Are you democrat or republican?

Le nouvel Observateur, 30 novembre-6 décembre 1995 / pp. 115-121

By Régis Debray
Translation by Roy Bixler

Translation Notes: This is an English translation of the article "Etes-vous démocrate ou républicain?", which advocates the traditional French republican style of government over American-style democracy. The original French version of the article can be found here. This article was written in a French journal for a French audience at the time of the controversy of forbidding Muslims to wear their veils in public schools.

The terms "democrat" and "republican" here do not refer to American political parties. Instead, they are different forms of government with "democrat" referring to American-style ("anglo-saxon") democracy and "republican" referring to a government in the style of the traditional French republic. Likewise, liberal here does not refer to a government or person with socialist tendencies. Instead, it means "freedom of enterprise from government regulation". Laïcité is a word not readily translated to English. It is akin to "separation of church and state" but it is more like "non-interference of the church in state affairs" or "independence of the state from the church".


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The question which will never be asked? What makes all of the current debates regarding the identity of a republic which, in Europe and in the world, our country is the exception. Yesterday, a Code of Nationality. Today, a scarf. Tomorrow, anything: television controversies, battles without reason. One will not fight these bad fevers without revealing the first cause.

We all suffer at present, from an undeniable mental confusion, the intellectual confusion between the idea of the republic started by the French Revolution and the idea of democracy such as the Anglo-Saxon model. One believes these to be the same and uses them interchangeably. Why distinguish them? The liberal and consumerist society is only one figure among others of democracy, but so dominant and infectious that one believes it to be obligatory, that it is included in the countries where democracy has taken other faces.

Refuse for example a young Muslim entrance to a classroom because it is not allowed to wear a veil? "Good thing", a republican will proclaim. No, "bad thing!", a democrat will say with indignance. "Laïcité", one will say. "Intolerance", the other will say. (You and me have repeated the scene these days.) Quarrel of words? No: misunderstanding of principles.

One can call oneself republican without conducting oneself as a democrat: certain even see the temptation, see our national heritage. Great Britain, Spain, Belgium and many other constitutional monarchies try to the contrary that one can be a democrat without being a republican. It is the republics in name, that have neither the principals nor the constraints of ours: then Germany and the United States, which fully merit their name as democracies (though there was a lot of the republic in the democracy of Lincoln, as still shown today as the power of Congress). The absence of a hereditary monarchy does not make more of a republic, in the strict and proper sense of the word, than the name democracy announces the power of the people.

Each period has its fetishes. We have at present, and so much the better, human rights, Europe, civil service, the rule of law. Democracy is the biggest of these great words and it takes it far. One understands the attraction that it has for the people of Eastern Europe and China, the virtuous hope that takes form in their eyes. But for us, that's one of these loaded words which confuses the form and the space, the class and the order. We are all, in Europe, democrats. Long live the free elections! Certainly and how. But the humanist does not cry "long live the mammary glands" because all of the men are mammals. The whales, the horses and the humans feed their young, but one demands a little more precision from the humanist and a little more effort from humanity. As the Homo sapiens are a mammal plus, the republic is a democracy plus. More precious and more precarious. More ungrateful and more gratifying. The republic, it is liberty, plus reason. The rule of law, plus justice. The tolerance, plus the will. The democracy, we will say, is what remains of a republic when one turns out the lights.

This is a strange thing in Europe that "a republic indivisible, agnostic, democratic and social" according to the preambulus of our Constitution of 1958 (or of 1946.)

This statute of right legitimises a state of fact. A unique history, unique Constitution. Of which it follows a certain number of usages, prohibitions, passions and duties which our democratic friends and neighbours only stop at rejoicing in themselves and making themselves indignant. As indicated in the stupified or mocking articles dedicated to "the affair of the veil" by the most serious European journals, it seems to an English or a Dane that the French have it upside-down again. They are not wrong. Since 1789, and more exactly since 1793, when the unbelievers had the audacity to remove God for the first time in the government of men in a part of the planet, we are marginal and against the current. Two hundred years afterwards and in spite of appearance, our Republic has no real equivalent in Europe. In 1889, there were only two republics on our continent: France and Switzerland. Despite some name changes, roundabout, I will risk to hold that the situation, one hundred years later, has not changed much.

In global opinion, we are still here more on the blacklist. In a world where on some 170 sovereign states more than 100 can already be termed religious, the laïques countries form a morose minority. In the European community that one calls secularised, the laïcité is not part of the main consititution. No more than it is in the United States of America (where the First Amendment only stipulates a separation of Church and State), or in the USSR, where for sixty years a religion of the State reigns, the marxism-leninism (the Church has evidently not an exclusion on clericalism.) The crucifix continues its prominence, of course, in the public schools of Spain. The dechristianisation does not prevent the Danish children from starting their school day with a psalm. Neither "God Save the Queen" retained in Great Britain where anglicanism is the State. Neither the German penal code (article 166) which punishes blasphemy, as that of Holland, country of tolerance, where Rushdie must not be published because of the article 147 code which punishes only injuries to God but not to his prophets. Recall that in France blasphemy has ceased to be an offence in 1791.

