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From factions to political movements

For centuries, the word “party” has designated something quite different from a political formation. ” Cardinal de Retz uses this term in connection with the Fronde, Bossuet in connection with the Calvinists ”, underlines Rémi Lefebvre, professor of political science at the University of Lille. At a time when political society boils down to “Thin elite of oligarchies”, adds historian Serge Berstein, in 2013, in the review Spirit, the word “party” then refers to “Factions united around powerful characters for the conquest of power”.

Until the XVIIIe century, the “party” designates a “Clan, a pressure group, a movement of opinion”, specifies Pierre Rosanvallon, in The Untraceable People (Gallimard, 1998). “At the time, party pluralism did not appear to be a condition of freedom or a guarantee of the protection of rights., analyzes the historian and sociologist. On the contrary, it is only the sign of sterile and harmful competition between coteries, the mark of a profound social disturbance, the proof of a corruption of political life. “

New democratic grammar

When the word begins to designate a political movement, in the XIXe century, France is struggling to convert to this new democratic grammar. Appeared later than their American or English cousins, the hexagonal parties of the XIXe and XXe centuries stand out alongside their German or Scandinavian counterparts. Except in the post-war period, notes, in 1998, the political scientist Pascal Perrineau, in the review Twentieth century, the partisan penetration rate has never, in France, exceeded 3% of those registered on the electoral lists.

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How to explain this chronic weakness? For Florence Haegel, director of the Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics at Sciences Po, universal male suffrage proclaimed in 1848 had difficulty in being deployed in a regime as authoritarian as that of Napoleon III. “The parties traditionally central to electoral mobilizations could not establish themselves in the absence of freedom of assembly and association.. This democratization trajectory has been very unfavorable to the parties. ”

The specter of division

The Republic was hardly more welcoming than the Second Empire. “In France, the parties were born in the rural and decentralized culture of the notables of the IIIe Republic, where the majority vote favored the local baronies, underlines political scientist Frédéric Sawicki. Even Jaurès joined the Socialist Party late: he built his career by relying, not on a militant movement, but on his name and on the close links he had forged with the trade unionists in his constituency. “

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