We recently noted that religion is not quite dead in Europe. Among its revivalists in the political sphere is Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French finance minister and current leader of the Gaullists (and touted by many to replace Jacques Chirac as president). He has written a book on the subject called La RÃƒÂ©publique, les religions, lÃ¢â‚¬â„¢espÃƒÂ©rance (The Republic, religions, and hope). It’s being touted as a revolutionary document that would rearrange political and religious relations in France. He wants to move France from a secularist society to one that embraces, Ã¢â‚¬Å“laÃƒÂ¯citÃƒÂ© positive.Ã¢â‚¬? Basically, this means recognizing that citizens need goods and have goals that transcend the materialist notion of secularism. As Timothy Lehmann explains in his review:
In contradistinction to this stark division between the secular and the sacred, Sarkozy favors a Ã¢â‚¬Å“laÃƒÂ¯citÃƒÂ© positive,Ã¢â‚¬? one that guarantees the right to live oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s religion as a fundamental right. To his mind, this includes providing public funding for religions. If soccer fields, libraries, and theaters all benefit from public funding, Sarkozy wonders, why shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t religious communities, which also promote cultural flourishing, also receive funds? While he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t favor earmarking funds to build mosques per se, he favors funding for parking lots for them, as well as for Muslim Ã¢â‚¬Å“cultural centers.Ã¢â‚¬? Sarkozy recognizes that the 1905 law was the result of a delicate Ã¢â‚¬Å“equilibrium,Ã¢â‚¬? reached after divisions that tore the nation, and thus Ã¢â‚¬Å“it is necessary to reflect carefullyÃ¢â‚¬? before breaking with the spirit of the law. Without modifying its basic structure, he favors public financing of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“great religionsÃ¢â‚¬? of France. To that end, he advocates funding Ã¢â‚¬Å“national republicanÃ¢â‚¬? education for religious leaders, reasoning that it is preferable to have imams educated in French universities and speaking French than to have imams educated abroad who are hostile to the existing republic. It also discourages the clandestine extremism that plagues many banlieues, the often decrepit Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of FranceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest cities, and promotes transparency of religious education.
Lehmann I think mistakenly compares Sarkozy’s views to those of American conservatives. His is a more statist approach than what one finds in the USA. It comes closer to the Canadian arrangement found in the 1867 Constitution Act which mandates government funds for Catholic schools in English-Canada and Protestant schools in Quebec. The policy does not further religion as much as it strives to reach a political accommodation for groups who feel the secular establishment excludes them, while creating a system of incentives and controls to tame those religious groups. It’s unclear what Sarkozy means by “cultural flourishing,” but that secular purpose also differs a bit from President Bush’s rationale to channel state funds toward faith-based charities because it is for the narrower purpose of alleviating poverty and inner-city problems. “Cultural flourishing” is quite vague and general.
Put another way, Sarkozy’s proposals recall the reasons David Hume supported the Church of England: to provide some control on religous enthusiasms.