How much stuff could I put on my table?

How much stuff could I put on my table?

I am not sure where I first came across the term Fifth-and-a-Half Republic - in French la Cinquième République et demie - but let me say straightaway that I make absolutely no claim to having invented the term. It seems to me, however, to sum up very well the state of the French Republic today, not simply in the afterglow of the victory of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen and the extraordinary campaign that preceded it, but in the way it has developed since the turn of the century. The Fifth Republic today is very far from what it was when it was created by Charles de Gaulle and Michel Debré.

That is, of course, how it should be. De Gaulle himself was fond of a quotation from the Greek philosopher Solon. When asked what the best kind of constitution was, Solon replied ‘First tell me for what people and in what era’. To ensure that the Fifth Republic had the machinery to adapt, de Gaulle and Debré inserted into the constitution not one, but two ways of revising it. And in any case, it is one thing a write a constitution, quite another to act it out. As all French constitutionalists know, ‘la constitution vécue n’est jamais la constitution imaginée’. It never plays out the way you expect.

There are today in France, and there have been for some while (pretty much since the 1970s) voices calling for a new constitution and a Sixth Republic. That may yet come, perhaps in this presidential term, possibly after.

It is not the intention of this blog to retell the tale of the Fifth Republic. There are plenty of good books that have done that. The aim is rather to offer those interested in contemporary French politics – fellow scholars, students, casual readers – a commentary on what is happening in the here and now from the perspective of a historian of French political institutions and political culture.

The genesis of this project has been the success of short articles I have written, mostly for The Conversation, on the recent presidential campaign and which have allowed my work to reach an international audience. But The Conversation and other outlets are not always interested in publishing the arcane detail of French political life. I understand that entirely. This is why this blog exists. But I shall link to work I publish online elsewhere from here. You can read my pieces that have appeared elsewhere by clicking on the 'elsewhere' tab above.

I also want to provide, in particular for my students here at the University of Nottingham a platform they can use to explore French politics, so I shall use this space to direct them to media sources I think they will find interesting and useful, probably via a fourth tab above called 'interesting and useful'.

This blog is supported by funding from the Faculty of Arts at the University, who gave me a huge wedge of spends to blow on launching this. I am also very grateful to Tom Webb-Hexpert for helping me set this up. 

Finally (and thank you for reading this far) this blog is also a side-product of a project I am working on called The Strange Death of the Fifth Republic – France 2002-2017. One day, it might even get published.


Paul Smith

Paul Smith


Paul Smith is Associate Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Nottingham.

I'm a historian who specialises in 19th and 20th century French politics, political institutions and political culture. I have particular research interests in the French Senate, Feminism in France 1914-1940, French local government, and Contemporary French Politics in general. I like looking at French historical art too, as it goes.