Contested Symbols: Vichy France and the Legacy of the French Revolution
Written for History 457: Modern Revolutions 1776, 1789, 1917, 1989, 2011 -- Dr. Peter C. Caldwell
This paper examines how Vichy, the authoritarian government in France throughout most of the Second World War, reckoned with the legacy of the French Revolution. I investigate this relationship through the regime’s treatment of four revolutionary symbols: the figure Marianne, the anthem “La Marseillaise,” the national holiday of Bastille Day, and the slogan of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Because these symbols were deeply embedded in French social and political life, I argue that Vichy could neither fully reject nor embrace them; instead, it pursued a middle ground by twisting the symbols’ meanings and introducing alternatives in line with the traditionalism and ethnocentrism of its National Revolution. In doing so, Vichy attempted to replace the French Republic and the revolutionary values that it stood for with its own vision of the French past, present, and future.