French Republican Ideals and Immigration

Charlotte Collett

As disparate historical figures as Marc Bloch, an historian, scholar, and a Jew, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, a black and a slave until he was forty-five years old, subscribed to the principles of the French Republic—liberty, equality, fraternity — until the end of their lives. In his written commentary about the capitulation of France to the Nazis, Bloch laments the fact that civilized France allowed the Vichy government and Hitler’s Germany to lead it into slavery. Marc Bloch’s great-grandfather fought in the revolutionary army in 1793, and his father fought in 1870. He fought in the First World War. By World War II, Bloch was the father of six children and fifty-three years old. He joined the Resistance in Lyon, was hunted by the Petain police, the Militia, and the Gestapo. Bloch was captured, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo. Comforting a sixteen year-old boy by telling him that it wouldn’t hurt much as they both stood before a Nazi firing squad, Bloch’s last words were “Vive la France!” Toussaint L’Ouverture, a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue inspired by tales of the French Revolution, led a revolt in 1791.

France abolished slavery in 1794. When Napoleon moved (unsuccessfully) to reestablish slavery on the island in 1802, L’Ouverture again led the blacks in revolt, singing the Marseillaise from the bush as they prepared to battle republican troops. L’Ouverture was eventually captured by Napoleon and incarcerated in a prison in the Jura. He died of starvation and cold as Napoleon continually ordered the guards to reduce his allowances for food and firewood. Inspired by the French Revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture commanded the only triumphant slave insurrection in history, followed in 1803 by the creation of the first independent black state in the Americas. To the end, he dictated letters to Napoleon, declaring his loyalty to the French Republic and his total commitment to the principles of 1789: liberty, equality, and fraternity. It is these universalist concepts that inspired both Bloch and Toussaint as they coped with betrayal, persecution, and death at the hands of citizens of the nation in which these beliefs were born. These principles made these men more than just members each of a pariah people; this Revolution made all men believe they were members of the human race.

The ambivalence of France towards immigrants and particularly towards recent immigrants and citizens who are non-white and non-Christian has its origins in the Revolution itself. The contradiction between universality and particularism is at the heart of the tension between the universalist principles of the French Revolution and a nationalism that promotes ethno-cultural exclusivity in French society. Although national policy for integrating immigrants has been historically grounded in the French Revolution and republican ideals, economic trends, and political movements, a major function of immigration in France is also to fulfill a labor need without threatening the jobs of French workers. Inherent in this immigration were recurring conflicts involving foreign labor and the conditions under which it might be allowed to remain in the country. What determined the need for a consistent policy was the realization by 1925 that foreign labor had become a necessary feature of the French economy.

                               Historical Perceptions of Immigrants

France has the distinction in Europe of having the greatest number of immigrants over the last two hundred years. It is estimated that of the fifty-seven million inhabitants, fourteen million have either parents or grandparents who were of immigrant origin. France’s low birth rate during the nineteenth century, substantial casualties during World War I, and the expanding post-war industrial economy made it necessary to recruit economic migrants who came for work and a higher standard of living. Approximately 100,000 foreign agricultural workers entered each year from about 1850 until after the Second World War. Foreign workers, mostly Belgian and Italian, numbered almost 380,000 in 1851, and over one million by 1881. These migrants worked in textile factories, in mining, in building trades, and in agriculture in Lille, Lyon, Rouen, and Paris. In the early twentieth century, Italians and Belgians came for work in industries such as coal, steel, and textiles. Poles came during the inter-war period to work in the mines. Italians migrated to escape the dictatorship of Mussolini, Spanish Republicans came to escape retribution, and during the twenties, thirties, and forties, Armenians, Russians, and Jews came to France. Between the world wars some 500,000 single Algerian males came to work on a rotation system whereby they would be periodically replaced by fellow villagers or relatives. After the Second World War, immigrants from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were the most numerous. By 1982, the Algerian population in France had increased to 805,000.

