Secularism and degrowth

Illustré par :

Arianna Simoncini

The murder of Samuel Paty by a young radicalized Chechen refugee has reopened the French debate on secularism. This history teacher was killed for showing his students the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed republished by Charlie-Hebdo, in order to illustrate a civic education course on freedom of expression. This event, occurring 10 years after the attacks against the incriminated newspaper, followed shortly by a new deadly attack in Nice and at the very moment when an expected law on the separatism - a cryptic term in fact aimed essentially, if not exclusively, at radical Islamism — has rightly moved public opinion and set the intellectual world abuzz. With secularism, which will be defined briefly as the neutrality of the State with respect to religious beliefs, and more broadly ideological, what is questioned this time is less the principle of freedom of worship than the right to blasphemy and caricature(1). However, this controversy echoes previous episodes of debate on the wearing of the « headscarf ». Although typically hexagonal, it has had echoes and global repercussions, as evidenced by the more or less violent reactions to President Macron’s remarks in the Arab-Muslim world, and even in the Anglo-Saxon world. To understand what is at stake in this debate on secularism, we must return to terrorism and question the so-called « clash of civilizations ». This one is only the confrontation of the westernization of the world to the resistances that it generates outside and to its other inside in the form of the minorities resulting from the immigration. Individualism, especially exacerbated in its version of homo economicus, constitutes a symbolic anthropophagy. The Manichean reduction of the problem of diversity to the dilemma of universalism versus communitarianism is largely the result, in our view, of the status of abstract concepts such as secularism, religion and humanity, which are abusively posed as transcultural. This challenge of the relationship to theother is also posed to growth objectors, and the degrowth project, as we understand it, attempts to take up this challenge by advocating for the multi-versal.

In the media frenzy that followed the triggering event, terrorism was certainly mentioned, but without an in-depth analysis of its causes, and even less an examination of our responsibility in the emergence of the phenomenon. The non-negotiable rights deriving from French secularism, such as the right to blasphemy and caricature, and the demand that the Islam of France comply with them, have been asserted from an emotional reaction, without seeking to understand the positions of theother. Moreover, given globalization, President Macron himself felt compelled to urge the Arab-Muslim world to modernize, i.e., to move in the same direction as France and to tolerate, if not adopt, the permissive society. 

In fact, without justifying it in any way, we could say with the precursors of degrowth Tiziano Terzani and Pier Paolo Pasolini that the currentterrorism is a « counter-terrorism » in response to what it is not excessive to call the terrorism of the westernization of the world and the market, a manifestation of totalitarianism soft of the growth company(2). In this light, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however sympathetic it may be to our Western eyes, must be questioned, as did the Indo-Catalan theologian Raimon Panikkar (1918–2010), theorist of plurisversalism(3). We have seen with the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya how a human rights policy could serve as a cover for forms of Western imperialism with a strong smell of oil. 

This questioning does not imply that we, as Westerners, should renounce our attachment to human rights and, as Frenchmen, to secularism, but that we should admit their cultural anchorage, and therefore their relativity. To universalize the rights of the citizen of Western countries or the secularism of France is to make it a kind of religion with all the risks of dogmatism, fundamentalism and intolerance that this entails. If the tolerance of intolerance is unbearable, the intolerance of non-tolerance is a real problem because it closes the door to dialogue and thus to the search for compromise, a condition for the peaceful coexistence of differences. It is symptomatic that the extreme right, formerly anti-secular, is now 

is converted into an ardent defender of a variable-geometry secularism not really in conformity with the spirit of openness of the 1905 law, leading to a claimed Islamophobia(4). The spectre of immigration is never far away. Theindifference to differences stops as soon as they challenge a fixed mythical identity. This brings us inevitably to the question of migration. 

In France, in principle, one is born French, following the compulsory registration with the Civil Registry within three days of birth. However, secularism is not necessarily suckled with mother’s milk. Chance can give birth to a little French girl or boy who is a fundamentalist Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, or even atheist or Buddhist, depending on her parents. One can even be born a « presumed jihadist » like all those unfortunate children of the deviated women who left for Syria and who are languishing in terrible conditions in camps and whom the mother country refuses to receive against the law, following sordid electoral calculations. Secular, the little French boy normally becomes so through the school of the same name. Until the 1970s, secularism in France no longer posed any major problems within its borders, and the outside world accepted it, just as we accepted the fact that the Saudis were Salafists, the Anglo-Saxons were mainly Protestants and the Burmese were Buddhists. The « every man for himself » attitude was in a way the secret of tolerance of intolerances… In fact, it is immigration in the context of the crisis of French-style integration with the end of the Thirty Glorious and the emergence of liberal (im)globalization that has brought back the contestation of secularism in a new form. Conflicts, both within French society and in its relations with the rest of the world, arise from the impossibility of maintaining the previous link between secularism and identity. The « every man for himself » attitude has been shattered. Whether we like it or not, France has become a multicultural society and its identity is no longer solely Christian and even less mythically Gallic; and even if ramparts are springing up everywhere to protect a world empire from new barbarians, these are now in its midst; we live in a unique village crossed by conflicts. The result is that there are now even « French people in spite of themselves »(5). To the rhetoric, most often from the left, about the undeniable enrichment that the contribution of diversity and the emergence of a plural identity would constitute, is opposed the visceral and understandable rejection of the alteration of a mythical unchanging identity, or more simply, the reluctance to cohabit with another who, for his part, cannot or does not want to assimilate fully. We thus easily slip into a war of identities. 

