- Conference: Christianity and Freedom (Dec.13-14)
- “The Original Atheists” (S.T. Joshi, ed.)
- Compton, “The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution”
- Yoga in Public Schools, American and Indian
- On the Claim That Exemptions From the Contraception Mandate Violate the Establishment Clause
- Symposium on State-Sponsored Religious Displays Now in Print
- Stoner on the Disposition of the Common Law
- “For the Common Convenience of the Learned”
- “Prayer is serious business”
- President Adams’s 1798 Proclamation For a “Day of Humiliation and Prayer”
Tag Archives: France
This month, Yale University Press publishes The Huguenots, by Geoffrey Treasure. The publisher’s description follows.
Following the Reformation, a growing number of radical Protestants came together to live and worship in Catholic France. These Huguenots survived persecution and armed conflict to win—however briefly—freedom of worship, civil rights, and unique status as a protected minority. But in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished all Huguenot rights, and more than 200,000 of the radical Calvinists were forced to flee across Europe, some even farther. In this capstone work, Geoffrey Treasure tells the full story of the Huguenots’ rise, survival, and fall in France over the course of a century and a half. He explores what it was like to be a Huguenot living in a “state within a state,” weaving stories of ordinary citizens together with those of statesmen, feudal magnates, leaders of the Catholic revival, Henry of Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV, and many others. Treasure describes the Huguenots’ disciplined community, their faith and courage, their rich achievements, and their unique place within Protestantism and European history. The Huguenot exodus represented a crucial turning point in European history, Treasure contends, and he addresses the significance of the Huguenot story—the story of a minority group with the power to resist and endure in one of early modern Europe’s strongest nations.
It is fitting to end this series with a study of the exchanges between Tocqueville and his younger friend and assistant, Arthur de Gobineau. For if Tocqueville was the explorer of the new age of democracy, Gobineau was the herald of a return to an age of aristocracy, if in an untraditional and modernized form.
Though little remembered now, Gobineau was a prolific and assiduous writer, known chiefly for his defense of racism, the Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (1853-55) (“Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races”). Eleven years younger than Tocqueville and, like him, the scion of a noble family (if a lesser one), Gobineau was probably introduced to Tocqueville by royalist friends of both. Whether or not they had met previously, the two men began a correspondence in 1843. The exchange resulted from an invitation the Académie des sciences morales et politiques had extended to Tocqueville in that year, to prepare a study on modern moral doctrines in order to establish what, if anything, was novel in them. Tocqueville sought to enlist the young Gobineau’s assistance in the project. The ensuing correspondence took, for Tocqueville, a surprising turn, as he found his deepest beliefs about the relationship of Christianity to modern society sharply challenged. Tocqueville abandoned the study in 1848, probably owing to the revolution of that year.
A second major round of correspondence took place beginning about a decade later, around the time of the appearance of Gobineau’s book on racial inequality. This new, illiberal orientation in Gobineau’s thought deeply disturbed Tocqueville, who told Gobineau frankly that he objected to its “fatalism” and its “materialism.” To other correspondents, Tocqueville complained that Gobineau’s “stud farm philosophy” expounded “dangerous thoughts . . . in a journalistic style.” See Françoise Mélonio, Tocqueville and the French 129 (Beth Raps trans. 1998). For his part, Gobineau exulted that the book had “struck the nerve of liberal ideas at its core.” Id.
Despite their basic differences, Tocqueville befriended Gobineau, launching him on a diplomatic career when Tocqueville became France’s Foreign Minister in 1849. Gobineau did not repay Tocqueville’s kindness: in his 1874 novel Les Pléiades, his used the character of Genevilliers to mock and satirize his benefactor. Mélonio at 128-30.
The interest and importance of the Tocqueville-Gobineau correspondence has been rightly emphasized by several scholars. See especially Aristide Tessitore, “Tocqueville and Gobineau on the Nature of Modern Politics,” 67 Review of Politics 631 (2005); see also Christian Bégin, “Tocqueville et la fracture religieuse,” 32 The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville 167 (2011); Larry Siedentop, Tocqueville 96-106; 126-30 (1994); William A. Galston, “Tocqueville on Liberalism and Religion,” 54 Social Research 499 (1987). The historian John Lukacs has edited and translated most – though unfortunately not all – of the correspondence, and I shall use this translation. Alexis de Tocqueville, “The European Revolution” & Correspondence with Gobineau (John Lukacs ed. & trans. 1968).
The ultimate issues
The confrontation between Tocqueville and Gobineau was played out on at least two levels.
