L’apport du protestantisme à l’école laïque : le cas Ferdinand Buisson

Ferdinand Buisson offers a good case study for re-examining the twentieth-century historiography that argued for the recognition of a greater plurality in French history at the hand of Bayle, Quinet, or the Protestant fathers of French political secularism. ‘Buisson’ was not just a man, but a group, a generation, a moment; he represented a spiritualist, Kantian, and ‘Protestant’ secularism that does not evoke the names of Neo-Positivism’s Comte or Littré, but rather those of Kant, Pestalozzi, and Renouvier. It was both a failure and a success: France did not become a republic after the example of Switzerland or North America, as Buisson’s close friend Félix Pécaut would have had it, but it did manage to give the Republic a permanence, interiority, and even a kind of spirituality as the fruit of an unprecedented encounter between the old nation and its Protestant minority.