This chapter attempts to synthesise some of the most common accounts of the history of secularisation in France and England during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It provides an understanding of the nature of individual and societal secularisation in England and France, and assesses, in spite of the vast differences, what correlations can be drawn between the two countries. The study of the secularisation of mentalities examines the pluralisation of worldviews, which came about through individualism and technological consciousness. Trends in secular thinking revolutionised comprehension of the world, affected the dominant religious traditions and multiplied the alternative accounts of human destiny. It addresses the secularisation of societal activities and institutions that examine the ways in which English and French society moved away from their erstwhile religious dispensation. The chapter aims to identify the shifting patterns of secular thought and organisation that prevailed in spite of religious revivalism.
This chapter gives a detailed description of a paradox and a coincidence. The paradox is a period of profound secularisation in France, from which emerged a generation of Catholic writers and intellectuals who were convinced that the rumours about God's death had been greatly exaggerated. The coincidence is that, in the same period, English literature too saw a significant revival in Catholic writing. France's Catholic writers, their lives and works, are explored from a variety of perspectives. Though wide and intense critical attention focuses discretely on two contemporaneous literary tendencies, there are few comparative studies of them. The most ironic intellectual consequence of religious fragmentation and technological consciousness is the final emergence of relativism in the early twentieth century to answer the difficulties posed by the collision of differing worldviews. The chapter aims to place these writings back within the context of the conditions of belief and unbelief in which they were published.
This chapter provides a useful paradigm to analyse anti-secular alternatives. It outlines ways in which French and English Catholic writers seek to reimagine society and economics on a sacred basis. Cavanaugh's Eucharistic counter-politics has helped to draw out some of the governing dynamics at work in their writings. In spite of the religious shape of cultural and historic roots, the passionate neo-monarchism of the French Catholic writers—monarchism shaped more by Maurrassian influence than anything else—apes Republican State idealism, with its absolute confidence in monarchy as a panacea. The roots of such confidence arguably go back to the direction taken by the French monarchy under the influence of the divine right of kings, a paradoxically secular model—because conflating religion and politics and subjecting the former to the latter—in religious clothing.
The conditions of individual secularisation posed two sets of moral problems for believers in France and England at that time. The first concerns the mapping out of human behaviour if belief in God has become deistic or has collapsed into atheism. The second concerns the alternative moral criteria to counter the anthropocentrism transmitted by individual secularisation. These two sets of problems provide vital perspectives from which to read French and English Catholic literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many French and English Catholic writers depict the individual's relationship to God not as amorphous or anthropocentric but as circumscribed by grace (God's help) and virtue in a theocentric collaboration, which leads to a form of communal life between God and the human person. This chapter shows that religious porosity must itself be buffered in some way against the influence of secular society.
The secularisation of mentalities in France and England was denoted by the shift towards a more anthropocentric conceptualisation of humanity and by the way in which certain secular discourses came to dominate the public mind. This chapter addresses how the French and English Catholic writers seek to undermine what Owen Chadwick famously called the secularisation of the European mind. The chapter considers the critique of naturalistic readings of the material world, of mechanisation, scientism and the secularising influence of German thought. Such critiques exemplify the need they felt of being buffered against secular mentalities at large. It examines the views of intellectual and anti-intellectual Catholic writers about the proper methodology with which to attack secular thought. This study shifts through the ways in which they asserted meaning in the cosmos by re-establishing links between the material and the spiritual domains.
All corporate entities are actualised by a set of values, which unify their activities and lend them a sense of identity. French and English Catholic writers make a variety of attempts to associate the Church with the secular political dispensations in which they were living—the problem was in fact how to resacralise the State—without at the same time undermining their religion by subjecting it to the legitimisation of the secular State. Catholic writers attempted to bring the public domain into a redemptive relationship with God. The relationship between France and the Church was a central concern for many writers of the French Catholic literary revival. The Catholic literature delves into the societal arena not simply because it is indulging in a veiled form of secular politics but because of its confidence in the universal validity of faith.