Charles de Gaulle was one of the most fascinating and controversial political leaders of the twentieth century. Although a devout Catholic, he did not speak much in public about his faith nor make it an express part of his program: Gaullism was a politics of nationalism more than religion. Yet his writings reveal that, for him, the “idea of France”embodied both nationalism and Christianity–both the Republic and the Church. How he was able to accommodate those two commitments is no doubt discussed in an interesting-looking new biography from Harvard University Press: De Gaulle, by historian Julian Jackson (Queen Mary University of London). Particularly now, as conservatives in France and across Europe seek a new way to negotiate the demands of Christianity and liberalism, de Gaulle’s example could be relevant. Here is the description of the book from the Harvard website:
A definitive biography of the mythic general who refused to accept the Nazi domination of France, drawing on unpublished letters, memoirs, and papers in the newly opened de Gaulle archives that show how this volatile and inspiring leader put his broken nation back at the center of world affairs.
In the early summer of 1940, when France was overrun by German troops, one junior general who had fought in the trenches in Verdun refused to accept defeat. He fled to London, where he took to the radio to address his compatriots back home. “Whatever happens,” he said, “the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.” At that moment, Charles de Gaulle entered history.
For the rest of the war, de Gaulle insisted he and his Free French movement were the true embodiment of France. Through sheer force of personality he inspired French men and women to risk their lives to resist the Nazi occupation. Sometimes aloof but confident in his leadership, he quarreled violently with Churchill and Roosevelt. Yet they knew they would need his help to rebuild a shattered Europe. Thanks to de Gaulle, France was recognized as one of the victorious Allies when Germany was finally defeated. Then, as President of the Fifth Republic, he brought France to the brink of a civil war over his controversial decision to pull out of Algeria. He challenged American hegemony, took France out of NATO, and twice vetoed British entry into the European Community in his pursuit of what he called “a certain idea of France.”
Last weekend, France held a presidential election; as expected, the independent candidate Emmanuel Macron prevailed. A key issue in the election, as in all French politics, was what to do about Islamist terrorism in France. Last month, Princeton released an English translation of a 2015 work by French political scientist Gilles Kepel (École Normale Supérieure), Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West. Here’s a description of the book from the Princeton website:
The virulent new brand of Islamic extremism threatening the West
In November 2015, ISIS terrorists massacred scores of people in Paris with coordinated attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, cafés and restaurants, and the national sports stadium. On Bastille Day in 2016, an ISIS sympathizer drove a truck into crowds of vacationers at the beaches of Nice, and two weeks later an elderly French priest was murdered during morning Mass by two ISIS militants. Here is Gilles Kepel’s explosive account of the radicalization of a segment of Muslim youth that led to those attacks—and of the failure of governments in France and across Europe to address it. It is a book everyone in the West must read.
Terror in France shows how these atrocities represent a paroxysm of violence that has long been building. The turning point was in 2005, when the worst riots in modern French history erupted in the poor, largely Muslim suburbs of Paris after the accidental deaths of two boys who had been running from the police. The unrest—or “French intifada”—crystallized a new consciousness among young French Muslims. Some have fallen prey to the allure of “war of civilizations” rhetoric in ways never imagined by their parents and grandparents.
This is the highly anticipated English edition of Kepel’s sensational French bestseller, first published shortly after the Paris attacks. Now fully updated to reflect the latest developments and featuring a new introduction by the author, Terror in France reveals the truth about a virulent new wave of jihadism that has Europe as its main target. Its aim is to divide European societies from within by instilling fear, provoking backlash, and achieving the ISIS dream—shared by Europe’s Far Right—of separating Europe’s growing Muslim minority community from the rest of its citizens.
The Edict of Nantes ended the civil wars of the Reformation in 1598 by making France a kingdom with two religions. Catholics could worship anywhere, while Protestants had specific locations where they were sanctioned to worship. Over the coming decades Protestants’ religious freedom and civil privileges eroded until the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, issued under Louis XIV in 1685, criminalized their religion.
The Robillard de Champagné, a noble family, were among those facing the Revocation. They and their co-religionists confronted the difficult decision whether to obey this new law and convert, feign conversion and remain privately Protestant, or break the law and attempt to flee secretly in what was the first modern mass migration. In this sweeping family saga, Carolyn Chappell Lougee narrates how the Champagné family’s persecution and Protestant devotion unsettled their economic advantages and social standing. The family provides a window onto the choices that individuals and their kin had to make in these trying circumstances, the agency of women within families, and the consequences of their choices. Lougee traces the lives of the family members who escaped; the kin and community members who decided to stay, both complying with and resisting the king’s will; and those who resettled in Britain and Prussia, where they adapted culturally and became influential members of society. She challenges the narrative Huguenots told over subsequent generations about the deeper faith of those who opted for exile and the venal qualities of those who remained in France.
A masterful and moving account of the Hugenots, Facing the Revocation offers a deeply personal perspective on one of the greatest acts of religious intolerance in history.
At the First Things site, I have an essay (“Crèche Clash“) on the continuing Christmas Wars in France. The Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, recently ruled on the legality of the Nativity scenes that many French municipalities display every December. Although it didn’t cite any American cases, the French court relied on the same test American courts have developed to determine the constitutionality of Christmas displays in this country, the so-called endorsement test:
The Conseil begins by stating that laïcité forbids “any display by public authorities of signs and symbols showing a public recognition or a preference for a given religion.” A Christmas crèche poses a difficult case. Although a crèche can convey a religious message, it also has a non-religious meaning as a familiar seasonal decoration. One message is forbidden for the state, the other acceptable. Display of a crèche by a public authority is therefore legal, the Conseil declares, “only” where the crèche “has a cultural, artistic or festive purpose, but not if it expresses” recognition of or preference for a religion. To determine the meaning of a display, one must consider the particular circumstances, “including the existence or the absence of local traditions and the location of the display.”
