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Siegfried, André

Siegfried, André



André Siegfried (1875-1959), French geographer and political scientist, gained world-wide recognition through his development of a new approach to the study of political parties known as geographic de I’opinion politique, or political ecology; through his studies of French political regimes; and through his more general studies of the United States and other countries.

Siegfried was born in Le Havre, the son of a wealthy Calvinist Alsatian merchant who served as mayor of Le Havre from 1878 to 1886 and as a member of the Chamber of Deputies from 1885 to 1922. His mother was the daughter of a pastor in the Reformed Church and came from the departement of Ardeche, which Siegfried later chose as the subject of one of his studies in political ecology. His parents liked to entertain, and Siegfried had the opportunity, first in Le Havre and later in Paris, of meeting in his home the political elite of the Third Republic. As a young man, he accompanied his father, who was a passionate traveler and keen observer, on some of his journeys abroad, an experience which was important for his own later efforts to describe and compare foreign countries. His father, as mayor and as a deputy, initiated many social reforms, thereby setting an example for Siegfried’s activities in this field.

Siegfried’s interest in politics led him to run for the National Assembly. He was unsuccessful and decided instead to focus his political interest on the compilation of “a psychological and political geography of France.” The first volume, Tableau politique de la France de I’ouest, appeared in 1913, but the series was interrupted by World War I. Siegfried did not return to his geographies of electoral behavior until after World War II. He then published Geographic electorale de I’Ardéche sous la III” Republique (1949a) but after that left further studies to his disciples, publishing only his basic ideas on this kind of inquiry.

Siegfried served as a professor at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques and from 1933 to 1946 held a chair in economic and political geography at the Collége de France. Apart from his writings his main influence came through his two courses at the Collége de France, one on the geography of political parties in France and the other on the economic and political geography of the world. In 1942, during the German occupation, he became director of the Musée Social, an institute that his father had founded for the preparation of social legislation. He had had a large part in the establishment of the Université Populaire de Belleville, one of the earliest institutions for adult education of workingmen. He was also active as a journalist, and through his articles in Figaro during World War II “he became one of the most effective leaders of public opinion” (Jean Schlumberger in Andre Siegfried 1875-1959 1961). After World War ii he became director of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. He was elected to the Académic Francaise in 1944, the first geographer to be so honored.

Before and after World War I, Siegfried traveled in Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “It was an opportunity,” he wrote later, “to observe democracy as practiced with the Anglo-Saxon spirit and methods. Instead of the aggressive and somewhat negative individualism of the Latin civilization, I saw political societies based on social cooperation. At bottom it seemed to be a contrast between the Catholic and Protestant state of mind, religion leading to extraordinarily different consequences” (1930, p. vi). This experience reinforced his interest in the political institutions of his own country.

Siegfried’s studies of foreign countries are comprehensive monographs in the tradition of Tocque-ville. Each of them has a central theme: the books on New Zealand (1904) and Canada (1906) are concerned with the formation of new nations and the books on Britain (1931) and the United States (1927) with their changed positions in the world. The books are masterful syntheses of the economic, political, and cultural aspects of large complex societies, always presented with a historical perspective and a geographical foundation. He gave his major attention to class structure, to religious orientations and cleavages, and to race. Since he had more than once visited some of the countries he wrote about, he was able to observe important social changes directly. His wide range of knowledge in economics, political science, and history and his acquaintance with both the Latin and Anglo-Saxon worlds enabled him to make use of cross-cultural comparisons.

He did not resist the temptation of putting his impressions of national character, or as he put it, the “souls of nations,” into print (1950). These essays, while not free of the generalizations and exaggerations common to most writing of this sort, bring into focus the outstanding traits of each nation and are free of farfetched psychological conjectures.

Siegfried’s writings on French political life fall into two categories: the historical studies of political regimes from the Third to the Fifth Republic and the ecological studies of political parties or tendencies. The latter include the early study of northwest France (1913) and the later one of Ardéche (1949a). These ecological studies represented a methodological innovation and were the beginning of a school of investigation that has gained adherents in many countries.

