‘From the Wound a Flower Grows’. A Re-Examination of French Patriotism in the Face of the Franco-Prussian War - Sciences Po Access content directly
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‘From the Wound a Flower Grows’. A Re-Examination of French Patriotism in the Face of the Franco-Prussian War


Résumé de l'ouvrage : Although relatively neglected by historians, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 is regarded today as the key to understanding the ‘culture of war’ among both the French and German peoples in 1914. On the one hand, it is argued that Pan-Germanism received its decisive impetus from the Prussian victory and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to the new German Reich. On the other hand, the invasion and then the occupation of part of the national territory and the civil war that followed the French government’s acceptance of the victor’s peace terms are said to have created a vital obligation in the renascent Republic to keep alive in the people’s memory the idea of an undeserved but nevertheless glorious defeat and to cultivate an ‘heroic ethic’ in order better to prepare for the country’s revenge. However, this standard view continues to raise several questions. If it is accepted that the ground for the French people’s ‘consent’ to the First World War was prepared by the consent earlier generations had gradually given to a political regime that eventually came to be identified with the homeland itself, it is all the more important to account for the conditions that triggered this process of identification, since it was by no means self-evident. The Government of National Defence could not be exonerated from blame for the unfortunate conduct of the war. The result of the elections of 8 February left little doubt about the wish of the majority for a cessation of hostilities. The reform of the army that was launched after the collapse of the Commune was in no way intended to prepare for a war of revenge against Germany. Indeed, this was the main reason why, in a period of bitter struggle for power, it was approved almost unanimously. Disseminating the national memory of war was a long-term enterprise, for which the education system was mobilised, to great effect no doubt, but in a less simple and unequivocal way than has long been thought. It is well known that it launched the first wave of war memorial construction, the establishment of ex-servicemen’s associations and the publication of an extensive literature. What we intend to revisit are the conditions under which this humiliated patriotism assumed its definitive form among the French people. The contrasts between the regions that had been invaded and those that had experienced only the call to enlist did not escape the attention of contemporaries. The task we have set ourselves is to examine these contrasts in the light of the hypothesis Pierre Vilar advanced in respect of the Spanish under the Napoleonic occupation: does patriotism manifest itself more vigorously among the working classes when populations are directly exposed to a foreign threat and are forced to defend themselves against it or to resist it? Does it not owe at least as much – and more consistently – to the diffusion of information by elite groups and institutions? In this respect, the Church’s role in the war and its commemoration undoubtedly deserves as much attention as that of the education system. Besides, the elites’ ability to reduce the Parisian insurrection to a threat to order and unity is indissociable from the speed with which Thiers’ ‘conservative Republic’ gave fresh impetus to the economy, which created the conditions not only for early repayment of the five billion francs demanded by Bismarck in reparations but also for public acceptance of increases in taxes, particularly on consumption. Ultimately, this paper on the French case seeks to escape from the binary principle of the excluded third or excluded middle. Nobody believes any longer that the ‘creation of national identities’, to take up Anne-Marie Thiesse’s title, is a process spontaneously generated in the homeland, but nor is the nation any longer regarded as just one of the instruments through which the ruling classes in the societies arising out of the French Revolution exercised their power. Precisely because of its origins in 19th century Europe, as Jean Jaurès emphasised in L’armée nouvelle in 1910 –, ‘the strength of national feeling and the strength of democratic feeling are inseparable’. It is this that justifies a re-examination of the history of the Franco-Prussian War, which both interred the Napoleonic legend and exposed the sacrifices that democratic consent to defence of the native soil, which subsequently became synonymous with the defence of right, were henceforth to entail.


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hal-03397459 , version 1 (22-10-2021)



Jean-François Chanet. ‘From the Wound a Flower Grows’. A Re-Examination of French Patriotism in the Face of the Franco-Prussian War. Marnix Beyen; Maarten Van Ginderachter. Nationhood from below: Europe in the long nineteenth century, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.214 - 229, 2012, 9780230355354. ⟨hal-03397459⟩
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