Essay Politics History

The Origins of the French État-providence
An inquiry into the origins of a controversial term

by François-Xavier Merrien , 13 January 2020
with the support of Institut français

For a long time, the origin of the term État-providence in French was ascribed to late Second Empire liberals who apparently coined it in a negative sense. In reality, though, the notion reaches further back to the generation of 1848, where it emerged as a response to working-class demands. Understood in this way, the expression regains its legitimacy.

The notion of État-providence [Providential state] has played a paradoxical role in French political thought. Everyone is quick to underline its ambiguities, yet at the same time everyone is forced to use it to refer to the state’s role with regard to social solidarity. On 9 July 2013, in front of the deputies and senators assembled together in joint session, Emmanuel Macron, the French head of state, declared that he wanted to ‘build the État-providence of the 21st century.’ From this perspective, the expression État-providence is to some extent the equivalent of the Anglo-American notion of the ‘Welfare State’ and it is generally employed in this way in public discourse. However, using the term État-providence as a direct equivalent for Welfare State poses a certain number of terminological issues. In the traditional history of political thought in France, État-providence is a pejorative expression, invented by Second Empire liberal thinkers and politicians to denounce an omnipotent state inhibiting the development of individual and collective initiatives and illegitimately replacing traditional forms of solidarity. Conventionally, ever since Emile Ollivier’s famous speech in the Chamber (27 April 1864), its emergence was attributed to the Le Chapelier Law (1791) that prohibited corporations and abolished the middle ground between the individual and the state. This negative meaning became established and persisted throughout the Third Republic. [1]

Until the 1970s, the expression was still little used in the field of social policy. The French referred instead to notions of ‘solidarity,’ ‘social security,’ and ‘social protection.’ Pierre Rosanvallon’s much read and much discussed book La Crise de l’État-providence (1981 – The Crisis of the Providential State) was the first to take up the term in a positive sense. Rosanvallon underlined its origins in liberalism, but justified its use in this way by arguing that it was no longer legitimate to contrast the État-gendarme [police state] with the État-providence as the latter, according to his definition, was simply ‘an extension and an intensification of the former.’ While the reintroduction of the expression met with a great deal of criticism on account of its origin and ambiguities, it nevertheless became broadly established in public and expert discourse alike. [2] However, many academics argued that the concept should be abandoned given its provenance and original meaning, [3] thereby creating persistent tensions, especially among social policy specialists.

But is the theory of the expression’s origins in liberalism actually founded? While everyone seems satisfied with this analysis that legitimates reservations about a term that clumsily combines the political notion of state with the religious notion of Providence, there has never been any attempt to falsify this postulate (in Popper’s sense of the term). The progress in the digitalisation of historical texts and their public availability via the BNF’s website Gallica now make it possible to look at the origins of this term in a new light. When did the notion first appear? Who forged the expression? Was its original meaning necessarily pejorative? These three major questions lie at the heart of my attempt here to use history to ‘falsify’ the prevailing theory about the origins of this expression, itself quite intriguing.

Émile Ollivier’s negative popularization of the term

It was long believed that the expression État-providence in French was forged by liberal thinkers hostile to the expansion of the remit of the state (Rosanvallon 1981), rather than by republican, radical, and socialist opponents to the imperial regime. Émile Ollivier (1864) and Émile Laurent (1865) were considered the creators of this expression aimed at denouncing the state’s excessive power and its inhibiting effect on individual and collective initiatives.

There is no doubt that Émile Ollivier’s powerful speech of 27 April 1864 denouncing ‘the excesses of centralisation, the disproportionate extension of social rights, the exaggerations of the socialist reformers, leading to the Babeuf trial, the concept of the Providential state, and revolutionary despotism in all its forms,’ did much to give the notion considerable adverse notoriety. As the website Gallica shows, it was a constant point of reference in public pronouncements throughout the course of the Third Republic.

However, analysis of the corpus of texts provided by Gallica clearly shows that Émile Ollivier and the tribunes of the group ‘The Five’ [4] did not invent the expression État-providence. They were offering harsh criticisms of an already dominant idea. The corpus of texts also reveals that, from the outset, the expression had contrasting meanings. During the 1848 Revolution and the Second Republic, liberal economists used it to denounce the interventionist and social policies of the provisional government. Certain socialist leaders also used it in a negative sense to denounce the political alienation of the workers. However, both the insurgent proletariat and the political elites rising up against the July Monarchy called for the creation of a social and interventionist state and used the term. While the expression was still rare, it was expressly used by both sides. From the outset, then, the term was freighted with contrasting meanings.