Readers familiar with the American case law will recognize this as a version of the “endorsement test” our own courts use to evaluate the constitutionality of public nativity scenes. Under the test, first proposed by Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor in a 1984 case from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a display violates the Establishment Clause if it amounts to an official endorsement of religion, that is, if it suggests that the government approves a particular religious message (or disapproves such a message, though that issue does not regularly arise). Official endorsements make non-adherents feel like second-class citizens, the reasoning goes—like less than full participants in the political community. As a consequence, such endorsements violate the Constitution.
In the essay, I argue that the French version of the endorsement test turns out to be just as confusing as the American, with many of the same deficiencies–including its tendency to outlaw traditional features of public life. You can read the essay here.
Universal equality is a treasured political concept in France, but recent anxiety over the country’s Muslim minority has led to an emphasis on a new form of universalism,one promoting loyalty to the nation at the expense of all ethnic and religious affiliations. This timely book offers a fresh perspective on the debate by showing that French equality has not always demanded an erasure of differences. Through close and contextualized readings of the way that major novelists, philosophers, filmmakers, and political figures have struggled with the question of integrating Jews into French society, Maurice Samuels draws lessons about how the French have often understood the universal in relation to the particular.
Samuels demonstrates that Jewish difference has always been essential to the elaboration of French universalism, whether as its foil or as proof of its reach. He traces the development of this discourse through key moments in French history, from debates over granting Jews civil rights during the Revolution, through the Dreyfus Affair and Vichy, and up to the rise of a “new antisemitism” in recent years. By recovering the forgotten history of a more open, pluralistic form of French universalism, Samuels points toward new ways of moving beyond current ethnic and religious dilemmas and argues for a more inclusive view of what constitutes political discourse in France.
Nathan Bracher’s François Mauriac on Race, War, Politics, and Religion: The Great War Through the 1960s, consists of a selection of some ninety editorials penned by the Catholic novelist and intellectual François Mauriac, who received the Nobel Prize for literature and who was admitted to the Académie Française in 1933. As is ofen the case for prominent writers and intellectuals in France, Mauriac became active in political punditry early in his career, at the time of the First World War. Intensifying notably in the tumultuous years of the 1930s on, this activity continues to expand over the next five decades. Afer 1952, Mauriac’s editorials came to represent the most important dimension of his intellectual activity. He was, to cite the prominent journalist and intellectual Jean Daniel of Le Nouvel Observateur, France’s most distinguished and formidable editorialist of the twentieth century.
Bracher’s book provides for the first time an opportunity for English speaking readers to discover the incisive power, passionate humanity, and historical perspicacity that made his voice one of the most resonant in the French press. Mauriac’s public stances on events left nobody indifferent. He was the first to denounce torture in Algeria, and the most eloquent in appealing to the heritage of humanism lef by Montaigne and the Sermon on the Mount. The editorials collected here moreover provide a series of striking perspectives on the most dramatic events that France had to confront over the course of the twentieth century, from World War I, to the rise of Fascism and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, to the various episodes of World War II, on to the Cold War, the strains of decolonization in the 1950s, and the reign of Charles de Gaulle that coexisted with the upheaval of the 1960s. Mauriac’s gripping editorials enable the reader to revisit these historical moments from within and through the eyes of a French Catholic intellectual and writer who approaches them with passion, commitment, and remarkable lucidity
In January, the Harvard University Press will release “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies,” by Claire L. Adida (University of California, San Diego), David D. Laitin (Stanford University), and Marie-Anne Valfort (Paris School of Economics and Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne). The publisher’s description follows:
Amid mounting fears of violent Islamic extremism, many Europeans ask whether Muslim immigrants can integrate into historically Christian countries. In a groundbreaking ethnographic investigation of France’s Muslim migrant population, Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies explores this complex question. The authors conclude that both Muslim and non-Muslim French must share responsibility for the slow progress of Muslim integration.
Claire Adida, David Laitin, and Marie-Anne Valfort found that in France, Muslims are widely perceived as threatening, based in large part on cultural differences between Muslim and rooted French that feed both rational and irrational Islamophobia. Relying on a unique methodology to isolate the religious component of discrimination, the authors identify a discriminatory equilibrium in which both Muslim immigrants and native French act negatively toward one another in a self-perpetuating, vicious circle.
Disentangling the rational and irrational threads of Islamophobia is essential if Europe hopes to repair a social fabric that has frayed around the issue of Muslim immigration. Muslim immigrants must address their own responsibility for the failures of integration, and Europeans must acknowledge the anti-Islam sentiments at the root of their antagonism. The authors outline public policy solutions aimed at promoting religious diversity in fair-minded host societies.
In 1773, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus, a dramatic, puzzling act that had a profound impact. This volume traces the causes of the attack on the Jesuits, the national expulsions that preceded universal suppression, and the consequences of these extraordinary developments. The Suppression occurred at a unique historical juncture, at the high-water mark of the Enlightenment and on the cusp of global imperial crises and the Age of Revolution. After more than two centuries, answers to how and why it took place remain unclear. A diverse selection of essays – covering France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Eastern Europe, and the Americas – reflects the complex international elements of the Jesuit Suppression. The contributors shed new light on its significance by drawing on the latest research. Essential reading on a crucial yet previously neglected topic, this collection will interest scholars of eighteenth-century religious, intellectual, cultural, and political history.