First, as of 1843, Gobineau “might best be described as a radical partisan of the Enlightenment project.” Tessitore at 632. Throughout his career, however, Tocqueville had argued that modern Western society was indebted to both the Enlightenment and Christianity, that the central doctrines of both movements were compatible, and that the tension between them was fruitful and beneficent, each correcting the flaws and excesses of the other. See id. at 639; 652; Galston at 502-04. The core principles of the Enlightenment, such as “the natural equality of men,” were also part of the patrimony of Christianity. See Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ancien Régime and the Revolution 21 (Bevan trans. 2008).
For Gobineau, the Enlightenment marks a revolutionary transformation in the West, ushering in a post-Christian era in which morality has come to rest on a wholly naturalistic foundation. See Tessitore at 641. For Tocqueville, by contrast, the coming of Christianity is the only true revolution that the West has yet seen, or may ever see. (The same thesis has been defended at length, but without reference to Tocqueville, in David Bentley Hart’s brilliant Atheist Delusions, cited earlier in this series.). There is, indeed, a radical discontinuity in the dominant ethos of the West; but this is the rupture between classical antiquity and the rise of Christianity, not between the Christian ages and the aftermath of the Enlightenment. True, the morality of the nineteenth century differs significantly from that of the pre-Enlightenment period, notably with regard to the importance of political action and the recognition of life’s material needs. But these changes, Tocqueville insists, merely reflect the development of Christian morality over long stretches of time and its adaptation to new circumstances. They do not constitute evidence of the dominance of a radically de-christianized ethos. See Tessitore at 636; 644-45; 648; Galston at 505-08.
Second, Gobineau’s view of modern morality in the early 1840s laid the foundation for his later teaching about human inequality.
My St. John’s colleague, Rosemary Salomone, has written an essay on proposals to ban religious dress in French universities, “Should the Veil Be Banned in Higher Education?” Here’s a synopsis:
The piece discusses competing approaches to the uniquely French concept of “laicite,” a form of secularism, and the current debate in France over a proposal from the High Council for Integration to ban ostensible religious signs or clothing from French public universities. Though the proposal does not mention Islam, Professor Salomone argues that the target clearly is the wearing of the Islamic “hijab” or headscarf. Professor Salomone questions the reasons offered for the ban, based on alleged incidents of religious conflicts in universities, which the Minister of Higher Education and Research and the president of the Conference of University Presidents refute. She warns that banning the veil would unjustly deny some Muslim young women their only option for higher education and further isolate them culturally and religiously. She further suggests that the debate ignores the forces of globalization, transnationalism, and European integration, the consequent rise of “world citizens” among the younger French population, and the gradual integration of Muslims into French society that inevitably will loosen the French approach to “laicite,” and perhaps sooner than the current debate would lead us to believe.
Our guest, Professor Robert Delahunty, has conducted an informative podcast with the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion involving Alexis de Tocqueville and religion. Readers familiar with his excellent posts at CLR Forum over the past month (which will continue this week) will be further edified by Robert’s deep learning on the subject. The podcast is moderated by Baylor University’s Anthony Gill.
Riots broke out in a Paris suburb this weekend after police ticketed a woman wearing the full Islamic veil, or burqa, on a local street. Since 2011, France has banned the burqa in public places on pain of a €150 fine. The details of this weekend’s incident are unclear, but police apparently asked the woman to remove her veil as part of an identity check. An altercation ensued, and the woman’s husband allegedly assaulted the officers. The officers then arrested the husband, and in response at least 250 people besieged the local police station, throwing fireworks and setting refuse bins and vehicles on fire. According to France 24, four police officers have been injured. The violence has continued for three nights.
The burqa ban has been controversial from the beginning. Supporters argue that it’s a necessary safety measure: terrorists could use the burqa as a disguise. But, observing the debate from this side of the Atlantic, safety issues don’t seem central. Most of the emotion in the debate relates to the burqa’s symbolic impact. The French Right supports the ban because the burqa suggests the presence of an alien culture that refuses to be French. The Left is divided. Some on the Left support the ban because the burqa suggests the subjugation of women; others argue that the burqa controversy is a sideshow to distract from France’s real social problems. And of course many French Muslims–though not all–see the ban as evidence of racism and Islamophobia. Not to mention a violation of religious freedom.
