Comment on Robert Nye's “Le Pacte de Solidarité and the History of Sexuality”

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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  • 1 Institute for Advanced Study
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Robert Nye’s elegant essay rightly puts the PaCS, and the debates about it, into a historical context of French natalism. At least since the late nineteenth century, reproduction has been the raison d’être of the married couple and the state has often made fertility synonymous with patriotism. From this has followed all manner of representations, many of them contradictory. Thus although it surely was the case, as Nye shows, that marriage was eroticized and marital love idealized, it was also the case that reproduction and sexual satisfaction were considered separate domains. French bourgeois culture, however idealized its family, has long been associated with the inevitability of extramarital affairs. One of the reasons French commentators found the Monica Lewinsky scandal ridiculous and symptomatic of what they define as American puritanism, was that it contrasted so sharply with their own customs and expectations. Mitterrand’s second family was hardly shocking from that perspective; and judging by films, novels and statistical findings, the desire of men and women can rarely be satisfied within the confines of marriage. Indeed one of the aims of the PaCS was to resolve the tension between laws based on a sentimental view of the family and social practices that had given the lie to these views. The abolition of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children is an example of this; it recognizes that marriage is no longer enduring and that family arrangements have eroded the grounds on which “legitimacy” was once conferred.

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