“This assault on academic freedom is an assault on the democratic rule of law”

3 November 2020

This week, a group of French scholars and writers published a “Manifesto of 100 Intellectuals,” which accused various scholars and journalists in France of complicity in terrorism, and called for the creation of a task force against “anti-republican” tendencies within the university. In response, a second group of intellectuals—including past Tocqueville 21 contributors including Thomas Piketty, Jean-Claude Monod, Bernard Harcourt, Jean-Yves Pranchère, and Justine Lacroix—published in Le Monde a statement in defense of academic freedom and free expression. Below is the text in an English translation by Art Goldhammer.


Jihadist terrorism obliges us to resist any form of intimidation and any sacrifice of the intellectual freedoms that terror seeks to destroy. It is therefore astounding that, in the name of defending freedom, a manifesto signed by one hundred academics and published in Le Monde of October 31 proposes a McCarthyite subjugation of the university aimed at monitoring the loyalty of faculty to the state.


This attack on academic freedom—an attack consonant with an amendment to the research programming law (LPR) passed by the Senate, which subordinates academic freedom to unspecified “values ​​of the Republic” having no basis in law—is an attack on individual freedom and the democratic rule of law. Academic freedom is inherent in the constitution.


There is no denying that speech which denies the Islamist danger or minimizes its ideological and geopolitical import should be subject to sharp criticism. French laïcité is not the cause of a phenomenon which has global roots. It is in no way responsible for the atrocities for which the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo served merely as a pretext, as evidenced by the fanatical murder of ordinary Catholic worshipers in a church in Nice. This crime was the product of a political strategy which seeks to undermine democratic principles.


An Alleged “Islamo-Leftist” Domination of the University


For that very reason, it makes no sense to respond to attacks on democracy by exacerbating polarization, renouncing individual freedoms, and replacing freedom of expression by salutes to the flag. Nor does it make sense to defend democracy either by disseminating false information about an alleged “Islamo-leftist” domination in the university.


The defense of democracy in the face of jihadist-inspired terrorism and fundamentalist temptation cannot consist in a witch hunt based on the preposterous assumption that terrorists have been guided by “decolonial studies” of whose existence they have no idea. To defend democracy one must defend pluralism and academic freedom.


Orignal signatories: Jean-Yves Pranchère (Université libre de Bruxelles) ; Marie-Laure Basilien-Gainche (université Jean-Moulin-Lyon-3) ; Goulven Boudic (université de Nantes) ; Philippe Descola (Collège de France) ; François Dubet (université de Bordeaux) ; Didier Fassin (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton/EHESS) ; François-Xavier Fauvelle (Collège de France) ; Mohamed-Chérif Ferjani (université Lumière-Lyon-2) ; Olivier de Frouville (université Paris- II-Panthéon-Assas) ; Bernard E. Harcourt (Columbia University/EHESS) ; François Héran (Collège de France) ; Paulin Ismard (université Aix-Marseille) ; Justine Lacroix (Université libre de Bruxelles) ; Cécile Laborde (Oxford University) ; Jean-Claude Monod (CNRS/ENS) ; Thomas Piketty (ENS/EHESS) ; Judith Revel (université Paris-Nanterre) ; Pierre Rosanvallon (Collège de France) ; Francis Wolff (ENS).


The full list of signatories can be found here.


Photo Credit: Kunirosawa, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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