Anti-Separatism Bill: Leviathan threat
Article published in French in Valeurs Actuelles on January, 20, 2021.
At his hearing at the National Assembly, Mgr de Moulins-Beaufort, representative of the Catholic Church, declared himself "very embarrassed" by the "bill confirming the respect for the principles of the Republic". This same feeling is shared by many Christians, Catholics and Protestants alike, with regard to a text whose dangers they sense, even if they have difficulties to describing them clearly and opposing them with substantive arguments.
The fear of Islamism pushes the French to consent to abandoning liberties in favour of the "principles of the Republic". Undeniably, the danger of Islamism is real, and this text contains some provisions that should be saluted, but it also strongly undermines the freedoms of religion, association, and expression, as well as the educational rights of parents. It is furthermore supplemented by a decree authorizing the registration of persons on the basis of their religious and political convictions alone, and no longer solely on the basis of their actions. It is a combat legislation whose consequences are barely perceptible.
But does the fear of Islamism justify such a reduction of liberties and, in the words of the Defender of Rights, such a "global reinforcement of the control of the social order"? Renouncing our liberties out of fear of Islamism, is it not precisely an objective of terrorism and thus, already, a victory for this deadly ideology? Wouldn't it be better to fight the Islamists directly, and only the Islamists? This question must be asked.
While the bill had initially been presented as aiming, rightly, to combat radical Islamism, the mention of this objective was gradually removed, and replaced by the fight against all religiously inspired attacks on the "values of the Republic", later reclassified as "principles" of the Republic by the Council of State. With this text, all religious associations, families and schools outside the contract system will be subject to new charges, monitored by the authorities, threatened with administrative sanctions, overstepped in their liberties and tainted with suspicion. All companies and associations that wish to enter into an agreement with the administration or receive a subsidy from it will have to submit to a "republican commitment contract". On this point again, the Defender of Rights rightly observed that the text "provides for prohibitions and sanctions of such broad application that they are out of proportion towards the difficulty that it would like to deal with".
This disproportion results from the refusal in principle to distinguish between religions, and thus between Islamism and other religions. It is itself the result of a fundamental factual error of secularism according to which all religions are equal, because they would be false, outside of public rationality. This indifferentism is the cause of injustice, for what is there in common between Father Jacques Hamel and his assassins? Why treat Jewish and Christian victims like their Islamist executioners? This indifferentism is the cause of injustice, but it is the basis of the Republic's affirmation of its superiority over all religions. Finally, because of this error, the fight against the Islamist minority allows the Republic to strengthen its power over all religions.
Will the use of coercion and sanctions provided for by this law be at least effective? Will it be able to force in the "principles of the Republic" that the school has not been able to transmit by intelligence? And what is the content of these principles whose respect is supposed to be imposed? The Government has not been able to define them precisely in the bill and has entrusted this mission to the Council of State, which will have to fulfil it ... after the adoption of the law. This is yet another example of the dispossession of the legislature. In fact, the precise content of these republican values remains a mystery reserved for insiders.
Admittedly, the main principles of "liberty, equality, particularly between women and men, fraternity, respect for the dignity of the human person and the protection of public order", which are the only ones mentioned in the bill, are not unfair in themselves, but are open to many interpretations. And can one be converted to abstract and universal principles? Do these principles respond to the need for truth and identity of people who are susceptible to radicalization? Access to the universal presupposes first of all to have roots and to have resolved one's own identity problems.
The need for "entrenchment" clearly persists for people of immigrant origin, even in the third generation. Is this not proof of the resistance of human nature against the utopia of a liquid society? The current situation of "separatism" is a sign of the failure of the universalist ideal; and its promoters are trapped because, in Bossuet's words, they cherish the causes of a situation whose effects they deplore: they are in favour of immigration out of universalism, but do not want immigrants as they are, also out of universalism. This contradiction can only be resolved by forcing immigrants and their children to convert to universalism, which is impossible, because a rootless person needs an identity. Radicalization is the answer to rootlessness: these two words have indeed the same root.
How could rootless people believe in the sincerity of the Government and its values when, for example, Mrs. Schiappa, a well-known author of pornographic novels, hastens to specify that the prohibition of polygamy will have no consequence on the libertinism of "threesomes", or when the prohibition of non-mixed associations is accompanied by an exception at the request of the Masonic lodges, as it appears in the work of the Commission? What can be said of a reinforcement of the criminal control of the Internet that leaves unharmed the scourge of pornography? What can be said about the credibility of a government that entrusts to the same Mrs. Schiappa the mission of announcing the penalization of virginity certificates and sexist remarks? When the law refers to the republican conception of "dignity", how can we fail to see that it is not that of Islam, nor, for that matter, of the other religions?
