Welcome to semi-presidentialism from St Hilda’s College, Oxford! It’s not my first time in the College. This time I am here for four weeks working on a project with Petra Schleiter. From my room I have a wonderful view over Christ Church Meadow with Merton College in the distance. The sun is shining and there is no ash cloud, so I can get home at the weekend. Generally, it’s a great place to work.
Anyway, an externality of my visit is that I have access to more sources than usual and this has allowed me to follow up on one of my favourite threads on the blog – ‘Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?’ In this post I am going to focus on the first references by Duverger. In next week’s post I will follow up on references by other people.
The story so far is that for a very long time I had assumed that the terms ‘semi-presidential’ and ‘semi-presidentialism’ were first coined by Duverger and that they dated back to the 11th edition of his textbook Institutions politiques et Droit constitutionnel, 1970. However, I discovered that this was not so. Duverger had used the term before this time and so too had others.
Digging deeper, I have now discovered that, as far as I can tell, Duverger first used the term ‘semi-presidential’ in the original 1951 edition of his famous book Les partis politiques. Now, I only have the first edition in its English translation dating from 1954. The reference there is on p. 393. However, I do have the second and third French editions of Les partis politiques, dating to 1954 and 1958 respectively, and exactly the same text appears on p. 431 in each case. So, it’s a safe bet that there is a reference in the 1951 edition. For those of you who have the book, the reference is buried away towards the end in the section ‘Parties and the Structure of Government’, where he makes a comment that Hitler’s Germany (not Weimar interestingly) “practised” a semi-presidential regime.
From the mid-/late-1950s onwards, Duverger starts to use the term more regularly but in relation to the French political system. (I still need to confirm a reference in an article by him in Le Monde, 3 January 1956.) Around this time, the first reference that I have been able to find is in La Cinquième République published in 1959. This is a book in which Duverger describes the institutions of the new regime. On p. 201, he talks about a possible evolution to a semi-presidential regime. It is worth remembering that, according to the definition used by this blog and by Duverger’s own definition, France was not semi-presidential until 1962. In 1959 it was still parliamentary. So, at this point Duverger does seem to be making an implicit distinction between parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism.
To sum up, as far as I can tell, Duverger first used the term ‘semi-presidential’ in print at the beginning of the 1950s. Then, from the mid-/late-1950s onwards Duverger uses the term ‘semi-presidential’ to denote some sort of fairly unusual executive-legislative arrangement, particularly in relation to France’s new political system. However, he does not have a rigorous definition of the concept at this point. Interestingly, in the 10th ed. of his textbook Institutions politiques et Droit constitutionnel he uses the term ‘semi-presidential’ (1968, p. 704), but still in the way that he was using it in the late 1950s. Finally, it is, indeed, three years later in the 11th ed. of that same book that he first introduces a proper definition of the concept, explicitly contrasting semi-presidentialism with presidentialism and parliamentarism.
Next week, references to semi-presidentialism prior to Duverger.