So much for anecdotes. Pastors or functionary preachers, obligatory religious instruction at school except for the explicit request of the parents, dominant confessional parties, good conscience or omnipresent guilt in backdrop : in the European Common Market, politics has not really achieved its full autonomy from religion, which otherwise keeps it monopoly of the spiritual. In the vatican or lutheran Europe, where the Pope, Mullahs and Rabbis beat the call to the flocks, the republic remains a foreign body, which nothing assures that it is not assimilable. Aren't the community decisions taken from now on by the majority?

The laïcité does not have its reason in itself: to stop itself there or to obsess in itself, that's to ruin it in the long term. It is only a secondary effect and derives from a principle of organisation. The key to the vault of this "pillar" is not democracy -- rarely laïque -- but the republic, which is necessary to it. This puts the logic back into question. Isn't it in the winter of 1940 that the duties to God were reestablished in the primary school programmes and in 1941 parish preachers were authorised to come and do the catechism in class? At the moment where, hidden behind an august Maréchal, a young technocrat, competent and modernist took to Vichy, between a Mea culpa and a Te Deum, the orders of the French state, in place of the "atheist Republic."

We know it well: it is necessary to put more democracy in our Republic. Remove from it this evil Napoleanic fat, authoritarian and vertical; this overload of the notable ones, this monarchic heritage, this nobility of the State that fattens it. The French Republic will not become more democratic in becoming less republican. But in going to the end of its concept, without confusion.

To oppose the republic to the democracy is to kill it. And to reduce the republic to the democracy, which brings in it the anihilation of the public thing, is also to kill it. How to separate them, if they are inseparable? According to which criteria? All government, to limit its scope, rests on an idea of the man. Even if it does not know it, the republican government defines the man as an essentially reasonable animal, born to better judge and deliberate with his generation. Free are those who have self-control, in agreement of the act and the speech. The democratic government holds that man is an essentially productive animal, born to create and exchange. Free are those who possess the goods -- entrepreneur or owner. Here then, politics will have the pulse of the economy ; and there, the economy will govern politics. The best in the republic go to the praetorium and the forum ; the best in democracy do business. The prestige that gives here the service of the common good, or the public function, it's private success that assures it.

In a republic, each person is defined as a citizen and all of the citizens composing "the nation", this "body of associates living under a common law and represented equally by a legislator" (Sieyés). In a democracy, each person is defined by their "community", and the collection of communities makes "the society". Here men are brothers because they have the same rights, and there because they have the same ancestors. A republic does not have black mayors, yellow senators, jewish ministers or atheist school masters. It's a democracy that has black governors, white mayors and mormon senators. The fellow citizen is not of the same faith.

Above the nation, there is humanity. Above society, there is God. The president in Paris takes oath on the Constitution voted by those below, and to Washington on the Bible, which comes from very high. The first, after his final « Vive la République ! Vive la France ! », will go to close himself up in the library with the « Essais » de Montaigne in his hands. The other will finish his speech with "God Bless America" -- and will have his photograph taken at the bottom of the star-spangled banner.

In the republic, freedom is a conquest of reason. The difficulty is that if one does not learn to believe, it is necessary to learn to reason. "It is in the republican government, said Montesquieu, that one needs all the power of education." A republic of illiterates is a square circle, because an ignorant person cannot be free, participate in the making or the have knowledge of the laws. A democracy where half of the population will be illiterate is not completely unthinkable.

In a republic, the State is free of all religious influence. In a democracy, the Churches are free of all state influence. By "separation of the Churches and the State", it means in France that the Churches must give way to the State, and in the United States that the State must give way to the Churches. One understands why : in a protestant context, with a democratic election, the right to dissent was included in the belief, the spirit of religion only goes with the spirit of freedom. In a Catholic context, the right to dissent had to be won by the State from the Church because it [the Church] poses as an eternal owner of the True and the Good. And the rank assigned to the rectors of the university and to the members of the Academy according to the republican protocol is that which holds cardinals and bishops in the democratic ceremonies. A republic makes its writers and thinkers happen before, a democracy after its stockbrokers and its police prefects. It's a good indication of the evolution of the protocol.

