"Une Chambre démocratique?" Debates about the legitimacy of the Senate in the French Third Republic (1870-1914) In a comparative perspective with Belgium and The Netherlands

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"Une Chambre démocratique?" Debates about the legitimacy of the Senate in the French Third Republic (1870-1914) In a comparative perspective with Belgium and The Netherlands

Type: Research master thesis
Title: "Une Chambre démocratique?" Debates about the legitimacy of the Senate in the French Third Republic (1870-1914) In a comparative perspective with Belgium and The Netherlands
Author: Stam, Wietse
Issue Date: 2016-02-29
Keywords: French Third Republic (1870-1914)
Senate
French politics
Democracy
Legitimacy
Comparative history
Belgium
The Netherlands
Parliament
Abstract: The French Senate is nowadays often presented by its critics as an institution that is conflicting with the principles of democracy. This raises questions about how this area of tension between democracy and the second chamber has emerged and evolved throughout the history of the French political system. Bicameralism seems contradictory to the French political culture because the republican doctrine strongly believed in a single assembly. This research focuses on the first half of the French Third Republic (1870-1914) and investigates to what extend the Senate was considered to be compatible with democracy. How was it possible that a Senate -an institution that seemed to have lost its place in the French political landscape and was associated with aristocracy and conservative liberalism- obtained a place in the institutional framework of this republic which was so democratic for its time? In general, historians have shown little interest in upper houses. However, this thesis argues that in order to get a complete picture of the reasons behind the evolution of democratic institutions it is not enough to merely study political theory or constitutional law; one should also look at the reality of political practice. In order to understand how important historical events and national context in France were in shaping the debate about the relation between the Senate and democracy, the French case is put in an international comparative perspective with the discussions that took place around the same period in Belgium and The Netherlands. This research demonstrates that the French Senate of the Third Republic was not constructed against democracy, or simply as the representation of conservative forces. It rather was a very inventive chamber that served the interest of the Republican Party, promoted democracy and played an important role in the political education of the French countryside and its integration into the French nation. Secondly, it is argued that discussions about the legitimacy of the French upper house were to a very large extend determined by historical circumstances -such as the Boulanger crisis and the Dreyfus affair-, political opportunism, pragmatism, and specificities in the national political culture.
Description: This MA thesis is the result of a study period of one academic year at the Institut d’Études Politiques (Sciences Po) Paris. This stay has been realized thanks to my supervisor prof. dr. Henk te Velde and Nicolas Roussellier, professor in parliamentary history at Sciences Po Paris. My stay in Paris has also been made possible by a study grant from the French Embassy in The Hague (Bourse d’excellence Descartes) and an International Study Grant from the Leiden University Fund (LUF). I am very grateful to all who have provided me with this unique opportunity.
Supervisor: Velde, H. te
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: History (Research master)
Specialisation: Political Culture and National Identities
ECTS Credits: 40
Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/38225
 

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