Manent's thesis

As I am nearing the end of Manent's very interesting book, I want to try to summarize his thesis. (I am, of course, reviewing the book, and would need to do so soon anyway.)

The topic which Manent wishes to explore is that of the relationship of French Muslims to the French nation as a whole, and vice a versa. And the first thing I want to note about this topic is how many people will reflexively reject the idea that there is any such topic worth discussing. "French Muslims," they will say, "are no different then any other French person: they are rights-bearing individuals who are citizens of the French nation, and more importantly, of Europe. And even to suggest that there could be some issue of the relationship of the French nation as such to the Muslim community as such is probably an indication of racism or Islamaphobia."

But Manent sees such a response as a symptom of an ideological delusion, a deliberate refusal to look at reality. France is an historical entity, not an abstraction, and to be French is much more than to simply possess certain rights. And Muslims do not see themselves as atomic individuals adrift in a French sea of other atomic individuals, but as members of a community of believers, the Ummah, who together share a moral way of life. Thus, the secular liberal response of denying there can even be an issue of how the nation of France relates to its Muslim population is doubly false, and starting from a false view of a situation, one typically only makes a further botch of it, like one who is trying to operate on his pet frog, with his eyes closed, while repeating to himself that the frog is actually a pocket watch.

On the occasions when secular liberals are even able to admit that France might have a "Muslim problem," a typical solution recommended is that France's Muslims must "Westernize." But Manent dismisses this as a fantasy: the "modern Westerner" these Muslims are advised to transform into is himself only an abstraction, and not a concrete identity anyone could actually live. And Muslims themselves generally shown no inclination to achieve the status of the spiritually empty, cosmopolitan modern consumer. For the most part, they seem to actually prefer to be part a community grounded in shared moral precepts. Furthermore, as Manent points out, this request is hardly fair to Muslim immigrants who were not told, when they came to France, that they would have to surrender their way of life as part of their move.

Manent's solution to the problem posed by the Muslim community existing inside the French nation, stated quite generally, is that first of all the French must reacquaint themselves with their existence as a national community, something they have been busy denying. Then the French nation can come to recognize the existence of another community within its borders, one characterized by a different way of life. At that point, the true nature of the problem to be addressed comes into view: the question is how these two communities can establish friendly relations, so as to permit them to coexist peacefully within a single nation-state.

I will look at more of the particulars of Manent's solution in another post, but I want to bring one of them up here, to give you a flavor of what they are like. Manent recommends that the French government forbid foreign funding of mosques and Islamic schools within France. To make up for this loss of funding, he suggests that might be appropriate for French governmental entities to help fund such activities as mosque-building. The idea is that of a friendly compromise: the French nation would be saying to its Muslim population, "You are welcome here, and welcome to continue your own way of life here, but only on the condition that you break ties with foreign governments that may have the aim of undermining the French nation. And in return, we will make up some of the funding that you forgo in order to show your loyalty to France, in order to show our friendliness to you."

A proposal like this will no doubt drive many secular liberals up the wall, since it runs counter to so many of their "principles." It does, however, have the advantage that it might actually work.


  1. France is one of the biggest investors in Saudi Arabia and one of its biggest oil importers. Not gonna happen.

    1. Manent did not claim this would happen. He said it would make things better if it did happen.

  2. A bitter pill, too, for French nationalists, who I imagine would like to see everyone be unproblematically French first, not part of a newly-recognised subnation. Needs must, I suppose, when the devil drives.