A negative expression promoted by liberals

The expression État-providence emerged long before the Second Empire. During the Second Republic (1848-1851), liberals used it to denounce the political programmes of both the insurgents and the provisional government.

From as early as 1849, the term can be found in the writings of the editor of the conservative newspaper L’Assemblée nationale. In its columns, the newspaper did not refrain from denouncing the dangerous promises held out by the revolutionaries with their idea of État-providence:

‘The Revolutionaries are great makers of promises. They announce grandiose schemes, prodigious systems designed to bring plenty to all, and share the hope of Molière’s Harpagon to provide for the people at minimal cost, for this Etat-providence will require few taxes, even as it takes upon itself all worries, all solicitude and all foresight, however arduous, as it prepares us for a life in which everything has been arranged for us, in which everything necessary to our existence and everything likely to make it more charming or beautiful is provided for us, without our having to look for it, and in which all we have to do is hand responsibility to others. Revolutionaries, for so long as their revolution has yet to occur, possess the marvellous secret that allows them disproportionately to inflate their spending budgets while reducing to nothing their tax receipts. Once the revolution has occurred, they have to draw up their balance sheet, cast about, work out their assets, subtract their liabilities. This is the situation in which we now find ourselves. (7 November 1849).

The term was therefore already established in usage. While they did not use it verbatim, Tocqueville and Bastiat alike explicitly denounced the state’s intention to become the Providence of the People. During the debate about the Constitution of the Second Republic (1849), Tocqueville attacked the amendment stating that ‘The Republic recognises the right of all citizens to instruction, work, and assistance.’ In his view, this amendment would force the state to ‘make itself into the great and sole organizer of work, which would be tantamount to communism.’ [5] In his text L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856), he referred to this state that had become so providential that people called upon it in all circumstances: ‘Government having assumed the place of Providence, people naturally invoke its aid for their personal needs. It is even held responsible for seasonal bad weather.’ Bastiat, the theorist of French liberalism, expressed his dismay at these irresponsible excesses. In the Journal des débats of 25 September 1848, he commented ironically about citizens who demanded everything from the state and yet, at the same time, called for the abolition of all taxes:

‘Believe me when I say that I ask for nothing better than that you should have indeed discovered, outside of ourselves, a benevolent and inexhaustible being, by the name of the STATE, who provides all mouths with bread, all hands with work, all businesses with capital, all projects with credit. […] As it happens, the State is not one-armed and cannot be so. It has two hands, one to receive and one to give, or, put another way, a rough hand and a gentle hand. The activities of the latter are necessarily dependent on those of the former. The State therefore finds itself caught, as a result of our demands, in what is manifestly a vicious circle. If it refuses to do the good demanded of it, it is accused of impotence, recalcitrance, or incapacity. If it tries to do that good, it finds itself reduced to imposing ever greater taxes on the people, doing more harm than good, and thereby attracting general disaffection by the opposite means.’

For Bastiat, the demand for an État-providence was utopian—because it refused to make expenditure contingent on new fiscal resources—and dangerous because it fostered grievances among the people that could lay the ground for violent revolutions. He wrote as follows to his English correspondent, Richard Cobden:

‘They have all begun to claim from the State a larger share of prosperity for themselves […]. The State, that is to say the Treasury, has been ransacked. All classes have demanded from the State, as though by virtue of a right, the means of subsistence. The taxes raised to this end have resulted only in further taxes and restrictions, leading to an increase in poverty and so the demands of the People have become still more peremptory.’ [6]

In a later publication, Bastiat et le libre échange (1878), the liberal Auguste Bouchié de Belle made the same point:

‘At the time of the 1848 Revolution, all minds were gripped still further by that great pipe dream of the État-providence. From the very outset, the Revolution gave itself a social role […]. In order to flatter popular sentiment, the Provisional Government promised by decree to increase public well-being, reduce time spent working, introduce financial assistance alongside free credit and education, agricultural workhouses, land clearances, and so on. It also promised to reduce the taxes on salt, drink, postage, and meat. It committed itself to reducing state expenditure, even as it set the state up as everybody’s banker and benefactor. […] A dominant idea had taken over all classes of society, namely that the state was charged with providing for everyone’s subsistence. This idea met with the same unanimity in all the systems proposed by the reformers. Louis Blanc wanted the state to intervene to ensure the equal distribution of salaries, Proudhon charged it with the introduction of free credit [7] […] From every quarter came new requests for favours from the law: protectionist tariffs, incentive payments, a right to share in profits, a right to work, a right to financial assistance, a right to education, progressive taxation, free credit, social workshops; in short, the most thorough and organized possible form of expropriation.’ [8]

