The end of hospitality?

Margea Globensky (School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa) reviewed La fin de l’hospitalité by Fabienne Brugère and Guillaume Le Blanc, (Paris : Flammarion, 2017). This book looks at the refugee crisis and calls for political hospitality.

In La fin de l’hospitalité, Fabienne Brugère and Guillaume Le Blanc provide their readers with an engaging, accessible and original analysis of the refugee crisis, a phenomenon that has impacted much of the world in recent years. Partially (albeit not exclusively) as a result of the events of the Arab Spring, European countries such as France and Germany have seen their borders flooded with thousands of refugees exiled from the Middle East. Brugère and Le Blanc wish to examine the manner in which these migrants are being treated by various European nations. More specifically, through the examination of Calais’s ‘Jungle’, the Tempelhof airport and the Grande-Synthe camp, Brugère and Le Blanc provide their readers with an in-depth look at a migrant’s life and most specifically, the lack of hospitality shown by Occidental nation-states. In this most pertinent book, then, Brugère and Le Blanc chronicle the plight of migrants and refugees, paying particular attention to the latter’s attempts at navigating through a barrage of racial discrimination in order to gain asylum (and, ideally, a genuine welcome) in a foreign country. But with this book, the authors also seek to present their alternative views regarding what could constitute a more legitimate, humane treatment of the ever growing “sans statut” population scattered across the European continent.

In seven brief chapters, Brugère and Le Blanc bring to light several aspects and realities pertaining to the migratory trajectory, in order to render intelligible the need for genuine concern about those populations and the urgent need to interrogate the unreasonable thought of the other as an obstacle to State sovereignty or as an object of hate. The authors believe it is a crucial task to hear the voice of the vulnerables, a task without which any sensible solution to the migration crisis will be impossible. But the challenge is massive, as they note in their reflections on the unfolding of events: “it became unimaginable to ask for a decent solution to the actual refugee crisis because of the fear we live under (given the threat of terrorists attacks) and because we think of the other as a potential and implicit enemy.”1 Brugère and Le Blanc deplore the fact that hospitality has ceased being a political project or ideal. In their review, hospitality must be, on the contrary, at the heart of any meaningful democratic politics (it must, indeed, be a “democratic value” (p.34), they insist).

The book as a whole, then, constitutes a plea for this need for a truly political hospitality: after all, only hospitality gathers people together in a community. Its opposite—hatred—isolates, separates us (p.29). Brugère and Le Blanc’s plea partially proceeds by underscoring the survival motive informing most cases of exile and also by stressing the important distinction between living and surviving. From chapter three (“Secourir n’est pas accueillir”) to chapter five (“Pulsion de mur”), this distinction is defended and critically analysed through the resort to authors such as Kant, Arendt and Foucault (among others). Brugère and Le Blanc here criticize, for instance, our insufficient lack of consideration of Kant’s “hospitalité provisoire2—a right that the philosopher judged fundamental; they also nicely argue that the selection of ‘lives to be saved’ certainly serves as a fitting illustration of great dehumanization or—as Hannah Arendt puts it—of the animalisation of minorities (p.54).

The legal distinction that makes the refugee a subject of right and the migrant a « persona non grata » best illustrates the limited hospitality found amongst Western countries according to the authors (p.65). In fact, it is because of this legal disposition that many civilians in search of a secure home end up with no other choice but to live illegally at the borders of European refugee camps, with barely anything to survive. But that should not be taken to mean that the refugees’ living conditions are necessarily more desirable than that of those who have not been the object of hospitality. Brugère and Le Blanc actually bring to light that: “There is a biopolitics of the camps that relate to a government of the undesirables.”3 In quite a Foucauldian spirit, the fourth chapter, “Terre d’asile” shows us that, even though refugees benefit from less precarious lodging and care services than migrants do, the reality of continual police surveillance, their restriction to small spaces and the simple fact that a refugee status ‘chooses’ one life over another, are all testimonies of the great violence resulting from the administration of life under the Nation-State.

Also related to the crucial issue of violence, the authors consider at length, in chapter two, the ambiguity of hospitality and the hostility and tension it often contains. Building on Avital Ronell, they explain that: “Hospitality is triggered by the intruder that I don’t want to see and who insists that his demand be taken into account. That is why, in its origins, nothing differentiates it from violence.”4 Largely for this reason, the authors believe hospitality ought not to be thought of chiefly in terms of a ‘pure hospitality’ (in the way a Derrida sees it); rather, it ought to be seen in terms of concrete (and often impersonal) practices and institutions designed to integrate (rather than only save) people in need (pp.205-206).

Ultimately, La fin de l’hospitalité seems to have a core, dual purpose: to advocate a caring (bienveillante) republic that promotes diversity instead of opposing it and, more generally, to raise awareness within the Western world regarding vulnerable others. Indeed, as the authors describe Calais’s Jungle (that is to say, between 7,500 to 10,000 persons living in a slum; p.152), they wish to highlight the humanity and the proximity that links the migrants and the citizens of the refuge lands. Tents instead of houses, illegal businesses, libraries and places of worship implanted in the wild are, with the life stories of young migrants growing up in “The Jungle”, examples used by the authors to illustrate at once both the migrant’s desire and his/her need to be part of a society. That is precisely what seems to be misunderstood by many nationalist States dealing with the issue, which often feed a toxic discourse. As the authors explain: “Society needs to be protected against those who are, at best presented as thugs with no future, or at worst as potential invaders, criminals, trouble makers”.5  This book will not only be of great interest to all students of care and hospitality ethics, but also to all scholars interested in mobilizing theory for reflecting on a very concrete, normatively-loaded and messy situation. In a book that is full of Arendtian overtones, Fabienne Brugère and Guillaume Le Blanc offer a very important contribution to philosophy, ethics and political theory’s current effort to rethink earthly cohabitation and to counteract a fear (and hatred) of the other that seems increasingly prevalent. This should not be the new normal.


1 Free translation of : « Il est devenu inimaginable de réclamer une solution décente à la crise actuelle des réfugiés car nous vivons dans la peur, sous la menace des attentats, et imaginons l’autre comme un ennemi potentiel, un terroriste implicite. » p. 21.
2 Refers to a right of hospitality when facing a life threatening situation. See pages 114-116.
3 Idem p. 156, Free translation : « Il existe une biopolitique des camps qui relève du gouvernement des indésirables. »
4 Idem p.77, Free translation : « L’hospitalité est déclenchée par l’ « intrus » que « je » ne veux pas voir et qui et qui insiste pour que sa demande soit prise en compte. C’est pourquoi, à son origine, rien ne la différencie de la violence. »
5 Idem p. 64, Free translation of : « Il faut protéger la société contre celles et ceux qui sont présentés au mieux comme des gueux sans avenir, au pire comme des envahisseurs potentiels, des criminels en puissance, des fauteurs de trouble. »


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