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Title: Stories of Pride and Shame: Left-Wing Writers and the French Mission to Civilize an Empire
Other Titles: المآثر والمخاز: الكتاب اليساريون والدعوة الفرنسية لنشر الحضارة في امبراطورية
Authors: Dueck, Jennifer M.
Keywords: French Mission
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: University of Balamand
Part of: Chronos
Issue: 15
Start page: 107
End page: 130
In the first half of the twentieth century, few French voices would have denied the importance of an empire in making a great nation. Few again would have denied that France did indeed deserve to be great, admired and envied at home and abroad. This desire to be great clearly had economic and military components; however the French idea of greatness extended well beyond riches and prowess. Armies, diplomats and entrepreneurs did not suffice: a nation also had to shine spiritually, to display its artistic and intellectual achievement as a symbol of its cultural superiority. This vision of spiritual greatness pervaded French society, and it should come as no surprise that culture was closely linked to conquest in the French ideology of overseas expansion. As of the late nineteenth century, French imperialism was framed as a cultural gift to indigenous populations around the world. Did it not, after all, offer superior institutions of justice and government, economic production and transportation, urban infrastructure, hospitals and schools? Although the notion of planting French culture abroad was not a new one, the politicians of France's Third Republic were the first coherently to articulate it as an imperial philosophy. They pompously named it the mission civilisatrice, and used it time and again to justify the military conquest and economic exploitation of foreign territory. Most historians have questioned the sincerity of this concept and many dismiss the civilizing mission as pure window-dressing. However in her 1997 book on French West Africa, Alice Conklin showed that it was in fact influential in shaping French colonial policy, and hence deserves a more nuanced appraisal (Conklin 1997:246-56).
Open URL: Link to full text
Type: Journal Article
Appears in Collections:Chronos

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