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The Crisis of Jacobin Secularity




Jean Baubérot





L’intégrisme républicain


contre la laïcité





Ed. de l’Aube, 2006





Jean Baubérot is a great French specialist on secularity. Standard French secularity belongs to a Jacobin model that has been put in a state of acute difficulty by multi-ethnic multiculturalism and globalisation. The failure of the integration of minorities led the author to write this committed book; the evolution of his thought led him to increasingly detach himself from the standard approach: a member of the Stasi Commission, he is the only one of its members not to have voted in favour of the banning of the wearing of the Islamic veil. He wants to save secularity by reforming it, against the ‘fundamentalists’, and his criticism has in its sights ‘pressure groups whose influence is incalculable, which are to be increasingly located within a context of civil religious wars’ (p. 225). He knows that he is accused by ‘brilliant philosophers and their brothers and sisters who are fighting against ‘open secularity’, which in their eyes is nothing else but masked clericalism’ (p. 267).



It is true that the author takes up various topics of anti-secularist Catholic polemic. It is not only the clergy that is clerical (p. 270), obtuse secularist teachers and journalists are also of this ilk. He quotes Clemenceau who in 1903 castigated ‘the council of pedants entrusted with providing the infallible order of the day’ (p. 218). He argues that ‘more than a matter of contents, fundamentalism is a matter of form’, it is the spirit of a body, of a sect, and of a party. Of the four parts of the book, the first is deals with contemporary concerns. In four chapters, on women, on the old colonies, on the situation of Islam and on the problems of sects, he argues that standard secularity has become an anti-democratic factor for social inequality and disintegration. The second part is historical. The author seeks to link his current position to the secular tradition though an interpretation of the law of 1905 on the separation of Church and state. The third part presents a philosophy of secularity which enables him to present the foundations of his proposals, the subject of the fourth part of the book. Overall the book is very rich, very honest, at times candid, and eludes any attempt at a summary.



In a very relevant way (p. 213) the author refers to the last chapter of the Social Contract, with its peroration in favour of tolerance, appeal to the proscription of the Roman Church, and eulogy of Machiavelli and Muhammad (whose merit, in the opinion of Rousseau, was not to have separated the temporal from the spiritual). Sovereignty, the establishment of which constitutes the object of the social pact, is indivisible: in this, in fact, lies the condition of freedom; Jacobinism is at one and the same time temporal and spiritual. The social contract, which is sacrosanct, constitutes the basis of ‘fundamentalist’ secularity and civil religion. All of this seems to the author increasingly incongruous. ‘The secularity of the twenty-first century must learn to articulate cultural diversity and the unity of the political and social bond’. The author is thinking of a social and not Jacobin contract. The contemporary taste for the private and community life invites him to imagine a social pact between individuals that is defined more in terms of community. The recognition of difference ‘allows the recognition of the universal thanks to which we are all fellows’ (p. 128). But what is this universal? Without doubt, still a transcendental subject, but which the author does not present as the foundation of a philosophical religiosity. The influence of Habermas and Popper complicates the ideas of the author who does not clarify his thought. For that matter, this ‘inclusive secularity’ ‘has the aim of being socially hegemonic, that is to say to form the social bond and to impede religions from having this role, which can constitute a voluntary and free collective bond’. He justifies this by saying that without it ‘faith would no longer be a voluntary and free personal choice’. He adds that ‘secularity can have this aim to the extent to which it is not a corpus of doctrines, a civil religion, or even an anti-religion’ (p. 269). The pars construens of the book is (compulsorily?) subtle, technical, and not very comprehensible to the ordinary citizen. Is it perhaps necessary to justify the rejection of a position of indifferentism that is purely relativistic and form a more substantial ethical proposal.