French anti-meridionalism under the Third Republic

Article

October 23, 2021

French anti-meridionalism under the Third Republic is a hatred against the French in the south of France which was very much in vogue at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It draws its origins from a linguistic, economic, cultural and memorial reading of the country and from the process of construction of ethnotypes in which the populations of the South are considered talkative, conceited, indolent because life would be easy for them because of the sunny climate, governed by passions and not by reason. Antiméridionalists judge the Roman conquest, the action of Joan of Arc or the French Revolution as responsible for the southern predominance in society. The hatred of the people of the South is promoted by a part of the nationalist right. The patriotism of the Southerners is questioned, they are considered cowardly and indifferent, and during the defeat of the Battle of Lorraine in 1914 hastily declared guilty. The politicians of the South, Léon Gambetta and Ernest Constans in the lead, are denounced as having seized power by populism in order to monopolize the wealth of the North and redistribute it in the South. Finally, the people of the South are presented as belonging to a "race" gangrened by the Protestants and especially the Jews with whom they would work to take power. Their general behavior would be the consequence of the conformation of their brain.

The origins of hatred

From climate theory to stigmatizing representations

The South of France is a geographical space with blurred outlines and whose invention, subsequent to the Revolution which put an end to the provinces, is due to a geographical reading of the nation from its Parisian center. Antimeridionalism has its origin in the process of construction of ethnotypes, a moral and physical classification of individuals based on prejudices, which are notably built on the theory of climates, but also rests on a linguistic, economic, cultural and memorial reading of the country. Montesquieu, in De esprit des lois (1748), Germaine de Staël in De la Littérature (1800) and especially Charles Victor de Bonstetten in The man from the South and the man from the North or the influence of the climate (late 18th century century but appeared in 1824), express the idea that the southerners would be, because of the climate, of a moral and military inferiority compared to the northerners. Bonstetten's work, which systematizes this distinction, reflects a state of mind that was frequent at the time. From the beginning of the 19th century, public opinion was sensitive to the economic imbalance between the South of France, still largely agricultural, due to a lack of capital, and the North in the process of industrialization, in the footsteps of English economic growth and German. The South is also perceived (largely wrongly) as less educated. In addition, historical events participate in the construction of a violent vision of the South. These are in particular the massacres of the Glacière in Avignon in 1791, the decisive intervention of Marseillais during the day of August 10, 1792, the federalist insurrection of 1793 and the violence of the white terror of 1815. The ethnotypical vision tends to make the South of France a uniform space. The populations of the South, whether in literature or in the popular mind, are judged to be easygoing, conceited, indolent because life would be easy for them because of the sunny climate, governed by passions and not by reason and therefore violent, ,,. Their accent, the use of Occitan, misunderstood by the French of the North, and their way of speaking French are also mocked. At the crossroads of the Second Empire and the Third Republic, in the northern popular spirit, "the Provençal, boastful and ridiculous" replaced the Gascon, "phraseur and swagger but fie

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