The universal idea governs the republic. The local idea governs the democracy. Here, each deputy is the entire nation. There, a representative is it for only his district, or "constituency". The first proclaims to the world the universal human rights, that no one has ever seen. The second defends the rights of Americans, or the English or the Germans, rights already acquired by the quite limited but real collectives. Because the universal is abstract and the local concrete, that which confers to each model its grandeur and its constraints. Reason being the supreme reference, the republican State is unitarian and by nature centralised. It unifies from above church towers, customs and corporations the pounds and measures, the patois, the local administrations and the school calendars. The democracy which blooms in the multicultural is federal by vocation and decentralised by skepticism. "To each his truth", sighs the democrat, for who there are only opinions (and, fundamentally, they are all equally good.) "The truth is one and the error many", the republican will be tempted to respond to him, at risk of putting the guilty in peril. Self-government and special statutes ravish the democrat. This last sees nothing bad that each urban, religious or regional community has their "natural" leaders, their schools with adapted programs, even their courts and their militias. Illegitimate patchwork for a republican.

Democracy can allow particularisms to proliferate, selfishness to celebrate itself because "In God We Trust" is its deeply held motto, which remains inscribed on each greenback. The "one nation under God" does not risk disagreement because God is a good federator. She can prove to be a gogo materialist, devilish individualist because the intercommunitary consensus is paid, through the diversity of the confessionals, by the message of Abraham (put on the night stand of all hotel rooms). The liberals who want to import to the republic a half of the democracy, without its religious part, do not replace what it destroys because, separated from its puritan credo, this form of government runs to the jungle without faith or law. Pragmatism is not at the door of the republic, which wastes away without "grand design". Because the metaphysic that all earthly cities need, it cannot ask it of the Creator nor of any Revelation. It must be to itself its own transcendence. It can then die in administration.

In a republic, the State underlies society. In democracy, society dominates the State. The first tempers the adverse interests and the unequality of conditions by the primacy of the law ; the second leads them by the pragmatic ways of the contract, the point to point, the agreement to agreement. To rule the civil servants, there in the State, "rector and vector of the national form" (Pierre Nota), has also assured, and for a long time, the social regulation, opposed to which the jurists in the land of the protestant and the merchant, there where the rule happens by the local and the private. Also rather the number of jurists (lawyers, notaries, judges) is in France very much less than that of our neighbour countries: 1 for 2000 people, but 1 for 1000 in Great Britain, 1 for 1200 in the Federal Repubic of Germany and 1 for 500 in the United States.

In spirit, a republic makes itself in the first place with republicans. A democracy can function to the letter, with a relative indifference, in confidence of the cold objectivity of the legal texts. 50% abstentions in the elections deprive a republic of substance, but do not damage a democracy. The government of judges is not republican. Not only because it dispossesses people-legislators of their sovereignty it dispenses the desire in each citizen, in their soul and conscience, that the laws dictate to them.

And this is not contradictory with the democracy that honors moralism because it confuses the private and the public, the personal virtues and the civic obligations. One wills here charity for justice, the priest Pierre for the guiding light, the Red Cross and the Restos of the Heart for a satisfactory responce to the "social question." The republic which carefully separates the privilege of the public -- for the same reasons that it separates the temporal spirit -- refuses to judge the public men on their private life (like in the United States). It prefers civic-mindedness. In its eyes, one does not make good politics with good sentiments or even morals. It can then exercise justice without charity.

A democracy, if it is small or medium sized, or in debt with its past, can have a statute of military protection without malaise or renunciation. Germany, Japan, Italy are democracies. A republic cannot place the job of defending itself to a third party without denying itself as a republic. Interior freedom only goes with exterior sovereignty. A patriot in name is that who never separates love of freedom from love of his country, only recognises that his country has no essential superiority over its neighbours. In oppressing those weaker than itself, a republic violates its own principles and discovers it sooner or later. In a democracy, patriots carry the name "nationalists", who are frightening people because they are ready to exchange liberty against power.

There where each citizen must be able to respond to the liberty of others, and then, if necessary, bear arms, one puts the nation in the army and the army in the nation. What is the equality of citizens before the law worth without equality before death, and now from national service? The republican principal recommends conscription for the army. In a democracy, national defence is often the privilege of professionals (like in the United States and the United Kingdom.)

In a republic, the citizenery do not depend on a situation of fact but on a statute of rights. The right to vote, for example, one has it or one does not have it, but if one has it, one has it all. Popular sovereignty does not come in slices and political rights are not hierarchical. On the other hand, a democracy can have first, second and thrid class citizens (a little like Athens) : it can only distinguish between "right to vote in municipal elections" and "right to vote in national elections" -- as opposed to the ethic of republican equality.

In a republic, there are two sensitive places in each village: the hall, where the elected ones deliberate for the common good, and the school, where the master teaches the children to become masters. Or again, to make an analogy, the national Assembly and the Sorbonne. In a democracy, there are the temple and the drug store, or yet the cathedral and the Stock Exchange.

