French revolutionary legacy and the continued relevance of revolution in a participatory democracy. From this perspective of the transition from revolutionary to mass politics, the Boulanger Affair can help contextualize the origins of twentieth-century political groupings, from the social democratic left to the proto-fascist right.read less