Paris : Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. Pp. 176. €12 (paper). ISBN: 978-2-7351-1985-1.
Jean Baubérot’s book could have been called “Laïcité, a Guide for the Perplexed.” As the author notes, “the great majority of French people call themselves ‘attached to laïcité;’” however, no one knows what laïcité is anymore (p. 13). The concept is invoked to support diametrically opposed arguments, and its recent appropriation by the extreme right in France has caused further confusion, as laïcité is historically associated with left-wing politics (ibid.). In Les 7 Laïcités Françaises, Baubérot restores order by classifying the concept of laïcité into seven distinct categories because “[t]here is no such thing as ‘a French laïcité’” (p. 16).
Baubérot’s book is not merely a guide to the different laïcités found in France. It is equally a short work that consolidates the oeuvre of the founder of the sociology of laïcité. A historian by training, Baubérot has worked on the qualifying aspects, stages (seuils), and forms of laïcité. These topics come together in Les 7 Laïcités Françaises. Baubérot uses the qualifying aspects to distinguish seven types of laïcité, while the stages provide the context in which different laïcités have developed and moved along the political spectrum. Les 7 Laïcités Françaises also serves the purpose of advocacy for a particular interpretation of laïcité, albeit implicitly. Its author is cautious to devote equal care to the explanation of different laïcités. Yet Baubérot clearly favours a liberal socialist version, which he regards as more historically accurate and socially appropriate (pp. 153–158). In this regard, the book offers a welcome defense of inclusivity and diversity in a jurisdiction better known for its exclusionary laws and policies.
Baubérot commences Les 7 Laïcités Françaises by dispelling some myths that dominate the laïcité debate, such as the idea that according to its constitution “France is one and indivisible” (only its form of government, the Republic, is indivisible) (p. 14). The author equally provides a helpful explanation of the socio-historical approach he employs in his book. To distinguish between different forms of laïcité, Baubérot relies on the Weberian concept of the “ideal type” (p. 17), a construct that focuses on certain distinctive aspects or characteristics to classify an otherwise infinitely diverse reality. This does mean that a certain level of precision is sacrificed. Aware of this pitfall, Baubérot explains that his book seeks to offer a classification, rather than provide a full deconstruction of laïcités (p. 22); not every person or stream exactly fits the ideal type to which they have been assigned (p. 17, p. 72). However, a fuller account of the extent to which exceptions exist, and just how diverse the laïcité debate is, would have been useful. For example, how does Baubérot interpret the Muslim Council’s (admittedly not unanimous) general support for the 2004 ban on religious symbols in public schools,2 despite the Council’s general adherence to a religion-supporting laïcité (p. 99)? Furthermore, reference to the work of opposing writers on laïcité, such as Catherine Kintzler, Raphaël Liogier, Henri Peña Ruiz, or Mathilde Philip-Gay, and to conflicting government reports (Baroin, Conseil d’État, Debray, Stasi, etc.) revealing the intricacies of the laïcité debate would not be out of place in a book seeking to disentangle that debate.
Four characteristics previously identified as central to laïcité or secularity3 inform Baubérot’s laïcité ideal types: “freedom of conscience (and its diverse connections with freedom of religion), (more or less robust) equal rights irrespective of religion (principle of non-discrimination), separation [of Church and State] and neutrality (and the diverse ways to envisage them)” (p. 18). Other characteristics could have been imagined. Most important, why is there no separate mention of conceptions of ordre public, which play such an important role in the laïcité debate? The French law of 2010 banning full-face veils in the name of laïcité, for example, was debated mainly on the basis of ordre public at policy level.4 This characteristic could equally explain why the Muslim Council was more universally supportive of the 2010 law banning full-face veils than the 2004 law banning religious symbols in schools as a matter of laïcité (p. 100).
Based on the four proposed characteristics, Baubérot identifies seven types of laïcité: four historical laïcités, which have persisted since 1905, when France adopted its law on the separation of church and state (18), and three modern ones. The historical laïcités are further subdivided into two civil religion laïcités, which were defeated in 1905, but stand strong today, and two separatist laïcités, which were victorious in 1905, but are losing ground today. The 1905 law marks the starting point of the analysis of laïcité. Yet the legislation does not itself mention laïcité, which was formally implemented only in the 1946 Constitution. Moreover, most authors would trace laïcité far beyond the 1905 law, to the battle over education, when the word was first introduced (1870s), the French Revolution in 1789, or even the Enlightenment.5 Baubérot himself, at one point, refers to the 1598 Edict of Nantes (p. 112). Using 1905 as a cut-off point appears curious in the context of laïcité, and seems to somewhat contradict Baubérot’s socio-historical approach. It does nevertheless correspond with official policies that regard the 1905 law as having introduced laïcité,6 and could be justified on that basis.
