I have been doing more research on the early use of the term ‘semi-presidential’, specifically Duverger’s use of the term.
For years, my received wisdom came from reading Duverger himself. For example, Duverger wrote the entry on ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ in Olivier Duhamel and Yves Mény (eds.), Dictionnaire constitionnel, PUF, Paris, 1992, p. 901. Here, he says: “The term ‘semi-presidential regime’ was invented by Hubert Beuve Méry … when General de Gaulle entered the Elysée on 8 January 1959. It was introduced into the language of constitutional law and political science by the author of this article in the 11th edition of his student textbook in 1970” [my translation].
Last week (see previous post), I found a reference to the phrase ‘semi-presidential regime’ dating back to December 1958. However, this was in a US magazine. So, Beuve-Méry was not the first to use term ‘semi-presidential regime’, although Duverger might, apparently, have been forgiven for thinking that he was, if we assume reasonably enough that he was not aware of the usage a few weeks earlier in the US.
However, this week I have found a reference by Duverger himself to the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ apparently prior to 1959. So, not only is Duverger wrong to state that Beuve-Méry invented the term in 1959, he was also wrong to say (or at least strongly imply) that he first used the term himself in 1970!
According to Google Books (search for the exact phrase ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ and author ‘Maurice Duverger’), Duverger first used the term in the 1955 edition of his book Droit constitutionnel et institutions politiques (p. 444). (I do not have the hard copy to verify and it is worth noting that there is mention of a similar reference in the 1956 version of Finances publiques, whereas the snippet of text clearly shows this to be a post-1958 reference. So, I am assuming the reliability of Google Books for the 1955 reference). In addition, Duverger also used it on a number of occasions in various textbooks prior to 1970. In other words, Duverger seems to be using the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ from the mid-/late 1950s onwards.
That said, the references in Google Books do seem to tell a certain story. There are eight references to Duverger using the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ prior to December 1962. However, there are only two references from January 1963 to December 1969, one of which is a repeated reference in Les partis politiques. (I have a hard copy and so I can verify it). He then uses the term in the 11th edition of his textbook in 1970 as per the above quote.
What seems to be happening is that in the mid-/late-1950s/early 1960s Duverger is using the term descriptively, or behaviourally. However, at some point in the early 1960s he seems to start thinking of the concept of semi-presidentialism legalistically i.e. as a specific constitutional type. This leads him to stop using the term behaviourally in the mid-1960s and then to be systematic about its use when he reintroduces it from 1970 onwards.
To back up this hypothesis, I have a hard copy of his book La Vème République from 1964. In this book, there are plenty of opportunities for him to use the term ‘semi-presidential’, but I have not been able to find one (and none is identified in Google Books). For example, he persistently compares the institutions of the fledgling Fifth Republic to those of Weimar, but he does not call either ‘semi-presidential’, whereas he does in 1970. Instead, he repeatedly describes the Fifth Republic to be a case of ‘orleanist’ presidentialism, meaning that there is a limited but nonetheless strong president. In other words, at this point he seems to prefer this term to describe the actual power of the president.
Incidentally, there are over a dozen references by other authors to the term ‘semi-presidential regime’ (in English) prior to 1970 and an equivalent amount to the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ (in French). So, undoubtedly, the term is in relatively common usage, albeit not in the domain of constitutional law, prior to Duverger’s reference in 1970 and was used, albeit uncommonly, prior to Beuve-Méry’s reference to it in January 1959.
I think what can be concluded from all of this is that the terms ‘semi-presidential’ and ‘semi-presidential regime’ in both French and English were in relatively common usage prior to 1970, but Duverger was the first person to systematise the use of the term to refer to a specific constitutional arrangement rather than a description of presidential behaviour. This provides some sort of justification for his statement in the quote at the beginning of this blog, but a clearer (meaning more accurate) statement of the history of the term would have avoided years of misunderstanding!