The Trick of Dismounting from a Rogue System

July 19, 1992|By STEVEN PHILIP KRAMER

It is a matter of conventional wisdom that there is no historical example of a collectivized society moving toward a free market. But does that mean that there is no historical model for the process of transformation in nations that have abandoned communism?

From Poland to Nicaragua, nations recently released from communist control must establish a new constitutional order, resolve the question of property expropriated by previous regimes and decide what to do about major state institutions dominated by loyalists of the former regime, notably the army.

These problems have been faced at least once before -- 175 years ago -- during the so-called Restoration period in France, which wasn't so much a restoration as an effort at reconciling old and new societies.

In 1814 Napoleon was defeated. His regime, which had consolidated many of the French Revolution's social and legal accomplishments, established order at the expense of political liberty. It never gained unquestioned legitimacy in France. At the same time, Napoleon's imperial ambitions had kept Europe in turmoil for a decade and a half. The European coalition which had been marshaled against Napoleon was meeting at the Congress of Vienna to find a replacement for Napoleon to guarantee stability for Europe. The eventual solution was a restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, that of the deposed and executed King Louis XVI.

The restoration restored a dynasty to the throne; it did not restore the status quo ante of 1789. No serious statesman could have wanted to bring back the Ancien Regime of 1789, just as few Eastern Europeans can be anxious to restore the dictatorships that dominated all but Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, just as few Nicaraguans can be nostalgic about Nicaragua under the Somozas. Nevertheless, the dynamic of the political system would be a permanent tension between pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary elites (the party of order and the party of movement), a tension which if creative could produce a new social and political amalgam but if destructive could lead on to future civil strife.

How did the restoration attempt to deal with the outstanding issues facing France? Like the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution was both political and social. Much of the property of the church and nobility had been expropriated and sold to new owners. The new owners, fearing that a royalist restoration would take away their property, supported the revolution and then Napoleon. On the other hand, emigres who had left France to fight against the revolution (the equivalent of contras, but

contras consisting of aristocrats, not peasants) expected that their property would be restored if their cause triumphed. But the monarchy was not restored by the emigres and an attempt to return emigre property would fatally destabilize the regime. In the charter which he promulgated, Louis XVIII guaranteed the existing property holders. Instead, former owners would receive an indemnity. It was extremely unpopular among non-noble taxpayers but it did not threaten the survival of the regime.

Perhaps the countries of Eastern Europe would have been wise to follow the example of the restoration instead of opening up the Pandora's box of property claims. This problem has further delayed the codification of basic rights without which foreign investment cannot take place. This is not to say that the Nicaraguan National Assembly is wrong in calling into question self-serving property acquisitions by the Sandinistas after they lost the national elections, as opposed to land which was distributed earlier to peasants.

Another problem faced by the restoration and by post-communist governments today is dealing with state administrations filled with the nomenklatura of the old regimes, and above all, the army. This question was all the more pressing when at Napoleon's return from Elba, much of the army and civil administration rallied to him.

The army issue had two components. The first was what to do with a large officer corps in a time of peace, especially under severe budget constraints. The solution of retiring many of them on half pay provoked some of the discontent which accounted for the army's reaction to the return from Elba.

The second was whether to maintain the basic structure of a professional army based on seniority, which meant retaining much of the officer corps inherited from Napoleon, or returning the officer corps to aristocratic favorites. In 1819 Minister of War Gouvion-St. Cyr put the issue bluntly to parliament: ''We need to know if we shall still call to the defense of the fatherland soldiers who have constituted its glory, or if we shall declare them forever dangerous to its repose.'' The government opted for the former choice. The resulting army became known as the ''grande muette'' because of its lack of involvement in politics and its obedience to legal authority.

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