Pétain and the French: Authority, Propaganda, and Collaboration in Vichy France, 1940-1942



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In the summer of 1940, Nazi forces invaded France and defeated the French army in a matter of weeks. Germany occupied the majority of France and established strict regulations upon the entirety of France, but allowed the authoritarian French Vichy régime, headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, to nominally remain in power. The Vichy régime was a puppet régime, ultimately controlled by Adolf Hitler and his associates, and yet, because it enjoyed certain independence, it has often been accused of going beyond what was strictly necessary in in its collaboration with the Third Reich because of a shared agenda with the Nazi state. Through the lens of Philippe Pétain and his role and actions as Head of State between 1940 and 1942, I argue that Vichy was much less concerned with ideology (whether Nazi or its own) than with ensuring the stability of the French State. Pétain was staunchly nationalistic and saw the continuity of the French State as the primary goal of his régime. Basing myself on Max Weber’s sociological theories on the different types of authority – traditional, charismatic, and bureaucratic – and on newspapers, witness accounts, propaganda, and legislation, both from the Vichy régime and its opponents, I analyze the different methods by which the Vichy régime sought to unite France and maintain an appearance of French sovereignty in the face of foreign occupation. Each chapter examines the same period, analyzing one of the methods used by the Vichy régime to endow itself with authority – the first chapter traditional, the second charismatic, and the third bureaucratic. The chapters build upon each other and the theories and evidence presented in previous chapters and thus, while each chapter plays an equal role in the development of my thesis, the last chapter is the most complex: while it focuses primarily on the administrative structure and actions of the régime, it demonstrates the interplay between the elements discussed in all chapters. By examining the dichotomy of Pétain’s role as French nationalist dictator and puppet of the Nazi régime, we can begin to understand why the history of Vichy has been so discordant and controversial since the Liberation of France in 1945.



Philippe Petain, Vichy, Vichy France, Petain, French Historiography, Authoritarian States, Third Reich, World War II, Pierre Laval, Laval, Propaganda, Collaboration, Public Opinion, Fascism