The republic, in the child, searches for the man and only intends for him to grow, at the risk of bullying him. The democracy flatters the child in the man, fearing to annoy him if it treats him as an adult. No child no matter how adorable, says the republican, who wants the student to elevate himself. All the men are likeable because they are after all big children, says the democrat. That is to say more crudely: the republic does not like children. The democracy does not respect adults.

In a republic, society must gather in the school, where the first mission is to form citizens apt to judge all only by their natural light. In a democracy, it is the school which must gather to society, its first mission being to form well-adapted candidates for the job market. One will claim in this case a school is "open for life", or yet "an education a la carte". In a republic, the school may be a closed place, behind walls and proper rules, without which it will lose its independence (laïcité) regarding political, social, economic or religious forces which pull it here and there. Because this is not the same school, which aims to liberate the man from his middle and to better himself. And while the republican school will be reputed to produce enlightened workers, one will see in the democratic school a nursery of competitive imbeciles. Then goes the nastiness, by cross-fire.

The republic likes the school (and honours it); the democracy fears it (and neglects it.) But what both like and fear the most is still philosophy in the school. There is not a more certain means to distinguish a republic from a democracy than to observe whether philosphy is taught or not in high school, before entry to the university. One will see that the most democratic parts of Europe, Nordic, protestant, it's the religious teaching which takes place in the last classes. The democratic teaching systems take philosophy as an optional supplement to the soul, to share between pastors and poets. In a republic, philosophy is an obligatory matter, which does not have the end of exposing doctrines but to give birth to problems. This is the school and notably the course of philosophy which, in a republic, relies on an organic link of the intellectuals to the people, that which is the social origin of the students.

Because it is an idea, philosophical, the republic is interminable. It pursues itself indefinitely in history, and that which carries it before itself is the same infinity, the insatisfaction of itself. Because it is a fact, sociologic, democracy can find itself beautiful in the mirror. This contentment of itself frequently enough permits ethnocentric propaganda but efficient. In judging itself unsurpassed, a democracy devotes itself to a global model, not without good conscience. Knowing itself imperfect, and always too particular with respect to the universal Republic that it wishes it could be, a republic will never be anything but an example.

In democracy, where the opinion makes law, money makes good. The apparatus of the production of opinion costs in effect more and more, image outclasses the idea, oral dominates the written ; and in the electoral campaigns of a democracy, the exhibits a colour photo (costly) of the candidate, not his profession of faith written in black and white (cheap). Also publicity demands of the responsible politician, who in general terms must position himself, after his election, under media blackmail. He will rule his politics according to the images of which one can give or not, successively adjusting his decisions according to the barometer of public opinion, indicating to him each week the cost of popularity from one to the other. All like the director of a television chain adjusts his program offerings according to the results of the Audimat (AC Nielsen ratings).

In a republic, the principle, which is something else than a compromise of interests, rules the conducts. A political party, for example, is not a machine to conquer and preserve power. It accords itself not on a face or a vague promise but on a program, and if the Sovereign makes a contract with him, with his vote, this party must honour his contract. No more than it confuses instruction with information or research into the first causes of things with the latest world news, the republic does not make a patchwork between the vote and the opinion poll, the city and the society. Because those who confuse the people and the crowd, that which is instituted and that which is unleashed, end by confusing justice and lynching. That which must be and that which is. That which deserves to stay and that which deserves to pass.

The master word in democracy will be then "communication". And in a republic, "institution". It is not shocking that in the republican vocabulary, the teacher is a noble term, as the function tends to make shame in a democracy. In the sacred rectangle -- black table or small screen -- derives two types of nomenclature. Each system has its nobility. That of life and that of diplomacy. The journalist, the spokesperson, the singer, the actor, the businessman compose the Gotha of a democracy. The professor, the popular orator, the writer, the expert, and even, apparently paradoxical, the officer compose that of a republic.

A democracy can live at its ease in the ambiant din, certain that in the long run an order will emerge. In a republic, the distinction and the understanding require closed spaces and beaches of silence. The first can define itself as an optimism of noise and the second as an optimism of meditation. The "music festival" (as noise calls itself these days) embodies the philosophy of a democracy, the minute of silence distills the spirit of a republic.

Memory is the first virtue of the republics, like amnesia is the force of democracies. There where the man makes the man, each child is born with an age of 6,000 years. When one has history for oneself, the amputation of the past will mutilate oneself. When God makes the man, he remakes himself intact with each birth. Useless to recount that which was before us, each period begins the adventure again at zero. The grandest honours will be given here at the libraries, there at the televisions. Because, if the libraries are the preferred cemeteries of the great dead, which is the cult which defines culture, television kills time agreeably. A republic as a library is composed of more of the dead than of the living, then that a democracy as in the television only the living have the right to inform the living. Arguably, each system has its problems.