Baubérot also identifies three modern laïcités. One of these, however, the Condordat system, is not a recent laïcité. It came into existence long before the 1905 law, in 1801–1802, with a recent decision merely confirming its compatibility with the French constitution and laïcité.7 Indeed, whether the Concordat system should be included in a classification of socio-historical ideal types of laïcité is itself open to discussion. The Concordat is a legal regime, not an interpretation of what laïcité is or should be. Instead of reviewing the Concordat, Baubérot should perhaps have chosen to focus on a laïcité that, like the Concordat, works with recognized religions.8
In the main part of the book, Baubérot first discusses anti-religious laïcité (pp. 27–37), promoted by Maurice Allard, Michel Onfray, and Riposte Laïque. In its original form, anti-religious laïcité called for a state-imposed atheism that would weed out all religion. It is, however, “no longer socially acceptable to advocate the disappearance of religion” (p. 35). Therefore, anti-religious laïcité now views any sign of religion, or the participation of religion in the public arena as “violations of laïcité” (ibid.). This laïcité does not consider freedom of religion to be equal to freedom of conscience, or to form a part of it. It emphasizes “emancipation” from “unenlightened” religion (p. 30). Anti-religious laïcité rejects state neutrality, and believes that the separation of church and state serves primarily “to suppress the social influence of religion” (p. 35).
Conversely, Gallican laïcité (from Gaule, France) (pp. 39–56) is not hostile toward religion, but seeks to control it by placing it under the tutelage of the state. Gallican laïcité emerged when French kings claimed primacy over the Pope, but is often attributed to the leftist Émile Combes. It became spectrum-wide following adoption by the Haute Conseil à l’Intégration. Characterized by the surveillance of believers, Gallican laïcité rejects the accommodation of religious practices. It is historically opposed to the wearing of religious attire as signifying an allegiance other than that to the Republic, or an indication of submission from which emancipation is needed. Under Gallican laïcité, the Republican “principle of laïcité” may take precedence over freedom of conscience, and deny equal rights to those considered “fundamentalists” (p. 56). Gallican laïcité concentrates not on the separation of church and state, but on the neutrality of individuals. State neutrality is not required.
Individualist separatist laïcité (pp. 59–85) is the brainchild of Ferdinand Buisson, an anti-cleric and opponent (without success) of the article in the 1905 law protecting the internal integrity of religious organizations. Today endorsed by Libre Pensée, this laïcité promotes a strict separation of church and state. It characterizes state neutrality by “indifference” toward religion (p. 70). Even dialogue with religious organizations is prohibited. Conversely, within the private sphere (which includes non-collective aspects of the public place, such as dress), the state cannot require neutrality of individuals. Individualist separatist laïcité encourages personal autonomy from both the state and organized religion. It advocates the widest freedom of conscience and religion as a strictly individual right that citizens enjoy on the basis of equality.
Contrary to the individualist type, inclusive separatist laïcité (pp. 59–85) “awards a place to the collective dimension [of freedom of religion] and seeks to be inclusive” (p. 60). Defended in 1905 by Artistide Briand and Jean Jaurès, and ever since by the Ligue de l’Enseignement, this laïcité promotes separation of church and state without the alienation of religious organizations. It is characterized by a respectful state neutrality vis-à-vis religions, and objects to neutrality encroaching upon individual rights. This laïcité values diversity, including in dress. The Ligue even introduced the notion of pluralist laïcité, later withdrawn following critique. Inclusive separatist laïcité advocates the broadest freedom of conscience and religion, and complete equality. It regards collective religious freedom as a full dimension of individual freedom, rather than its mere extension. Consequently, dialogue with religious organizations and guarantees for such organisations are justified.
The first of the modern laïcités, open laïcité (pp. 89–102), used to promote the friendly confrontation between different ideas and religious doctrines. It was supported by Paul Ricœur and the Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture. Nowadays, open laïcité is principally regarded as emphasizing the state-recognized social utility of religions, and on occasion their moral superiority. Various Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim organizations, as well as the Chief Rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia, advance this new version. Open laïcité considers freedom of religion to form the core of freedom of conscience, potentially leading it to deny equal rights to those with non-religious convictions. Because of its insistence on the social utility of religions, open laïcité licenses the state to discriminate between citizens (“the religious ones being more useful” (p. 102)), limits state neutrality, and foregoes the separation of church and state. It encourages the state to collaborate with religions, perchance “re-introducing clericalism” (p. 96).
Contrary to open laïcité, identity laïcité (pp. 103–118) values only one type of religion: Christianity. Furthered by Francois Baroin, Nicolas Sarkozy, and recently the Front National, identity laïcité is “the cultural marker of a French identity turned toward its [Catholic] ‘roots’” (p. 112). The religious identity of France is seen as a core aspect of its national identity. Laïcité seeks to protect that national identity in the face of religious communitarianism, Islam, and immigration. Identity laïcité is marked by authoritarianism, and contrary to Gallican laïcité, a willingness to favor Christian over secular morality. It discards the separation of church and state, and state neutrality. Conversely, individuals are subject to extensive neutrality requirements. Identity laïcité encourages inequality between citizens on the basis of their religion. The state may “impose limitations on freedom of conscience in the name of the current dominant culture” (p. 115).
