Founding Republics in France and America

A Study in Constitutional Governance

John A. Rohr

Recalling Tocqueville's exhortation for the French to "look to America" for a better understanding of their own government, John Rohr returns the favor by revealing how much we can learn about American constitutionalism from a close study of French governance.

The French and American republics both emerged from the same revolutionary era and share a common commitment to separation of powers, rule of law, and republicanism. Even so, the two constitutional traditions are quite different. France, after all, has replaced its constitution at least thirteen times since 1789, while the American constitution has endured essentially intact. Yet, as Rohr shows, French constitutionalism merits our careful attention.

“This is a balanced well-written analysis that should be of great interest in comparative constitutional law and administrative law classes and to the scholars who teach them.

—Perspectives on Political Science

“An engaging and rewarding book.

—American Political Science Review
See all reviews...

Focusing upon the founding of the French Fifth Republic and the drafting of its constitution, Rohr compares the nations' divergent approaches to executive, legislative, and judicial power; independent administrative authority and discretion; and the relation of administrative law to statutory law. His analysis of France's divided versus our unified executive, the two presidents' exceptional powers, and their influence on the legislative process provides particularly fresh insights into how the two constitutional traditions promote and inhibit the capacity for administrative action.

Rohr shows that French administrative institutions are much more thoroughly developed than their American counterparts due to recurrent presidential and constitutional crises. Without such a strong public administration, daily life in France would likely be extremely unstable if not quite chaotic. The proper role of the French institutions, he suggests, is largely determined by their relationship to elected officials whereas their American counterparts are essentially shaped by the constitutional order.

A model for future comparative work in constitutional law and public administration, Rohr's study should help us see that the constitutional path we've pursued wasn't the only possibility—and why we've chosen that route nevertheless. As such, it should have great appeal for students, teachers, and practitioners in U.S. and French law, politics, and public administration.

About the Author

John A. Rohr, professor of public administration at the Center for Public Administration and Policy of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, is the author of To Run a Constitution: The Legitimacy of the Administrative State; Ethics for Bureaucrats; Prophets Without Honor: Public Policy and the Selective Conscientious Objector; and The President and the Public Administration. He currently serves as chairman of the Public Law Section of the American Society for Public Administration and is the recipient of the Distinguished Research Award presented jointly by ASPA and NASPAA. Much of the work for this book was done during the eight months he spent as a Fulbright Research Scholar in Paris.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series