Conclusion
u
France, as it is sometimes suggested, is a country perpetually caught b
tween ‘‘l’amourdes grandes idées et la réalité des petits arrangements.’
Such is one way of characterizing the French Republic’s search for a r
newed social contract during the late nineteenth and early twentieth ce
turies. Indeed, before World War I, the great republican ideals of soci
solidarity, the rights of citizenship, and equal treatment before the la
althoughwidelyheraldedbyreformers,didnotalwaysprovideasufficie
basis for attaining their legislative goals.The reality of petitsarrangement
asinthecaseofthegreatlycompromisedpensionlaw,proveddisap
pointing to nearlyeveryone involved, from legislators to beneficiaries. I
housing, and urban and public health reform, the legislative process ha
proven to be equally long, drawn-out, and frustrating.
Yet,theprewardebateonsocialreforminFrancewasalsoinfusedwith
far-reachingpublicdebateon lesgrandesidées. Weightyphilosophicalque
tions concerning the social responsibility of the republican state and th
rightfulexpectationsofcitizenstoreceivesomeformofsocialprotectio
were discussed at great length, both inside and outside of Parliament, b
workers and elites alike. The results of this public debate, although n
readily visible in the legislative record,were in fact long-lasting. Here,w
have come full circle, to reexamination of the received historiographic
wisdom that has typically portrayed the prewar Republic’s record in s
cial reform as being ‘‘backward.’’
2
On closer analysis, the achievemen
oftheseprewaryearsappearmuchmoresignificantthantheymightfro
the legislative record alone. Once again we are reminded that the len
through which one looks is also an instrument of measure. By shiftin
thefocusofthisstudyfromtheParliamenttotheparapoliticalsphereem
bodied by the Musée social, the outline of another configuration of th
2001.11.9
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e
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A
SOCIAL
LABORATORY
FOR
MODERN
FRAN
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