Franco-American Culture Wars

American multiculturalism and intellectual influences are increasingly threatening French identity, according to French President Macron and his ministers.

The New York Times reports on the developing Franco-American Culture Wars: “Stepping up its attacks on social science theories that it says threaten France, the French government announced this week that it would launch an investigation into academic research that it says feeds ‘Islamo-leftist’ tendencies that ‘corrupt society.’ News of the investigation immediately caused a fierce backlash among university presidents and scholars, deepening fears of a crackdown on academic freedom — especially on studies of race, gender, post-colonial studies and other fields that the French government says have been imported from American universities and contribute to undermining French society.”

Questions of race and laïcité (secularism) seem to be at the heart of the French political debate over American intellectual influences and French identity.

French concepts of religious toleration and laïcité developed during the French Wars of Religion (1559-1629), when Huguenots and Catholics engaged in confessional struggles over French religious identity. Laïcité then took on new dimensions during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire (1789-1815), when a dechrstianization movement challenged the Catholic Church and then a Concordat with the Pope re-established Catholicism. Subsequent revolutions and social movements during the nineteenth century added new layers of complexity. The concept of laïcité has been enshrined in French law since 1905, guaranteeing an ostensibly neutral nation-state.

The notions of religious toleration and laïcité have remained problematic within French political culture, however, and have re-emerged as touchstones of controversy in recent years. Veiling controversies, racial tensions in the banlieues, terrorist attacks, a #MeToo reckoning, Gillets Jaunes protests, and Black Lives Matter protests have all contributed to tensions in French political culture.

Now, academic research has emerged as a new conflict zone in the “culture wars” in contemporary France. “Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education, said in Parliament on Tuesday [16 February] that the state-run National Center for Scientific Research would oversee an investigation into the ‘totality of research underway in our country,’ singling out post-colonialism,” The New York Times indicates.

In response, the French Conférence des Présidents des Universités condemned Vidal’s remarks and rejected the claims of the Macron government outright. Vidal’s proposed investigation has been crticized as a political witch-hunt directed primarily against researchers in the social sciences and humanities. The noted economist Thomas Piketty, sociologist Dominique Méda, and over 600 other French professors and researchers have called for Frédérique Vidal to resign over his investigation of so-called islamo-gauchisme.

The New York Times reports on the controversy in an article entitled, “Heating Up Culture Wars, France to Scour Universities for Ideas That ‘Corrupt Society.'” Le Monde reports on the calls for Frédérique Vidal to resign.

This entry was posted in Academic Freedom, Cultural History, European History, European Union, French History, French Revolution and Napoleon, French Wars of Religion, History of Race and Racism, Human Rights, Political Culture, Women and Gender History. Bookmark the permalink.

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