Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)


Modern Languages and Literatures


Michael Leruth

Committee Members

Magali Compan

Kelebogile Zvobgo


There exists a constant battle between universalism and anti-racism in France, where universalism is positioned as the predominant force of western values and anti-racism as a dog-whistle for ‘wokeness’. This thesis will position that France is predisposed to incomplete compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in part due to its rooted concept of French universalism and the nationalistic undertones therein that do not tolerate intermediate identifications between the individual and the Republic. The purpose of this argument is to generate an interpretive tool to observe and analyze France’s relatively weak civil society with reference to who enjoys rights within the country. The first chapter will focus on the historical context from which the ICERD was created, France’s role in the creation of it, and how the ICERD is constitutive of the idea of group rights. The chapter will then conclude that despite its western influence and universalistic roots, the ICERD pulls universalism in a direction that includes the rights of groups. The second chapter will focus on three ‘canonical’ French primary texts in a textual archeology of “French universalism”. The chapter will conclude that through these three texts, a unique, coercive, and nationalistic form of universalism is canonized as a major aspect of French national identity. The final chapter will use various political science theories along with “French universalism” to analyze France’s obligation-level compliance with the ICERD. It will conclude that while France is mostly compliant with the ICERD, it is predisposed to incomplete compliance as a result of French universalism’s inability to tolerate group rights.