THE newspaper writer who pays a hasty visit to Alsace, whether he comes from France or another country, keeps to Strasbourg and the principal towns and avoids the rural districts. That is why the secret of the region escapes him, the secret which beyond a shadow of doubt lies hid in matters of language and religion.

Let us turn at the start, then, away from the beaten roads and make a brief examination of the Alsatian rural parish, which alone can give an understanding of what one may call Alsatian "confessionalism" in all its peculiar flavor, all its diffident narrowmindedness, all its pitiless localism. This confessionalism tends like everything Alsatian to cut itself off from the life of the outer world and to stand aloof in a separate unit, compact, circumscribed and humdrum.

In the family circle the Alsatian dialect, a German type, is the only means of communication. In church -- the Lutheran Church -- German prevails in the services, in the sermons, in the hymns, in everything. The generation now rising, taken as a whole, knows French; but no use is made of that language unless one happens to have French neighbors recently come from France, or unless one is going to France. Since in this respect Catholic circles do not differ greatly from Protestant circles, it at once becomes apparent that religion and the German language go hand in hand in Alsace. That does not mean that Alsace is German, or is irretrievably closed to French influence. But no impartial observer can fail to note that Alsatian religion necessarily has a German coloring, that religious life in Alsace cannot possibly be expected to conform exactly to what it is in France.

So to understand Alsace one should really become acquainted with those rural Catholic priests who have the majority of the country behind them, because after the exodus which followed on the war of 1870-71 they became the genuine and abiding leaders of the Alsatian masses; and with those unpretentious village pastors of the Protestants, who keep more or less to themselves, avoid the French element in the population -- partly in mistrust, partly with chips on their shoulders -- and, whether deliberately or not, shield their flocks from the language and culture of the west, because they know only German themselves and want to retain all their influence over their parishioners. One should also see the Alsatian peasants, in general an orderly, prosperous folk, clean physically and morally, and infinitely hardworking. Men and women, boys and girls, all go to church on Sundays, allow themselves to be drawn unresisting into church organizations of all sorts, and rally uncritically to the political or ecclesiastical watchwords that are handed out to them. And then there are the industrial masses and the petty bourgeoisie, people of socialist or communist affiliations who, as is the case with the same classes across the Rhine, do not make their religious practices conform to the anti-religious policies of those parties. They go to church and to Communion just the same and send their children to parochial schools. Finally, it would be useful for the person who would understand Alsace to have some contact with the middle classes in the towns, solid people who crowd before the pulpits on Sundays to hear sermons preached in German and who attend with touching fidelity the numerous sacred concerts arranged for them by the churches.


One is confronted in Alsace with very humble realities. But those realities acquire a peculiar significance when the small territory which frames them is wedged in between two great national civilizations. The small district of Alsace is in fact the borderland between two conceptions of life and religion: on the one hand lies the Germanic church system in the form it assumed during the nineteenth century, with its Catholic phase and its Lutheran phase; on the other hand lies the religious world of the west, as exemplified in French Catholicism or in the French Reformed Church, the latter steeped in the Anglo-Saxon sectarian spirit. The antithesis between these two worlds corresponds to the rift which led to the World War. This fact must not be overlooked if one is to grasp the essence of the religious problem in Alsace.

Let us consider, for a moment, this contrast between the German Reformation and the French Reformation.

