Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/12/2006
While discussing the outburst of a lecturer with Françoise Dreyfus, a political scientist that comes regularly to Beirut to teach at Saint Joseph University, I said to her that I was a critic of French republicanism that I considered to be a totalitarian ideology. “So you are a royalist”, she snapped. “Don’t you think there are other trends of thoughts?”, I asked her. Couldn’t I be a liberal, a conservative or a communitarian or something in between?
Her reaction is quite emblematic. Try criticising republicanism in France (or francophone circles) and you’ll be accused of being a monarchist. The general consensus surrounding this ideology is so strong that no one would venture to tackle it. Its mark on contemporary France is so great that the French tend to confuse it with their national identity. Consequently, criticising republicanism can be perceived as offensive and equated with passing judgement on France.
Surprisingly, nobody in the academic circle seems to find that odd and worth analysing. After all, this general consensus is rather new. For almost a century, it was foreign to the rightist parties and was synonymous with the left. Only in the late 1940s did the Christian democratic party (MRP) espouse republicanism and unabashedly refer to it in it’s very name (Mouvement republicain populaire). It’s true that the most vocal opponents of Republicanism have been traditional Catholics and royalists. But this ideology was also criticised by other conservative parties, federalists, and liberals. So it’s quite legitimate to wonder why there is no longer any public discussion surrounding republicanism. Have the other political trends disappeared from French politics or have they surrendered in some way or another to republicanism?
Valérie Giscard d’Estaing was certainly the most liberal politician France ever had. And he did much to liberalise French politics: insisting on individual rights and freedoms, empowering the opposition institutionally (through granting it the right to cease the Constitutional court)… But he and his party (the UDF) never openly criticised republicanism. This is quite odd in itself because the UDF encompassed Christian democrats, federalists and liberals, three political trends that republicanism fiercely opposed (through centralisation, top-to-bottom politics, antireligious secularism…).Today, François Bayrou, the UDF’s current leader, is presenting himself as the ‘third way’, but surprisingly, he hasn’t budged from the general consensus over republicanism. The only thing he seems to be doing is trying to advance centrist politics by blurring the differences between the right and the left party. So instead of representing a break, he seems to be portraying himself and his party as a middle-ground with no strong identity (neither Christian-democrat, nor federalist, nor liberal).