This immigration, which is welcome by the business world, since it allows them to resort to underpaid work and to put pressure on the level of wages, is badly accepted by larger and larger sections of the population, and not only because of the competition for jobs. However, our societies are largely responsible for the phenomenon because of colonization, the plundering of natural resources and land(land grabbing) and imperialism in all its forms. The EU’s recent fishing agreements with the Senegalese government, for example, obtained through pressure and corruption, are ruining the pirogue fishermen of the small coast and pushing young people to risk their lives to try to reach Europe, which rejects them. This immigration, badly managed by the host countries whose economies can no longer integrate it, increases xenophobia and latent racism, fanned by demagogic politicians, and generates a war of the poor with a withdrawal of identity on both sides: nationalism/populism versus Islamism/terrorism.

The quarrel sparked by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s remarks about alleged Islamo-leftism being widespread in the French university, revived and amplified by the media interventions of Universities Minister Frédérique Vidal, illustrates the difference in positions. It allows us to propose an analysis of secularism that is coherent with the project of degrowth. The refusal to give in to the « universalist fury » then leads inevitably to a pluriversalism. The exit from the growth society is not an alternative, but a matrix of alternatives to the dominant productivism/consumerism, it is fundamentally plural. Once liberated from the lead of economic imperialism, the grip of the single thought and planetary standardization, space can be reopened to cultural diversity, that is to say to a democracy of cultures.

Pluriversalism, in the conception of Raimon Panikkar(6) denounces the single thought of theuni-versum (only one side, turned towards the one) and pleads for a  » pluri-versum « , a plural and even pluralist world(7). However attractive it may be, any universalist project, even if it is a decreasing international one, comes up against Gödel’s theorem. If it is true that « there is no set of all sets « , there cannot be a culture of all cultures. Panikkar is very clear on this point.  » When I oppose a world government, » he says, « I don’t want to go against universal harmony or against a form of communication between men. I recognize that the idea of world government is fantastic and I understand that the person who supports it does not want to be the supreme president of humanity, but desires harmony, peace, understanding between peoples and would perhaps like to abolish the sovereign state as I do(8) « . Strange as it may seem, the idea of a common humanity on which to build a world order from the outset is only obvious to Western culture. It can therefore only be a proposal to be put on the table and debated with those who think that humanity stops at the borders of the tribal territory. It certainly exists,  » says Panikkar, human invariants. Every man eats, sleeps, walks, talks, establishes relationships, thinks… But the mode in which each of these human invariants is lived and experienced in each culture is distinct and distinctive in each case « (9). Consequently, there are no given cultural universals. Degrowth, no more than secularism, cannot therefore make full sense outside Western culture(10). For Panikkar, human rights in their present form are not a symbol that can be universally accepted:  » Human rights are one of the windows through which a particular culture creates a vision of a just human order for the individuals who participate in it . The 1948 Declaration was not the result of a genuine dialogue, but is based on a Western worldview and values. However, according to Panikkar, « There are no values that are transcendent to the plurality of cultures, for the simple reason that a value exists as such only in a given cultural context . This is even more true for French-style secularism, which makes no sense outside of France. 

Does this mean that we are condemned to cultural solipsism and that dialogue and coordination between the various cultural humanities is impossible, as well as their crossbreeding? Not necessarily, and fortunately. There are, in fact, according to Panikkar, in every culture  » existential functional analogies  » that make translation and exchange possible up to a certain point, these are the « homeomorphic equivalents « .  » Homeomorphic equivalents, he writes, are not simple literal translations, nor do they simply translate the role that the original word claims to play, but they aim at a function equivalent (analogous) to the supposed role (of what is being debated: human rights, secularism, degrowth, etc.). It is therefore not a conceptual equivalent, but a functional one, i.e. a third degree analogy. We are not looking for the same function, but the function equivalent to the one exercised by the original concept in the corresponding cosmovision(11) ». Thus, it seems that each culture has produced a certain vision of human dignity as a horizon of meaning on what would be an ideal world. There is no shortage of such equivalents for degrowth; there certainly is for secularism. This makes intercultural dialogue and cross-cultural criticism possible. Mutual fertilization of cultures, » Panikkar acknowledges, « is a human imperative of our time . However, he points out, such fertilization can only result from a  » dialogical dialogue « . This dialogal dialogue also allows for inter-acculturation, or cultural mixing, but unlike the deculturation caused by Westernization, each culture enriched by the contributions of the other retains its identity through exchanges. 