The German Reformation was inspired by a sort of mystical spirituality. It aimed at intensifying religious sentiment in the individual, but it was not particularly inclined to tamper with the structure of the Church. German Lutheranism remained in spirit quite close to the Mediæval Catholic Church; and German Catholicism, under pressure of the Reformation, Germanized itself, and became national in character. The German Reformation resulted principally in a shift in the relative position of church and state. In the Middle Ages the church had insisted on controlling the state. The Reformation meant, in this sphere, merely that the state was to become altogether sovereign and was in its turn to determine the religious and confessional destinies of its subjects. In all this conflict Germany remained faithful to the idea of enlightened despotism, under which the masses are led by constituted authorities and obey the watchwords provided for them. In Germany, Protestant forces and Catholic forces were more or less evenly balanced, and two great confessions issued from the original schism. But the Germans never lost the concept of religious unity, in the sense that they have always regarded the civil authority as one and the same with the religious authority. The application of this notion involved numberless incoherencies, and these in the course of German history have been surmounted by most complicated compromises. All through the nineteenth century, however, the German state followed a comprehensive policy, successfully bringing the different elements in religious Germany within the orbit of the national life at large as expressed in the state. Even the Constitution of Weimar has not altered this situation substantially. It gives the two great confessions the status of "corporations under public law," regards them as public utilities, and authorizes them to collect church taxes on the basis of the civil lists. Far from separating the spiritual and the temporal, Germany has held that one of the duties of the state is to Christianize civilization thoroughly. Since the crux of the whole matter lies in education, the German has had a temperamental faith in the principle that the state should teach religion; and the "confessional" school and the "mixed" school, both maintained by the state, have been logical consequences.

If we turn our eyes westward the view is altogether different. French Calvinism attacked the church structure, demanded freedom for the individual, equality of rights and, in the moral sphere, personal discipline. On this basis it was always free to absorb first humanism, then philosophical empiricism, and finally technical and scientific progress, and so to find its natural place in the "modern" world. The democratic, equalitarian philosophy of France developed side by side with Neo-Calvinism and found its enemy in Catholicism, which at all times stood opposed, throughout the French nation, to efforts at modernization. In France both culture and the state were secularized, the state conceiving of churches as free associations which do not directly concern it. The course of French history was to result in an alliance between French Catholicism and the Old Régime whereby the expansion of Calvinism was halted. Catholicism, therefore, did not find in France any rival faith capable of limiting its pretensions or accustoming it to the habit of compromise. It refused, accordingly, to tolerate political rationalism and equalitarian institutions. But it was only natural that when political rationalism and equalitarianism triumphed in the Third Republic they should have slight inclination to tolerate Catholicism. The Law of Separation was a combative enactment. The combat, in the light of French history, was legitimate. There had to be a choice between a centralized state and a centralized church. When the former won, the church was destined to fall to the level of an ordinary association, not even obtaining status as a public utility. State education became lay education, and the state claimed a monopoly of education. In principle, education was to remain neutral as regarded religion; but, in the fact, that neutrality could easily be violated.

Now these two contrasting and in many respects contrary conceptions of the respective relationship of church and state are at grips with one another in Alsace. Over a period of fifty years Alsace necessarily felt the influence of Bismarck's policies. Alsatian Catholicism, "Rhinized" already in part before 1870, drew constantly closer to the German Center and the German Church. Alsatian Lutheranism, while clinging faithfully to the historic traditions of Bucer, took its practical cues from German Lutheranism. Now Alsace is French again. How could she, whether Catholic or Lutheran, shake off such profound influences all at once, and without heartburnings, misunderstandings, conflicts? How is she to comport herself with reference to the two systems placed before her by history, the one western and French, the other Central European and German, the one radical, the other born of perpetual compromise?


At the outset one cannot fail to observe that Alsace is a sort of confessional island of strongly conservative tendencies, situated between two worlds which have evolved and been modernized, but in different ways. However one looks at the matter, Alsace is a laggard in the march of civilization: she has fallen behind the Germany of today, and even farther behind the France of today. Alsace clings to a system of religious and scholastic organization which France discarded many years ago, and which present-day Germany herself would not accept without far-reaching modifications.

From the sociological point of view, Alsatian Catholicism represents the popular masses who speak the Alsatian dialect. Long before 1870 those masses had noteworthy points of contact with Germany. As will be remembered, the Alsatian clergy resisted the "drive" made on the German language by Napoleon III. Hatred of the language of Voltaire, of the "land of irreligion," goes far back in Alsatian history, and on that point Alsatian Catholicism is at one with French Catholicism at large. We should note, furthermore, that even at that time the Alsatian clergy was fighting for its own prestige, for its own influence. If it had not as yet -- before the rise of the German Center -- organized any great and compact political party, it was already playing a considerable rôle in politics. It was already coming under German influence. That development which goes under the name of "Rhinization" was already under way -- though this is not just the place to retrace the history of the tremendous revival in German Catholicism which took place early in the nineteenth century, resulting as early as 1848 in a shift in the center of gravity in favor of Rhineland Catholicism and at the expense of Austrian Catholicism.

