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Liberalism and radicalism in France refer to different movements and ideologies. The main line of conflict in France during the 19th century was between monarchists (mainly Legitimists and Orléanists but also Bonapartists) and republicans (Radical-Socialists, Opportunist Republicans, and later socialists). The Orléanists, who favoured constitutional monarchy and economic liberalism, were opposed to the Republican Radicals.
The Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party (now mostly re-grouped in the Radical Movement), and especially the Republican parties (Democratic Republican Alliance, Republican Federation, National Centre of Independents and Peasants, Independent Republicans, Republican Party, and Liberal Democracy) have since embraced liberalism, including its economic version, and have mostly joined either the Union for a Popular Movement in 2002, later renamed The Republicans in 2015, or the Union of Democrats and Independents, launched in 2012. Emmanuel Macron, a former member of the Socialist Party, launched La République En Marche! in 2016 and was elected President of France the next year.
The early high points of liberalism in France were:
In France, as in much of Southern Europe, the term liberal was used during the 19th century either to refer to the traditional liberal anti-clericalism or economic liberalism. Economic liberalism in France was long associated more with the Orléanists and with Opportunist Republicans (whose heir was the Democratic Republican Alliance), rather than the Radical Party, leading to the use of the term radical to refer to political liberalism. The Radicals tended to be more statist than most European liberals, but shared liberal values on other issues, especially support for individual liberty and secularism, while the Republicans were keener on economic liberalism than secularism.
Intellectuals played a powerful role in all the movements, for example a major spokesman for radicalism was Émile Chartier (1868–1951), who wrote under the pseudonym of "Alain". He was a leading theorist of radicalism, and his influence extended through the Third and Fourth Republics. He stressed individualism, seeking to defend the citizen against the state. He warned against all forms of power – military, clerical, and economic. To oppose them, he exalted the small farmer, the small shopkeeper, the small town, and the little man. He idealized country life and saw Paris as a dangerous font of power.
After World War II, the Republicans gathered in the liberal-conservative National Centre of Independents and Peasants, from which the conservative-liberal Independent Republicans was formed in 1962. The originally centre-left Radical Party was a declining force and joined the centre-right in 1972, causing the split of the left-wing faction and the foundation of the Radical Party of the Left, closely associated to the Socialist Party. The former was later associated with the Union for a Popular Movement.
In 1978 both the Republican Party (successor of the Independent Republicans) and the Radical Party were founding components, along with the Christian-democratic Centre of Social Democrats, of the Union for French Democracy, an alliance of non-Gaullist centre-right forces. The Republican Party, re-founded as Liberal Democracy and re-shaped as an economic liberal party, left the federation in 1998 and was later merged, along with the Radical Party, into the liberal-conservative Union for a Popular Movement (later The Republicans) in 2002. The Radicals and several former Republicans launched the Union of Democrats and Independents in 2012.
In 2016 Emmanuel Macron, a former member of the Socialist Party, launched La République En Marche!, a liberal party, and was elected President of France in the 2017 presidential election. The party formed an alliance with the Democratic Movement, established in 2017 as a successor of the Union for French Democracy, stripped of most former Republicans, who joined the Union for a Popular Movement (later The Republicans) or the Union of Democrats and Independents.