Although infrequent, the use of the term between 1848 and 1850 is corroborated by the Assemblée nationale article mentioned above (article of 7 November 1849). The term was therefore not created in the years 1861-1870, but rather during the 1848 Revolution and the Second Republic by liberals denouncing the excessive presumptions of the state. Should we therefore conclude, along with Robert Castel, that the expression corresponds to ‘an ideological construction concocted by the opponents of state intervention’? [9]Careful analysis of the texts shows that advocates of a ‘minimalistic’ state did not have a monopoly on the term. While liberals used it in a pejorative or ironic way, progressives of the ‘generation of 1848’ [10] also used this expression, or others like it, to defend the legitimacy of a new form of state intervention in economic and social life in order to improve the fate of workers and of the poor and to ensure ‘universal well-being’ (Girardin 1851).

The term and the reality it designated during the 1848 Revolution

It is worth briefly recalling the context. On 24 February 1848, the July Monarchy collapsed, the Second Republic was proclaimed, and a provisional government was established. In this moment of collective euphoria, the proletariat placed great hopes in the government. Working-class aspirations were at their peak. The idea of a state that would organise social reform was popularised by Louis Blanc in a pamphlet that went through ten editions between 1839 and 1848: L’organisation du travail [The Organisation of Labour].

On 25 February 1848, a crowd of rioters led by a machinist named Marche took over the Hôtel de Ville in Paris. Addressing Lamartine, Marche declared: ‘The Revolution was accomplished twenty-four hours ago, yet the people are still waiting for results. They have sent me here to tell you that they will brook no further delay. They want the right to work: the immediate right to work.’ [11]

As Marie d’Agoult, one of the most clear-sighted observers of the time, wrote (under the pseudonym Daniel Stern):

‘The proletarians did not doubt that the state—without employing violence of any kind, without damaging the social order, and simply because it sincerely wished it—ought to provide them with education, work, and leisure. Sermons that became more prophetic with each passing day nourished the hope deep in their hearts that their interests would be imminently and completely accommodated by a universal well-being.’ [12]

The demand for a state that intervened in the social sphere was clearly expressed from as early as February 1848, but at what precise moment did the notion of État-providence appear in the public discourse of ‘progressives’ and who invented it?

It is difficult to provide a definitive answer to this question. However, what is certain is that the expression État-providence emerged, from an initially fluctuating set of variants, within the political discourse of the Second Republic as found in the writings of advocates of a social state.

One of the first, if not the first, to use a similar if not identical expression of progressive inspiration, was the poet Alphonse Lamartine. Offering an account of his role within the provisional government, he wrote:

‘[I] further wished that the state, a providence for both the strong and the weak, furnish emergency work, in certain extreme cases to be determined by the administration, to those workers without any means whatsoever with which to provide bread for their families. [I] asked for a tax to benefit the poor. [I] did not wish the last word given by civilised society to a worker lacking both food and shelter to take the form of abandonment and death. [I] wished this last word to take the form of work and bread!’ (1849). [13]

With this declaration, taken from his monumental Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 of 1849, Lamartine proclaimed his affiliation to the great principles of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. [14] By calling for the birth of a new form of state, while at the same time underlining his divergence from and distrust of socialist ideas, [15] Lamartine aligned himself with the positions of the most progressive members of the provisional government.
During the 1848 Revolution, Lamartine was not the only one to connect the term ‘Providence’ with the state. Similar expressions can be found in the writings of eminent reformers from 1848: socialists, radical republicans, moderate republicans, and Social Catholics alike. The newspaper produced by Charles Fourier’s disciples, La Démocratie pacifique, run by Victor Considérant, referred to ‘the state as social providence’:

‘How can I, as a full-grown man, freely apply my faculties if all work is refused to me? And when the poverty of parents or the lack of demand for labour leave children uneducated and workers unemployed, to whom can the obligation possibly fall to guarantee the free development of all our physical, moral, and intellectual faculties if not to the state as social providence?’ (23 June 1848)