What then becomes of the possibility of blasphemy and caricatures in a multi-ethnic global village? Since the fatwa condemning the writer Salman Rushdie, the question has been raised dramatically. If peaceful coexistence between cultures is possible — which is doubtful — then each must sacrifice certain things that they consider to be a non-negotiable right in order to conciliate theother. What President Macron who wants to « modernize » Muslim countries apparently does not understand. How then to deal with the threat to the future habitability of the Earth? What is necessary is that there be a minimum of space for dialogue between very diverse cultures. So it is not a question of imposing our tolerance on others, which would be symbolic anthropophagy, nor of falling into a radical anti-universalism and anti-Westernism, founding another anti-racist racism like certain decolonialist positions. 

Gandhi, who had thought a lot about the problem of the peaceful coexistence of cultures — India, whose partition he wanted to avoid at all costs, being deeply divided between Hindus and Muslims, and moreover dominated by Christian Englishmen — perhaps offers us a way out. He wanted everyone, including the former colonizers, to live together in harmony in an India that had regained its independence. He said that the British could stay in India, but that they would have to give up killing cows out of respect for the Hindus, and eating pork out of respect for the Muslims. The fact that the British left and that he was murdered by Hindu fanatics, because he was desperately trying to stop the massacres between Hindus and Muslims, does not augur well for the success of intercultural dialogue, unless there are special conditions that make it conceivable and that should therefore be created. 

The truth is that even if the path he was outlining is the only possible way to  » oppose without killing each other  » in a plural society, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up eating pork or beef… This means that any universalist project of a world-society, or even of a multicultural state, is most likely doomed to failure and can only lead to the war of all against all that we are already beginning to experience. Does this mean that we should despair of humanity? Not necessarily. There is a narrow path of peaceful coexistence in building a pluralistic world. This requires, first of all, de-globalization and a return to an oecumene as a mosaic of autonomous societies and cultures, each with a window open to the others, but without being exposed to all the winds. This de-globalization, advocated by degrowth, is not the aggressive and xenophobic withdrawal of certain identity-based populisms, but on the contrary the condition for the peaceful blossoming of different but equal societies. Globalization, being a dysociety, can only lead to the war of identities at the local level and to the war of all against all at the global level, it is a question of rebuilding societies, or social organizations in their place. The necessary dialogue between these entities of different status, in order to find compromises, always provisional, but allowing all the same to oppose each other without killing each other, should be made from the search for homeomorphic equivalents. 

Serge Latouche, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of OrsayOrsay University, growth objector

Notes et références
  1. En vérité, comme le fait remarquer fort justement Régis Debray, le droit au blasphème et à la caricature est loin d’être total en France et de lourdes sanctions sont prévues dans certains cas, comme l’outrage au drapeau ou l’insulte aux chefs d’État qui touchent un sacré profane. Voir Régis Debray, France Laïque, Tracts Gallimard, 2020. L’incident de la démission du dessinateur du monde, Xavier Gorce le 19/01/2021, illustre l’existence de tabous et les limites du droit à la caricature et au blasphème contre la bienpensance et la bienséance, limites toujours arbitraires et discutables, mais cependant nécessaires en leur principe dans toute vie en société.
  2. Voir, Gloria Germani, Terzani. Verso la rivoluzione della coscienza, et Piero Bevilacqua, Pasolini, l’insensata modernità, Les deux chez Jacabook, Collana dei Precursori della decrescita, Milano, 2014.
  3. Raimon Panikkar, « La notion des Droits de l’Homme est-elle un concept occidental ? », Diogène, n° 120, 1982. p. 87–115. Republié dans la Revue du MAUSS N° 13, 1er semestre l999. Le retour de l’ethnocentrisme. Purification ethnique versus universalisme cannibale. La Découverte, 1999.
  4. En témoignent les vibrantes déclarations sur France-Inter pour le droit au blasphème de Jordan Bardella, numéro deux du Rassemblement national.
  5. Anne Sophie Nogaret et Sami Biasoni, Français malgré eux. Racialistes, décolonialistes, indigènistes, L’Artilleur, Paris, 2020.
  6. Voir en particulier : Pluriversum. Pour une démocratie des cultures. Cerf, Paris 2013. Le concept de pluriversalisme a été repris depuis par des auteurs latino-américains comme Arturo Escobar (voir Sentir-Penser avec la Terre. Seuil (2018) ou Enrique Dussel dans une vision assez proche et plus récemment par des décolonialistes.
  7. Raimon Ranikkar, Religion, philosophie et culture, Interculture n° 135, octobre 1998, p.119.
  8. Raimon Ranikkar, Politica e interculturalità, 95/31 p. 22.
  9. Raimon Ranikkar, Religion, philosophie et culture, op, cit, p.110.
  10. C’est pourquoi je me suis toujours refusé à adhérer à l’initiative du mouvement « degrowth », le signifiant ne faisant vraiment sens comme tel que pour les latins. Voir Serge Latouche, La décroissance est-elle un projet latin ? , Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme : La décroissance pour la suite du monde, N° 14, Montréal, 2015.
  11. Raimon Ranikkar, Religion, philosophie et culture. Op, cit, p. 104.
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