Luc Ferry, Conseil d'analyse de la société

In Defense of Civic Service Publication date : September 11, 2008

In this study, commissioned by President Nicolas Sarkozy, Luc Ferry examines the feasibility of creating a civic service to engage youth in community-interest projects, of a humanitarian, social, cultural or environmental nature. Written with the assistance of members of the French Council for Social Analysis, the book covers the principles, goals, practical conditions and cost of implementing a civic service in France.

Conceived in the wake of the autumn 2005 riots in the Paris region, the idea of creating a civic service was initially greeted with apparent consensus, but it hides a profound disagreement between two groups whose views are hard to reconcile: those who want a mandatory service and those who favour a volunteer service.

Though both groups agree on the twin goals of stimulating good citizenship and promoting more social mix, their perspectives are different. The first group argues that the “duty of serving” must be instilled in all young people in order to fill the gap left when France's mandatory military service was suspended. The second group hopes to further the societal integration of youth by creating the conditions that will “help them to help others” and by valorising their generosity and their social contribution. In the first case, the goal is to restore France's old republican model; in the second it is to re-energise collective values, while allowing for contemporary individualism by encouraging personal participation. One case goes from the general to the particular, the other from the particular to the general. Obliging young people to be useful — “forcing them to help” — is the exact opposite of “helping them to help others”. And no one will thank you for what you were forced to do.

The book compares the assumptions underpinning several hypotheses, as well as the details of their implementation: mandatory or voluntary service; long- or short-term participation during a continuous period or broken up in intervals; granting participants more or less freedom in choosing activities; crediting young participants for their experience or not. The book also evaluates the cost of each hypothesis, focussing on the goal of reducing the budget deficit. It tries to define the political impact of civic service: How would young people, the first to be concerned, react? Finally, the author proposes the solution that he sees as the most likely to satisfy the contradictory expectations raised by the creation of a civic service.

Luc Ferry is most notably the author of Vaincre les peurs (2006). A professor of philosophy at the University of Paris-VII, he was formerly French Minister of Education and president of the Conseil National des Programmes (the official body that determines French school curricula). His books, which have been translated in more than 25 countries, include Qu'est-ce que l'homme? (with Jean-Didier Vincent, 2000; paperback, 2001), Lettre à tous ceux qui aiment l'école (with Xavier Darcos and Claudie Haigneré, 2003), Qu'est-ce qu'une vie réussie? (2005) and Apprendre à vivre (2006).