The Social Catholics united around Lamennais, Ozanam, and the Abbé Maret in the editorial committee of the newspaper L’Ère nouvelle agreed with this idea. They saw the 1848 Revolution as the realisation of the Christian ideal [16] and called for a ‘state as visible Providence.’ Eugène Rendu, a friend of Ozanam and Lamennais, and a contributor to L’Ère nouvelle, wrote:

‘If competition is a vital principle (for the economy), it nevertheless produces victims in its extreme impulses, like the fire that gives life but also devours. Should not the state, as the visible providence that watches over us all in the name of each of us, lend a hand? […] By providing assurance to the workers with regard to the effects of a new invention, unexpected unemployment, or the emergence of an economic crisis, the intervention of a protective power would add to the energy of the workforce what security adds to strength.’ (1848) [17]

Eugène Rendu called on the state to provide loans to businesses so that they could keep employing their workers in the event of an economic crisis and engage in major works of public utility in order to limit worker unemployment. In this book, he also argued in favour of a pension regime for workers:

‘A retirement pension is a right for workers who, for thirty years, have sharpened their quills and worn out the seat of their trousers sitting on an office chair. Why should it not be the same for workers whose strength has been spent in order to increase our common capital? The time spent working can be calculated by means of double-entry bookkeeping. – Retirement pensions can be paid thanks to the deduction of a proportion of the daily wage… (1848, p. 27-28).

In addition to the right to work, Eugène Rendu therefore added the workers’ right to a pension, at a time when only a large proportion of state employees enjoyed this entitlement. [18]

The authors of the generation of 1848 did not use the exact expression État-providence, but rather simply combined the words ‘state’ and ‘Providence’ in the same sentences. In this respect, they cannot be credited with having invented the term. Nevertheless, Emile Girardin clearly used the expression itself at the beginning of 1851, a period in which he was defending an eminently social programme. The same year, Girardin, who was a much-envied press baron, launched a militant weekly: Le Bien-être universel [Universal Well-being]. [19] La Presse, a newspaper with a wide circulation that he also owned, wrote: ‘Monsieur de Girardin defines the role of the state, even as he simplifies and elevates it; this is an État-providence’ (16 March 1851).’ In the new weekly, created in February 1851, Girardin defended the social laws of the Convention, railed against poverty, supported recourse to public works in the case of economic crisis, fought against unsanitary housing and both female and child labour in industry, engaged in propaganda in favour of workers’ pensions, and explicitly praised the État-providence. In an article published 16 March 1851 and simply entitled The State, Émile de Girardin asked: ‘What should the state be, with regard to universal well-being?’ [20]; before answering: ‘the state must [become] Providence on earth for all’. [21] From its very first issue, the weekly clearly positioned itself in favour of an eminently modern social programme:

‘No, universal well-being is not a utopia; no, it is not necessary for the working classes to live in poverty… From now on, everyone will have what is necessary or else no one will remain in possession of what is superfluous. These are the narrow alternatives given by the people to their governments. By what is necessary, I mean wages that offer fair recompense, sufficiently high to allow workers to provide themselves and their families with substantial meals and sanitary lodgings, as well as provide for unemployment, sickness, and old age. Let there be no beggars and let there be work and bread for all those who think, just as there is air for all those who breathe.’ (24 February 1851).

Among its more audacious suggestions for the time, we also find the setting up of workers’ pensions: ‘The right to rest constituted in the simplest and most equitable manner—by means of a retirement pension acquired by all workers thanks to the incremental payment or the daily withholding of an insurance tithe.’ [22]

Certain socialist leaders, attached to the autonomy of the workers’ movement, were extremely critical of workers’ enthusiasm for the État-providence. In December 1849, Corbon, the editor in chief of the newspaper L’Atelier, deplored in its columns the fact that: ‘More than one of the exploited awaits Providence, in the form of government, to arrive and extract him from the filth with no effort on his own part.’ [23] Another leader from the group of ‘the Five,’ Louis Darimon, confirmed the attraction the État-providence held for workers of the generation of 1848. In his plea in favour of the liberalisation of the regime and workers’ right to coalition, Darimon assured his audience that:

‘the workers have converted to other ideas. They have abandoned the theory of the État-providence, of the state as the dispenser of all that is good and all that is bad. Those guarantees of employment and wages, which they were expecting from an intervention by the government and from a set of regulations that negated all individual initiative, they now expect from liberty’ (speech to the Chamber of 19 January 1864).


