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Legitimacy Gap - Secularism, Religion, and Culture in Comparative Constitutional Law by Depaigne, Vincent (13th July 2017)

Part II Models of Reconciliation Between Constitutional Law and Culture, 4 The Secular Nation: France, or the Limits of the ‘Neutral Model’

From: Legitimacy Gap: Secularism, Religion, and Culture in Comparative Constitutional Law

Vincent Depaigne

Chapter 4 looks at France as the archetypal ‘secular nation’ and outlines the limits of this model. The central question for the French secularist state is—I argue—the definition of ‘the people’. The difficulty since the French Revolution has been that of providing a substantive definition of the people. The definition based on assimilation to a universalist model was bound to be faced with the issue of cultural difference, in particular during the period of colonization. This chapter shows how colonization brought about a tension between legal unity and a plural reality, and, how this tension remains central to the status of overseas territories. In the current debate on laïcité, a similar tension between legal unity and cultural plurality is at play, resulting in a tension between a ‘procedural’ and a ‘nationalist’ view of secularism.

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