The death of George Floyd is an event in the new status. Globalized, it is also nationally diffracted. Depending on the country, it causes shock waves various, reveal to each of which the conflict of memories, scars ready to open. In France, the point of tension is focused on Colbert, attacked for several years because he was the designer of the Code noir, a name given from 1685 to the legal texts concerning the French colonies, where slavery was tolerated. The protests against a police and a France that was supposed to racist threats on the statue of Colbert, installed in front of the Palais-Bourbon have prompted Emmanuel Macron to take a position on Sunday night : “The Republic will not erase any trace of it or any name of its history. “The work of Colbert has been examined by historians in all its diversity and complexity. Do we want to present the reconfiner by reducing it to a single act ? Behind this quarrel, it is also the relationship to our past in general and to the interpretation of the past that plays itself out. We interviewed Daniel Serves (*), historian, specialist Colbert, who has not spared his criticism of the minister to do everything to Louis XIV.

The Point : What do you think, as a historian, specialist of Colbert and which has not spared his criticism, the lawsuit is currently on this character ?

Daniel Dessert : It is inept. We do not remake and the story 300 years after the death of a man. One tries to know his work, but it is not plate not his vision of the world on the people of the Seventeenth century, as if they had the same vision as ours. Recall that the Seventeenth century is a universe still slave-holding ; in the Mediterranean, european countries rachetaient slaves to Barbary in North Africa, they caught the Turks to put them on the galleys… There were even in some regions of France traces of bondage. France was a country steeped in roman law, a legacy of Rome to which the slave was a reality normal and a keystone of the system.

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But the attacks are also intended to be a tribute that was made later, in the Nineteenth century, to Colbert.

In the saga that was formed in France, Colbert is one of the characters became during the centuries of the totems untouchables. You can question a totem without calling into question the character. However, the critical current of slavery make no distinction. What was the type of tribute made by the monarchy of Louis-Philippe – the statue is in front of the Palais-Bourbon, date to the 1830s – and then the Republic ? This is not the designer of the Code noir that we honor. If we put the statue in front of this building is that it celebrates the great servant of the State, legislator, man of the rules, the regulations, the standardization of a kingdom, so-called integrate – I have shown in various works that there was nothing on this last point, in which the Republic is recognized. Today, there is a statue of Colbert in front of the École navale in Lanvéoc, and the Waters and Forests, dedicated also to worship the one who created their office and made to write the Code forest… It is not certain that those who want to rip down his statue, adhere to the project a republican.

What was the exact part of Colbert in the design of the black Code ?

it was not the enactors – in 1685, he was dead and this was his son, Seignelay, who played this role, he was the designer and has been working his team on the standardization of colonies that came to supplement that of France. Do we know what is specified in article 1 of this Code ? “The expulsion of all Jews from the French colonies. “I don’t know that it has accused Colbert of anti-semitism. At least not yet. Article 2 is intended to educate slaves in the catholic religion and roman. The year of its enactment is the same as that of the revocation of the edict of Nantes, Louis XIV seeks to unify the kingdom religiously. The idea of baptizing these slaves is in contradiction with the reification of these “personal property” that denounce slavery. We are not there to justify the Code noir, of course, but to explain how politics is inscribed.

What is the major criticism that you are talking to Colbert ?

policy has been to believe that absolutism was based on the power of the king, coupled to the power administrative. Now the king, including Louis XIV, has never been what he appeared to be or was supposed to be. It was in the impotence. It would be better to accuse him of having invented this technostructure still in action today, where senior officials fond of rules cripple the political power.

Since when is it in Colbert, designer of the black Code ?

Since the beginning of the years 2000. This challenge is linked to the emergence of identity groups. The way in which the character Colbert is presented in textbooks has evolved in this direction, we no longer talk only of the great servant of the State. The vision is completed.

(*) Historian, author of many books on the Seventeenth century, in which The Kingdom of mr. Colbert (Fayard, 2007), and Colbert, or the myth of absolutism (Fayard, 2019)

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“We have not had a policy of segregation in France “” am I Going to ask the white man of today to be responsible for the slavers of the Seventeenth century ? “” If Schœlcher is controversial in Martinique, Césaire is for the same reasons “