Apostles of Modernity: Saint-Simonians and the Civilizing Mission in Algeria

Apostles of Modernity: Saint-Simonians and the Civilizing Mission in Algeria

Apostles of Modernity: Saint-Simonians and the Civilizing Mission in Algeria

Apostles of Modernity: Saint-Simonians and the Civilizing Mission in Algeria


Between 1830 and 1870, French army officers serving in the colonial Offices of Arab Affairs profoundly altered the course of political decision-making in Algeria. Guided by the modernizing ideologies of the Saint-Simonian school in their development and implementation of colonial policy, the officers articulated a new doctrine and framework for governing the Muslim and European populations of Algeria. Apostles of Modernity shows the evolution of this civilizing mission in Algeria, and illustrates how these 40 years were decisive in shaping the principal ideological tenets in French colonization of the region.

This book offers a rethinking of 19th-century French colonial history. It reveals not only what the rise of Europe implied for the cultural identities of non-elite Middle Easterners and North Africans, but also what dynamics were involved in the imposition or local adoptions of European cultural norms and how the colonial encounter impacted the cultural identities of the colonizers themselves.


Autonomy agrees with Anglo-Saxons. We, French, are Latin. The
influence of Rome molded our spirits during centuries. We cannot
escape this obsession and it would be contrary to our nature to
depart from the path it has traced for us. We know only to make,
and by consequence must only make, assimilation.

—Arthur Girault, Principes de colonisation

[A]ssimilation was a natural part of French intellectual life and as
French a doctrine as wine is a drink.

—Raymond Betts, Assimilation and Association in French
Colonial Theory

In his Principes de colonisation et de législation coloniale, first published in 1895, the prominent French jurist Arthur Girault broached, yet again, the “arduous and daunting” question: “What is to be done with the natives [of Algeria]”? He reflected upon the three propositions his government had historically contemplated in this regard: exterminate or expel them to the Sahara, abandon the colony altogether to them, or, finally, attempt to assimilate them. Girault promptly dismissed the first and second premises. the “monstrous systematic destruction” or eviction (refoulement) of indigenous and aboriginal communities—the stamp of Anglo-Saxon colonialism in America and Australia—was clearly abhorrent to the “natural generosity of the French race.” By the same token, granting the North African colony any form of autonomy or self-government was the “very negation of colonization” and anathema to the standing of Greater France. He then considered the option of colonial assimilation, and acknowledged even its unsystematic practices in Algeria as the true marker of the French and Latin genius and the unvarying ideological legacy of the Enlightenment and principles of . . .

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