In spite of this early "Rhinization," Alsatian Catholicism was prepared to protest with the utmost sincerity against annexation to Germany. It did not forget that France was almost entirely Catholic. It knew that the Prussian ferule, Protestant in animus, would be heavy. But on the other hand it did not choose to participate in the exodus which bore away the élite of Alsatian protest to France. The Catholic priest stuck to his post and thereby became the leader of those popular masses which were to see, not without some dismay, one national régime follow on another in Germany. Nothing obliged the priest to flatter the new authorities; on the other hand, nothing prevented him from soliciting electoral mandates. He showed himself supple and conciliatory down to the very moment of the Kulturkampf; and when that storm broke he was in a position to join forces with the German Center which was undergoing its first tests and sharpening its first blades.

This community of interests, this comradeship in action, constituted the fact that was new. Here the historic rôle played by Monsignor Raess, Bishop of Strasbourg, becomes clearly apparent. Raess had received most of his education in Germany and he had a marvellous acquaintance with Rhenish Catholicism. He raised no question as to the Treaty of Frankfurt. He stood with Windthorst, the leader of the German Center. In vain Bismarck himself let loose a first agitation for autonomy designed to pacify both the Catholics and the adherents of protest. The paradoxical outcome of the Kulturkampf was then in the offing. During Bismarck's last years and under William II, it was to be a question of reconciling, of "nationalizing," Alsatian Catholicism. The details are well-known: the foundation of the Volksverein and the Augustinusverein; the filling of Alsatian offices with Rhenish appointees; the weaving of many ties between German Catholicism and Alsatian Catholicism at the time when the French Law of Separation was being passed. A Catholic Faculty of Theology was established at Strasbourg in 1902. By that time the Alsatian Center was a reality. It borrowed its organization, its policies and its watchwords from the German Center. But with Wetterlé, as well as with Haegy, it kept its Alsatian character. It accustomed Catholic policy in Alsace-Lorraine to that strange mixture of religious activity and political activity which is the secret, so hard to grasp and so hard to define, of German Catholicism. By that very fact it fell into line with the policies of Pope Leo XIII in his struggle against modern "de-christianization." Although in emergencies it turned to the easiest solutions, its main objective was to maintain its traditional positions in Alsace.

The return of Alsace to France finds Alsatian Catholicism strongly intrenched. As ally or adversary it is redoubtable. The Alsatian Center has kept the tactics borrowed from the German Center, and the old confessional law based on the Concordat and on the existence of a rigorously confessional school. It has combined the German advantages, now a permanent possession, with the French advantages due to a tolerance explainable by natural enough reasons. The Alsatian Centrum today is a factor of great importance. It is a closely woven network of associations and activities of all sorts. It gives adequate expression to Alsatian confessionalism, and to the gregarious character of religious life in the district. It stands embodied in the rural parish and in the bonds linking one parish with another. Everywhere there are groups of men, of women, of boys and girls, all closely federated and all receiving their initial impulse from the clergy. That clergy is a body of practical men who keep in close touch with the interests of the masses. It sides neither with the conservatives of the Right, nor, despite appearances to the contrary, with the extremists of the Left. It has nothing to fear from socialists or communists, who are better churchgoers than anybody else. It realizes the dream of clericalism to perfection -- the dream of a thoroughgoing alliance between the spiritual and temporal powers. The scale is small and local in character; but Catholic victories in the social field are matters of common knowledge. The Catholic clergy is in a position, therefore, to mobilize all Alsace at pleasure.