Claims by French politicians that there was an almost seamless integration of Spanish, Italians, Belgians, and Poles into French society as compared with the integration of late twentieth century immigrants from the Third World are based on a reinterpretation of the history of European immigrants in France. Between the 1880s and 90s, French workers attacked Belgian miners in the Pas-de-Calais. Italians were pursued by an angry mob in Marseilles in the summer of 1881 who demanded that they shout “Vive la Republique!” During the 1920s, Italians and Poles were seen as “ethnically distinct,” along with Arabs. Culturally different, they were viewed as difficult to assimilate. Italians were said to be a danger to the French people because they spread disease, were over-sexed and morally deviant. Poles in Paris in 1922 were said to be filthy and criminally oriented. Twenty-three thousand steel and mine workers were laid off and deported as redundant labor in 1931 from Longwy mines. More than 120,000 Polish coal miners of Pas-de-Calais were forcibly repatriated with a luggage limit of thirty kilos because they were redundant labor. In 1927, French medical students demonstrated against 4,000 foreign medical students because of the possibility that they would apply to be naturalized. In 1933, in order to minimize competition with French doctors, propaganda against “incompetent” foreign doctors precipitated a law that prevented them from practicing in the public sector for five years after naturalization. By 1934, quotas had been established denying work permits to foreigners in 533 categories in order to eliminate competition with Frenchmen. In 1934, “redundant labor” could be deported and one-third of the foreign male workers were repatriated during this decade. During the 1936 Popular Front government, the extreme right characterized foreign workers from Russia, Spain, and Germany as socialists and Jews, as dregs, mold, and dung. In 1939, 200,000 members of the Spanish Republican militia were held for fifteen months in concentration camps after entering France. Many died of exposure. During the Paris summer of 1942, the Vichy regime oversaw the deportation of 42,500 Jews, 6,000 of whom were children, to Auschwitz and, overall, one-fourth of the Jewish population, approximately 76,000, was deported to Nazi death camps.

                                   From Cosmopolitans to Frenchmen

During the 1970s, the centrist right President Valerie Giscard d’Estaing promoted the official view of France as egalitarian, welcoming, and diverse. President Giscard was concerned about the levels of racial prejudice but was confident that this would improve once the French population was made sensitive to the issues and needs of immigrants. The assumption was that the government elite was not racist, and in its official capacity as upholders of the principles of the French Republic, it was responsible for guiding common Frenchmen and popular opinion away from feelings of racial hostility.

The perspective of the French political and cultural elite is that France is a society of openness and universalism in which the ideas of individualism, liberty, and opportunity define the French nation. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s efforts to represent a segment of the population through the agitation of restrictive immigration and citizenship policies eventually prompted a strong counter response on the left and among the internationalist-minded elite in support of traditional policies of assimilation and integration. Many in the French elite, those who run the institutions, do not perceive France as exclusionary with a national identity based on a particular ethnicity and culture in spite of some government policies that support a more narrow view. This exclusionary perspective, if believed, would limit France’s influence in the world and jeopardize the integrity of its institutions. The elite believe that the grandeur of France is based on its political, cultural, and intellectual expansiveness. This perspective continues to prevail among the majority of the elite in spite of persistent opposition from elements of the popular culture.

The Revolution is the reference point for the philosophy and organization of the French nation. It is the key to comprehending the depth of the universalist goals the nation has set for itself in terms of the political and social incorporation of newcomers. It is also the reference point for understanding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. But the Revolution also established expectations and loyalties that would, as it progressed, undermine cosmopolitan principles and lead to the exclusion of people who were not French or accepted as French.

During the Revolution, France developed a national consciousness of its particular position in the world as the leader of the struggle for liberty for all humanity. However, the potential for counter-revolution, civil unrest, and economic crisis began to undermine cosmopolitanism and restrict the unity of man to a position of citizenship and human rights within national boundaries. The source of the contradiction is the declaration of universal rights within a particular nation. Human rights become national rights and national rights imply the exclusion of non-citizens. The revolutionaries believed in universal principles but they achieved political prominence by promoting the idea of the French nation within territorial boundaries. By 1793, participation in revolutionary politics by foreigners was restricted and the revolutionary government was harassing foreigners by way of surveillance, requiring visas and passports, interrogation, incarceration, and expulsion. By 1795, as the Revolution progressed and the fight to sustain the Republic intensified against domestic and foreign enemies, the rhetoric transformed from universal rights to the rights and responsibilities of a citizen within the nation.

