This essay moves to investigate the co-constitution of “the child” and “the secular.” Twins of modernity, “the child” and “the secular” underwrite moral claims about progress, the universal human, and the ordering of time itself. These moral claims are carried forward by dominant narratives of secularism and European Enlightenment.
This dominant story aligns secularism with universalism, reason, progress, freedom, and peace “versus” an irrational and atavistic religion. Though narrated as a universal project, secularism, in its dominant form, remains tied to a particular religion, Christianity, and a particular history of origins in Enlightenment Europe. Janet R. Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini have termed this dominant formation “Christian secularism.” How does “the child” come to function in the gap between “the religious” and “the secular”?
This essay pursues these connections via a close analysis of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's February 2008 proposed educational initiative to teach the meaning of the Holocaust to every French fifth grader. Sarkozy calls upon the specter of dead Jewish child-victims in order to produce a supposedly universal social body in the present and for the future. This unexpected lamination of pedagogy and necrophilia reveals that the survival of the body politic happens not by keeping death at bay but by soliciting it. As site of this solicitation, the Christian secular child uneasily straddles past and future, death and life. Lee Edelman may be right that “the child” summons the fantasy of a future. Nevertheless, we must critically supplement his analysis by asking, which child, whose fantasized future?