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The French Second Empire An Anatomy of Political Power

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The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power

This thoroughly researched book on the Second Empire examines how Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was able to secure election as President of the Republic and subsequently to launch a coup detat to establish a Second Empire. It considers the ways in which power was exercised by the new empire and how Napoleon III engaged in a difficult process of transition towards more liberal

This thoroughly researched book on the Second Empire examines how Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was able to secure election as President of the Republic and subsequently to launch a coup detat to establish a Second Empire. It considers the ways in which power was exercised by the new empire and how Napoleon III engaged in a difficult process of transition towards more liberal policies only to experience catastrophic defeat and the destruction of the regime because of war against Prussia.

Published April 23rd 2007 by Cambridge University Press

(first published November 14th 1997)

The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power (New Studies in European History)

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Start your review ofThe French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political PowerWrite a reviewMar 13, 2017rated itliked itI picked up this book because I was interested in learning more about the Second Empire period of France. My base knowledge on the topic was somewhat limited but I embraced the deep-dive by tackling this book. Roger Prices work deconstructs how Napoleon III and his allies obtained and held power for nearly twenty years.The monograph is broken into four parts: Louis-Napoleons rise, how the state and society functioned under the Second Empire, the rise of opposition, and the collapse of the regI picked up this book because I was interested in learning more about the Second Empire period of France. My base knowledge on the topic was somewhat limited but I embraced the deep-dive by tackling this book. Roger Prices work deconstructs how Napoleon III and his allies obtained and held power for nearly twenty years.

The monograph is broken into four parts: Louis-Napoleons rise, how the state and society functioned under the Second Empire, the rise of opposition, and the collapse of the regime. In many ways the book is a highly practical examination of the period. It is stripped of the romance and the political posturing that has defined examination of the period by previous historians. While Prince doesnt make explicit mention of this, it is hard to read about the Second Empire and see a lot of it in modern Frances political institutions.

Price contends that the Second Empire was a response to growing concerns within several segments of society with the stability of the Republic. After the 1848 Revolution, which restored the Republic, there was growing internal conflict. Radical left and right elements made stable governance near impossible. The aristocrats, capitalists, Catholics, and others feared the popularity of the socialists and what their success would mean for their personal welfare and their faith. France was a short fifty years from the French Revolution. To many the radical left brought the threat of the Jacobins and the excesses of the revolution again. This is the political situation that Louis-Napoleon entered.

Despite the pomp and grandeur of the Second Empire it was remarkably fragile. Napoleon was swept into power as the Prince-President in 1852 by a coalition of voters that were clearly reacting to the perceived threat of instability, but not by any particular love of Louis-Napoleon. Universal suffrage confirmed upon him legitimacy but the state apparatus went to great lengths to manipulate elections in their favour. Napoleon III never articulated a clear political agenda. As near as I could ascertain the goal of the empire was to impose order so France could be free. What this means is that the modest political repression allowed for the continuation of life as normal.

Since Napoleon III lacked natural allies and a political base his governing style was insecure and ad hoc. Government was structured initially from the top-down and they had considerable difficulties in recruiting able men to administer the country at the local level or be their candidates in elections to the Corps Legislatif. The army became the primary tool of holding down unrest and as a tool of socio-political advancement.

Yet the Second Empire was not totalitarian or totally repressive. As the years moved forward liberalization crept into the empire. As with many regimes, the small degree of liberalization would ultimately provide the foundation for Napoleons overthrow. For example, the relaxation of restriction on newspapers only created networks of opposition criticism and organization. Elections in 1869 saw major victories for opposition members. The imperial government responded by reforming the constitution and creating a liberal empire. The empire was shortly lived as it was adopted the same year as the Franco-Prussian War.

As I read this book I was left with a couple major impressions. The first was that despite what I had read previously and nearly two decades in power, Napoleon III and his allies grasp on power was very tenuous. France was in a period of remarkable instability. It had not yet figured out its democratic practices and institutions. Despite the achievements of the regime it was, in some ways, transitory. It was a brief blip in French history that French historians and others prefer to overlook. In some ways Price had me thinking of Napoleon III in the same way as other brief autocrats rather than a grand imperial figure.

