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Two minds of France

Where Agacinski glimpses the end of civilization as we know it, Badinter sees civilization as we should know it. "I'm fed up with those who label this an economic exchange," she says.

Desire, not biology, is essential: The family, she contends, is the "convergence of individual liberty and shared goals." It is immaterial whether a couple's child issues directly from the couple or a surrogate mother. If anything is sacred, it is not the womb, but a couple's desire, whether they are infertile or gay, to raise a child.

The irony, for Badinter, is that scarcely a generation ago parents were compelled by law to have children they did not want, while parents who do want children today are prevented by law from doing so. The distance from anti-abortion to anti-gay legislation, she suggests, is shorter than we might think.

In fact, the distance between these struggles and 1789 is also shorter than it might first appear. Both Agacinski and Badinter, after all, claim their respective positions have universal foundations. For Badinter, our common humanity is founded upon human reason, whereas for Agacinski it issues from the universal character of human nature. It turns out that even universalism is not universal.


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