Abstracts Esprit 6/2005

SABINA LORIGA
Tolstoy and historical skepticism

War and Peace is not just a great novel about war: it also embodies a meditation on history and on the over-simplification of the historical narrative. Whereas Tolstoy the thinker confesses his skepticism of the possibility of telling the history of human action, Tolstoy the novelist finds the creative strength to account for reality’s inconsistencies.

JEAN-CLAUDE MONOD
Twentieth-century philosophy and the use of metaphor

Philosophy assumes the possibility of some ideally clear and consistent discourse. But has any philosopher ever managed to steer clear of metaphor? Can philosophy come to terms with rhetorical discourse? Can it do without metaphor? The question has been asked by, among others, Hans Blumenberg, and sheds light on a major debate at the core of contemporary philosophy.

CLIFFORD GEERTZ
Third World revolutions and their legacy

The revolutionary whirlwind which, over the course of the twentieth century, brought down a string of empires across the world, gave rise to a number of countries. And yet, with the benefit of hindsight, the reference to the nation-state that seemed to bind them together throughout their wars of independence fails to shed any genuine light on their fate – with the wide diversity of the political models that came out of colonial conflict, their heterogeneous nature, and their erratic individual course since then.

SUSIE LINFIELD
A dance of civilizations: the East, the West, and Abu Ghraib

What was behind the torture inflicted on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Where did that malign temptation to shed legal strictures come from? Do we owe it to behavioural perversion, or to inconsistencies in imperial zeal or in the global war on terrorism? Rather, the root cause may well be a worrying paralysis of those checks and balances within US democracy, which unrestricted Republican sway can only weaken.

OLIVIER MONGIN & JEAN-LOUIS SCHLEGEL
Questions over the 1905 disestablishment law

Over the course of a century, French society has experienced a symmetrical weakening of Catholic culture and secular ideology. If religion is coming to the forefront again – as Islam seems to be here to stay – it is necessary for French governmental institutions to find the courage to amend the existing legislation. They must accommodate the changes that have resulted from a century of social developments and evolving religious practices.

ÉMILE POULAT
Should France amend the 1905 law disestablishing the Roman Catholic Church?

Strangely, the much-revered 1905 law is hardly familiar to anyone in France today. Instead of celebrating some sacrosanct founding myth, it would be much better to recognize the historically dated nature of this piece of legislation – which has already gone through a string of amendments – and to address those issues that badly need some attention in French society today.

OLIVIER ABEL
Towards a religious policy? The Sarkozy perspective

French Home Secretary and rightwing leader Nicolas Sarkozy’s book on secularism, La République, les religions, l’espérance [The republic, religion, and hope], puts forth a fresh perspective on the relationship between political power and the confessions. As he takes stock of the central role of the debate over Islam, Sarkozy displays an unexpected Protestant lean in the way he approaches secularism.

XAVIER BONIFACE
History of the Church, history of religion, and religious history

As the notion of introducing tuition of “the facts of religion” into France’s school curriculum is making some headway, what sense can we make of a supposedly neutral approach? This comes as a challenge for any historian, and, in order to understand it, one could do no better than to go back to the reflections that have developed along with the establishment of three distinct bodies of work: the history of the Church, the history of religion, and religious history.

JACQUES RICOT
A model piece of legislation on euthanasia

Regardless of media hype over a recent court case and campaigning in favour of altogether striking acts of euthanasia off the list of criminal offences, France’s lower chamber of parliament has devised a well-balanced piece of legislation on what the French refer to as “life’s last stage”, which paves the way both for better observance of patients’ wishes and enhanced legal protection for the medical professions.

ANNE-SOPHIE GINON & THIERRY DE ROCHEGONDE
France’s little-known framework for bio-medical research

Seen as distinct from the therapeutic relationship, medical experiments on human beings have been regulated since 1988 in France under the so-called Huriet-Sérusclat act. This act, among other things, set up independent, multidisciplinary panels to screen research protocols. Is this type of approach more relevant than declarations of general principles? This external monitoring is indeed particularly well adapted when it comes to reviewing individual cases and, ultimately, to protecting individuals.

DANIEL OPPENHEIM
Early drug trials in cancer wards

The Huriet-Sérusclat act also provides a framework whereby cancer patients can take part in early drug trials. These play a major role in the development of medical treatment today. Beyond research protocols, how do we accompany each patient for as long as required and along a path strewn with ethical conundrums?

Published 9 June 2005
Original in French

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