Secularism: France’s lost glory?

Once upon a time in France, Enlightened and romantics were filled with revolutionary sentiments. Rejecting people’s violations, atrocities such as Inquisition and absolute monarchy, and dreaming of a uniting spirit of self-confidence. A belief that whatever unites the french people would be stronger that what divides them. Hence the Declaration of Human Rights down to 1905’s law separating the Church from the State, followed by women’s rights. A republic, one and indivisible. So how about a feeling of savagery and barbarism early in the 21st century?


The endless growth of communautarism, sometimes promoted by some former presidents, often simply tolerated despite the principle of securalism, may shed some light for a better understanding of this drifting. Secularism gave the Nation a guarantee of unity. Conversely, communautarism admits and underlines differences of any kind (religious, sexual…) Difference became an acquired right, the duty of unity seems to have been forgotten! Nowadays, in terms of immigration, the concept of integration is lowered. We try to « include » rather than « integrate » newcomers within the French society. Farewell the « general interest » or common interest.

France, like many western countries, experienced various disturbing phenomena:

1) the survival of incest-like relationships between political power (thought considered as temporary, evolutive and secular) and religions (naively thought as apolitical – certainly not in Vatican or elsewhere!) At a worldwide scale, religious lobbies sometimes agree and unite, when negotiating social issues at UNO for instance. Locally, we still find religious states (incompatible with the concept of secularism) as in the US, Israel, many Arab countries or Poland. Not to forget, ironically, neo-tsarist Russia!

2) the loss of traditional authority, previously securing respect both at home and beyond. Authority was replaced by negotiation and this special feeling of individual empowerment. A dream-come-true for lawyers, shrinks and pharmacists! In these circumstances, communities popped up and built up power, sometimes resembling sectarian affairs. Local and global communities, not scared of national authorities.

3) Darwin’s heritage made lots of damage to the society:  his biological concept of natural selection was successfully transferred to the social and economic world. A strange political darwinism showing two opposite faces: one side is capitalism, with a utopia named free market, pure competition and the « invisible hand » as a founding myth ; on the other side is Marx’s class struggle. Both based on conflict, leading to an undesirable output. The economic conflict supposed to liberate people or the social conflict, supposing to reach the same goal. Both had a devastating effect on Republic’s status, « one and indivisible »! Forget it secularism!

4) Marketing, sensing the wind of « mass division » blowing, was just about to shoot its fatal weapon called segmentation. Religious or sexual communities, market segments or consumer groups: what’s the difference? Appearance merchants, of textile, cosmetics or food, would grow forever thanks to a global communitarian business! As communities mutate by nature, we are into an endless market trend. Even cola or burgers can turn communitarian! No fear for a uniform globalized, boring if any, market. The media respond to our narcissist thirst, with communitarian magazines, specialized television channels, Instagram or Facebook groups or clans. What’s your clan? Virtual communities are booming. Now who will dare recycling secularism online?

So is secularism a bygone utopia? The republic is ill, finding it so hard to make people live together. 10 or 20 years ago, freedom of speech was higher than today. At school people would dress in a non-communitarian way, every one could live more or less « normally », without fears of death threats. Public space remaining neutral, sharing the same meals at school restaurant, the same public holidays for every pupil, with no special treatment or special rights…

In France, as probably elsewhere, communautarism excelled in playing hide and seek with our sense of vigilance. It may well stay far from us for a long while, hidden in the shade, or come back closer and express itself violently. We may manage to calm it down, and keep it under control. But no additional law will suffice. It’s all about old school methods: through open dialog and through education!

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