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Unformatted text preview: The Idea of Solidarity and the Origins of the French Welfare State Good Morning. This is the first lecture on Timothy Smith’s book France in Crisis: Welfare, Inequality and Globalization since 1980 . In Monday’s lecture, Professor Littke provided us with a broad overview of the course of French history and discussed some of the distinctive features of the French Republican model, especially as it differs from the American model of republican government. Drawing on his lecture, I would highlight three main ideas that are key to understanding much of modern French history and that you ought to keep in mind in reading France in Crisis . First, the Tocquevillian idea of administrative centralization. As Professor Littke noted in his lecture, the French Revolutionaries may have decapitated the King, but they accelerated and intensified the drive toward administrative centralization begun under Louis XIV in the 18 th century. Second, the idea of secularism. Contrary to the views of some contemporary Christians, the Founding Fathers were lukewarm believers at best, but they were certainly not burning with hatred of religion. The deeply engrained secularism of the French republican tradition came to the forefront two years ago during a debate about whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear headscarves in public schools. This was seen not as a question of religious freedom but as an assault on the republic itself. Third, the idea of statism or dirigisme. This is the idea that state power should be used to manage the economy and direct social and political policies to the common good. Paradoxically, however, one of the most striking conclusions of Smith’s book, is that the contemporary French state is a toothless tiger, unable to push through much needed economic and political reforms. In turning to France in Crisis , we narrow our focus in two ways. First, we will concentrate on recent history and contemporary events in France, while, of course, keeping in mind the broader historical context which Professor Littke provided. Secondly, we will examine a specific problem in the economic, social and political life of contemporary France. This problem, as Smith presents it in France in Crisis , is the failure of the French social welfare state genuinely to provide for the welfare of a substantial portion of the French population. The problem, in other words, is the failure of the French social welfare state to live up to its own claim to secure justice and social solidarity for all French citizens. This narrowing of focus is in part merely apparent however. In the first place, as Smith’s discussion shows, France’s current dilemmas have deep historical roots. Smith refers on page 36 of France in Crisis to the idea of path dependency, which Titchenor also used in Dividing Lines as part of his explanation of immigration policy in the United States. The term “path dependency” is a fancy way of referring to the fact that history matters, that, as Tocqueville argued in...
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This note was uploaded on 05/18/2008 for the course MC 201 taught by Professor Lynnscott during the Fall '08 term at Michigan State University.
- Fall '08
- Democracy in America