The republic likes equality, without being equalitarian. Because it is not justice but resentment which levels the conditions and redistributes without taking into account capacities and efforts. It is a matter of proportioning -- eternal problem without an all-purpose formula, of which the solution is always precarious in the unending fight for justice. The equal society is not on the program of democracy where the one speaks most highly and strongly of public and individual freedoms than one wants to overcome the embarassment incited by economic inequalities. Under the term "equality", the democrat can content himself with judicial equality before the law; but the republican is obliged to add here a certain equality of material conditions, without which the civic pact becomes, in his eyes, a seemingly false, one-sided one. The fact that the miriad pariahs and untouchables die here each day on the streets does not prevent India from being an authentic democracy (despite its name as a Republic.) The fact that in New York thousands of homeless and drugged sleep in the parks in the winter, that the poor have their hospitals and their schools and the rich have theirs, without a possible comparison, does nothing to remove its global radiance and justification of the statue of Liberty. There are no more, in a republican country, but there are still democracies where the gap between revenues and inheritances is 50. The ideal republic postulates, itself, a certain respect of proportions. The astronomical salaries of the stars and the powerful of the day, accidentally revealed to the public, does only incite in the home of the hard up democrat a simple shrug of the shoulders, one will say, to the freedom of enterprise. On the other hand, this does not, for the republican, pose as the asthetic or the spartan than it reproves the moat of luxury and the aquisition of privileges. Poverty riots a democracy, it weakens a republic. The first wants a maximum of solidarity -- and some give it. The second, a minimum of brotherhood, and many laws. And one trusts its foundations, the other asks it of its ministers.

One can also translate these two sensibilties in reassuring ideologies and repeat with the great ancestors socialism, that's the republic, and liberalism, the democracy, pushing one and the other to the end. But this opposition, perfectly exact, will appear retro to readers of the "Globe". The socialists themselves, these "old republicans", in wanting themselves to be young and connected, the theme "social inequalities" makes way for the refrain "human rights".

A republican will take care to dissociate the man from the citizen because it's the citizenship which gives a man his political rights. From the moment when the individual is no longer treated as a citizen but as a simple person, slavery is on the horizon -- in the short term, the arbitrary, which is the absence of laws. Freedom in a republic does not happen to an individual as much as by the force of laws, that's to say by the State. It is not surprising that the democrats only speak of the "human rights" when a republican always adds "and of the citizen". Add which is not in his eyes complement but condition. As the laïcité is the condition of tolerance and not its opposite.

This does not forbid his privacy, and often enough, the insubordinate republican at times conducts himself as an "individualist" and the democrat, spirit open to social demands, as a "socialist". Individualism, which democracy makes a religion, becomes then the soul of a world without individuals, the spiritual aroma of a sheep. Statistics more surely promote the average opinion than the enlightened opinion. The devils advocates who celebrate the difference, turn vulgarities and orthodoxies upside down, baptise "freedom" the "fact that one will want", at times gather themselves more among those of the broad spirits for whom liberty consists of good thought and to do what one must.

To fill the gaps between individuals, that is the ideal of a world where a discussion is considered useful when it permits adversaries to fine-tune their points of view in bridging the gaps, as if democracy has imposed on us among others: make an agreement. In a republic, one does not judge it useless to debate to clarify differences, to sharpen a mutual respect. "The extremes touch me", is the word of a republican. "All that is excessive is insignificant", is that of a democrat. The challenge of a republican: ally the unbecoming with courtesy. Inconvenient, one sees, this system which takes in the needs of inconvenient spirits.

Democracy, which works by consensus, has the need, for relief, of scandals and "revelations", as the "in" and the chic, the fashion serving as the shadow brought to conformism. Monstrous pride and noble spirit, Stendhal is the standard-bearer of the republican. His friend, Mérimée, a profound democrat. Victor Hugo is republican, Sainte-Beuve democrat. (Faubert neither one nor the other.) It is necessary to be a little of the teacher to say "no" to Napolean III, friend of the poor and avowed champion of democracy, to whom universal suffrage will give the majority to the end. Minority, a republican catches fire. A democrat in minority is a depressed man (or a woman).

