Tag Archives: France

Lange, “The First French Reformation: Church Reform and the Origins of the Old Regime”

In May, Cambridge University Press will publish The First French Reformation: Church Reform and the Origins of the Old Regime by Tyler Lange (Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt-am-Main). The publisher’s description follows.The First French Reformation

The political culture of absolute monarchy that structured French society into the eighteenth century is generally believed to have emerged late in the sixteenth century. This new interpretation of the origins of French absolutism, however, connects the fifteenth-century conciliar reform movement in the Catholic Church to the practice of absolutism by demonstrating that the monarchy appropriated political models derived from canon law. Tyler Lange reveals how the reform of the Church offered a crucial motive and pretext for a definitive shift in the practice and conception of monarchy, and explains how this first French Reformation enabled Francis I and subsequent monarchs to use the Gallican Church as a useful deposit of funds and judicial power. In so doing, the book identifies the theoretical origins of later absolutism and the structural reasons for the failure of French Protestantism.

Jansen, “Secularism, Assimilation, and the Crisis of Multiculturalism”

9789089645968-yolande-jansen-secularism-assimilation-and-the-crisis-of-multiculturalism-178Next month, Amsterdam University Press will publish Secularism, Assimilation, and the Crisis of Multiculturalism: French Modernist Legacies by Yolande Jansen (Amsterdam Centre for Globalization Studies). The publisher’s description follows.

This remarkable study develops a theoretical critique of contemporary discourses on secularism and assimilation, arguing that the perspective of assimilating distinct religious minorities by incorporating them into a secular and supposedly neutral public sphere may be self-subverting. To flesh out this insight, Jansen draws on the paradoxes of assimilation as experienced by the French Jews in the late 19th century through a contextualised reading of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. She proposes a dynamic, critical multiculturalism as an alternative to discourses focusing on secularism, assimilation and integration.

Fredette, “Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship”

Next month, Temple University will publish 2272_regConstructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship, by Jennifer Fredette (San Diego State University). The publisher’s description follows.

The standing of French Muslims is undercut by a predominant and persistent elite public discourse that frames Muslims as failed and incomplete French citizens. This situation fosters the very separations, exclusions, and hierarchies it claims to deplore as Muslims face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

In Constructing Muslims in France, Jennifer Fredette provides a deft empirical analysis to show the political diversity and complicated identity politics of this relatively new population. She examines the public identity of French Muslims and evaluates images in popular media to show how stereotyped notions of racial and religious differences pervade French public discourse. While rights may be a sine qua non for fighting legal and political inequality, Fredette shows that additional tools such as media access are needed to combat social inequality, particularly when it comes in the form of unfavorable discursive frames and public disrespect.

Presenting the conflicting views of French national identity, Fredette shows how Muslims strive to gain recognition of their diverse views and backgrounds and find full equality as French citizens.

1000 Mots

Treasure, “The Huguenots”

This month, Yale University Press publishes The Huguenots, by Geoffrey Treasure.  The publisher’s description follows. Huguenots

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.

Tocqueville and Gobineau

It is fitting to end this series with a study of the exchanges between GobineauTocqueville 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 Essaiscion 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.

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Salomone on Proposals to Ban Religious Dress in French Universities

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.

Podcast Featuring Delahunty on Tocqueville and Religion

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.

À Nous la Liberté

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.

Foster, “Faith in Empire”

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

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.