The execution on August 10, 1792, of King Louis XVI, the strain of diplomatic relations with Europe, the economic crisis and civil unrest continuing through the Terror generated a heightened level of paranoia, producing the institutionalization of xenophobia in the harassment of foreigners. The continuity of the treatment of foreigners under Napoleon was greatly influenced by methods from the Old Regime. The refinement of the system of police controls and surveillance of foreigners that firmly established the almost autocratic right of the French government to decide on expulsion, mass arrests, passports, and registers, is part of the Napoleonic legacy. Bonaparte institutionalized the separation of French citizens from foreigners in the Civil Code. The universal community of citizens became the exclusive community of French nationals, and those outside the national community were foreigners.

                                 General Profiles of Recent Immigrants

The second half of the twentieth century saw the darkening of major French cities and their suburbs, particularly Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles, with the increased immigration of non-white, Third World people, both citizens and non-citizens. Immigration, race, ethnicity, religion, and the inability of non-whites to assimilate into French society became increasingly explosive issues that were exploited by elements of the extremist right. Slowed economic growth, unemployment, and intense competition for work exacerbated ethnic segregation and political exclusion.

Metropolitan France is now home to one-quarter of those who were born in Martinique and Guadeloupe. The DOM-TOM (Departements d’Outre Mer et Territoires d’Outre-Mer) population is all French citizens, primarily from the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The French government encouraged migration in the wake of a post-war labor shortage in Metropolitan France. Recruitment was also intended to continue the process of assimilation, especially in Guadeloupe and Martinique, to avert possible political unrest in response to unemployment and underemployment and also to circumvent U.S. economic incursions into the islands. During the sixties, these black migrants were seen as posing less of a threat than those from North Africa because of the “frenchness” of the Afro-Caribbeans. The government attempted to offset any xenophobia by promoting this migration as Caribbean nationals freely moving within French territory. Before this effort, there were approximately 40,000 DOM-TOMiens already residing in France employed as domestics, in maintenance, in civil service, and in industry. Aside from these occupations, the government recruited workers in the building trades, in customs, and conscripted recruits for the military. At the time, this migration was perceived by the government as permanent because family migration and unification were encouraged and subsidized. As French nationals, they are allowed to work in the public sector, unlike foreign immigrants. But, like foreign immigrants, they occupy low-level positions. The rate of employment is slightly lower than the national average but unemployment for the children of those originating from the DOM-TOMs is double the national average. Discrimination is considered the primary reason that unemployment for children of migrants from the DOM-TOM parallels that of non-citizen immigrants. These Caribbean French nationals live largely in the Paris region —the center of state employment—in La Goutte d’Or, Seine-Saint-Denis (where the Paris riots of October 2005 began), or Belleville.

The sluggish economy during the seventies preceded a change in policy to replace foreign immigrants with nationals from the DOM-TOM. But, by the end of the seventies, there was less need for workers in the public sector and a rise in discrimination towards DOM-TOMiens. By the beginning of the Mitterrand government in 1982, policy focused on assimilating and integrating the DOM-TOM population that had already settled in France. And, by 1983, government policy began to focus on developing employment opportunities and increasing social benefits in the DOM-TOM in order to limit the in-migration of DOM-TOMiens to France.

Immigrants from the DOM-TOM are French by cultural affiliation and nationality and to a great extent embrace French cultural practices and values. But, darker complexions tend to be equated with immigration/foreigner and the “immigration problem,” and are thought of as non-European. Europeans from Spain, Italy, or Portugal are more often than not assumed to be French nationals, an assumption that is also based primarily on skin color. Thus, the negative emphasis on the darker races tends often to render irrelevant the country or territory of origin and citizenship status. An individual or group can experience discrimination and exclusion whether or not they originate from any former colony or from an overseas territory or department considered part of greater France and whether or not they are citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants.