There will be no parlour game more current than the "who is who?" Joxe et Chevènement, "republicans" ? Lang et Jospin, "democrats" ? Chevénement has given his honour to the School, but Joxe admits to wanting the "scarf" in the public school. Nothing is simple. Mitterand seems "republican" in adversity, "democrat" in good times, wind at the stern (that is worth more than the inverse.) Janus bifrons, at present he spends his quiet days at the Elysée. Michel Rocard is a democratic type. In the corridors of power, after all, the republicans have yielded the pace. In general terms, the republican does not like the economy, which returns itself to him well. The tax agents, they love democracy. One knows that to have the ideal economy is quick to make the economy the ideal. Inversely, not to do one's accounts, it is a cheap way to make men sweat. Too much economism kills the republic? Not enough, as well. Nothing is simple. "Le Monde" is a long-time republican journal. "Liberation" is a democrat journal from the beginning. Antirepublican from birth, in some way, by affiliation with May 1968.

He will be able to deduce an amusing little characteristic for the long evening of winter. If strength is the interpenetration of the types that you will be sure, at the moment of speaking a truth, of also making a blunder. But how to resist the temptation to observe that the republican is better at writing and the democrat is better at speaking? The one seduces (men and women) in showing their distances: that is cold. He (or she) can play. That is to be trustworthy, but selfish. The other is warm, more accessible. He proposes to all men and women to have a good time right now. This is to be in proximity. Fleeting also. When he speaks in public, the republican seems emphatic or brusque. That which he says may be right, but it sounds false. The democrat is cheerful and sharp: this may be false but it sounds true. For those, a man at the head of the hit-parade cannot be all bad. Neither an unknown author really good. The other will also read the Top 50 but from low to high. The republican is a misogynist? The democrat is an androgynous? Dangerous in our culture are the sexual cliches. But clear, the polarities. Let's say then that the Homo republicanus has the masculine faults, the Homo democraticus, the feminine qualities. To the republican it matters overall the times that pass, that which gnaws and diminishes energy.

From the anguish, the irritation. One stiffens because that alone defeats one. To the democrat, it is important to keep abreast of the times. Not to worry, the seasons change, and the sun will come after the rain. The jeans after the chador. The reconciliation after the battle. He believes so little in war that he already prepares the peace at the first bomb. This is dangerous in a period of crisis. Who is wise, who is a fool? How to know? It will be necessary to marry them, these two. That will reduce the risks. Reassure yourself. Life does it by itself, like it plays itself.

In political matters, the criticism of the beauties is hardly advised. One prefers to put them off to anomalies and monstrosities. Not without motive: they will reveal to us, one says, the bottom of things. There is a pathology of the republic. In the last century, Hippolyte Taine, the least read author and the most cited by our modern men of the left (unknowingly), has said all about the glacial jacobin and without soul, lost by the spirit of geometry, contemptuous of the real men in the name of the idea of the man. This "abominable" theoretician this "regent of college" is a travelling danger to the public. Watch it happen. Dry, thin, suspicious -- a guillotine at the bottom of the eyes. Listen to him speak. He explains all but understands nothing. And all is not false in the conservative caricature. It is true that a sick republic will degenerate into the barracks, like a sick democracy into the whorehouse. An authoritarian tendency lies in wait for the uncomfortable republics, as the demagogic tendency lies in wait for the accomodating democracies.

It will be decent to put the skids face to face, but the adversaries of each model will cry of a false symmetry. It's a fact that today the critic of the republican model voluntarily exerts himself to get rid of his sickness. In the firmness of the principles, one will denounce the rigidity of the attitudes; in the will to coherence, the taste for coercion; in the logic, the simplicity. The guilty republican will only find an advantage by returning the favour to the democrat: you judge me arrogant (the term most frequently associated to the "french" in all of the mouths of Europe)? I find you very complacent. Dogmatic, me? Watch yourself in the mirror, if a young man more eclectic than you one dies. You brag about your suppleness, to hide your softness. Realist, you? Opportunist, you mean. You see me as war-like and sectarian? I see you as a coward and going with the flow. These political exchanges permit each camp to strengthen their ranks. The diatribe has this advantage that it avoids dialog. Each one finds himself handsome in the distorting mirror of the neighbour: controversy by pathology is a classic ruse of narcissism.

This is not an accident if the monstrous forms of the republic at present excite a thousand times more mockery than those of democracy. The relation of sarcasms translates to the relation of forces. In the French Republic of 1989, the republic has become minority. And the minority in the eyes of the democrat is always ugly.

The democrat has won. The republican does not seem to lead further than rear-guard actions. This victory by KO does not mean the end of a match, for the simple reason that there has not been a confrontation but a sliding of tectonic plates under our feet. The nation continues to speak as a republic, the society acts and thinks as a democracy. There is a discrepancy between the norm and the culture, between the history of France and the life of the French. This lack of syncronicity between the protocol and the usage explains the false-door of the students and the professors. As it shows which way the wind is blowing, a French person more than 45 years old has 2 chances in 3 to react as a republican, and less than 25 as a democrat. The republic will appear as an idea of the old. The laïque school also, neither one nor the other are "nice". It implicates the duties when all around speak to us of human rights, without cost, pleasure without pain. Integration without rule. The democrats like youth better than principles? This is not news. The period is to the full, not to the waisted; to the shoulder pads, not to the grey smock. It is necessary to live with the times, of little importance is the law if it is of another age. Then have we celebrated in 1989 the birth of the French idea in American forms, and everyone applauds to the Goude parade, democratic grand finale, republican abomination. "One has stolen my Bicentenial?" No: one has stolen my Republic.