The observation that each of the major political tendencies in France has its particular strongholds which show a high degree of stability despite changing party labels led Siegfried to the conclusion that it was possible to distinguish regions of political opinion–political climates which correspond to regions in physical geography. The particular climate depends on the varying combinations of several major factors: (1) the social stratification of the regional population—whether it is egalitarian or hierarchic; (2) the religious orientation of the people—whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, and if Catholic, whether or not the political instructions of the priest are followed; (3) the past—that is, memories of important political events that influence political attitudes; (4) the extent to which the population is autochthonous or contains a significant proportion of “strangers” (in-migrants); (5) the geography–that is, the soil, the climate, the altitude, the topography, the settlement patterns, the population density, and the degree of accessibility or isolation of the area.

Siegfried’s technique consisted essentially, although not exclusively, of comparing successive maps showing election returns by small areas with maps showing the geographic distribution of other factors and in assessing, from their fit, the relative importance of the various factors. For Ardeche, for example, the topographical map gave the best fit. In Ardeche ways of life vary with the altitude; the mountain, the hillside, and the plains communities are distinctly different. The merit of these ecological studies derives from Siegfried’s intensive knowledge of the regions as well as from his sense of what is politically relevant. Although he used such formal notions as “the Right” and “the Left,” he was careful to state what these mean in terms of immediate goals and general political ideas.

Although Siegfried held a chair of political and economic geography, he was not a geographer in the technical sense. The findings of geography and geology were for him data essential to the understanding of society. Nor was he a geographical determinist, although he appreciated the opportunities and limitations which the physical environment offers to human action, particularly for the development of primary industries. The social structure, especially the class structure in the Marxian sense, depends on the use of these opportunities, and the class structure in combination with other factors produces certain political climates. But Siegfried was not a Marxist in his political orientation, or even a socialist. As a scholar, he felt obliged to avoid association with any political party. And yet, he was clearly a republican, a liberal, and a humanist and therefore also a social reformer.

While he had sympathy for the Anglo-Saxon style of political life, he regretted the “Americanizing” tendencies in the economic organization of France, the impending decline of the independent entrepreneur, and the replacement of the artisan-craftsman by the assembly-line worker. These tendencies, inescapable as they might be, he feared would endanger the dignity and spirituality of man.

Rudolf Heberle

[See alsoGeography.]


(1904) 1914 Democracy in New Zealand. London: Bell. → First published in French.

(1906) 1949 Canada: An International Power. 2d ed. New York: Duell. → First published as Le Canada: Les deux races.

1913 Tableau politique de la France de I’ouest sous la Troisiéme Republique. Paris: Colin.

1927 America Comes of Age: A French Analysis. New York: Harcourt. → First published in 1927 as Les Etats-Unis d’aujourd’hui.

1930 France: A Study in Nationality. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → Also published in the same year as Tableau des partis en France.

1931 England’s Crisis. New York: Harcourt. → Also published in the same year as La crise britannique au XX"siecle.

1934 Amerique Latine. Paris: Colin.

1937 Une geographic de I’opinion politique est-elle pos- sible? Nouvelle revue francaise 49:789-802.

1946 La geographic de I’opinion politique. Atomes 1, no.4:3-6.

1947 The Mediterranean. New York: Duell.

1949a La geographic electorate de fArdeche sous la III’ Republique. Paris: Colin.

(1949b) 1950 African Journey. London: Cape. → First published as Afrique du Sud: Notes de voyage.

(1950) 1952 Nations Have Souls. New York: Putnam. → First published as L’dme des peuples.

1951 Voyage aux Indes. Paris: Colin.

1952a Geographic politique des cinqs continents. Paris: Passerell.

1952b Mes souvenirs de la Troisiéme Republique; Man pere et son temps: Jules Siegfried, 1836-1922. Paris: Presses Universitalres de France.

(1954) 1955 America at Mid-century. New York: Harcourt. → First published as Tableau destats-Unis.

1956 De la IIIe à la IVe République. Paris: Grasset.

1958 De la IVe à la Ve République au jour le jour. Paris: Grasset.


André Siegfried 1875-1959. 1961 Paris: Imprimerie Foulon. → A collection of eulogies. See especially the article by Jean Schlumberger.

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