Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The Right: De Gaulle and his Legacy

Key questions

  • Why, if France is a country of revolution, is the right nearly always in power?
  • Why did the right and extreme right recover so quickly after 1945?
  • What were de Gaulle's concepts of leadership and government, and why have they been so influential?
  • Was de Gaulle an effective political leader?
  • How did Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy interpret the Gaullist tradition?
  • How much of a challenge is the extreme right today?


The lecture will contextualize the French right, describing its origins and its role in French history. Then it will focus on the different 'families' of the right and extreme right after the Second World War, identifying their values, characteristics, leaders, and significance. Finally it will explore the case study of de Gaulle and discuss his legacy for political leadership in the Fifth Republic.

Download the lecture handout; lecture PowerPoint; listen to a recording of the lecture


This week we will be discussing the legacy of Charles de Gaulle, and how it has been interpreted or rejected by subsequent right-wing leaders. Think about the texts and contexts through which we have encountered de Gaulle in this module so far. What were his strengths and weaknesses as a leader? What model of leadership does he represent? Is it a model that could still be effective in contemporary France? In the sourcebook, please read and reflect on 10a (de Gaulle's decisive speech on 30 May 1968) and 10c (the article on Sarkozy as a leader in a very different, 'bling bling' style). In the seminar, we will discuss these texts and then watch a video on Marine Le Pen in order to analyse the alternative model offered by the extreme right.

Further reading and reflection

Building on this seminar, you might like to draw together your own responses and reflections on de Gaulle, especially if this is an area you would like to prepare for the exam. Re-read the texts by de Gaulle in the sourcebook (1940; 1946; 1968) and think about the following questions:

  • How would you describe de Gaulle's style of leadership?
  • What kind of relationship does he seek to cultivate with his audience in these broadcasts? To which sentiments does he appeal?
  • What are the salient characteristics of his ideal constitution?
  • How does he feel about the party system?
  • What does it mean to be a Gaullist? (for this you might find it helpful to look at text 7c, by Michel Debré)

John Gaffney offers a very interesting and useful reflection on the Gaullist legacy in Political Leadership in France from de Gaulle to Sarkozy: see his conclusion, pp. 206–14.