This brief genealogy of the expression shows its contrasting meanings in ideological and political struggles between 1848 and 1851. Among the supporters of the 1848 Revolution, the term État-providence had a positive meaning, referring to aspirations for a better society in which the state would endeavour to provide employment for workers, effectively regulate the working conditions of women and children, implement a bold policy of assistance for the poor and the unemployed, extend education to all social classes, and make land available for poor people in rural areas. For liberals, on the other hand, the État-providence was a proposition that today would be qualified as populist, unrealistic, and dangerous, put forward by revolutionaries in order to obtain the support of the working-class masses.

Nevertheless, the notion of État-providence only took on a negative and pejorative meaning in the latter half of the Second Empire and early decades of the Third Republic. It is true that the idea of the État-providence was appropriated by the Emperor, who had dreams of being a providential man [24] as he tried to win the favour of the people. [25] The État-providence was denounced by Republicans, but also by workers’ leaders who called for the autonomy of the workers’ movement, as well as by liberals and conservatives who believed that individuals should learn to take responsibility for themselves rather than rely on the state. Analysis of the references in the corpus provided by Gallica show that from the 1870s onwards, the new prevailing idea identified individual initiative as the root of all progress and the État-providence as the source of spiritual stagnation or reckless spending. This denunciation of the État-providence was endlessly taken up by publications of all sorts.

Paradoxically, it was only at the end of the twentieth century that the term took on a positive meaning once again, in the context of the crisis of Keynesian policies and virulent attacks from ‘neo-liberals’ against the state’s social policies. [26]

When all is said and done, given its true origins, there is therefore no longer any reason to contest the legitimacy of a notion that can perhaps be cleared of all suspicion of original sin.

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by François-Xavier Merrien, 13 January 2020

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[1In its 1888 edition, the Grand Dictionnaire Larousse criticized peasants for having ‘for too long relied on the government to look after their interests; they have subscribed too much to the doctrine of the Providential State; they are starting, a little late, to emerge from this form of torpor’ (p. 111).

[2To cite just a few works: Pierre Rosanvallon, La Crise de l’État-providence, Seuil 1981; François Ewald, L’État-providence, Grasset 1986; Francois-Xavier Merrien, L’État-providence (PUF, 1st edition 1997),Tom Chevalier, L’État-providence et les jeunes, L’harmattan 2012; Arnaud Robinet & Jacques Bichot, La Mort de l’État-providence : Vive les assurances sociales, Les Belles-Lettres 2013; Éloi Laurent, Le Bel Avenir de l’État-Providence, Les Liens qui libèrent 2014; Édouard Cottin-Euziol, Néo-libéralisme versus État-providence, Yves Michel Eds 2016; Frédéric Gonthier, L’État-providence face aux opinions publiques, PUG 2017; Mathieu Lefèbvre and Pierre Pestieau, L’État-providence : défense et illustration, PUF 2017. While I share some reservations with regard to this equivocal notion, I nevertheless chose to use it in my French translation of Gösta Esping-Anderson’s seminal work The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, published as Les Trois mondes de l’État-providence. Essai sur le capitalisme moderne (Seuil 1999, 2007).

[3Robert Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers: Transformation of the Social Question, Transaction 2002 [1995]; Dominique Schnapper, La Démocratie providentielle, Gallimard 2002; Jean-Claude Barbier and Bruno Théret, Le Système français de protection sociale, La Découverte 2004.

[4The group of ‘The Five’ refers to the five Republican deputies elected in 1858 (Jules Favre, Ernest Picard, Jacques-Louis Hénon, Alfred Darimon, and Emile Ollivier) who accepted to pledge allegiance to the Emperor. In 1870, Emile Ollivier was appointed head of Napoléon III’s government.

[5Speech given at the Constituent Assembly 12 September 1848 […] on the question of the right to work, in Œuvres, tome I, Gallimard 1991, pp. 1139 and 1140.

[6Quoted in Auguste Bouchié de Belle, Bastiat et le libre-échange, 1878, p. 169.

[7Bastiat et le libre-échange, 1878, p. 136 et 166.

[8Id., p. 163.

[9Op. cit., 1995, p. 282.

[10The ‘generation of 1848’ in Mannheim’s meaning of ‘generation’, in ‘The Problem of Generations,’ in Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge: Collected Works, Volume 5, edited by Paul Kecskemeti, New York, Routledge 1952 [1928, for Mannheim’s text]), p. 276–322.

[11Marie d’Agoult (Daniel Stern) (1850), Histoire de la révolution de 1848 (2nd edition, 1862, p. 379).

