The Right to DifferenceFrench Universalism and the Jews

The Right to DifferenceFrench Universalism and the Jews

Maurice Samuels

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226397054

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In contemporary French political culture, the guarantee of universal equality and state secularism (or laïcité) is commonly seen as necessitating the elimination of minority difference from the public sphere. This book argues that the universal and the particular have not always been so opposed. Examining how major French thinkers have struggled with the problem of how to integrate Jews into French society from the time of the French Revolution to the present day, the book shows both how a hard-line, assimilationist notion of universalism came to dominate after the Dreyfus Affair, as well as how other, more pluralistic attitudes toward minority difference were conceived in opposition to this model. By recovering the forgotten history of French universalism and the Jews, the book points toward new ways of moving beyond France’s current ethnic and religious dilemmas involving the integration of Jews and Muslims. One of the main methodological goals of the book is to argue for a more open, inclusive view of what constitutes political discourse in France, one that includes not only political speeches and tracts, but also novels, plays, philosophical essays, and films in the conversation about French universalism and minority difference.