Sub-Saharan Africans in France numbered 240,000 in 1990, up from 82,000 in 1975. Most were from former French colonies as well as from Zaire (former Belgian colony) and Mauritius (former colony of Britain). Ninety percent of the women and two-thirds of the men work largely in low-grade, low-paid urban service sector jobs such as street vending and cleaning. They are two-thirds of the total number of vendors and street cleaners. A considerable number of them are undocumented because of the practice of polygamy, which makes it difficult to collect accurate figures of exactly how many live in France. An average family numbers eight, making it difficult to locate housing that is large enough and families can afford. Thus, ethnic enclaves of sub-Saharan Africans develop as word spreads among them of neighborhoods where housing a large family is possible. Most of them live in Saint-Denis and Paris.

Of the three countries that represent the Maghreb--Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria–immigrants from Algeria constitute the largest and oldest group. They came as manual laborers after the Second World War, settling in urban industrial cities such as Marseilles, Lyon, and Paris. Algerians have experienced economic exclusion and social marginalization as the result of the loss of jobs requiring manual skills in an increasingly technology-driven labor market.

The harkis, those Algerians who fought on the side of France during the Algerian War (1954-1962), fare as poorly as other migrants from Algeria. After escaping execution in Algeria and arriving in France, the harkis, who are French nationals, were housed largely in dilapidated army barracks and then subsequently relocated into better housing. Notwithstanding their support of France against other Algerians, the harkis and their descendants, who number about 500,000, are still not accepted in France as French and are severely marginalized. They continue to live in “micro-concentrations” and, at times, experience an unemployment rate of up to 80 percent among young adults age 18-25.

In the 1960s, Moroccan immigration coincided with the need for manual labor in the automobile industry. Moroccans also outnumber other national groups in their participation in agricultural labor. Following their labor patterns, there are concentrations of Moroccans in western suburbs of Paris, the rural southwest, and Corsica, where they compose about fifty percent of the population. The most recent Maghrebis immigrants are the Tunisians. Similar to their predecessors, they are manual workers and they reside in Paris, Lyon, and in the Marseilles area, where their labor concentration is in the building industry.

                                         Living Conditions - Housing

The majority of immigrant workers until the 1970s lived in hostels for single men, shanty-towns on the outskirts of major cities, or in deteriorating apartment buildings located in declining neighborhoods. By the mid-seventies workers began to rent apartments in government housing, Habitations à Loyer Modéré (HLMs), intended for immigrants and families of low and moderate income. These were built largely on the outskirts of large cities such as Paris, Marseilles, Bordeaux, and Lyon, some distance away from markets, cafés, and shops. The HLMs were built in suburbs (banlieues) which were subsequently designated Zones à Urbaniser en Priorité (ZUPS). The apartments were to be allocated in such a way as to avoid ethnic concentrations. Often poorly constructed near railroad tracks and highways, this housing was noisy and inconvenient to public transportation. In order to avoid an over-concentration of immigrant families, the government established a quota system whereby it paid a special allotment to an HLM authority to disperse its immigrant population among buildings in a development. Instead, immigrants and foreigners have been concentrated in certain older and degenerating HLM high rise buildings, giving the impression that HLMs in banlieues are occupied by poor or unemployed immigrants who cause the decline of their own housing. The poor locations and deplorable conditions of some of the developments discouraged many Europeans from accepting apartments in them. The HLMs became associated with downward mobility and HLM authorities rented their quota to immigrant families and left the remaining apartments empty. The empty apartments began to be used by jobless youth to store stolen merchandise and to engage in other criminal behavior.

Foreigners, who are six percent of the overall population, comprise eighty-one percent of the inhabitants of economic priority zones. Banlieues (suburbs) have come to indicate, in U.S. terms, an inner-city neighborhood complete with the lowest socio-economic groups, the unemployed, poor school performance, and crime. HLMs are “mono-ethnic” concentrations and have, since the seventies, been areas of violent confrontations between unemployed youth and police. Segregation in racially constructed communities contributes to the social isolation of immigrants. These economically and socially disadvantaged districts are examples of exclusion in French society.