Behind the controversy is a debate about the meaning of laïcité, that peculiarly French contribution to law and religion. Often translated loosely as “secularism,” laïcité is one of the foundations of French republicanism. But its meaning is, and always has been, contested. On one view, laïcité means only that the state should have no official ties to religion and that citizens should be free to follow whatever religion they wish. On this understanding, the ban is problematic. What legitimate reason does a liberal state have for banning religious dress in public? (A liberal state, note — not a state with a religious foundation or a “thick” conception of the public good). Public safety, surely: but the French government doesn’t ban knapsacks or raincoats, which pose greater risks. What about the fact that some women are forced to wear the burqa by family members? That’s a legitimate state concern, too. But there must be ways to address that concern that don’t involve forbidding public religious expression by women who do wish to wear the veil.
Perhaps laïcité means something different, though, something more aggressive. Perhaps laïcité requires a naked public square, in order to rid society of the influence of religions that stand in the way of progress. This view has a long lineage in France as well. Rousseau, recall, taught that society must force people to be free. On this view of laïcité, the burqa ban makes more sense. The burqa is forbidden even if women wear it voluntarily–indeed, especially if women wear it voluntarily. How else is equality to be achieved?
A few hundred women have been cited for wearing the burqa since the ban went into effect. Almost none of the citations, apparently, have led to incidents like this weekend’s. This weekend’s riots suggest, though, that the burqa ban remains deeply unpopular in some French neighborhoods, and that the controversy is far from over.
In March, the Stanford University Press will publish Faith in Empire: Religion, Politics, and Colonial Rule in French Senegal, 1880-1940 by Elizabeth A. Foster (Tufts University). The publisher’s description follows.
Faith in Empire is an innovative exploration of French colonial rule in West Africa, conducted through the prism of religion and religious policy. Elizabeth Foster examines the relationships among French Catholic missionaries, colonial administrators, and Muslim, animist, and Christian Africans in colonial Senegal between 1880 and 1940. In doing so she illuminates the nature of the relationship between the French Third Republic and its colonies, reveals competing French visions of how to approach Africans, and demonstrates how disparate groups of French and African actors, many of whom were unconnected with the colonial state, shaped French colonial rule. Among other topics, the book provides historical perspective on current French controversies over the place of Islam in the Fifth Republic by exploring how Third Republic officials wrestled with whether to apply the legal separation of church and state to West African Muslims.
NYU’s Maison Française will host a lecture by French historian Jean Baubérot (École Pratique des Hautes Études), “La Laïcité face aux mutations de la société française,” on February 25. Baubérot is identified with laïcité en mouvement, a school that represents a middle ground between the laïcité positive of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with its less hostile view of religion, and the more militantly secular laïcité de combat. Details are here.
Here’s an interview with CLR’s Marc DeGirolami in France-Amérique on the differences between the legal treatment of hate speech in France and the United States. Check it out (in French).
It’s getting hard to keep up with developments surrounding “The Innocence of Muslims,” the YouTube video that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad and has sparked violent protests throughout the Muslim world. On Tuesday, Egypt announced that it had issued arrest warrants for several Americans connected with the film’s production and distribution, including Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who promoted the film. Jones was last in the news for putting the Quran “on trial” and threatening to burn it. Egypt’s action followed Germany’s announcement that it would forbid Jones, who has been invited to speak by far-right political parties, from entering the county. The Interior Ministry argues that allowing the “hate preacher” in the country would upset public order. So that’s another country the pastor must cross off his vacation list.
Then, yesterday, the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, entered the fray over the film, running a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet. The French government, which had asked Charlie Hebdo not to run the cartoons, responded by announcing that it would close embassies in twenty countries this Friday as a precaution. The Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabuis, said the cartoons were “a provocation,” and called on “all” people — by “all,” Fabius presumably had in mind particularly Charlie Hebdo‘s editor, Stephane Charbonnier — “to behave responsibly.”
For his part, Chabonnier is unrepentant. Already under police guard as a result of an earlier episode in which his magazine ran a caricature of the Prophet, Charbonnier says he sees a double standard developing in France, according to which it is considered acceptable to mock some religions but not others. “We have the impression that it’s officially allowed for Charlie Hebdo to attack the Catholic far-right but we cannot poke fun at fundamental Islamists,” he explained. It’s an interesting point that other commentators, including in the US, as making, too. Charbonnier should be calling his lawyer. Unlike the US, France has laws that ban speech that insults a group because of its religion. In 2006, in fact, Charlie Hebdo was prosecuted when the newspaper reprinted some of the infamous cartoons of the Prophet that had appeared in a Danish newspaper. In that case, Charlie Hebdo was acquitted on the ground that the cartoons insulted terrorists, not Muslims generally. It wouldn’t be surprising if Charlie Hebdo faced prosecution again now.