[12Id., p. 376.

[13I have adapted the text to make it more immediately comprehensible. In this book, Lamartine refers to himself in the third person. Histoire de la Révolution de 1848, 1849, p. 73. Historically speaking, Lamartine rewrote history. Marie d’Agoult writes: ‘While Monsieur de Lamartine dissuaded the workers from adopting premature measures and while the proletarians, via Marche, postponed the realisation of their aspirations to a more propitious time, Monsieur Louis Blanc, having retired with Monsieur Ledru-Rollin and Monsieur Flocon to a window recess, was busy improvising a handwritten decree granting them precisely the demands that they had just renounced’ (Histoire de la révolution de 1848, 1850).

[14It is worth recalling the declaration made by La Rochefoucault-Liancourt, the President of the Committee for the Eradication of Begging: ‘People have always thought to provide charity to the poor, but never to enforce the rights of the poor in relation to society (First report, January 1790), while nevertheless going on to specify that ‘assistance given to the poor should not turn into recompense for laziness, debauchery, or improvidence’ (Minutes and Reports of the Committee for Begging, Imprimerie nationale, 1911).

[15In the passage that follows this declaration, Lamartine emphasised his considerable distance from socialist and communist ideas: ‘[I] had a horror of the communism of goods, which necessarily leads to the communism of women, children, fathers, and mothers, and renders the human race mindless. I pitied socialism in its various forms, whether Saint-Simonianism, Fourierism, or the expropriation of capital presented as an act of emancipation […].’ ‘Dispossessing some to enrich others did not strike me as progress but as a form of expropriation, ruinous for us all’ (1849, p. 72). He proclaimed his great attachment to the right to property and his indifference to the form of government in place (monarchy or republic) provided it respected the main constitutional principles.

[16Eugène Rendu, a friend and colleague of Ozanam and Lamennais, wrote: ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! Divine words sown by Christianity in the old world in order to plant the seed of the new world… The Revolution of 1789 brought into effect the first two words of this slogan; the goal of the Revolution of 1848 is the application of the third… the social development of Christianity.’ (Le Droit au travail et la Révolution, 1848, t. 1, p. 12).

[17Le Droit au travail et la Révolution, 1848, t. 2, p. 24. According to the footnotes, the book was written during the summer of 1848 after the June days.

[18The general pension regime for state workers was established on 8 June 1853 under the Second Empire. It came long before pension regimes for other professions and shows that social protection was also viewed, from the outset, as a key element in the reinforcement of the state.

[19Le Bien-être universel enjoyed backing from Victor Hugo, who had taken refuge in Guernsey (see his letter of support dated February 15, 1851) in Corrrespondance de Victor Hugo, 1851, p. 18). Le Bien-être universel published its first issue on February 24, 1851.

[20Émile de Girardin, L’État, in Le Bien-être universel of 16 March 1851.

[21François Ewald (1986) offers a relevant reading of Girardin as the inventor of universal insurance.

[22This directly foreshadows the social security act of 1930. According to this act, each person insured was given an individual account to which his or her contributions were credited (the ‘capitalized annuity’ system).

[23Quoted by Robert Castel, op. cit., p. 258.

[24Pierre Vésinier, a publicist and revolutionary, exiled in Lausanne after the 1851 coup d’état, issued the following warning about the Man of Providence and his plan for a Napoleonic État-providence (1865): ‘Is it not clear that the mind of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte is forever absorbed by his dominant fixation with a strong executive, leading the people as a universal providence. […] And who better to take up this honourable and intelligent task than the state as leader of the people, the État-providence, the Empire?’, La vie du nouveau César, 1865, p. 170, p. 190.

[25Albert Thomas, a socialist and the future director of the International Labour Office wrote, in his history of the Second Empire published in the collection run by Jean Jaurès: ‘By boldly embarking on social reforms and satisfying the immediate demands of the working classes, who gradually rallied to his cause, Napoleon III realised a Caesarist form of socialism, a path that remained closed to the Republic. Never was the danger so great as in 1862.’ Albert Thomas, Le Second Empire, 1907, p. 202.

[26In its 25 November 1995 issue, the headline of Business Week was: ‘Goodbye Welfare State?’, while, in a widely discussed opinion piece published by the newspaper Le Monde, the economist Gary Becker similarly proclaimed that France’s social policies were ‘a serious illness dangerously affecting the labour market’ (28 March 1996).

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