Against whom might such a mobilization be directed? Against any power that constitutes a threat to the authority, prestige and influence of that same clergy. And so, if circumstances should require, against the France which is freethinking and anti-clerical. If the requirements of such a struggle so demand, France will be depicted to the Alsatian peasantry as irreligious, amoral and "de-christianized."

Now it so happens that so-called "irreligious" France has herself set up the Alsatian clergy outside the French national picture, leaving it with its traditions and its powerful Germanic framework to sustain it. France did not feel inclined to force the Law of Separation and the lay school upon Alsace. Free as regards the Constitution of Weimar, since it is no longer part of the German Reich, Alsatian Catholicism is not less free as regards the French constitution. Situated between France and Germany, where, in principle at least, clergies are not paid by the state, the Catholic clergy of Alsace is paid by the French state. For the moment it has nothing to fear: neither separation, nor confiscation of properties, nor the free association, nor the "corporation under public law," nor the lay school such as prevails in France, nor the mixed school such as prevails in the neighboring state of Baden.

Consolidated in these positions, sure of a unique situation for long years to come, Alsatian Catholicism plays in Alsatian politics a pivotal rôle such as is played by the Center in Germany. On the other hand, as regards France, it is following a double policy which we shall now try to define.

By virtue of its origins and its former connections with the German Center, and by virtue of a very tangible body of voters organized to the last man and following every campaign slogan implicitly, Alsatian Catholicism has, in very fact, all the traits of a Centrum. A classification of parties would reveal on the Left of the Alsatian Center communism and pure autonomism, elements with which it can flirt at pleasure without ever identifying its cause with theirs. On its Right one would find the socialism of the industrial workers, who are very "national" in outlook, and the Protestants and the petty-bourgeois who are likewise "national," though possessing scant influence. This situation makes possible a manœuvre that smacks of blackmail, and which might become very dangerous for the rest of Alsace. "If you do not yield to our demands," Catholics of the Center are saying to their local opponents, "we can move toward the Left, toward autonomism and communism, without for that matter breaking relations with certain Lutheran elements who feel as we do." In other words, autonomy, though not a definite program (probably it never can be), can at least be used as a scarecrow when so required. There is no doubt that this political situation is a very strong one.

Then, turning toward France, or rather toward the two Frances, the Alsatian Catholics will comport themselves as follows: As regards the France of the Left, the Alsatian Catholics will continue to ask it to bring its traditional policies to a halt and to tolerate in the bosom of the republic one and indivisible a heterogeneous body with its Concordat and its confessional school. Let this France suddenly appear to be the stronger, as was the case in the elections of 1924, and Catholic mobilization in Alsace will take place at once. Meantime the France of the Left is deprecated and insulted in all the Catholic papers in Alsace, in all Catholic sermons, in all conversations by Catholics -- in every possible way, in short, and on every possible occasion. All the old saws of the propaganda conducted by Germany in Alsace before, during, and after the war are brought out and pressed into service. A young man who was long an associate of Father Haegy recently told me that that celebrated clergyman, a pupil of Monsignor Faulhaber with a decided bent toward German Catholicism, had nothing but supreme contempt for French thought and considered the country incapable of a real effort in philosophy or religion. If one were to collect and classify the things which, under the protection of French officials who do not know German, are being circulated throughout Alsace in the columns of the Elsässer Kurier and the Elsässer, one would arrive at most distressing results. Between the France of the Left and the Alsatian Center the struggle is destined to be utterly implacable and merciless. There is no use disguising the fact.

But there is the other France, Catholic France, the France that had Separation inflicted upon it, adapted itself to that circumstance as best it could, and is now perfectly aware how much strength, what new vitality, it has derived from the two great trials it was called upon to face in the opening decades of the twentieth century -- Separation, and the World War. This was the France that made the famous "promises" to Alsace. Now I find a number of French Catholics who are getting angry and raising a cry against the spirit of "Clericalism" emanating from the restored province. But Alsatian Catholicism is none the less resolved to go through with the second manœuvre on which it is relying in the confessional field. It was revealed to me recently, by one of the young leaders of political Catholicism in Alsace, who said: "If you want us to accept Separation, or the mixed school, work out some compromise! Make some concessions in France itself to the Catholicism which you have persecuted and which we, for our part, despise in proportion as it has shown a lack of backbone!" A concession in Alsace? Then a concession in France! Do ut des! It is not a question of France trying to win over Alsatian Catholicism. It is, on the contrary, a case where the Alsatian tail is bent on wagging the French dog, the Alsatian clergy being certain of its traditional strongholds.