The need to be rooted is human and therefore respectable, even if some of its modes of expression must be reproved. It should be remembered that Saint Thomas Aquinas protected Jewish children from those who wanted to make them good subjects of the Catholic monarchy, by converting them by force. Indeed, he taught that the natural rights of parents over their children take precedence over those of society, even when the formers make mistakes in religious matters. Thus, the problem is not so much the natural need to put down roots as the massive immigration that exacerbates this need in the form of radicalization.
Republican universalism could also collide with international law. Indeed, what will happen when Muslims in France invoke respect for minority rights against republican principles? Numerous texts, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, guarantee these persons, among other human rights, the right " to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination." Why should Hungarians and Roma in Bulgaria and Romania benefit from these rights, and not North Africans in France? The question must be asked, because immigration, when it is massive, creates minorities more than it does French people.
Such an affirmation of the "principles of the Republic", even at the expense of freedoms, constitutes a profound social change: it alters the balance between the democratic and republican traditions of our institutions.
Since the post-war period, the democratic model has dominated Western political institutions. It was conceived as a set of neutral institutions and mechanisms, associated with indefinite freedoms, that is, leaving it up to each individual to determine their use. In a word, democracy did not say what to think, do or believe, and guaranteed everyone the exercise of these freedoms within the limits of public order. Like the rules of the game, democratic consensus fell short of personal convictions.
Now, democracy is losing its axiological neutrality and is rising above personal convictions to frame them. The foundations of social life are rising to become walls. Thus, the republican tradition is reaffirmed at the expense of the democratic tradition.
This phenomenon of the axiological framing of social life can also be observed at the European level. The European Court of Human Rights thus subjects the action of states to the respect of the values of "democratic society", values that it defines in an evolving manner and which paradoxically aim to frame elective democracy. Similarly, the European Commission intends to impose on European governments, and even more so on their electors, respect for liberal "values" that would constitute the "rule of law".
These concepts of "rule of law" and "democratic society" are the European equivalents of the "principles of the Republic" affirmed by the Government. The draft law on the principles of the Republic thus participates in the phenomenon of the moralization of power, which ideologizes itself, closes itself off to pluralism and uses repression to defend itself from competing values, especially when they are religiously inspired. For let there be no mistake, it is indeed religions that are today the main sources of opposition to the values structuring Western society. In this respect, the bill does not miss its aim by targeting all religions.
In the West, this movement of axiological framing is particularly evident in the religious domain, which until now has been recognized as sacred, and therefore separate, going beyond the temporal and profane levels. Therefore, for example, ministers of religion have until now had greater freedom of expression than lay people, since their words also enjoy the protection of religious freedom. This is no longer the case with the bill: not only does it provide for sanctioning remarks made in places of worship, but it represses them even more severely than the same remarks expressed in a secular place. Religion is no longer a source of immunity, but an aggravating factor. Likewise, the bill interferes in the internal functioning of religious communities, in violation of the principle of autonomy, by forcing them to adopt a "democratic" functioning based on voting, and no longer on obedience. This is what the communists did in an attempt to destroy the Church from within.
The reversal of the appreciation of the state and religions is a major cultural phenomenon. In 1948, when the foundations of the contemporary law of religious freedom were laid, the state was seen as a threat to be controlled, a cold and dangerous Leviathan, and religions as resources to be valued, expressions of our humanity and bastions of freedom in the face of totalitarianism. In the twentieth century, believers were the victims and states were the executioners. Today, the situation tends to be reversed to the benefit of the State and to the detriment of religions, but also to the detriment of the right to religious freedom, whose legitimacy is increasingly contested. It is the return of Leviathan, to whose benefit, according to Hobbes, individuals, out of fear of a violent death, abdicate their liberties in exchange for security.
Faced with the fear of Islamism, only the Republic still seems capable of "crushing the infamous", for history testifies to its capacity to resort to force, and even to injustice, to impose itself.
As for the Catholics, they seem to have largely renounced the other mode of integration of foreigners: the explicit proclamation of the Gospel and baptism. Many of them even hope, without rancour, to find protection against Islam from the Republic. This is deluding themselves, because they will be next on the list, along with the evangelicals, whose schools and chapels are proliferating even more than the Salafist mosques. Deputies and experts heard at the parliamentary committee hearings were deeply concerned about this, and the recent remarks of Mrs. Schiappa against evangelicals are a bad omen.
Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort cast a chill over the parliamentary commission when he declared that "it is already too late", expressing doubts about the capacity of criminal law to solve the problem of separatism and hatred, since civilization is the fruit of morals, not of repression. Can we seriously prove him wrong? For - and this is where the problem lies - the principles of the Republic are not enough to constitute a civilization. It is not these principles, even if they are imposed by law, that will convert rootless people to France, but the sharing of the greatness of our national history and, even more so, dare we say it, the sharing of the Gospel that underlies our civilization, and of which the principles of the Republic are themselves a reflection.