Assimilation has, as we have seen earlier, not been an easy and seamless process for Europeans, even of Catholic background, nor has it been easy for those who are non-white from the Third World. Throughout the history of immigration in France, there has been conflict of varying degrees between French workers and labor migrants. Low demographic growth and the ebbs and flows of industry determined the pace for the in-migration of workers to France. But, it was also the ebbs and flows of industry that determined solidarity or conflict between French workers and foreign workers. The “sub-class of foreign workers” who were once necessary for the economy has, to a considerable degree, become the sub-class of physically distinct citizen workers who as redundant labor are often unemployed and sharing public welfare benefits with the majority population.

                                                 Citizenship Status

Until 1993, children of foreign parents automatically attained citizenship at the age of eighteen (age of majority), if they were born in France or if they had lived in France for five years before reaching eighteen. And, each year about 24,000 youth became citizens in this fashion. If one parent became naturalized then the children automatically became French nationals. This allowed an additional 12,000 children annually to become French nationals. Children born in France were legally French if one parent was born on French territory. Children whose parents were from former French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa or Algeria automatically possessed French nationality.

As part of the 1993 reforms, Article 23 of the French nationality laws was amended to exclude sub-Saharan Africans from former French colonies and their children from automatic French nationality. This law also required that children of Algerian descent would have to have at least one parent living in France for five years prior to their birth in order to have automatic French nationality. Any child born in France can acquire French nationality by completing the proper documentation when they are between the ages of 16 and 18.

                                       The Racialization of Immigration

By the end of the 1960s, the term “immigration” itself began to be a euphemism for the social integration of the post-war population from Africa. By the mid-1970s, the concept of culture had replaced race and racism in the language of differences based on ethnicity. According to this view, culture replaced instinctive hereditary behavior and it was culture, not biology, which also modified inherited instincts. If culture and not race establishes the foundation for ethnic difference, then it is possible to be opposed to people who are different based on their culture and not their race. This distinction was important in order to promote the political goals of the National Front. Eliminating the fear of being labeled racist opened the possibility of attracting right-leaning voters from other parties, particularly those who were unhappy about issues involving immigrants and immigration. Disliking what was foreign could then be based on a natural avoidance of cultures different from one’s own. Exclusion could be justified, not on race or racism, but on the natural selection of individual cultures and survival of the fittest among them. One could avoid being openly racist, and yet subscribe to doctrines of racial superiority and suggest the elimination or expulsion of some supposed inferior group based on differences of ethnicity and culture. The current Minister of the Interior, Nicholas Sarkozy has also suggested that those of “immigrant” backgrounds who participated in the riots of Fall 2005, be deported. The reference to second generation immigrants is generally a reference to French citizens -- children born in France or its territories and educated in its school system. The persistence in alluding to them as “immigrants” is based on the fact that they can be identified as non-white.

In the early 1980s, Jean Marie Le Pen exploited and intensified anti-immigrant sentiment in a more openly hostile fashion. Substantial support for the National Front comes from relatively affluent areas of Paris and Lorraine where workers are skilled, self-employed, upwardly mobile shop-keepers and business and home owners. National Front supporters are not “destitute and despairing,” but tend to be the “dissatisfied” middle classes. Voters come from the established parties on the right, are former abstainers and young voters as well as defectors from both the socialist and communist parties. Significant to Le Pen’s success has been the ability of the National Front to attract the traditional constituency of young working class males away from the parties of the left. The racialization of immigrants was precipitated by economic contractions, the perceptions of alien cultures, and the unassimilability of non-European labor. One of the primary beliefs of the Front is the denial of the universalist tenet that all humans share a common origin and that all men are created equal, but are separated by the communities and cultures in which they were nurtured. As part of its political agenda, the National Front advances a social inequality that would give “national preference” in jobs, housing, and education. Rising unemployment, crime and delinquency, suburban poverty and riots, and decreased expenditure on social programs were and are still all blamed on immigrants and immigration. Social and economic problems in French society tend to focus on the density of the immigrant population and away from the globalized economy, the lack of social programs, and the reduced ability of the state to solve economic and social problems.

