16 June 1946 - Bayeux Speech

In our glorious, mutilated Normandy, Bayeux and her environs have witnessed one of the most momentous events in history. We can testify that they have shown themselves worthy of those events. It was here, four years after France and her Allies had suffered their initial disaster, that the final victory of the Allies and France commenced ; it was here that events delivered their decisive justification for the efforts of those who had never given in, and around whom the national instinct had rallied and French power reformed itself, from June 18, 1940 onwards.

At the same time, it was here, on the soil of our ancestors, that the State reemerged. The legitimate State - because rooted in the interests and the sentiment of the nation ; the State whose true sovereignty had been transported to the side of war, of freedom, of victory, while serfdom retained but Statehood's outward appearance ; the State whose rights, dignity, and authority had been upheld in the midst of vicissitudes, barrenness and intrigue ; the State preserved from foreign interference ; the State capable of restoring around itself the unity of the nation and the empire, of rallying all the forces of the motherland and the French Union, of pursuing victory to its conclusion in common with the Allies, of dealing on equal terms with the other great nations of the world, of keeping public order, of dispensing justice, and of putting in hand our reconstruction.

If this great task was accomplished outside the previous framework of our institutions, that is because those institutions no longer answered the needs of the nation and had abdicated in the torment, of their own volition. Salvation had to come from elsewhere.

First there came an elite, which sprang forth spontaneously from the depths of the nation and which, disdaining considerations of party or class, had dedicated itself to the struggle for the liberation, the grandeur and the renewal of France.

A sense of moral superiority, a consciousness of exercising a kind of sacerdotal duty of sacrifice and example, a passion for risk and enterprise, a contempt for unrest, pretension and sensationalism, trust in the strength and cunning of its powerful conspiracy and in the victory and future of the motherland, such was the psychology of this elite which had come from nowhere and which, despite heavy losses, was to carry the entire Empire and the whole of France along behind it.

But it could never have done so without the assent of the vast mass of the French people. They, in their instinctive desire for survival and victory had never seen in the disaster of 1940 anything but a vicissitude in the course of the World War, in which France stood in the vanguard. While many had no choice but to bow to circumstances, the number of those that accepted those circumstances in their spirit and in their heart was literally infinitesimal. Never did France believe that the enemy was anything but the enemy, or that salvation lay elsewhere than the weapons of freedom. As the veils were ripped asunder, the deep-seated sentiment of the country manifested itself in its true colours.

Wherever the Cross of Lorraine appeared, the flimsy structure of what was in reality but a fictitious authority - however constitutional in appearance - collapsed. For the authorities are valid, in fact and in right, only if they accord with the higher interests of the country, if they enjoy the confidence of the citizens. To build institutions upon anything else is to build upon sand and to risk seeing the edifice crumble yet again, on the occasion of one of those crises to which, in the nature of things, our nation is so often prone.

That is why, having assured the salvation of the State thanks to the victory won, and having upheld the unity of the nation, the most urgent and most essential task of all was to establish France's new institutions. As soon as that became possible, the French people were invited to elect the members of the constituent assembly, while setting fixed limits to their mandate and keeping the final power of decision in their own hands.

Then, once the train had been set in motion, we ourselves withdrew from the stage, not only to avoid jeopardizing in the party struggle that which, by virtue of events, we may have come to symbolize, but also so that no consideration relating to a particular person, while he was at the head of the State, might in any way distort the work of the lawmakers.

And yet, the nation and the French Union still await a Constitution designed for them and which they could gladly approve. To tell the truth, while one may regret that the edifice remains to be built, we would all surely agree that a success put off for short while is to be preferred to a swift but misbegotten completion.

In the course of a period not exceeding twice a man's life-span, France has been invaded seven times and has experienced seven regimes, for everything is contained in the woes of the people. So many upheavals have accumulated poisons in our public life, upon which our old Gaulish propensity to division and strife has become intoxicated.

The unheard of ordeals through which we have just come have naturally aggravated this state of affairs. The present state of the world in which, behind opposing ideologies, the powers betwixt which we are situated confront each other, cannot fail to introduce into our political struggles an element of passion and disorder. In a word, in our country the rivalry between the parties takes on a fundamental character which continuously throws everything into question, and which too often casts the higher interests of the country into the shade. That is an undeniable fact, which has its roots in our national temperament, in the vicissitudes of history and in the upheavals of the present. But it is vital for the future of the country and democracy that our institutions take it into account and guard against it, in order to preserve the credit of the law, the coherence of government, efficient administration, and the prestige and the authority of the State.

For disorder within the State ineluctably cause disaffection with institutions among citizens. At that point, it takes just an occasion for the threat of dictatorship to rear its head. Especially since the somewhat mechanistic organization of modern society makes good order in the leadership and the regular functioning of its mechanisms daily more necessary and more desired.

How, and why, did our first, second and third Republics meet their demise ? How, and why, did Italian democracy, the Weimar Republic in Germany, and the Spanish Republic give way to the regimes that replaced them ?

