Historical Social Research

Nikolas Dörr: “As far as Numbers are concerned, we are beaten” Finis Galliae and the Nexus between Fears of Depopulation, Welfare Reform, and the Military in France during the Third Republic, 1870-1940. [Abstract]

After the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the cession of large parts of Alsace and Lorraine, the recapturing of the lost territories became a key objective of French politics. The strengthening of the French military was therefore of high importance in the Third Republic. But it quickly became obvious that the French army had to not only face Germany, but another opponent: the decline in the number of recruits who were fit for military service. The main reason for this development was the sharp fall of birth rates since the mid-19th century in comparison with other European nations. The low birth rates were followed by warnings about their possible negative consequences for the French army and the country’s standing in the world. Pronatalist lobby organizations and family associations used and sought to intensify the massive depopulation anxiety (“finis galliae”) to increase the pressure on political actors to implement welfare measures such as child benefits, tax reliefs for large families, and improvements in maternal and infant protection. But only after the First World War were pronatalist welfare state measures implemented on a larger scale. During the Vichy regime, pronatalism eventually became a state ideology. Although French pronatalism in general can be considered a well-researched topic, its military dimension is still a desideratum. This article is an approach to fill this academic void by analysing the nexus between welfare reform, population development, and the military from the beginning of the Third French Republic to the end of the Vichy regime.

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