It is wholly beside the point, therefore, to ask whether the Alsatian clergy and the rural masses which they govern are pro-French or pro-German. They are Alsatians first, last and all the time. They take advantage of every national régime that comes along and never give their hearts to any of them. What they want is the status quo. Let us not imagine that Alsatian Catholicism is grateful to France for having recognized certain of its privileges after the Germans had already done so. It should also be remembered that most of the young priests and young Catholics in Alsace fought during the war on the Eastern Front. They brought back a certain critical spirit -- to use very mild language -- which can be put to most admirable uses in defense of confessional interests. They look at the question as one of powers rather than of religion. Alsatian Catholicism with its autonomist wing and its national wing is hesitating. How could it make up its mind for or against France?

Whether one likes it or not, Alsatian Catholicism will not admit any more readily than German Catholicism the idea that is basic to the French system and to all western civilization -- the idea that religion is a private matter and that the church, the religious community, is a "free association." Here we are on the frontier which separates the western from the Germanic world. Only some sort of compromise could solve the problem.

In each parish in Alsace this secret drama is bringing the spirit and manner of thinking expressed in the French language, French education and French culture, into conflict with a confessionalism of unique type, a social organism of very definite outlines, which is resolved to defend itself against everything that comes from the outer world, against anything that threatens to disintegrate it. It is a silent, implacable struggle between the democratic individualism of the west and a clerical tradition vividly conscious of its mission and its objectives.


Alsatian Lutheranism and Alsatian Catholicism, in spite of their differences, have common interests to defend. Here again we find a trait connecting the district with the German Reich. But the Protestants in Alsace do not represent the same social elements as the Catholics. They are more bourgeois in character than their religious rivals in spite of the very considerable number of rural parishes under their control. And just as Alsatian Catholicism stands on the boundaries between Latin Catholicism and Germanic Catholicism, so Alsatian Protestantism stands between the two Reformations. It is a minority, unquestionably, but an important one.

Alsatian Protestantism comprises two distinct ecclesiastical organizations: the Confession of Augsburg, with 221 parishes, and the Reformed Church with 63 parishes -- a preponderance, therefore, of the Lutheran element. This must not be taken to mean that the groups are hostile to each other. There is more or less intercourse between them, as is natural enough. One must make an exception of a certain number of old Lutheran pastors who are either indifferent toward everything French or suspicious of everything French, and who isolate themselves in an uncompromising sectarianism. Alsatian Protestantism presents the following division of views in regard to France: one, a liberal wing generously openminded to influences from the west and especially from France; two, a Lutheran element which is nevertheless friendly with the liberals in question and is not altogether insensible to French influences; three, an element uncompromisingly Lutheran which looks toward Germany. It would be unfair not to note, as regards the second of the above elements, that the Alsatian Church of the Confession of Augsburg has successfully maintained its own traditions, which go back to Bucer, and resisted pressure from the Prussian Church. The churches of the Confession use German rituals exclusively and Luther's Bible. But a number of the pastors are beginning to consent to religious instruction in French. Others, however, object to any preponderance of French in the elementary schools.

As regards Separation and the school problem, Alsatian Protestantism has stood divided. Official authorities have not concealed from the French Government the fact that they can hardly give their approval to the French law of 1906, and that, among other things, the Alsatian churches would lose their properties as a result of it. They have nevertheless declared their readiness to accede to some more liberal form of separation which would attenuate the severities of the French enactment on certain essential points. They ask, specifically, that Alsatian churches be given the right to tax their parishioners and the right to accept legacies. A resolution in this sense was actually adopted at a general convention of French Protestants held at Strasbourg in 1924, following a report presented by M. Raoul Allier.

