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The Twilight of France’s Republican Aristocracy

PARIS – No tumbrils have appeared in Paris’s Place de la Concorde, but a revolution may be underway in France nonetheless. Recent weeks have seen the trial of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the conviction of former Defense Minister Charles Pasqua. Now even former President Jacques Chirac has learned that he is not immune from prosecution. Is France’s “Republican Monarchy,” to borrow a phrase from Jean-François Revel, about to be overthrown?

The French Revolution never actually ended the privileges of France’s ruling elites. True enough, some aristocratic heads rolled, but the nobility eventually returned to France. When the Republic replaced the monarchy for good, in 1875, ballots replaced birthright, but the new governing elite believed that it possessed the same rights and perks as the former aristocrats.