2005 - 2006 Civil Unrest in France

Between October 27, 2005 and March 28, 2006, France experienced intermittent political and labor unrest among its youth. In the Fall, the demonstrations and riots were initiated primarily by underprivileged immigrant-origin black and Arab youth in the “banlieues” or ghettos. In the Spring, protests and labor strikes were led by university students, laborers, and union leaders, basically middle/upper middle class, angry about the possibility of employees having to relinquish established guarantees against abusive treatment and firing without legal recourse.

2005 Fall riots

On October 27, 2005, two “immigrant-origin” youths were electrocuted climbing a fence of an electric substation as they were running from police. Both youths, one of Malian heritage and the other of Arab Tunisian background, lived in the economically depressed Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Random searches and identification checks by police are frequent and there is widespread perception in the banlieues that the police are racist, abusive, and operate with impunity. These deaths and perceptions sparked 20 nights of rioting, fighting with police, and the torching of some official buildings and thousands of cars by mostly immigrant-origin youth in banlieues throughout France. As earlier noted, the banlieues are suburbs of French cities where the majority of “immigrants” reside, isolated from the shops and municipal services of central cities and where the rate of unemployment at 20 percent is more than double the French national average. Economic and social exclusion based on race and national origin of ancestry (ie. surnames), and lack of prospects for upward mobility plague this population, even those who may be well educated. Government response ranged from punitive to conciliatory. After the twelfth night of rioting, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced curfews as an option for town officials. The next day a national state of emergency was announced and Nicholas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior, declared that foreigners convicted of rioting would be deported. On the fifteenth day of unrest French president Jacques Chirac admitted to social problems including unemployment, crime, poor housing, and the bigotry faced by non-white and Muslim background French, and promised that his government would develop new programs and opportunities for these youth.

Azouz Begag, Minister of Equal Opportunities (a position created in response to previous social disturbances in the banlieues) urged that statistics on religion and ethnicity begin to be collected in order that accurate data can be kept on the French population at large and particularly the economic and social progress of immigrants in the banlieues. The collection of data that defines French people in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, etcetera, is in opposition to the French Republican ideal of “citizen” of the Republic, equal and without distinction. The irony is that economic and social exclusion is obscured by the definition of “citizen” established by the Revolution, as simultaneously many citizens are being excluded from exercising their rights in the French Republic.

2006 Labor protest

The Contrat première embauche (CPE - First Employment Contract or Beginning Workers Contract) requires a two-year probation period for employees under the age of 26 and gives employers the right to terminate employment without notification and with no requirement to offer a reason or explanation. Currently, employers must give notice with justification and are subject to litigation. The bill would allow lowering the age for youth working at night from 16 to 15, fourteen year old adolescents to become apprentices, and the revocation of family welfare benefits if a child fails to attend school. Part of the rationale behind the formulation of the CPE in the winter of 2006, was the alleviation of the high unemployment rate among the young, and particularly among “banlieue” youth after the Fall riots forced the government to once again look at the discrimination and economic exclusion often faced by this population. Unemployment in the banlieues is typically twice the national average and is seen as the primary cause for lawlessness in these neighborhoods. Proponents of the bill claim that the employers’ unencumbered ability to fire will be an incentive to hire more young people. In turn, an increased number of youth with no previous job experience would acquire training and skills that would allow them to gain future employment. Opponents allege that replacing the traditional three-to-six month probation period with one that lasts for two years after which an employee can be let go without justification invites abusive behavior on the part of employers including sexual harassment, reduction of wages, and job insecurity. Some opponents have suggested that banks would be less willing to give mortgages and landlords would be reluctant to rent to persons working under CPE contracts. Inherent in these demonstrations was the expectation that the government was not supposed to design multi-tiered job systems which at the outset designate some jobs as less secure thereby encouraging systemic inequalities. The massive demonstrations prompted the Chirac government to withdraw the CPE law on April 10th in order to develop a compromise plan to reduce unemployment among the young.

