The financial crisis has been in the headlines for some months now, but there is another crisis that regularly fills column inches without it being entirely clear what it relates to or whether it genuinely exists. This is the crisis in social relations. In this article, Pierre-Yves Cusset asks the question "are social relations in France in crisis?" Do we still have shared values, national solidarity etc.? And if so, what do these things consist in?
He begins by presenting the case that there is a crisis in social relations: the breakdown of the family unit, the increasing brittleness of family relationships, a questioning of the role of the public services, decreased participation in elections, increased levels of crime, problems of integration etc. He then shows that some of these developments, which, though they render social relations more brittle, are the "down-side" to new freedoms that extend the process of individualization (sexual tolerance, increased choice of relationships etc.). He emphasizes, in this way, that the fragility of private social relationships may be compensated for by their greater quantity and even perhaps their higher quality. Lastly, he shows that it is the preservation of the civil bond (which links everyone to society as a whole) that is trickiest, given recent developments, both where a sense of national belonging/identity and civility/civic-mindedness are concerned. And it is very much this civil bond which lies at the heart, in present-day France, of the challenge of constituting a society.