According to Pierre Manent (Beyond Radical Secularism), May 1968 marked a critical turning point in the political history ofFrance. Despite the persistence of the “Gaullist” party in political power, ‘68 undermined “collective rules, both political and merely social. The citizen of action was followed by the individual of enjoyment. . . . From this moment on relaxation becomes the law of the land. It makes every constraint appear to be useless and arbitrary, in a word vexing, whether in civic or in private life. As each letting-go justifies and calls forth the next, governments are motivated to tout themselves, no longer by the guidance and energy they give to common life, but by the ‘new rights’ they grant to individuals and to groups” (5).
‘68 marked the end of the French State as a representative of national interest or national ambition. It exists only to secure the unfettered right to free choice.
And then this eviserated State is expected to be able to socialize large numbers of Muslims who, Manent points out, have a very “way of life,” a radically alternate “form of individual and collective self-awareness,” that sees society as “the whole set of morals and customs that provides the concrete rule of a good life” (13).
The French State and is too weak to accomplish the task. It “does not consider itself authorized to require much of its citizens. Really, it demands only the payment of taxes. It has deprived itself of the great binding resource of conscription. It has also largely deprived itself of the primordial source of civic life, that is, a truly common education.” For decades, educational reforms have aimed at “undoing or reducing education’s common or community-building features in the name of equality, an understanding of equality that henceforth extended to the aims of education: equality among levels of discourse, equality among literary genres, equality among national histories, equality between the great works and the others.” Education has consistently refused to present its content as “something to be learned.” Thus, “under the name of secularism we dream of a teaching without content that would effectively prepare children to be members of a formless society in which religions would be dissolved along with everything else” (26–7).