But let us not forget that among the non-compromising pastors there are numerous groups who have assumed toward the French Separation and toward French secularism an attitude analogous to that of the Catholics; and let us not forget that in certain Protestant environments, urban as well as rural, an anti-French propaganda is rampant under the most dissembled and underhanded forms. It is apparent, for one thing, that the younger generation, and especially the students of Protestant theology, are none too favorably inclined toward France. The pastors, for their part, are often quite isolated from French influence. They owe their whole education, secular as well as religious, to Germany. They know only German well, and they can preach only in German. That fact alone condemns them to a sort of unhealthy "grouch." On the other hand it is true that many Protestants are aware in all sincerity that Separation will be less dangerous for the churches in Alsace than it was for those in France -- barring the reservations indicated above -- and that the test might be a most enlivening tonic.

As regards confessional schools, the Protestant churches seem as bent on maintaining them as are the Catholics. The pastors are inclined to see in religious teaching given in the primary schools by schoolteachers a most valuable ally. Children from the masses are already well prepared when they move on from public school to religious instruction. The latter course can then be completed in two years at the rate of two sessions a week. If the lay school became the rule, the pastors would have to take entire charge of religious education on one day in the week -- Thursdays; and they would, they think, have to reorganize their Sunday-schools on the American model. I must also add that a number of Protestant parishes had introduced the inter-confessional or mixed school before the war; but as to the wisdom of this change opinions stand divided.

Taken as a whole, Alsatian Protestantism seems to be somewhat at sea. It cannot mould itself internally as Catholicism is able to do. In an absolute local autonomy of congregations it would undoubtedly languish. On the other hand, a complete or even widespread turning to France does not seem possible, as it would involve a break between the Reformed Church and the Lutherans. Before the war, large numbers of Alsatian Protestants were looking to the west for their inspiration. In the same way a large section of the Confession of Augsburg is today looking to Germany. All that Alsatian Protestantism can do is to endeavor to attenuate such conflicts, to act as a shock-absorber between the two Reformations, to study in all seriousness the compromises that must be made in the future. It cannot have a political party such as the Catholic Center. But it shows the same confessional spirit, the same trend toward self-contained groups, that feature Catholicism.

The Protestant as well as the Catholic is first, last and always "Alsatian," and his Alsace is a little, shut-in place, rather musty, where draughts of fresh air from the great world outside -- appeals for new ideas, for an awakening to a sense of individuality broader and more creative than the good old-fashioned customs of discipline -- are felt with alarm.


And the conclusion?

If we consider Catholicism and Protestantism together on the Alsatian scene we find that the issue is not one of religious sentiment, nor even of religious liberty, per se. It revolves around a political-ecclesiastical system, hallowed by time and custom and certainly possessing its merits, on which the whole social edifice of the district has been grounded. Germany has retained the fundamental underpinnings of this system even in her new republican forms. The Anglo-Saxon countries have suppressed the system, but with moderation, and in such a way as to leave to religion an important part to play in social and public life. France alone -- one must recognize -- has gone to the logical limit of the western principle and identified religious organizations with free associations. In France, where public and political life and social and intellectual life had acquired a notable independence of religious realities, Separation provoked only a slight disturbance. In Alsace, where public life and confessional activity are one and the same thing, the shock would be severe and deep-reaching. That point must not be overlooked. We must proceed slowly and halt perhaps at some compromise.

