Should France Go Back to Being a Monarchy?

By Romain Gonzalez

Illustration by Zelda Mauger

According to a poll published in January 2014, 78 percent of French voters believe their political system doesn't work well. Which I guess sort of explains the recent victory of the far-right group the National Front in the EU elections—many saw it as a solution to the two-party tradition of the past decades.

But National Front president Marine Le Pen scares me a little, so I had a think about the alternatives:

Sadly, the Party of Pleasure does not seem to exist anymore, and Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Tradition has yet to admit that its existence is a joke. But what about the Royal Alliance? This small party seems to believe that the answer to all our problems is to put a good-looking monarch back in the Palace of Versailles.

Baptiste Roger-Lacan is a student in the Department of History at the École Normale Supérieure. He is a specialist in royalism in the 19th century, so I called him up to ask if France should go back to being a monarchy.

Members of the Royal Aliance. Photo via Flickr

VICE: Do you think a king could be reinstalled legally in France?
Baptiste Roger-Lacan: In the Constitution of 1958, Article 89 outlines that the republican form of the government can't be subject to modification. But a first modification could be made in order to make this article disappear, and a second one could re-establish the monarchy.

Do you think a king could unite France?
A king would be a symbol of consensus and national unity. Monarchy wouldn’t guarantee political balance, as the head of state wouldn't have any real power and wouldn't have been elected by the citizens. However, it appears to me that the European monarchies—except Spain, a particular case because of the Francoist era—are much stronger when they face political and institutional crises than the republics are.

Would the French accept a king or queen, even if he or she were powerless?
France does have a sort of “revolutionary tradition,” but I think it's more of a barricades-and-riots habit. Yes, we had a very famous revolution, but the other insurrectional moments—1830, 1848, 1871—were only based on days of riots that concerned Paris exclusively.

France suffers from a huge contradiction: We know our tradition is to be a monarchy, but we also know that by beheading Louis XVI we reached a point of no return.

Photo via Flickr

So it's unlikely that we'll see a return of monarchy. Why?
The Third Republic managed to find a compromise during the 1870s, softening the revolutionary image of the republic and making it acceptable to the conservatives. Then World War II interrupted everything, and that's why Charles de Gaulle is so important. He was able to make the French believe that the Vichy government was just a parenthesis in French history—an illegal and illegitimate regime. The republic has triumphed thanks to him. 

We also have to underline the incompetence of the candidates for the throne, especially the house of Bourbon. They are lame, and they have never been a serious alternative.

Why do we associate monarchy with social conservatism, especially on questions such as same-sex marriage and the role of the Church?
There are no general rules on this. The monarchists and the conservatives banded together because the French revolutionaries fought the king and the Church at the same time. Historically, some monarchies have been very liberal.

It's important to notice that nowadays republican France is more conservative compared with some European monarchies, like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark.

The Coronation of Napoleon, painting by Jacques-Louis David. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Would it be possible for a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte to be king? I do know that Jean-Christophe Napoleon is interested in the job.
Hard to say. The Napoleonic regime was based on plebiscite, which means that it's not really a question of dynastic legitimacy. We have to ask ourselves if the Empire is more likely to be restored than the monarchy.

What's your opinion on that?
In times of “controlled” crisis, it seems highly unlikely that one of these regime will reappear. But if one day we actually do come face to face with the collapse of our political and economic structure, who knows?

Thanks a lot, Baptiste.

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