Let's say that there has been a discrepancy between the intention and the result. Starting in 1981 to "reconcile socialism and freedom", big adventure, the left has succeeded in reconciling Raymond Barre with Harlem Désir. That's meritorious, but not really superhuman, because they were not really at odds (friendliness has never been wrong to the Stock Exchange.) Under the name of "socialism", the descendents of the republican Party preach and practice liberal democracy, Michelet has given birth to Tocqueville. Good or bad, the surprise deserves an explanation.

We will not go here into the details of the crises, mutations, metamorphoses, collapses, overspending which have sent us to the trap door, in residence, the republican model. The sociologists do their work very well, and this is evidently a phenomenon of society that the abdication of the idea before the image, of the father before the teenage son, of the public thing before the cult of the private sector.

It will be necessary to evoke the material weakening, objective, measurable, of France in the world. This change in level has razed the old hedge groves, giving free course to the American wind which sweeps away all in its way. As the soft chases the hard, the cowboy boots the clogs, the CD the 45 RPM. And the FAX the telegraph. The sociologists speak of "acculturation", like the philosophers speak of alienation, to describe these situations where the appropriate has lived otherwise and the strangeness like the appropriate. The republic, seemingly hit by technological obsolescence as a first generation product, is felt by its inventors as a foreign thing and strange, a slightly comic tale. Not or not only because the social sciences have supplanted philosophy at the university but because on both sides of rue Soufflot, at the corner of boulevard Saint-Michel, a Free Time and a McDonalds have replaced the Maheu and the Capoulade. The urban forms of decoration have more impact than the contents of the teaching. That one eats on what one believes, and that one hears on what one expects.

Our intellectual establishment, which regards the history of France since the self-services on the other side of the Atlantic, cannot come back to our fixed price menus. Also it has disappeared "From the Republic of France" under "From the democracy of America". Turning the back to Michelet, this fool, this fireman, he has asked M. Tocqueville to present 1789 to the public, that means to explains the Revolution as a simple local stage to the accession of worldwide democracy, which puts the Revolution between parentheses, and the Republic. Our media establishment shows in one "the end of History" of M. Fukuyama, ambassador of the American Department of State, who, in the review "National Interest" (can one imagine a French review with a similar title?), translates very improperly what M. Kojève explains very subtley to Paris after the war and to his series dozens of French philosophers. Our political establishment takes for progress that a government of the left seizes the Council of State and not the parliament on the question of school. "State of right" is chic, "sovereign people", corny. The government of judges is not the last word of democracy? The independent administrative authorities are not, after all, guarantors of objectivity and neutrality? Very retro, the fool who believes that the judge was there to apply the law, and the citizen to make it. It's the reverse.

It will be necessary to evoke the lowering of the State and the idea of the State in itself. The retreat of public service under cover of the fight against State monopolies. The salute to privatisation, patronage and sponsorship, the alignment of the public channels on the private channels, and such of the reconversions fully described. The Republic does not want a strong State but a dignified State. When, the budgetary resources lower, the dignity becomes too expensive, the so-called better democrat takes the market. This is not a choice but automatic.

It will be necessary to evoke the crisis of reason and of the unversal of the XVIIIth century, Hiroshima and Tchernobyl, but also Lévi-Strauss, Freud, Nietzsche and the father Marx who have, without a doubt, relativised the absolutes of Condorcet, all the assumptions of his school of thought artlessly called the Society of Friends of the Truth, which first lauched in France in 1971, the republican manifest. Without forgetting the return of the family and good feelings, the victory of tripe on logic, of humanitarianism on humanism. The promotion of the doctor and depression of the militant. The rise of the associative life and the evaporation of parties.

It will be necessary to evoke the decentralisation, the come-back of the notables, the new glory of the provincial feudalities, the return of Maurras to the left, "life in the country" and "right to the difference". The democratic rehabilitation of the Old Regime and its "diversities". The pedagogic regionalisation, the surreptitious abandonment of the national competitive examination like of the general inspection, in short the liquefication of the school as an institution to the benefit of the "educative community". It will be necessary to us overall and to the side to speak of Europe, our messianism of riches.