Where, in fact, do we stand? I prefer not to return here to the question as to whether in the year 1919 the whole religious and educational system of France could have been introduced bodily into Alsace under cover of the memorable enthusiasm of those days. Those who hold that view remind me of the illusions which so many Frenchmen harbored as to the Rhine, and which left such a bad taste in so many mouths. The "promises of 1918 " gave rise to an uneasiness in Alsace which very shortly found its tongue. In any event, no one any longer is thinking of applying French legislation as a whole to Alsace. On the other hand, the present situation is one of uncertainty. France is not willing to abandon forever her ideal of national homogeneity and she will never give any final pledges. It is just this uncertainty, the necessarily transitory character of all makeshifts, that exasperates the two Alsatian clergies and is encouraging the various types of resistance, especially that pitiable agitation which politicians are dignifying with the name of "autonomism." They are using and abusing French mistakes, French hesitations and the fluctuating character of French religious policy as exemplified in the tacit agreement with Catholicism under Millerand, then in the threat of assimilation during 1924 and 1925, which was not carried out, and finally in the policy of temporary neutrality under Poincaré. How could the Catholic pastors and the Lutheran pastors in Alsace be quiet under such circumstances, if the one thing in the world they want is "security?"

Is there to be neither the application nor the non-application of the French laws? Is there to be forever this same indecision, designed purely and simply to gain time? How can the attraction toward Germany, which is undoubtedly powerful in Alsace, fail of wide development under such circumstances? Priest and pastor alike in Alsace are afraid of being stripped of the prestige that accrues to them as respected public officials supported by the state. The progress of French in the primary schools is in their eyes tantamount to the progress of secularism. How can they help gazing fondly toward the German Rhine, where Catholicism is soaring on high and the Prussian Church clings to its reactionary traditions? Why should they not incline toward Bavaria, which has sabotaged the Weimar régime and gone over to the Concordat and a retrogressive school system? From all this it appears that the two Alsatian clergies are a ready prey to autonomism, and that in that fact lies a real danger to France.

Among recent proposals designed to clear up this uncertainty the following should be noted: 1. that the French Government has asserted on several occasions that the people of Alsace could keep their own religious and educational constitution as long as they chose to do so, provided they did not request assimilation by a majority vote -- all of which amounts to setting up a sort of latent plebiscite in Alsace; 2. that certain individuals on the Alsatian Left who are partisans of secularism (the League for the Rights of Man) are demanding that lay populations be allowed to elect the lay school for themselves wherever that be possible; 3. that certain Alsatian Protestants seem to want a church tax similar to the one in vogue in Germany; 4. that certain Alsatians are asking for a referendum on the question of the Concordat -- a referendum which, to avoid the excitement of popular votes every four years, would take place every twenty years; and as regards education, that they are asking for a modification of the French system, leaving teachers and pupils freedom of choice as to religious instruction offered in school.

Now what have we in all these vague and tentative proposals if not the essential lineaments of the confessional and educational system of Weimar? Here we find the principle of the popular referendum, liberty for parents and teachers, and the confessional school and lay school left to public discretion! Those things are all explicit in the Constitution of Weimar. In that case what becomes of the state's monopoly of education? Why this middle system for Alsace and not for France as a whole? And finally, why follow German principles without knowing it and without saying so? These are some of the questions that press for answers.

Can it be that the facts in Alsace, with the stamp which Bismarck's government left upon them, are bringing France in spite of herself to follow a policy inspired by Bismarck? Must this be the paradoxical conclusion to which we are forced at the end of this study? If Alsace is, like the German Reich, a complex of heterogeneous and disciplined groups, and if it must be governed in German style, where will it all end for France? As a result of the present uncertainty there may well spring up on Alsatian soil, like poisonous toadstools, vast numbers of petty and commonplace politicians, sure of wide publicity in view of the seriousness of the situation and the geographical position of their little country. That is the immediate danger. We know that the better heads among the rising generation are being beset by thousands of tempters working in the dark. Instead of normal French careers they are being offered successes of another and more noisy order. France needs a solid program of wide scope. If French legislation cannot be applied in toto, then a compromise must be found. Can one be found ? Perhaps, in view of a prodigious movement operating today to oblige France and Germany to examine each other carefully and compare methods. In any event, earnest thought must be given to the matter. It is wise to take steps without delay to prevent Alsace from giving herself over body and soul to leaders unworthy of her. Demagogy is threatening on every hand. For that demagogy France must substitute order founded on authority and on clear thinking.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now