Finally, Baubérot discusses his Concordat laïcité (pp. 119–130), which is applicable in Alsace-Moselle, where the 1905 law is not implemented. Under the Concordat, four Judeo-Christian religions are officially recognized, although Catholicism holds a privileged position. Clerics are paid by the state, which also appoints bishops and chaplains. Religious education is obligatory (in principle). Both the separation between church and state, and state neutrality are only partial. Moreover, depending on the citizens’ religion, the system imposes limitations on their freedom of conscience and religion, and on their equality of rights.
Baubérot’s comprehensive overview of laïcités sheds light on an apparently impenetrable debate. For further elucidation, it is immediately followed, rather than preceded, by an outline of the author’s developmental stages of laïcité (pp. 133–150). Surprisingly, this order works well. With knowledge of the different laïcités, it is easier to understand their development, and the movement of laïcité along the political spectrum. The evolution that Baubérot paints is one where, since the 18th century, independent institutions have increasingly taken over formal socialization from the church. Aided by increased civil rights and freedoms, the church in the meantime has transformed from a state actor into a civil society actor, without losing much of its influence. A belief in progress and solidarity lead to an open pluralism that culminated in the inclusive 1905 law. Toward the end of the 20th century, however, the belief in progress wanes, and people start searching for their roots and religion. Media socialization encourages the simultaneous rise of massification and individualization, while the authority of secular institutions is contested. In this era of disenchantment, a right-wing laïcité starts to flourish. Discontinuance of the custom of the political right to add an adjective to the word laïcité, indicating their different, exclusionary, and identity-focused interpretation, makes it possible for the rightist laïcité to take flight. “[L]aïcité without adjective” conceals “that a transformation came into being in the dominant social usage of the term ‘laïcité’” (p. 153), with the interpretation of the right wing now leading the debate.
Baubérot contends, however, that the right-wing reading of laïcité is not the correct one. Relying on a legal-historical founding fathers’ approach, the author argues that when interpreting laïcité, attention should be paid to the 1905 law and its legislative history, rather than to an invented Republican France that never was. Laïcité historically allowed communities to coexist and interact, but the new anti-communitarian laïcité reinforces segregation and is counter-productive. The public entertains a general feeling of victimization and has lost its ability to appreciate social reality. How to solve this situation? “Initiate a big public debate” (p. 163).
Baubérot’s book certainly offers a good starting point for that debate, as well as a helpful guide for anyone perplexed by the laïcité debate in France. Les 7 laïcités Françaises offers an insightful explanation of how people can defend wildly different positions and call all of them laïcité. Its author skilfully moves between past and present to show both convergence and divergence, disentangling a debate that has left many confused. It is also a useful tool that helps to identify different partisans in the laïcité debate, and conveniently links people to ideal types (convenient, because French commentators often transform representatives’ names into adjectives to designate movements). Nevertheless, it is somewhat unfortunate that Baubérot’s book deals predominantly with politicians and organizations, and little mention is made of the many writers and other experts on laïcité, which may explain why there are so few citations. Reference is also almost exclusively made to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, without much discussion of other religions. But what is most important to keep in mind, before embarking on Les 7 Laïcités Françaises, is that the book presupposes a fair amount of prior knowledge of French history and laïcité in general. Jean Baubérot’s book is therefore best read in combination with some of his earlier work,9 or an encyclopaedia within reach. Ultimately, Les 7 Laïcités Françaises is perhaps not the best book to get to know laïcité, but it is an excellent book to understand it better.
The 7 French Laïcités – The French Model of Laïcité does not exist. All translations are mine.
Loi n° 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics. See Jacques Valade. “Projet de loi Laïcité - Port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics” 2004. Sénat Rapport n° 219 (2003–2004) fait au nom de la commission des affaires culturelles. Retrieved 10 July 2017, https://www.senat.fr/rap/l03-219/l03-219_mono.html.
Jean Baubérot and Micheline Milot, Laïcités Sans Frontières (2011).
Esther Erlings, “‘The Government Did Not Refer to It’: SAS v France and Ordre Public at the European Court of Human Rights”, 16 Melbourne Journal of International Law (2015), 587.
See Patrick Cabanel and André Encrevé, “De Luther à la Loi Debré: Protestantisme, École et Laïcité”, 110 Histoire de l’Éducation (2006), 5.
Conseil d’État, Un siècle de laïcité (2004).
Conseil Constitutionnel, Decision n° 2012-297 QPC, 21 February 2013.
See Régis Dericquebourg. 2003. “Principe de laïcité et lutte contre les sectes”. Retrieved 13 April 2018 http://www.coordiap.com/view16.htm?.
For example Jean Baubérot, Histoire de la Laïcité en France (2010).