Ultimately it seems that the regime was undone by many of its own achievements. The railway network built during that time help disseminate dissent. The expanded army was ineffective and outdated. Foreign adventures undermined imperial credibility. Modest suppression and manipulation only magnified resentment.

This book is not particularly useful for those unfamiliar with the time period. Price jumps around and makes casual reference to events, places and individuals that the uninitiated will struggle with. Still, I think this is a fascinating portrayal of the period and more broadly how autocratic regimes work and why they fail.

Shelves:historygeo-europecomprehensive-exams

In his book, The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power, Roger Price offers an in-depth look at the regime of Napoleon III, sole ruler of the Second French Empire. Interestingly, this text does not read so much as a traditional narrative history, but as a collection of snapshots of the political structure of France during the 1850s and 1860s. Chapters are not arranged chronologically, but rather thematically, with the exception of two chapters on the rise of Napoleon III and the Fra

In his book, The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power, Roger Price offers an in-depth look at the regime of Napoleon III, sole ruler of the Second French Empire. Interestingly, this text does not read so much as a traditional narrative history, but as a collection of snapshots of the political structure of France during the 1850s and 1860s. Chapters are not arranged chronologically, but rather thematically, with the exception of two chapters on the rise of Napoleon III and the Franco-Prussian War, which bookend this text perfectly.

The body of the text is divided into two parts: State and Society and The Rise of Opposition. In State and Society, Price tackles topics that range from preserving the public order to the system of government. In The Rise of Opposition, Price breaks down the Second Empires opposition into four categories: legitimism, liberalism, republicanism in the immediate aftermath of the coup dtat that killed the Second Republic, and the republican revival. From this, we can see that Price holds true to his word when he calls his text an anatomy rather than a traditional history.

Structure aside, The French Second Empire is fundamentally a political history, and even this may be too loose of a description. Price pays attention to neither the politicization of the masses nor the drastic social changes sweeping across France under the Second Empire. Instead, his subject is focused squarely on the government. In each chapter, there is little indication that change occurs under the Second Empire, although Price does adhere to the traditional division of Napoleon IIIs imperial rule into the categories of the authoritarian dictatorship and the liberal dictatorship.

Arguments that Price makes tend to be aimed at the scope of power that the government was capable of wielding. For example, he argues that, under the Second Empire, the state assumed a far more substantial economic role than its predecessors (5) and that the regime was incredibly capable at adapting to changing currents in French society. Price is also willing to recognize the limits of the strength of the Second Empire. While the Emperor was brutal at times, he did not possess the technology of rule necessary to inflict the devastation seen by rulers in the twentieth century. He also applauds the Second Empire for keeping one significant right guaranteed under the Second Republic: universal male suffrage.

As a veteran French historian, it should be no surprise that this text is well-researched and well-footnoted. Price relies extensively on primary sources, resulting in a voluminous bibliography filled with trips to five different archives, 24 different newspapers, a wide range of government documents, and countless other published sources. The secondary sources used by Price are not lacking either.

If there were any way this book could be improved, it would be to spend more time looking at the dynamic relationship between people and the state, while offering more of a chronology. Although, following my suggestions would lead Price to write a different book entirelycertainly not an anatomy of political power. This book is a useful introduction to the Second Empire, although the book can be dense at times. As it is, this book will be useful for anybody interested in nineteenth-century France.

This one is faithful to its title. An anatomy/an autopsy it is, indeed.

The reader non-acquainted with the Second Empire will be lost. A lot of things are implied, it is not an history of the Empire nor of its rulers.

The style does the trick but is sometime quite dull or heavy.

Regarding the content : it is a deep and rich book. Price obviously dislike the Second Empire and is quite severe with this era. That being said, he does have the honesty to acknowledge that the regime was indeed solid a

This one is faithful to its title. An anatomy/an autopsy it is, indeed.

The reader non-acquainted with the Second Empire will be lost. A lot of things are implied, it is not an history of the Empire nor of its rulers.

The style does the trick but is sometime quite dull or heavy.

Regarding the content : it is a deep and rich book. Price obviously dislike the Second Empire and is quite severe with this era. That being said, he does have the honesty to acknowledge that the regime was indeed solid and popular and that its fall was the product of defeat and not set in stone. Curiously, a large part of the book is focused on the opposition with Price admitting in the end the strongness of a popular Bonapartism he sadly never develops on.

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