Ideas, Institutions, and Civil Society:
On the Limits of Immigration
James F. Hollifield
Unlike other European states, France has a long history of immigration, dating back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century when industrialization began in earnest. Yet France was not the only European state compelled to import labour to feed the fires of industrialization. What distinguishes France from many other European states is the early willingness to accept foreigners as settlers, immigrants, and even as citizens. The acceptance of foreigners as potential citizens is part and parcel of what can be called a republican tradition, which stems from the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. Republicanism is strongly egalitarian, anti-clerical (laïque) and opposed to monarchy. It stresses popular sovereignty, citizenship, and the rights of man. It can be nationalist and imperialist, while at the same time stressing universal political values, such as equal protection of all individuals before the law. Republicanism, as an ideology and a form of government, was bitterly contested in France throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century (Hoffmann, 1963).
Even though France has a long tradition of immigration and was the first European state to grant citizenship to Jews, at the time of the Revolution, it was not until the culmination of the Dreyfus affair early in the twentieth century, under the Third Republic, that the main tenets of republicanism – laïcité or separation of church and state, equal protection of all before the law, a universalist conception of human rights, and popular sovereignty – were finally accepted by a majority of the French people. It was also during this period around the turn of the century that the French state began to lay the legal foundations for citizenship and naturalization,