Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wishful thinking alert

November 15: France's Conseil constitutionnel judges unconstitutional a proposed law authorizing social scientists to gather statistical information on ethnicity, on grounds that it would violate Article 1 of the French Constitution:

"La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l'égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d'origine, de race ou de religion."

(This is the same article that was used to strike down a law on Corsican autonomy/ As Jeremy Waldron has been telling us for years, an active court enforcing a written constiution will not necessarily protect minorities, nor will a democratic legislature necessarily imperil them. The complaints that follow are agnostic about whether the CC correctly interpreted Article 1; I'm willing to believe that it did, but am sure that Article 1 is the source of much constitutional mischief. If it means what the CC says it means, it ought to be amended.)

The last two nights: Immigrant-populated Parisian banlieues erupt in violence, again, this time with rioters bringing out guns. 77 police officers injured overnight, after two teenagers of African descent were allegedly (though the allegation doesn't seem very persuasive) killed by police in a hit and run.

While good social science analyzing the multiply-caused multiple ills of the banlieues won't by itself solve those ills, it well might be a prerequisite to such solutions. To the degree that the research can't seriously consider ethnicity because it can't ethnicity, the social science will be seriously impaired. There's a real level of ostrichness here.

That the French state normatively aspires to the irrelevance, invisibility, and non-existence of ethnic and racial distinctions within French society doesn't make such distinctions sociologically irrelevant. No matter how "imagined" categories like race and ethnicity are, they do not become unimagined just on the state's say-so.