And yet, what is a dictatorship, if not a great adventure ? To be sure, its beginnings look attractive. Amid enthusiasm on the one side, and resignation on the other, in its imposition of rigorous order, assisted by spectacular pomp and one-way propaganda, it starts out with a dynamism that contrasts with the preceding anarchy. But dictatorship is doomed to exaggerate in all it undertakes.

As citizens grow impatient with constraints and nostalgic for freedom, they must at all costs be consoled with ever greater successes. The nation comes to be a machine, whipped by the master into frenzied, headlong flight. Regardless of whether one looks at internal or external aims, the goals, the risks, the efforts little by little come to be out of all proportion. At each step, at home and abroad, the obstacles grow more numerous. In the end, the spring snaps. The grandiose edifice collapses in misery and blood. The nation is shattered, worse off than before the adventure began.

One has only to mention this to understand just how necessary it is that our new democratic institutions should be capable, in themselves, of compensating for the effects of our perpetual political effervescence.

For us, moreover, this is a question of life and death given the world and the century in which we live, in which the position, the independence, and indeed the very existence of our nation and our French Union are well and truly at stake.

To be sure, it is the very essence of democracy that opinions be expressed and that they seek through the ballot box to shape public policy and lawmaking in accordance with their conceptions. But every principle, and all experience require that the public authorities - legislative, executive, and judicial - be clearly separated and powerfully balanced, and that, over and above political contingency, there needs to be a national arbiter capable of providing continuity in the midst of politicians' arrangements.

Clearly and naturally, the definitive enactment of laws and budgets lies with an assembly elected by direct, universal suffrage. But total foresight and serenity are not necessarily the first attributes of such an assembly. It is therefore necessary to invest a second assembly, elected and composed differently, with the task of publicly reviewing what the first has discussed, formulating amendments, and making proposals. Now, while the broad currents of general political life are naturally reproduced in the Chamber of Deputies, local life too has its tendencies and its rights.

It has them in Metropolitan France. It has them pre-eminently in the overseas territories which are attached by many and various ties to the French Union. It has them in the Saar, which the course of events, as manifested by our victory, has once again placed among us, the sons of the Franks. The future of the 190 million men and women who live beneath our flag lies in a federal-type organization, whose contours will gradually become clear over time, but whose beginnings and possibility of future development must be enshrined in our new Constitution.

Everything thus points to the need for a second chamber, the bulk of whose members will be elected by our departmental and municipal councils. This chamber will complete the lower one by bringing the latter, if necessary, either to revise its initial proposals, or to examine others, by introducing into the lawmaking process that element of administrative order which a purely political college of necessity tends to neglect. It would be reasonable, moreover, to introduce into this chamber representatives of economic, family and intellectual organizations so that the voice of the country's main activities may be heard right at the heart of the State.

Meeting together with the elected representatives of the local assemblies of the overseas territories, the members of this assembly will form the grand council of the French Union, qualified to deliberate on the laws and problems concerning the Union, namely the budget, external relations, internal relations, national defence, the economy, and communications.

Needless to say, the executive power must under no circumstances flow from the Parliament, consisting of two chambers and exercising legislative power, unless we are to end up with such a confusion of powers that the Government is soon nothing more than a concatenation of delegations. Doubtless in the transitional period in which we now find ourselves we ought to have organized the election of a provisional President of the Government by the Constituent National Assembly, since upon the clean slate that then existed, there was no other acceptable designation procedure. But that can be a temporary arrangement only. In truth, the unity, the cohesion and the internal discipline of the Government of France must be treated as sacred, otherwise the very leadership of the country will rapidly become impotent and lose its legitimacy. Yet, how could this unity, cohesion and discipline be upheld in the long term if the executive power emanated from the other source of power, which it is supposed to counterbalance, and if each member of the government, which is collectively responsible before the representatives of the entire nation, held his post merely as the agent of a party ?

The executive power must therefore flow from the Head State, standing above the parties, elected by a college the encompasses the Parliament, but which is far vaster and made up such that he is the President of the French Union as well as of the Republic.

It would be the task of the Head of State to accord the general interest in terms of his choice of people (to serve him) with the political will expressed in Parliament ; it would be his task to appoint the ministers, and in the first place, of course, the Prime Minister, whose role would be to direct the policy and work of the Government ; to the Head of State would fall the function of promulgating laws and issuing decrees, for it is to the State as a whole that these laws and decrees bind the citizens ; the Head of State would preside over the Cabinet meetings and exert over them that influence of continuity which is essential to a nation ; he would play the role of arbiter, standing above political contingency, either by proffering advice in normal circumstances or, at times of serious confusion, by inviting the nation to make known its sovereign decision through elections ; to him would fall the duty, in time of national danger, of guaranteeing the independence of the nation and the treaties signed by France.

The Greeks once asked the wise man Solon : "What is the best constitution ?" To which he replied : "First tell me for which people and for what epoch." Today, what concerns us is the French people and the peoples of the French Union, and a very harsh and troubled time ! We must take ourselves as we are. We must take the century as it is. Immense difficulties notwithstanding, we must carry out a far-reaching renovation that will lead each man and woman in our country to greater