                                           The Debate Continues

The political basis for the development of the French modern nation-state was the desire for political equality and the passion for the elimination of social distinctions based on birth. There was also an objective economic and historical incentive for the French to centralize government operations and form a state. Thus, the prolonged revolutionary struggle that made it necessary for the state to eliminate all feudal representatives between itself and the population. The Revolution underscored the class nature of French society, setting the foundation for the modern awareness of economic and social class structures in Western societies. Although this shift from feudalism to a modern centralized nation-state widened the political base, it did not adequately address strategies for a more equitable distribution of material wealth. Deprivation and penury, therefore, persisted among the French working classes and were the source of future political and economic struggles.

Particularism camouflages racism in dominating an economically subordinate group. The application of this perspective to transcontinental labor is an effective means socially to differentiate elements of the working class in order to reinforce the structure of dominance. “Racialization,” as Maxim Silverman defines it, serves to entrench the position of the majority group so that their social and economic condition remains unchallenged. This phenomenon of exclusion illustrates the continuation of former colonial relations of power through the economic and social exclusion of migrant workers and people from former colonies. And although these most recent working class immigrants are non-white, every group of immigrant workers for the past 100 years has, to varying degrees, been perceived to be culturally alien and economically marginalized. Third World immigrants who are non-white, even though many of them are citizens, are cast as incompatible parts of a unified whole, based on supposed cultural differences, actual differences in ethnic appearance, and their status as chronically unemployed. One of the major challenges currently confronting French society is a recasting and redefinition of those who compose the “whole” of its national community, especially in hard economic times.

Since the Revolution there have been intermittent adjustments as to who would have access to citizenship and nationality and who would be excluded based directly on one’s economic function and usefulness. Universalism means that all humans have certain inalienable rights, but particularism means that not all people have the right of citizenship. One could be a French national and not have the right to participate in the political process: slaves in the colonies, colonial subjects, poor Frenchman, servants, and women. The conflict between universalism and particularism is an enduring historical process for both the nation’s populace and its elites as they continue to confront issues involving new immigrant populations, changing economies, and altered perceptions of nationhood in a global context.

It was the ideals of sovereignty, democracy, freedom of religion and speech, and equal justice before the law, as counters to the actual behavior of men, that awakened revolutions which produced radical change throughout the Continent and the Americas. These ideals electrified the peasants of Europe, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the slaves and colored men throughout the Antilles, as well as Marc Bloch and the Resistance. But the development of ideal democracies requires more than universal principles. It is necessary to consider everyday economic and social conditions to determine who is able to profit from democratic rule and who is left out. It proved easier during the French Revolution to codify political justice than pass legislation to eliminate wide disparities of wealth. The Revolution did not go far enough. As a bourgeois revolution it guaranteed political rights but stopped short of guaranteeing economic equality. And universal principles, paradoxically, make economic inequality more difficult to address because they emphasize political equality and ignore real material differences that impact on the ability of an individual to integrate fully into the society.

The social unrest experienced in France during 2005-2006 begins to address the precarious nature of political equality when material differences are engendered and sustained by economic exclusion. The common strain between the disadvantaged protesters from the banlieues who rioted in the Fall and the students and workers who went on strike and protested in the Spring is the belief that liberty, equality, and fraternity are based on economic opportunity and the right to work. These protests were grounded in fear of economic insecurity and frustration over the lack of employment opportunities. For many of the Fall 2005 protesters the values of the French Republic are ignored and sabotaged by economic exclusion and racism. For the Spring protesters advocating its repeal, the CPE represents the disintegration of the sense of solidarity, the disruption of the idea of a shared destiny, and the corruption of the ideals of the French Republic. In spite of the dissimilar backgrounds of the protesters, there seemed to be a common expectation that it is the government’s responsibility to create the economic and social conditions that sustain these values.


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