The big and soft stomach is little enough to remark. That's what we are inside, and its action is slow. The community gastric juices dissolve in silence the different residues of the accidents of European history. Counter culture peculiar enough, the republic was one of them. Its digestion democraticly makes it the majority. By reduction on the margins of State sovereignty and subordination of the legislator to the technocrat, who has nothing to answer before anyone. Will the baby cereal conform? No more than one is born laïque one is born republican: one becomes it. One can also, and for the same reasons, cease to be. The republic is not only a predestination but a situation. It wins by effort, and loses without effort. The future will say if "the European integration" will design or not the best way, then has Europe to remove from its shoe the little French clot, that slipped on it while leaving, the villain, our Revolution.

In the Europe of regions, the capitals and allegiances, the first nation-State of the continent becomes tardy. One had believed in advance because one has chased the Good God from the presidence, for a society founded not on the obedience of the believers, neither on the appetite of the consumers, but on the autonomy of the citizens. If God comes back a little overall with his Capucins and his traders, in force or in gentleness, the avant-garde will drag it along again. To show competitivity, must France lighten its lifestyle, to relax somehow? A republic at Brussels, is it not very undesirable?

The model of the liberal countries, which asks less and less of citizens in the streets and more and more of the individuals at the house, inspires the Community of the covetous, not that of principles. «Eppur se muove». Is it not to flee reality than to equip the Europe with the bankers, the only which exists, with the overalls of a Europe of workers which the hope only shines in our banquets? The French left has made the European construction a myth of substitution, supposed to fill the void left in the spirits by the adandonment of the project of contruction of a new society (this last being broken, like the boat of love, against reality). It perhaps does not have the choice. But it's a trap: if the socialists want to be good Europeans, they will be bad socialists. And vice versa.

It will be enough to good republicans. And that instead of learning from our partners the B.A.-Ba of liberal democracy, as good students deserve, they are lucid enough and nervy to propose to them the rudiments of the republic (laïque and democratic). It is nothing of which Europe today has more need: reinstitute to the individuals their dignity as citizens. If the public space does not confer them more dignity, they will search for it elsewhere. Because it is not a social link without symbolic reference. The State common to all will it come to lose its own that the Churches and tribes will replace it soon in this function of unification. A simple call in the wilderness. When a republic removes itself on the point of the feet, this is not the free and triumphant individual who occupies the land. Generally, the clergy and the mafias burn him politely, so it is real that each moral abasement of political power pays to an advancement of the politics of the religious authorities, and a new arrogance of the monied feudalities.

Because the sentiment is not enough. It is necessary to personal liberty of the institutions, to the reasonable will of belonging. They subside without a skeleton. A society of compassion and good speech, without rules and discipline, open the door to unpredictable hardships. Yesterday, it is the State and its censures which threatened the autonomy of the individual, like the freedom of conscience and expression. Today, it is the "civil society" -- commotion of the appetites and masked intolerance -- that raise the biggest perils (the demands to exclude and to forbid). The law of the heart can only face the rise of powers more and more intolerant and uncontrolled -- media, clergy, scientists, administration. The defense of individual autonomy happens at present by the defence of the republican State and of its corresponding society. The irony of the sort of making more impossible political regimes the most necessary. The more corny, the more futurist.

And if the Republic, which is of yesterday, comes back tomorrow? This will not be the first pirouette of the planet-opera which has never ceased to follow in her heart of hearts the word of order of Giuseppe Verdi: "Turn us to the past, it will be progress." To be resolutely modern, dare to be archaic. That's in reviving the greco-roman Antiquity that the men of freedom, these grand nostalgics, pushing the XVIIIth to the rear, have pushed back their contemporaries. We forget too that the Ancient Regime, that was their modernity to them. Not finding it modern enough, they conquer the old with the antique: the style Louis XV by the rhetoric of Brutus, Boucher by David. The invention of the future of these ruses, as if history, at times, must retreat to leap better.

One wanted yesterday to enclose us in the dilemma of a liberal, elegant and cynical capitalism, and of a statist, idiot and cynical socialism. One has done well not to choose. The first does not satisfy the essential in man, who is of a cultural nature. The second, which passes away, does not assure even the minimum life. Will one want today to make a part of "us-others" of the Homo religiosus to order us to rally the "me-I" of the Homo economicus that one responds: thanks much, the "us-all" of the civic recognisance suffices. It will be possible in effect that progress, retrograde in its way, gives us a choice between two ways of return to the religious regression and the republican regression. The tribes or the nation. The Capuchins or the headmasters. To which case we will have all interest to ask Condorcet, Michelet and Jules Ferry to come back to make 3 little tours on television. A French Republic which will not be close to a democracy will be intolerable. A French Republic that will be no more than a democracy will be insignificant.


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Created: 4 November 2006
Modified: 18 September 2013